Avoid These Mistakes When You Travel With Family

stressful travel
Photo by leungchopan / Shutterstock.com

Flying somewhere with your family? Before you board that plane, before you pack your bags, before you even book your ticket, you’ll want to read this.

A solo plane trip can be stressful. But add kids or grandparents to the mix, and it’s enough to make you throw yourself out that emergency exit door at cruising altitude.

In a recent Yahoo Travel survey, 1 in 5 parents surveyed said they found traveling with their own children “difficult.” Roughly 10% of adult respondents even wished they could sit apart from their own kids.

My most stressful flight happened on an American Airlines flight from Houston to Orlando a few years ago. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Three of us were suffering from the flu. We misplaced a bag. The turbulence was so bad that my oldest son, then 9, thought we were going to die. I think my daughter was teething or had some kind of skin condition — but I remember her being in agony for the duration of our trip.

After we touched down in Florida, I swore I would never fly again. That lasted all of about a month. I can’t not fly. But that flight from hell really helped me deal with the next flight, and the one after it.

I learned that some things are more valuable than what you paid for that nonrefundable ticket. Also, you can plan your flight carefully to avoid most of the craziness my family and I suffered.

What’s more valuable than your airline ticket?

Of all the mistakes when you fly with your family, the biggest is placing too high of a value on your airline ticket. Here’s what I mean by that: Your nonrefundable economy class ticket cost a lot. And you probably shelled out one of those ridiculous “seat assignment” fees so you could all sit together.

What’s more valuable than the money you spent? Your health.

I’ve shrugged off upper respiratory infections, a touch of the flu and hangovers (in younger days) and boarded my flight. Not worth it.

First of all, flying with an infectious disease ought to be illegal. You’ll make the whole plane sick. But more importantly, it guarantees that you — and your family — will be miserable. And let me tell you, there’s no worse feeling than sitting in a pressurized aluminum tube, feeling as if your head is going to explode. When it’s one of your kids, you have to deal with them and sometimes the irritated passengers next to them, too.

If you or a family member are sick, here’s my advice: Consider canceling or postponing the flight.

Most tickets allow you to reschedule (but you have to pay a change fee). If you booked one of those “basic” fares, you can still call the airline and explain that your child has a virus and shouldn’t be on the plane.

Airlines can bend their own rules and offer a credit or a refund. It’s worth asking.

You’re flying when?

Timing, as they say, is everything — and nowhere is that truer than air travel. Sometimes, the conditions are calm. Other times not so much. Our flight from Houston to Orlando took place in the early spring, which is known for its turbulent weather

Let me share a moment with you from that flight. We’d just hit the second pocket of violent air. The pilot had warned us to buckle up, and then added, “Flight attendants, I’m going to ask you to be seated, too.”

When you hear that, expect a wild ride.

The plane suddenly jerked up and down and the plane seemed to dive. I looked over at my middle son and saw him, bulging eyes, colorless skin. Yes, he looked like Gollum from “Lord of the Rings.”

“Dad,” he whispered. “What’s happening?”

I assured him everything would be fine. But the truth is, I didn’t know.

If I’d done a little planning, I might have chosen a different city in which to connect. The skies around Houston on that particular day were not ideal for flying.

Come to think of it, there are other skies I try to avoid. Flying over the poles during the winter can be a rough ride. There are some notoriously windy skies over airports in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona where you can count on a rough landing.

You don’t have to be an aviation insider to know. Just do a quick search online before you make your reservations.

Your family planning guide for flying

The other thing that could have made our flight better was a little advance planning. Oh, I know I’m always talking about that, but hear me out.

Whether you’re flying with children or grandparents, or just friends who need a little extra care, these few planning steps can help:

Bring more food than you’ll need: Because you never know when your flight will be delayed or stuck on the tarmac for hours. Good food is hard to find on a plane, on many flights it’s expensive, and on some, food is non-existent. If you have dietary restrictions, you might have to go without food for the entire flight — and that adds to the stress.

Entertain them: A flight goes better when you bring the digital pacifier and plenty of movies. Not for the kids — for you. (I’m half kidding.) Seriously, you can’t force them to look out the window the entire time. They will make you pay for it later. So, distraction is key to a smooth flight.

Explain what will happen and then listen to their concerns: If your kids have never flown, they will probably have questions — everything from “What’s that noise?” to “Are we there yet?” Consider briefing them on what will happen next. Then listen to them. Let them air their concerns and try to address them before the flight. Nothing is worse than a midair meltdown.

When it comes to flying, families often fail to adequately plan their flights or schedule a route that works best for them. They also don’t pay enough attention to their health and well-being while they’re in the air. But you don’t have to take that flight path.

Christopher Elliott’s latest book is “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). He edits the family adventure travel blog Away Is Home. You can follow his adventures on Twitter or Facebook.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
10 Items Every First-Aid Kit Should Have
10 Items Every First-Aid Kit Should Have

Take control of your health and safety by customizing your own first-aid kit with these Amazon purchases.

7 Surprising Things That Damage Your Credit Score
7 Surprising Things That Damage Your Credit Score

A seemingly small stumble can cause your credit score to plummet.

5 Ways Retirees Can Lower Their Income Taxes
5 Ways Retirees Can Lower Their Income Taxes

Here’s how to keep Uncle Sam’s mitts away from your nest egg.

The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them
The 3 Biggest Regrets of Retirees — and How to Avoid Them

Rescuing a retirement from regret starts with these steps well before it’s time to quit working.

9 Ways to Get Affordable Vet Care
9 Ways to Get Affordable Vet Care

Medical care for your furry friends can be expensive. Here are some tips to get affordable vet care.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling
20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling

You don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper to survive an outbreak, but consider stocking up on these items.

Can a Twice-Divorced Woman Claim Social Security Survivors Benefits?
Can a Twice-Divorced Woman Claim Social Security Survivors Benefits?

Understanding survivors benefits rules is the key to getting the most from your benefit.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation
These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation

Two types of vehicles are especially likely to see steep plunges in value.

Never Buy These 10 Things With Your Credit Card
Never Buy These 10 Things With Your Credit Card

Credit cards offer many conveniences and protections, but sometimes it’s simply smarter to keep the plastic tucked away.

13 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
13 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s
10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s

From snacks to sweets to side dishes, stock your cart with these time-tested favorites on your next TJ’s run.

8 Surprising Household Items You Can Sell for Fast Cash
8 Surprising Household Items You Can Sell for Fast Cash

Sometimes, the humblest household items are worth the most money.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

There are easy high-paying majors available in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required. We’re here to help you find easy degrees that pay well.

Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early
Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early

Like the idea of financial independence? Part of the FIRE equation is cutting costs.

5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021
5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021

These adjustments will affect both workers and retirees in the new year.

Stop Buying These 19 Things Online
Stop Buying These 19 Things Online

The internet has changed how we shop. But for some things, you’re still better off buying the old-fashioned way.

15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It
15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It

Discover some must-have products on Amazon that you didn’t even know you were missing.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Food Supply
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Food Supply

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing emergency food supply. Is your pantry well-prepared for emergencies? Knowing what to stock up on for emergencies can be a difficult task and we’re here to help.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

8 Things You Should Buy at Restaurant Supply Stores
8 Things You Should Buy at Restaurant Supply Stores

You don’t have to be a chef or a restaurant owner to shop here.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.