Tantrum-Free Travel? Tips for Traveling with Kids

Preparation is key, but there’s plenty of help in the airport when things go awry

By Eric Heyl

Published May 10, 2019

Read Time: 3 mins


You don’t need to have a cranky kid in tow to realize the challenges of traveling with children.

Brian Stashak, the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s vice president of terminal operations, gets a bird’s eye view from his office on the fourth floor of the Landside Terminal.

“We had a meltdown yesterday,” he said recently. “I had just stepped out of my office and I heard this awful low growl, this low-pitched screaming from security down below. It was a kid having a tantrum, and he and his family weren’t even in the security line yet.”

What’s the best way to reduce stress when traveling with a child?

“It’s all about preparation,” said Lisa Farbstein, a Transportation Security Administration spokesperson. “Our website (https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children) has a tremendous amount of information available on the travel and traffic experience. On social media, if people have specific questions, they can tweet them to us or ask them via Facebook messenger.”

Among the tips and advice on the TSA website: how to get your stroller properly screened, and how to most easily get formula, breast milk and juice containers screened for explosives or concealed prohibited items.

The website tells parents that children should never be separated from their parents during screening and that children under 12 can leave on their shoes, light jackets and headwear.

Travelers can call the TSA Cares helpline (855-787-2227) to answer questions regarding screening policies and procedures and what to anticipate with your child at the security checkpoint. If you’re already at the airport, you can ask for a TSA passenger support specialist.

(Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Once on the Airside Terminal, there are restaurants and shops to amuse the kids. But if your flight has an unexpected or lengthy delay, you may want to head over to Kidsport in Concourse C.

“Pittsburgh was the first airport in the country to have a free kids’ play area in the terminal,” Stashak said. “It has interactive games for kids of all ages, family restrooms and a mother’s nursing room.”

The area has proven to be so popular that the airport is building an expanded Kidsport across from the existing one. And by the end of summer, a new sensory room will open in the Airside Terminal to provide a calming environment for children with autism.

Once you’ve made it on to the plane, Southwest Airlines spokesman Brian Parrish offers several tips.

Infants don’t need a ticketed seat and can fly free in a parent’s lap until they turn 2. But the Federal Aviation Administration strongly advises that it’s much safer to put an infant in a size- and weight-appropriate restraint seat.

For older children, consider packing paper, pencils and markers. Packing a book about your destination city could pique their curiosity. And because kids always are hungry, bring plenty of healthy snacks, such as fruit, dried, fruit, pretzels and granola bars.

But even the best-laid plans can go awry. Stashak said airport personnel understand that and always are there to help.

“We have staff waiting to assist people as they arrive and try to find the elevators as they’re saddled with strollers and suitcases and kids,” he said. “That can be very overwhelming. We try to make it less so.”

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