Frequent Flyer Mamas I Need Your Insight!

Updated on December 08, 2010
A.H. asks from San Jose, CA
13 answers

This spring I will have to fly cross country with my hyperactive 4 year old and I am looking for tips to make it easier.
I'm interested in knowing what the best time to go through the security checkpoint is. Also how to find the flights that will be the least packed? Any other tips? Yes, of course I will have snacks, toys,and videos and I will be working my butt off to entertain/discipline and No Benadryl is not an option - he had it once for a rash and it just made him nuts! (not to mention it did a poor job of controlling the rash!) Our choices of airport are san jose, san francisco, or oakland to hartford, boston or newark - possibly jfk

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answers from San Francisco on

I agree with the previous posts that flights these days (no matter what day/time) are almost always full. We fly SFO to Boston once per year. (We also fly to Detroit once per year.) We have not had security lines in either direction that were longer than a 30 minute wait in like a decade. Usually they are more like 15 minutes. However, we do use the arrive 2 hours before the flight departure time rule, just in case. I've not experienced the "family line short-cut" others mentioned that often. Don't count on/expect that.

Flying out of San Jose is easier in may ways, since the airport is smaller and less crowded. However, when I have shopped for flights, I have found flying out of SFO usually costs less, and has a lot more more flight choices. That might just be because flights out of San Jose book up faster, since there are fewer flights to choose from. Maybe if you booked farther (months) in advance, the costs would be more similar. It is also easier to get direct flights if you fly out of SFO.

I disagree with the previous posts about advising you to take a red-eye. Our oldest was one of those kids that Benedryl hypes up. She wasn't hyperactive in general, but she was otherwise high-maintenance. We tried a red-eye when she was 3yo. She was too keyed up and only slept for an hour or two. However, since everyone else on the plane is trying to sleep, you get seriously annoyed looks (more so than usual) if your child cries or is otherwise loud. It's hard to even keep the overhead light on to read, for fear of keeping others awake. (Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but it really stresses me out to disturb the other passengers.)

I would recommend a direct flight if possible. They usually cost a bit more, but it is worth it in my opinion. You want to keep the overall travel time as short as possible. You also have to book the flight weeks in advance if you want to be sure to get seats together. Prices will also go up as you get closer to the travel date. is good for comparing prices and seeing the schedule choices, and it also lets you see how many seats are still available together before you book the flight. (And it does not cost more to book through them compared to on-line directly with the airline.)

Very few planes have the individual TVs in every seat back. Does your son have a DS? Do you have a laptop? You can buy a portable DVD player for under $200. I think you can also rent them. We take the approach of letting the kids have as much screen time as they want on the plane. I know that sounds bad, but it really helps keep the flight less stressful, for the child(ren) and parents. One movie, food and a nap will put you in pretty good shape. A second movie, or maybe an extra hour of something electronic and you will be golden. Having the option of more than one movie would be really helpful in case he doesn't take a nap. Trust me. We are generally pretty strict about limiting screen time. On a plane (or a long car drive) are reasonable exceptions.

Also, two of our kids have trouble with ear pain from the pressure change during the descent. That is when we break out the lollipops, gummy bears, or some other candy that you can dole out slowly, one every minute or two for the last 20 minutes of the flight. (The pilot will usually announce when you are about to start the descent; but if not, you can tell if you pay attention to when you first feel your own ears pop.) Swallowing often is what helps keep that problem in check. Again, if you are usually strict with sweets, this is a good time to make an exception. :)

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

both SFO and San Jose have Family lines for going through security- if you don't see the line markings ask- while it does not make the process any easier- it does cut the wait time down in line- Sure Oakland does at well but have never flown out of there....

As another mom said- make sure all have easy to remove shoes- no belts and jackets already off-

if you little guy has a toy that he just must have with him- don't give it to him until after you have been through security, same goes for snacks or drinks- everything has to go on the belt and they will not let a little one carry it through the scanner- learned the hard way once when dolly had to be handed over and had near melt down.

we have found that flying in the evening is better- we do not let her nap during the day and run her around as much as possible during the day and at the airport-

As for during the flight- you have it covered... I know other moms in other posts have talked about wrapping new toys and bringing them out one at a time- as the opening of the wrap takes up time- but be aware that you can't take wrapped gifts through security- so while it was a great idea... unless you are going to sneak away to a corner to wrap in the airport- can't happen anymore

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

San Jose is clearly the fastest security lines and is a pretty dead airport - I prefer this one with my child! Oakland second and San Fran last - for crowded issues and for flights arriving and leaving on time. Tuesdays are the best days to fly, if you do southwest you can click on "low fare calendar" and it shows Tuesday and Wednesday and most Saturdays as having a lower fare - and the earlier you book the cheaper it will be.
Earlier in the morning tendsd to be more crowded, I prefer to leave at 10:00 or later. Evening flights pretty good as well (6-9) to travel with kids.
Whatever you do DO NOT ask to go to the cockpit or let your child walk around the plane. Since 9/11 you can't see the cockpit, and walking around pisses the flight attendants off, as well as a huge safety hazard (if there is any bumps, kids going flying and can get really hurt).
I always buy new toys, games, movies to bring and only bring them out one at a time...your kid is borred, bring out 1 toy for 15 minutes, borred again another toy. And I try to break it up like first toy, then art, then movie, then another toy, stickers, video game. As well as healthy snacks and try to get the most entertainment watching take off and landing to get them focussed on something other than what's in your bag!



answers from Sacramento on

My big suggestion would be to take a flight with one layover. I know it adds some time to the total trip but at least it breaks up the sitting into shorter stretches. It also gives you the opportunity to let your child run around the airport and burn off some of that pent up energy.

The portable DVD player has been a lifesaver for us!



answers from Fresno on

The one time I flew out of San Francisco with our kids, our flight was delayed due to fog. We missed our connector from Orange County to Florida by 10 minutes and had to sit for 7 hours in OC and then fly to Newark (red eye - No food) then to Florida. What a nightmare. We missed a day at Disneyworld. Research when fog is most expected in SF if you fly out of there. We went at 9am. The airline takes no responsibility if there is fog delay other then arranging other flights.



answers from San Francisco on

We flew last march and here are a few things we did (our daughter was 2).
1. SFO and I think all airports let families cut in the check point line.
2. My husband went on the plane at the preboard with most of our stuff and installed the car seat (probably doesn't apply to you) whole I literally ran our daughter up and down the walkway in the airport. My daughter and I were the very last to board the plane
3. We bright treats that she NEVER gets ( lolypops, new coloring books, markers, etc)
That's all I've got. Best of luck. You could try a reward when you land, Ivanhoe think at four you can say if you behave ( no matter how boring the flight) and follow directions you get X, Y or Z as soon as we land.



answers from San Francisco on

The worst security lines I've ever had were at oakland, flying southwest. SFO options are cheaper and more numerous, I always go there. I think generally speaking the largest airports have the protocol down better since they just have more numbers to deal with, so I would probably skip hartford and Boston, and go Newark or JFK.

I don't think Frontier is an option (Denver based and truly awesome but they aren't national) but see if Virgin is. They also have TVs in every seat and truly nice planes.

I also did a red eye with my kids last Easter when we went from SFO to Florida. Although my mistake there was a layover at like 4 am, they never went back to sleep on the second flight. They did sleep on the first one. But remember it's uncomfortable airplane sleep, and we arrived not very rested. Don't do it unless you can envision how your son would handle a bad night's sleep -- mine just had to go to bed super early the next day, they are old enough to not be complete pills. But 4 is a shaky age, and it could be unbearable for you both adjusted, especially since there is a 3 hour time difference to deal with! So when you are choosing your flight times, definitely factor in the time change. Landing at 6 in the morning there would be 3 in the morning on his body clock!

As for times when security gets busy, think mostly about days of the week for business travelers and then spring breakers. Business travelers may be returning home on a Friday evening, heading out Monday morning, etc. Spring breakers usually have off near Easter and travel on weekend days, Fri to Sun. PIck middle of the week if you can, it will be less busy.



answers from Denver on

All flights tend to be oversold these days, so unless you're flying to a remote place, just assume your flight will be full.

Bring lots of things for him to do, including books and coloring- things that are relatively calming.

I don't know if you can fly Frontier, but if so- they have tv's at every seat (on the bigger planes). It's like $8 to use, but gets kids channels, too and is worth EVERY PENNY.

They make children's Dramamine for kids as young as two. Read the box or check with your doc or pharmacist, but that is usually sedating. Not that I'm recommending drugging your kid, but since you asked.... (I loved Benadryl when my daughter was younger, bummer that it has the opposite effect for you!).

Don't even stress about the TSA stuff. It is random, so you can't control if they pick you for screening or not. If they do, you can do the scan and have your son as well. If you don't like that option, the pat down is what you opt for. I have flown 4 times in the last month with my daughter and we weren't selected on any of those flights. On this last flight home, they were scanning a lot of people. About half of them opted for the pat down. I saw the whole thing, it was fine. Not inappropriate and the TSA folks were very professional and even pleasant. I think it comes down to attitude. If you simply say "I'd like to opt out of the scan please" instead of "you're not going to radiate me and my kid no matter what", you can guess what the difference will be in their attitude toward you. Plus I'll bet it's ironed out by spring. You didn't seem concerned about this, but since it was mentioned by others, I thought I'd share my experience just in case you worried later.

Finally, see if it's possible to have your son visit the cockpit. This could be a huge incentive for him. If not, maybe mention to the flight attendants that IF he is good he can get wings from them at the end of the flight. I'm sure they will be happy to be a part of keeping him calm.

Have a great flight!


answers from Las Vegas on

See which airports don't have enhanced pat downs so your baby boy doesn't get groped. If your going to fly make sure NOTHING is out of the ordinary or you'll be "randomly" selected to be groped or your son if he cries or throws a fit. I'm just giving friendly advice as I think TSA are ridiculous and I can't stand when they do that to kids. They started this a little while ago and it's just sad.



answers from San Francisco on

I've done the SFO route many times with my hyperactive boy beginning when he was a baby. He's 8 now. Try Chamomila, a homeopathic remedy. As you probably know, there aren't any direct flights to hartford. The stopover in Chicago (in the summer) is best (Dallas takes too long and there are unpredictable storms in the summer). Videos help a ton. Stay off any sweets (no sugary drinks or candy, cookies, etc.) and artificial colors in foods also make kids more hyper. Security is best mid morning from SFO. Bradley never gets too busy...Logan is a little less predictable. Best flight options are from SFO to HFD. Non stops are great only if you don't have to get in the car for a long drive after the airplane trip. Good luck!



answers from New York on

I have traveled with twins as young as your child. Our international flights take over 20 hrs. I don't give them medicine prior to flight. I have found leapster games to keep them entertained for a long time. same thing with crayons and a little notepad, and little snacks. given the choice, i always try to take the earliest flight possible (we have gone as early as 5 am) because the first few hours they're still somewhat sleepy, and by the time they're fully awake we're close to landing. i don't recommend nighttime flights.



answers from Washington DC on

It seems you get the plane part pretty much covered and need advice on the airport part. I've flew with my kids several times from and to SFO and Logan but have no experience in the other you mention.
It's very hard to know which flight will be more or less packed. Usually tickets are cheaper off-season and in less packed flight (to get them fuller), but you can end up with a very full very cheap flight too, especially if a school or other organized trip is on board.

Some tips for the airport:
- very easy to put on and off shoes (for you and your son) to pass the screening. Velcro type of sneakers, for example that he can put off himself at security are good.
- Be very ready for the security check to avoid loosing time (and so your son doesn't escape to the end of the line while you are looking for your liquids at the bottom of your bag. Think that you will have to remove: liquids, creams, gels, laptops and other electronics from your bags; keys, coins... from your pockets and belt, metal hair clips.... What I usually do is have everything in my jacket pockets and nothing in my own pockets (pants), so I just remove my jacket and put it into a basket. I wear no metal hair clip, belt, wrist watch, jewelry... Same for the kids.
- I am not sure how many bags and suitcases you are planning to take with you and if you will be alone but think that pushing a baggage cart at the same time as a stroller is not the easiest thing on earth! At 4, he can walk. If you're afraid that he runs away, you can have him wear a harness. You will get dirty looks but he will be safe.
- If possible, try a night flight. Some flights leave SFO around 6pm and land around 6am. And, if your son can handle staying a little bit later than usual, there are plane until 11pm arriving early in the morning. In the other direction, leaving Logan around 6pm makes you arrive at SFO around 11pm. It will still be the middle of the night for your son, so he may sleep in the car to home and stay asleep until morning!
- If you don't have a lot of bags to fit in the overhead bins, you may prefer to skip the priority boarding and let your son run around until the very last minute.
- If you take smaller airports, you may have harder time finding direct flights.
- If you have the chance to get a night flight, get your son outside and running all day (and, if, as most probably, you are packing, try to get someone to get him outside). This way, he will burn a lot of energy. Otherwise, he may still be very energetic when you arrive at the airport and won't be able to stay very still during the flight.
- Don't forget anything that is his comforter, toy, blanket...


answers from Santa Fe on

Often they will put you ahead in the "family line" for security but not always. A lot of airports have a kid's play area for between flights and we always go sit there and let our son play. My very energetic son flies great and your son might surprise you! It is all new and exciting to them so they seem to behave better than normal. I let him bring his own roller bag (a small Thomas the train bag) that he can pack a stufffed animal and some toys. I bring a backpack basically just filled with stuff for him. A laptop or DVD player for movies with headphones, new and excitign art supplies, a ton of snacks etc. Now he likes to play video games on my husband's iphone. When he was about 4 I remember we got him a little new toy airplane before one flight and he excitedly played w it the whole time. Sorry I can't give you specific airport info. Good luck!

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