ABCs of Surviving Holiday Flights

The flight is so jammed there's no room in the overhead bin for the shopping bag full of presents, much less anything else. The kids' squabbling has escalated to full-scale war, attracting disapproving looks from all around. The bathroom is never free when your children insist they need it. You think you can't endure another minute when the loudspeaker announces that landing has been delayed. If only you had a parachute.

We can't make the airplane seats any roomier. But we can make our travel time more comfortable.

Remember everything takes longer with children, from finding a place to park in the long-term lot to getting through beefed-up airport security. Don't forget to bring photo IDs, even on domestic flights.

Get tickets and boarding passes ahead of time. Before leaving for the airport, call the airline to make sure the flight is on time.

Winter storms can disrupt airline schedules across the country. Even if you're not traveling through stormy areas, plan on delays that can occur when planes are stranded. Have toys on hand to keep the kids amused and plenty of snacks to ward off hunger. Don't count on airport concessions being open when your family decides it's time to eat. And don't count on being able to buy diapers when you need them most.

Stash a well-stocked lunch box and water bottle in the backpacks your kids have stocked with comic books, string for friendship bracelets, hand-held video games (take along games that you can turn the sound off, in consideration of other passengers), tape players and other can't-live-without items. An extra T-shirt is always a good bet, in case anyone gets sick or spills something.

Pack another bag with surprise gifts and a few treats that can be handed out at appropriate moments.

Try to use airport time for fun. Bring along a map so the kids can plot their route while they're waiting for the flight. Bring a deck of cards and teach them a game.

If you're lucky, you may be traveling through an airport that has a KidPort. Growing numbers of airports in cities across the country--including San Jose; Des Moines, Iowa; Pittsburgh and Boston--have installed special areas where kids can run, jump, climb and make noise as much as they like.

Delta Airlines has gone a step further by opening Dusty's Dens during peak travel periods, such as during the December holidays and in summer, in airports in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Orlando. In the playrooms, open to children and parents flying Delta, parents can get a breather while kids watch TV or play.

But don't despair if you don't have access to these amenities. Take the kids to the flight-observation deck. If you're traveling through Chicago, take the kids for a 15-minute ride on O'Hare International Airport's People Mover.

Keep the kids in sight at all times but make sure to tell them--even preschoolers--what to do if they get separated from you.

Above all, try to stay relaxed, even when things go wrong. The more uptight you are, the worse the kids will behave.

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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