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Tips for Flying Standby & Handling Flight Delays with Kids

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Although my kids are somewhat seasoned travelers, I hadn't taught them the proper steps needed to do the unexpected standby dance. We had to learn the moves quickly on our most recent hockey trip with my son's team. Since we booked a short 45-minute flight between Phoenix and Las Vegas, it didn’t occur to me to warn my kids about the possibility of flight delays, flying standby, and lost luggage. And I wasn't prepared for my 9-year-old daughter's tears as it all unfolded, the embarrassment this would cause her 13-year-old brother, or the pressure this would all place upon me.

Flying Standby with Kids
Photo by Amy Stebbins

On the trip out, due to delayed flights from inclement weather elsewhere, our flight was not scheduled to take off for a few hours past our original departure time. We lucked out by nabbing standby seats on the next flight, with each of us seated in a middle seat in various areas of the plane. On the way back, we weren’t so fortunate. Our quick 45-minute trip home actually took seven long hours and we didn't arrive at our house until two in the morning! But by now we were standby pros so the tears and angst were averted.

Here are seven tips for flying standby and handling flight delays with kids that I learned from this experience that may save your family time, stress, and unexpected emotional disappointment.

* Tell your kids about potential travel snafus that can occur. Discuss this BEFORE you are stuck on a standby list with a crying child who doesn't understand.

* Consider the time of year, not the geography of the cities. Phoenix and Las Vegas have pretty mild weather, so it never crossed my mind that far away cities with weather issues would trickle down to delay our flight.

* Book a flight that departs early in the day during the winter. That way if there is a delay, you have more standby flight options available to get you home sooner.

* Prepare children for the possibility of being seated apart in a standby situation. Plan how to meet up when the aircraft lands since you may deplane at different times.

* Have activities, food, and cash on hand for unexpected airport delays.

* Electronic games are good, but eventually the battery dies, so have other activities on hand. We played travel versions of Checkers and Candyland to pass the time.

*Above all, keep your own stress in check because kids feed off your tension. Likewise your calmness will eventually calm them down.  Note that I used the word “eventually.” Patience is a word I’m working on engraving in my tired parental brain!

Rachel Harris manages a manic household that includes a 13-year-old son, 9-year-old daughter, husband, and two adopted cats. Three years ago, she left her job at a local television station to better balance the growing demands of her family. Now she appears weekly on the Phoenix KTVK morning show Your Life A to Z with parenting and beauty tips. Visit her website ManagedMoms.com for tips, recipes, and fun tidbits about how to keep those manic mom schedules somewhat managed!

What tips do you have for handling flight delays and flying standby with kids? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


  1. Have to say we are very lucky in Australia. We don’t seem to get the amount of delays caused by bad weather like snow storms etc. However it’s becoming more common for delays to occur in Asia due to Volcanoes etc. If you can afford it grab a lounge pass before traveling, see the expense like delay insurance! At least you can get the kids into a area of need be that might have showers etc which can help break up the long delays. Having experienced the perils of being delayed for a week in London due to snow storms. In bad weather double check before heading to the airport, that way if there is delays at least your not stuck sitting on your bags at the airport waiting.


  2. Thank you for the great tips, Rachel! I’m working on engraving “patience” on my tired mama brain too…which can be especially hard when traveling!

  3. Little Nomads – Ugh! A whole week delayed?! Now that could cause me to really lose what little patience I have!! Thanks for sharing your tips!

  4. Colleen – On the bright side we got to kick back in the UK for a extra week and enjoy the snow, after our flight was canceled. The kids loved it as we don’t get much snow where we live! The other good thing, it was a week less in the office cubicle! Though I did feel for those that were stuck in and around Heathrow Airport with kids.

  5. Great tips Rachel! I’m glad you and Colleen were able to hook up. You both have lots of valuable travel experience and advice!!

  6. Excellent tips for everyone, not just kids. I especially appreciated the tip for leaving earlier in the day. Good things to think about for my next trip!

  7. Great tips for everyone! Omigod, You both have lots of valuable travel experience and advice!!

  8. Great tips! I have three kids under 7, so these very valuable information is quite useful.


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