Are you and your children planning on traveling overseas for a holiday or to visit family? Flying internationally with kids can be stressful enough without a pandemic! Below are some tips to help make your flight(s) safer and less stressful. These tips are written from my perspective, traveling alone with three small children from Italy to the United States and back. You may need to make adjustments based on your personal situation. Buon viaggio!
1. Check The Requirements For Your Destination
Only rely on official government websites for up-to-date information. For example, in the United States, use travel.state.gov. For Italy, use viaggiaresicuri.it.
While news sites, bloggers, and Facebook friends may have information, you won’t be able to rely on them when you’re at the airport, face-to-face with the official stamping your passport!
Official sites will have information about visa requirements, COVID testing requirements, and quarantine information.
2. Make Sure Your Passports Are Up-To-Date and Within the Time Frame For Your Destination
Check the passport expiration date for each member of your family. Remember that in most countries, a child’s passport has a shorter validity – usually 3-5 years. Some countries require a passport to be valid for 3-6 months beyond the intended stay in the country. For example, the United States requires visitors to have a passport valid for 6 months beyond the length of intended stay.
3. Use The Verifly App
A few airlines (American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Aer Lingus, Qantas, and Alaska Airlines) have been encouraging their passengers to use the Verifly app. Once you’ve signed up and entered your flight information, the app creates a checklist of all documents and details needed for your trip for each family member. It’s easy to use and it makes check-in simple – you just show the trip on your app and swipe through each family member to check in. It’s much easier than sorting through all of the documents. I’d recommend carrying backup hard copies, just in case. We found the app to be easy to use and we’ll use it for upcoming flights with these airlines.
If your airline doesn’t offer Verifly, check to see if your airline’s app has new features to help streamline the check-in process.
4. Check COVID Testing Requirements Carefully
The timing for COVID tests can be confusing and stressful for travellers. Confusing, because requirements can vary according to the airline, country, and arrival airport. For example, for a flight from the US to Italy recently, our testing requirement was:
As you can imagine, this confusion led to the situation being quite stressful. When I asked for clarification at multiple points during our trip (check-in, at the gates in two US cities, and on arrival in Italy), I received different answers. My advice – see the next tip.
5. CALL YOUR AIRLINE AND ASK FOR THEIR TESTING HOTLINE
If you’re not allowed to board your flight, you definitely won’t arrive at your destination. Don’t rely on the customer service representative from your airline. Ask for the airline’s testing hotline and call for the airline’s official timeline for COVID testing.
6. DOUBLE-CHECK THAT YOUR FLIGHT IS COVID-TESTED
If you are flying on a COVID-tested flight in order to avoid quarantine (for example, certain flights from the US to Italy), double-check that your flight is officially COVID-tested. For example, Delta flights from New York (JFK) to Rome (FCO) are COVID-tested, but not ALL of the flights on this route are. Delta has a special ‘COVID-TESTED’ marker on flights when you’re searching on its website. Not all airlines mark the routes, so you should double-check on the phone before booking if it’s important to you to avoid quarantine at your destination.
7. TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN
If your children are old enough to understand the situation, talk to them about how the trip will be different. Review how to cough, how to social distance, etc.
8. GATHER MASKS FOR EVERYONE
Make sure you have masks that fit everyone in your group, and have spares. It’s also a good idea to have the rubber pieces that attach to the elastics so you don’t have to have the elastics behind your ears all day. You may want to bring different types of masks – I had trouble breathing with an FFP2 mask on the flight and had to switch to a surgical mask.
We chose not to use face shields as they interfere with headphones, which my older children wore for most of the time on our flights.
9. TRY TO BOOK SEATS FAR FROM THE BATHROOMS
Bathrooms will get a lot of foot traffic. Try to book seats as far from them as possible to reduce your exposure to other passengers.
10. BOOK TRIPS WITH LESS CONNECTIONS
If you’re driving to the airport (versus taking public transportation), book a trip with less connections so you’ll have less time in the airport with your children. It may mean driving further to your departure airport or from your arrival airport, but it’s worth it during the pandemic.
11. BOOK FLIGHT TIMES THAT WILL GIVE YOU AMPLE TIME TO GET TEST RESULTS
I try not to book on a Monday or Tuesday in order to avoid the stress of getting tests done and results back over the weekend.
12. BOOK THE BULKHEAD SPACE AND THE BABY BASSINET
The baby bassinet will give you a space to keep your baby that’s away from the aisle. Even if you don’t have a baby, your kids can play in the bulkhead area instead of walking up and down aisles. If you didn’t book it before the flight, it’s worth checking at the gate or on the plane. Sometimes the gate agent will charge you for it, but the flight attendants may seat you there free of charge if the area is available.
13. BUY TRIP INSURANCE AND MAKE SURE IT COVERS COVID
Make sure it also covers trip cancellation in the event that someone in your family gets COVID or must quarantine BEFORE departure. Trip cancellation often must be purchased in addition to your regular travel insurance.
14. PACK CARRY-ONS AS LIGHT AS POSSIBLE
When traveling alone with three children, I use a small roller bag, a small backpack with baby gear (diapers, toys, etc), and a small backpack for each of two older kids. If necessary, I can fit the small backpacks into the roller bag. I wear the baby in a carrier.
15. PACK SPARE CLOTHES
I always have extras for each family member in case anyone gets sick or spills, but now I also have to worry about kids rolling around or laying down somewhere I don’t want them to.
16. CHARGE ALL ELECTRONIC DEVICES
Make sure iPads, computers, Nintendo Switches, noise-cancelling headphones, mobile phones, and any other devices are fully-charged for the journey.
17. PACK INTERNATIONAL ADAPTERS FOR ELECTRONICS
If you’re delayed for any reason in another country on your route, you may need to recharge devices. Pack an adapter so you’ll be able to charge them in countries with different outlets than your own. If you know where you’ll be, you can pack a small adapter. You may also choose a multi-country adapter, which comes in handy globally but is much larger. We choose to carry a US adapter and an Italian/Euro adapter.
18. HAVE A CARSEAT AT YOUR DESTINATION
If you’ll be driving from your arrival airport, make sure you’ve got a carseat arranged.
19. GET PLENTY OF SLEEP THE NIGHT BEFORE
Plan ahead and get the bulk of your packing done in the days leading up to your trip. You will need to be ‘on’ for the entire trip, keeping your children from touching everything, making sure you’re wiping down surfaces, etc.
You’ll want to be well-rested, so don’t stay up late the night before!
TIPS FOR THE DAY OF THE FLIGHT – AT THE AIRPORT
20. CARRY A NOTE FROM THE OTHER PARENT
Have a note from your spouse giving permission for you to travel with the children. Carry a copy of each child’s birth certificate stating both of the parents’ names. Some airlines require this document to be notarized.
21. WEAR YOUR BABY IF POSSIBLE
If you’re traveling with an infant, wear the baby. You won’t need to remove the baby at security (they’ll just swab and test your hands). I’ve done both during the pandemic and much preferred wearing the baby.
22. FOR TIGHT CONNECTIONS, ASK FOR THE USE OF A WHEELCHAIR
Waiting for a gate-checked stroller can be agonizing if you have a tight connection. Instead, check the stroller and ask the airline for help. If you don’t have an infant, you can request the motorized cart to take you to your gate. If you have an infant, you usually cannot ride on the motorized cart, but you can also request the use of a wheelchair. I checked with our airline and the wheelchair attendant and they were both fine with us requesting a wheelchair to transport one child and our roller bag.
23. ASK FOR FAMILY LINES
Even if you don’t see a marked family line, ask! Usually staff will let you use the priority line. If you’re traveling solo with your children, ask people in line if you can go ahead.
24. SANITIZE SEATS IN THE BOARDING AREA
If you end up sitting in the boarding area while you wait for your flight, don’t forget to sanitize your seats. It’s easy to focus on the airplane seats and forget about the seats you use before getting on the plane.
25. USE THE BATHROOMS BEFORE GETTING ON THE PLANE
Have everyone try to go to the bathroom before you board. Change diapers ahead of time, and do anything you can to avoid using the bathroom on the plane.
26. MAKE SAFETY FUN FOR THE KIDS
Have masks with fun patterns. Have children wear goggles and pretend they are superheroes. Make a game of social distancing at the airport – step on social distancing arrows or have an imaginary bubble around you and you get zapped if someone goes inside yours.
TIPS FOR THE DAY OF THE FLIGHT – ON THE PLANE
27. BOARD THE PLANE FIRST
I usually get on the plane with kids as late as I possibly can. I want them to run around and get as much energy out as they can, not spend extra time sitting in their seat on the plane. During the pandemic, I would rather board early so I have time and space to wipe our area down and get organized.
28. PACK YOUR OWN SNACKS AND SPECIAL MEALS
Many airlines no longer offer special meals, so plan ahead and bring your own. I also pack snacks for my kids and I try to pack snacks that don’t require touching the snack directly (even though we sanitize our hands before eating). I bring pureed fruit pouches, lollipops, and granola bars that can be eaten holding the wrapper. I leave goldfish and fruit snacks at home).
29. USE THE AIR VENT
30. CARRY SANITIZING WIPEs
I bring liquid hand sanitizer, but it can be messy for the kids. I bring sanitizing wipes and put a pack in each child’s backpack.
31. GIVE IN TO SCREEN TIME
If your children are old enough and have the attention span for movies or video games, this is the time to give in and let them binge! I usually pack games and toys, but if they’re on their own devices, they’re moving around less and touching fewer surfaces – a great thing during the pandemic.
32. HAVE NO-TOUCH GAMES AND ACTIVITIES
For younger kids with shorter attention spans, have games and activities that don’t require a lot of touching. Instead of post-it notes and race cars, I bring a magnetic doodle board, a Water Wonder book, and picture books.
33. CHANGE MASKS AS NECESSARY
Check in with the little ones as their masks may get wet or get food spilled on them.
34. ONLY BRING BLANKETS FOR BABY
I used to bring blankets for everyone, but during the pandemic, I don’t like to repack them and reuse them on later flights. Use the packaged blankets offered on the flight and use a light muslin for baby (that only touches baby and mamma).
35. HAVE PROTEIN AVAILABLE FOR YOU
It’s easy to forget about yourself, but you need to be at 100%! You probably won’t be able to sit back and enjoy your meal. Pack protein so you don’t get hungry. I bring protein bars, beef jerky, and nuts. They’re all easy to eat.
36. ASK FOR HELP
You may need help getting your carryon into the overhead bin if you’re wearing your baby. You may need someone to watch your kids while you take one to the bathroom. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
TIPS FOR AFTER THE FLIGHT
37. FOLLOW YOUR DESTINATION’S RULES
Depending on where you’re headed, you may need to get another COVID test or self-quarantine. Make sure you know what’s expected of you and your family.
38. TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND GIVE YOURSELF A HIGH-FIVE!
Congratulations – you did it! Enjoy your vacation or welcome home!