Expat life: navigating the airport with kids 

October 29, 2019
Whether it is your first or fiftieth time through an international airport with your family here are some tips that are well worth considering: 
If you are raising a third culture kid, chances are this is far from their first flight but it may be their first in a while. Or maybe your child’s speech has developed a lot since the last time you flew as a family. Either way, take some time in advance of your travel plans to speak to your child about what will happen at the airport and on the plane. Use books and toys to help. Make them aware that there will be queues and it will be a busy space. Ask them how they are feeling about the upcoming trip and answer any concerns they might have.

A little advance research will pay dividends when you get to the airport:

• Which terminal do you fly from?

• Is there a family lane for security?

• Is there a children's play area for your children to burn off some energy before getting on the plane?

• What can you bring on board? 

• Where are the baby changing facilities?

• Where are the toilets?

• How do you get children’s equipment through the airport i.e. prams or car seats?

There’s nothing worse than having too much luggage when flying with children. Keep luggage to a minimum but ensure you have what you need to hand. 

Your expat child may love the idea of their own carry-on but be careful before you agree. Are they used to carrying a backpack? If not you may end up juggling their hand luggage with your own. 

The following should be part of your carry-on luggage when flying with little ones:

• Workbook to provide them with a mix of activities

• Twistable crayons or colouring pencils that don’t need sharpening

• Magnetic drawing board (the pen is attached so no crawling under seats for dropped crayons)

• Soft toy or blanket for nap time

• Favourite snacks

• Tissues and wet wipes

• Change of clothes

• Warm socks in case the air conditioning is too much 

Try to dress the whole family simply, put belts in checked luggage. Comfortable clothes are best, think sportswear and shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but if this is your first time flying with a toddler allow much more time to get through the airport. Factor in:
Many airports around the world have family lanes at security that allow you to skip past most of the queue. There will still be some waiting with other families, but it should reduce time significantly.
There’s no denying that screens can be a lifesaver on a flight with children, but it is helpful for them to have an alternative form of entertainment, particularly around nap time. A favourite story, workbook or cuddly toy may help them unwind before sleep.
Last but by no means least, key to flying with children is patience, and lots of it. The noise and activity of an airport can be a lot for a young child to process and they may feel overwhelmed and frustrated.

There is no doubt the airport can be a challenge for children at the best of times. If you are raising an expat child who flies more than most, they might find it particularly frustrating. Still, with some preparation and extra time you can make the most of family time while in the airport.

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