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The parents’ guide to flying with your kids in 2020

Illustration of kids with luggage and a present bow
(Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

This story is part of a package on holiday travel.

Traveling with kids can be a challenge even without a pandemic, but planning can make a world of difference.

After I moved to California in 2003, I would fly home to Maryland about every six months. After I settled down and started a family, those trips became further and further apart — so much so that the last time my wife, our two kids and I were there was Thanksgiving 2016.

At the start of the COVID-19 shutdown in March, I had a case of wanderlust. There were great deals on airfares, so I booked a round-trip flight for the four of us from Oakland to Baltimore in late July. Once summer arrived, we decided to proceed with our trip before another four years passed.

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Of course, the safety of our children, ages 4 and 13, was a priority. We had concerns, the main being how to keep a mask on our young son for a five-hour flight. But he was a trooper, and everything went smoothly.

For those looking to travel this holiday season, here is what we learned:

Use technology

Anything you can do to streamline the travel process will make it easier, especially with kids. Use technology to your advantage, including digital hotel-room keys and boarding passes.

I downloaded the Southwest app for our boarding passes and used the Hilton app to avoid the front desk. We went directly to our room, where I unlocked the door with my phone. It was ideal when we were juggling luggage and kids.

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My phone even served as our waiter when ordering food and drinks at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery in Baltimore.

Wear a mask

Masks were required not only on our cross-country flight but during check-in and in baggage claim. As adults, we understand that masks are mandatory and can wear them even if they’re uncomfortable. Kids, on the other hand ...

More on traveling this season

Face coverings are required for passengers 2 and older. Talk with your kids about the importance of keeping themselves and others safe. Children, especially young ones, must be acclimated to mask wearing. We got our kids used to wearing face coverings when in public, and we made sure their masks fit properly and were comfortable.

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It also helps if they like the design. A family friend made our son, Gus, a small American flag-patterned mask he enjoys wearing along with a plain black one he says makes him feel like a ninja. Have extra masks in case one falls on the ground or gets dirty.

Keep clean

Children like to touch everything, so remembering the hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes is even more important when traveling with kids. It helps if they like the smell, so my wife, Amber, added a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil to the hand sanitizer to make it smell better.

Having disinfectants handy was especially useful on the hotel shuttle bus and when we visited a Pennsylvania amusement park. (Yes, we wore our masks while riding the roller coasters.)

Do your homework

Educate yourself about your destination. Rules and regulations might differ from those in your home state.

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What are the mask policies? Any quarantines imposed? We wanted to visit Vermont but didn’t because at the time it required a two-week quarantine.

Get the latest travel restrictions from your airline along with travel policies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Plan activities

We brought plenty of activities for our kids. Our teenage daughter, Ediza, read Shakespeare and worked on crossword puzzles during our flight, while Gus played with toy dinosaurs and colored pictures.

We tried to limit trips to the cramped airplane bathrooms by making the kids use the facilities at the airport.

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Flight attendants served only water and a small, salty snack, so we packed plenty of food. After all, we know how kids — and adults, for that matter — can get when they’re hungry. If you’re lucky like we were, your kid might even take a power nap.

Spreading out made a huge difference. It helped that Southwest kept the middle seats empty, and it has agreed to do so until Dec. 1. For those traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday, that’s surely something to be thankful for.


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