Travel during winter months offers a higher probability of overnight flight delays and cancellations. Either event is the makings of a travel-with-kids nightmare. It’s a stressful enough situation as a single traveler, however, dealing with such adverse circumstances with kids in tow could make any parent nutty.
No matter how much you plan before a trip, nothing can quite prepare you for the experience of the great unexpected. So what do you do when there are no playgrounds, crowd-controlled open spaces, or family lounges? Make sure you have a contingency plan and execute it as quickly as possible, so as to keep your kids comfortable and your stress low.
- Hopefully you’ve packed for the worst-case scenario: being stuck overnight with no access to your luggage. If you're indeed prepared, the family’s carry-on bags will contain toothbrushes, toothpaste, a change of clothes, washcloths, and other essential toiletries. If this isn’t the case, no worries - most U.S. airports have convenience stores that offer many of these items, albeit at a premium compared to your local drug store. If these items aren’t in your bags, be sure to purchase them as quickly as possible before other travelers make a run on the store. [PHOTO_132742]
- Be sure to get your kids a filling meal: well-fed kids make happier travel companions. Use this time to sit and get yourself organized while the kids eat and take a break from their over-abundance of stress-inducing questions. Even if you’ve packed snacks, it would be prudent to reserve them for the remainder of your travels, when food options are more limited. Besides, filling the family with a healthy meal will improve everyone’s general demeanor. Once their food has settled, and if you’re traveling with another adult, walk around the airport with them to expend some of that extra energy that you wish you had an ounce of. [PHOTO_133327]
- Check the airport map: see if the airport has an observation lounge or some type of art gallery. The observation lounges often have open spaces and more comfortable seating. They also tend to be less congested and offer a quieter setting.
- If you’re a military family: whether active, reserve, or retired, look to see if the airport has a USO lounge, where you can park the family for the remaining time you’ll be at the airport. USO lounges differ widely in U.S. airports, as they are all volunteer-run. Available resources, lodging options, and general creature comforts are unique to each lounge you’ll encounter. Some of the lounges offer snacks, computer usage, televisions, sleeping quarters, clean bathrooms, and other amenities that can help keep you and your children happy for the night. Most important, they're free. An airport oasis — Photo courtesy of Nakedsky, Flickr.com
- Airline/Airport Lounges: For families traveling first class, or who are elite members of an airline’s frequent flyer program, or who are premium credit card holders, or who have purchased annual/lifetime memberships, an airline lounge is an accessible option. Other families can also access some airport lounges if they offer daily fee programs. These lounges offer more comfortable seating, complimentary snacks and beverages, televisions, phones, internet service, and overall, quieter environments.
- Checking into a nearby hotel may be the easiest and least stressful option if it fits within your budget and you’re 100% certain that you’re flight won’t resume until the next day. Be sure that you choose a desired property as close to the airport as possible and that the airline has your cell number on file. This would also be a good time to download the airline’s app, if they have one, to keep abreast of the latest updates. Once you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your i’s, relax, tuck your kids into bed, and prepare yourself for the next day of travel.
A Great Packing Tip: Other items that will serve a family well during an overnight flight delay or cancellation scenario: movies, toys, books, a blanket or sweatshirt, earplugs, aspirin, soothing iPod tunes, and a travel pillow.