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Pro Tips from Traveling Parents

COVID-19 and travel at SEA Airport More Information

July 28, 2021

Binky. Stuffed tiger. Baby blanket. Water bottle. Healthy snacks. Your bag is overflowing and you triple-checked your list. But it’s inevitable that you forgot the one item that will prevent an airport meltdown. 

Family travel can be a lot of work, but you all deserve to get out of town and take a break. We get it and know that the best advice often comes from people who are in your shoes. We’re here to help, so the SEA Airport research team talked to traveling parents in the terminal to hear their challenges and collect their best travel tips just for you. 

According to your parenting peers, the most challenging ages of travel for kids are:

  • Toddlers (68%) 
  • Newborn and infants (both 9.4%) 
  • Preschooler (7.5%) 
  • School-aged kids (2%) 
  • Adolescent (1%) 

And just like you, others are raring to go baby go:

  • 90.9% of parents were likely or very likely travel by plane with their kids in the next 12 months
  • Compared to only 1.8% who were very unlikely to fly 

Parents say that their biggest challenges at the airport are:

  • Keeping kids entertained and happy on a long trip
  • Helping them focus in unfamiliar surroundings and lots of stimulus
  • Tracking all the bags, snacks, suitcases, and people without losing anything (or anyone)
  • Finding a way to burn off energy
  • Locating a bathroom, particularly during the potty training phase
  • Navigating security screening 
  • Saving space for all your stuff along the way
  • Entertaining kids during the flight 
  • Preventing temper tantrums
  • Pumping milk and carrying it with you 

Here’s great advice from other traveling parents at SEA for successful — and more fun — family travel. 

1. Think ahead and do a dress rehearsal

Preparation can make or break successful family travel. Before you go, think through your strategies and packing list for keeping kids occupied, seated, and entertained. Heed this penultimate parent's detailed advice: 

1. Always bring gum. It distracts them at takeoff and landing and helps their ears adjust. My kids are ALWAYS happily chewing gum at takeoff and landing.  
2. Ditto with small lollipops. They can be a huge motivator.  
3. Make sure you have fresh movies and shows, and games downloaded. Headphones, chargers, and backup plans.  
4. Get fun snacks and activities the day before. Stow them in the carry on and only open when kids are bored of everything else.  
5. Praise kids for what they’re doing right!  
6. Always let them know the game plan beforehand and remind them throughout the day. “I know this is taking a while but after this, we get to the car and go straight to the pool!”  
7. Ask flight attendants for help and ideas! They are experts. ?
8. When all else fails, play I spy
.” 
      – Parent of a preschooler and school-aged child

“Pack a variety of new activities and 1-3 “go to” activities to keep everyone happy.
      – Parent of an adolescent

Travelers with sensory challenges and their caregivers can rehearse an airport visit in advance and prepare for a world of mask-wearing and physical distancing. The SEA Airport team worked with external stakeholders from the Arc of King County and Washington Autism Alliance & Advocacy to develop the 52-page storybook PDF that can be printed at home or viewed on a device. It's designed to be reviewed before travel by people with autism, their family and caregivers, and anyone else who might find it helpful.

2. Lighten up

Another parent has great feedback on what (painter's tape!!!) and what not to pack. Leave the expensive gear at home!

"Pack the bare minimum!  A couple diapers, wipes in a baggie, one change of clothes, a couple snacks, empty water bottle, and one or two activities.  And a roll of painter's tape.  It can entertain young kids for a long time (tape things together, make roads for a small car, stick it to things, etc.), is light and easy to pack, damage-free, and easy to ball up and throw away at the end of the flight.  

Also, don't check any gear you aren't willing to replace immediately upon arrival.  If you would replace your car seat after a minor fender bender, then I would think you'd want to replace it after it possibly fell from a baggage cart, off a baggage ramp, or had a 50 pound bag land on top of it. Things happen. If your car seats and stroller cost $800+, why would you risk it being broken and not having it when you get to your destination?  Gate check it or bring inexpensive gear like an umbrella stroller!"
      – Parent of a toddler and school-aged child

3. Bring something new and special 

Many parents encouraged using the element of surprise to buy you some happy time. Make every journey special by bringing special snacks or a new toy just for the occasion. 

“Bring a new toy or gadget that you don't show them until you get on the plane.” 
      – Parent of a preschooler

“Make flying special with extra screen time, airplane treat foods, new books, new toys so that kids look forward to it and have ways to quietly entertain themselves.” 
      – Parent of a school-aged child and adolescent

“STICKERS and SNACKS. Special snacks, mind you — a treat they don't usually get.” 
      – Parent of a toddler and school-aged child 

4. Plug in for peace

Other parents strongly support screen time as a way to keep calm and carry on. Many parents said they wouldn’t leave home without electronic devices. 

Don’t forget to charge them up in the airport before you leave. SEA Airport has free Wi-Fi and new furniture with charging stations in Central Terminal to keep your devices powered and kids entertained. 

Forgot your charger and panicked at the thought of flying without entertainment?

  • Search the interactive map or the FlySEA app with the term “phone charger"
  • Or hotfoot it to the two InMotion electronics stores in the terminal

5. Dance party

Kids love the live music whether it’s blues and pop or folk songs. The local music program was suspended during COVID-19 but will be coming back some day.

Meanwhile, listen and groove to the tunes from our local music scene over the terminal speakers. Or sit down with your own device and enjoy this two-hour program highlighting over 30 musicians who performed live at the airport before the pandemic. Developed with Gigs4U and Promosa, travelers can enjoy the beloved music program once again with a virtual experience that bolsters connections to the airport and Pacific Northwest. 

6. Keep them moving

photo of fish in the terrazzo floor

 

Other great tips from traveling families:

  • "Follow the fish down B concourse"
  • Watch planes take off and land in the Central Terminal Atrium”
  • Drink from the gurgling water fountain at the end of the B concourse”
  • There was a giant touch-screen video game just inside security in the central atrium, to the right. The kids liked that.”
  • Used the lounges"
  • Visit the USO"

7. Channel their creativity

Keeping them entertained and happy, especially on long flights. Electronics can only curb boredom for so long.” 
      – Parent of a preschooler, school-aged child, and adolescent

Here are a few activities to keep them busy that you can print off before you leave.

Green Jobs Coloring book

High School Interns at the Port spent the summer of 2019 researching and speaking with Port employees to learn more about the types of green jobs that exist in Port-related industries. They then created a coloring book that show you actions you can take to save the planet and more about jobs that protect the environment. 

You can download and read the coloring book in five different languages:

For kids who like animals, print the Creepy Critters Activity Book

page from a coloring book with a drawing of a crab

Or print out a board game and game pieces that will help you get through the airport with the Hack your Summer Travel game

8. Snack attack

Every parent we talked to mention snacks as a powerful motivator. 
“STICKERS and SNACKS. Special snacks, mind you — a treat they don't usually get.” 
      – Parent of a toddler and school-aged child

If you’re looking for a quick snack, check out Grab and Go options at SEA or baked goods at Hudson/Alki Bakery.

And here’s a quick hit list of restaurants and services at SEA

To find special offerings for your littles, search the interactive map or the FlySEA app with the following terms:

  • Snacks
  • Family
  • Kids menu

interactive map showing restaurants  at SEA with kids menus

And for sweets that will keep them sweet, visit:

9. Check out before check in 

Some days, everyone needs a time out from the sights and sounds of a busy terminal. Take a break in the brand new and specially-designed Sensory Room. It’s a quiet oasis to provide a space to escape and decompress from a stressful travel experience. The room was designed to be soothing with carefully selected finishes, lighting, and furniture that reflect the best things about the Pacific Northwest.

•    Read more about the Sensory Room

Boy in the nook at the sensory room having quiet time

Or, buy some quiet time with a day pass at one of the two airport lounges, the Club SEA, with locations open daily by Gates S9 and A12. Day passes are $45 and include complimentary Wi-Fi, snacks and beverages, and bar service for parents. 

10. Capitalize on surprise

“Have activities or toys that they’ve never seen before to surprise them throughout the trip.” 
      – Parent of a toddler

If you didn’t bring something from home, here a few options at SEA Airport:

  • Planewear has aviation-inspired accessories, books and toys 
  • Pick up a new toy at Chalo boutique
  • Buy a book at Elliott Bay Book Company
  • Explore the rich storytelling of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest at Sacred Circle, which carries children’s books and puppets 
  • Fireworks has gifts for everyone in the family 

11.  Hope for the best, plan for the worst 

“Blow outs happen, so be sure to have a full outfit change on the plane if your child is still in that fun diaper stage.” 
 
    – Parent of an adolescent

If you need supplies to keep your kids clean and happy, we’re here to help: 

  • Pick up diapers, medicine, and other items at one of the 12 Hudson stores 
  • Rent car seats, strollers, and wheelchairs at Baggage Service by SmartCarte
  • Two new vending machines by Lightly are stocked with essential, premium products for parents like wipes, diapers, snacks, nontoxic hand sanitizer and pacifiers. Find the machines by Gate N19 and the beginning of Concourse B
  • Masks are still required at SEA. If somebody has lost theirs, get a free mask at the Information Desk outside security (search for “information” in the interactive map). Or buy an extra at the vending machine 

12. Reward small victories

“Give yourself plenty of time to navigate everything, so you can feel as relaxed as possible, and that helps your kids feel good about the journey.  Take some small candy, like M&Ms or Smarties, and reward them at each step — parking the car, getting on a shuttle bus, dropping off checked bags, clearing TSA, getting on the tram, finding your gate. Make it fun.  Give them a job so they feel like they have a role in all this, whether it’s carrying something small or asking them to help find the next place you’re going as you navigate the airport. They like to help.” 
 
    – Parent of a school-aged child and adolescent

13. Work out the wiggles

Finding their balance between physical activity and sitting in one place for many hours.” 
       — Parent of school-aged and adolescent children 

Here are a few ideas for getting ready of the energy before they sit on a plane:

Jump around

The children’s play area is now open across from Gate A1, with a family restroom and nursing area right next door. Along with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. The playroom is free, open 24/7, and gives kids activities to get out their extra energy. 

Get your steps in

Travel blogger Wild about Travel recommends a route to walk off that extra energy:

"SEA: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, from the end of Concourse A, then across the Central Terminal and on to the far end of Concourse D is 0.7 miles."

Take an art walk

Did you know SEA Airport was one of the first airports to have a public art collection? Find the closest piece by typing in “art” to the interactive map or the FlySEA App and take a walk. 

14. Gotta go!!

Bathrooms. There's never a family bathroom when we need one. I can't leave one outside by themselves.” 
      – Parent of a school-aged child

Never fear, potty resources are near.

Family Restrooms and Changing Tables

 There are 70 family-friendly restrooms at SEA Airport. Find the closest one by doing a search for “restroom — family” in the interactive map!

interactive map with family restrooms listed

Infant Changing Tables

Changing Tables are located in the family restrooms and most of the other restrooms throughout the terminal. You can find the nearest restrooms on our interactive map!

Adult Changing Tables

Adult changing tables will be included in the upcoming International Arrivals Facility (IAF) 

Pet Relief

Traveling with a pet or service animal? We’ve got them covered inside and outside the terminal. All pets must be in their travel carriers and leashed when in the Terminal. The only exception is training/service dogs and other specially trained pets assisting travelers with disabilities.

Service dog with its owner in the pet relief area

15. Pump it up

SEA Airport provides several spaces throughout the terminal to help parents get away from the busy and noisy airport to pump, breast or bottle feed their children. These spaces can be used by a single parent, regardless of gender, or a family and are available before and after security. 

There are multiple spaces, each with a lockable door, a place to sit, a flat surface, electrical outlet, and are accessible.

Nursing Pods

Nursing Pods are single-user, modular structures that offer privacy throughout the airport. They include a mirror for redressing and a private space for pumping. 

Mamava nursing pod

Nursing Suite

There’s also a new, beautiful, nursing suite, a shared common space with comfortable seating, semi-private spaces, single-use restroom, changing table, sinks, and more. 

Nursing suite

Nursing Room

Nursing Rooms are best for single family use. These private rooms offer amenities listed above, as well as sink access, in a smaller space.

16. Keep it together 

 “Keeping track of all the bags, snacks, people, suitcases.”

      – Parent of an adolescent

We know it’s tough to keep it all together. But rest assured that if you lose something, there’s a good chance it will make itself to the Lost and Found. 

Share your parenting tips or photos of your journey by tagging @FlySEA on social media

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