Broken strollers, paying extra to sit with kids: Why family travel is not so simple in the air.
Allie Olson will fly for the first time with two young children in September. She is already nervous about the two flights it will require from Tennessee to California, even though there are still over a month before the trip. “I get stressed up only very, and I am uncomfortable with this.”
Her stress is warranted. Practically nothing about flying is organized to accommodate families. Experts weigh in on moms’ and dads’ top issues and then reveal how to fix them.
Allyson Matthews’s twins turned 2 last year in November, doubling whatwo it cost her for her family of four to travel; 2 and up kids require paid tickets. She was grateful to have the extra seats, instead of having two babies and without any seat on her lap, but now all costs were almost prohibitive.
The Family Travel Association’s annual survey regularly notes the affordability of travel as the leading challenge cited by respondents. Kenneth Shapiro, president of the Family Travel Association, says that trip budgeting is still challenging due to increased costs.
But the bottom line is that it has always been so expensive to fly, and one of the reasons Jo Kaur and her husband didn’t take their kids on any flights (they are 3 years old and nine months old). Her three Riaan are suffering from a fatal neurodegenerative disease referred to as Cockayne Syndrome, and she decides to move out of work to stay home with him, resulting in them becoming a one-income family. It is too expensive to book airfare and get travel necessities for two young children, let alone one with a medical disease.
Families’ good news is that while it may not feel like it at booking, the average flight pricing trend is down. As stated in the Bureau of Labor Statistics federal inflation report for June, airfare dropped by 8% from May to June and has declined by 19% in the past year.
However, as ticket prices drop, “[a]irlines are figuring out how to get families there on the cheap,” shares Rob Taylor, founder and lead writer for 2TravelDads.com, the original LGBT family travel blog with Yahoo Life.
Flying can be expensive, with checked bag fees and upcharges on main cabin seating that can quickly add up. “We pay instead of fees, credit card fees to get upgrades and free baggage covered by an annual fee,” Taylor says. Nonetheless, this year has seen rising family travel costs even for rewards and loyalties like Taylor. For instance, his credit card annual fee previously included a lounge entrance for three, and he has been taking his kids up to February.
Given that the travel is most of the time as a family, this provision was pivotal to offset the cost of buying overpriced food and drinks during layovers. These days, the cost of entry to the lounge per child is $30; this further excludes instances where an individual needs to reach a minimum card spend that is highly unreasonable. “That seems almost like a move against families.”
About Vedica, Kant was pleasantly surprised to see a separate immigration line for families with kids under five while traveling through the Istanbul airport this summer. “It let us get through Immigration fast and took away the stress of having a cranky baby for hours and irritating bunches of other travelers — seemed like a no-brainer,” Kant tells Yahoo Life.
The only thing closest in the United States is to pay extra for TSA PreCheck or CLEAR, which Taylor recommends highly for family travel – sadly. According to Matthews, who used it for the first time on her trip a few weeks ago, the cost has proven worth it. “Within 5 minutes, we were in and out. “Those kids could go through three times a day and think it was fun,” she said for Today. CLEAR = $189/year + $70/person (Children 18 & under are free), and TSA PreCheck = $78 for five years (Children 17 & under are free).
Seating and boarding
One of the most stressful aspects of flying – where to sit – is about to improve, hopefully for many parents. In July, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a notice that guaranteed small children should sit next to their parents without extra payments.
Yet, this will hardly reduce anxiety among families traveling via airlines that do not assign seats. Mathews states, “I require three seats for myself and the two kids; [it’s] a stressor because you’re competing with other families.” Parents are usually stranded with their traveling compatriots without seats assigned together. The latest seat swap incident popped up after a woman shared on social media some moments ago, highlighting an instance when she declined to swap her seat to allow a mother to sit next to her two children.
It would help guarantee the seats so families can shift and get more flexible in boarding. Samantha Brown, the host of PBS’s Samantha Brown’s Places to Love, an Emmy-winning show and a travel expert with 10-year-old twins, attests that instead of allowing Brown’s husband to board early with all the gear as most airlines do with passengers traveling with young kids, and letting the kids run around in the gate area till last person in the very previous zone boarded. It reduces time spent in the plane but does not work for solo passengers or parents on airlines without assigned seats.
Hannah McDowell has lost a stroller almost every time she’s traveled by air. In one instance, her stroller frame was entirely broken. Fortunately, she managed to get reimbursed; however, the process was complicated, and she had to be very active because she filed a claim within 24-hour intervals. However, some airlines she has traveled withhave declined to take responsibility forr any damages.
Taylor also urges all stroller-flying parents to purchase this bag. He tells Yahoo Life, “Everyone I’ve ever spoken with who has had a stroller broken, hasn’t had a stroller bag or hasn’t provided their stroller fully packed for travel, so it won’t open up as it’s being moved.”
However, even though the 2016 Bottles and Breastfeeding Equipment Screening (BABES) Act sought to make it easier for parents to pass through airport security with their breast milk and other feeding gear intact, many moms—like Keke Palmer—are still being threatened to have such milk, formulae, and ice packs downed. (Also, as Olivia Munn discovered last year when her packed baby son’s container spilled, formula in checked luggage can be a mess- during our recent fiasco.)
Such challenges are only higher when one is flying without kids. Emily Calandrelli, an Emmy-nominated science TV host and mom of two, tells Yahoo Life, “If you are breastfeeding and traveling without kids . . . all of the sudden people in TSA are very confused as to why you need to continue the act of pumping if the child isn’t there One of them was humiliated when they refused TSA agents just let me go with already molten freezer packs that I needed for milk preservation when I pumped in the airport.” This particular post of Calandrelli went viral when she tweeted about her experience, and the response from other women who had gone through similar things came pouring in.
Subsequently, Calandrelli was later involved with Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) to strengthen the BABES Act. The BABES Enhancement Act bill, introduced last summer, is meant to guarantee safe travel for parents. In her words, Calandrelli also advises women to have the TSA policy on their phones already accessed before going through the security check based on her experience. She says, “being educated about your rights in that situation can protect you from problems.”
Staying calm in the sky
Addressing these system-wide concerns could be very time-consuming, complicated, and expensive. However, there’s one tip that both travel experts Brown and Taylor recommend: snacks.
“Snacks solve most problems – that’s something we learned from an early age with our kids, having easy snacks on the go, saves money and time and makes it so you can de-fuse a lot of stressful kid situations,” Taylor tells Yahoo Life.
Brown gives similar advice and tells parents to feed themselves as well. “Keep a snack for yourself all the time ‘coz every one of my meltdowns was actually based on the fact that I was literally hungry and couldn’t do another 20 minutes without yelling.”