Several members of our team are former teachers and so have plenty of experience of guiding their own groups through the airport on school trips.
With a bit of forward planning, it doesn’t have to be stressful.
Here are their top tips on making the experience as easy and hassle-free as possible:
Have a chat about behaviour beforehand
It’s a really good idea to have a chat with your students with regards to your expectations of their behaviour while going through the airport. Customs and security personnel are unlikely to find the same things funny as a group of teenagers and things could get pretty awkward, especially in countries like the USA.
It's a really good idea to take a copy of everyone's boarding pass, in case anyone loses it.
You might also want to consider taking copies of everyone's passport too.
Make sure you get to the airport in plenty of time
This may sound really obvious but getting a large group through the airport does take a long time and you may well need more than the usually advised 2 hours, especially if you’re travelling during busy periods.
Make sure your students are prepared for security
It's worth making sure all students are well briefed on what cannot be carried in hand luggage, to avoid any delays at security.
And it's also worthwhile making sure that students are primed to answer that they have packed their bags themselves and that they haven’t left them anywhere unattended – even if their mum or dad actually packed their bag for them, or they left their bag with a friend while they went into a shop.
One of our former teachers actually had children held at security because they gave the ‘wrong’ answers!
Always carry sick bags
This one is pretty self-explanatory…
Break large groups down into smaller groups
Trying to negotiate your way through an airport as one large group is, quite frankly, a bit of a nightmare, so our former teachers suggest breaking your group down into smaller groups, each with a member of staff in charge.
Each member of staff could carry a plastic wallet with their mini group’s travel documents in, if you’re worried students may lose their passports or boarding passes, dishing them back out only as and when they’re needed.
Each member of staff can also designate a group base where students will need to check in at regular intervals should they be allowed any free time. This is also useful if you’re unfortunate enough to experience any delays.
Set up a Whatsapp group
Setting up a Whatsapp group for accompanying members of staff and your rep (if you have one) is a great idea, especially in the case that the mini-groups get split up or have to set up their bases in different areas.
And, if you’re travelling outside of the EU, remind your colleagues to connect to the (usually free) airport WiFi, so that you can easily contact them.
Set meeting points for each step of the journey
Designate a meeting point after check-in, security, before boarding etc. The whole group should meet at these points before splitting off into their mini-groups again. And maintain communication throughout, perhaps via Whatsapp in case anything unforeseen arises. Don’t just assume that your colleagues will know what you want them to do, especially if this is their first time guiding a group through the airport.
Don’t allow students to wander around by themselves
If students are allowed any free time, make sure they go around in groups of 3-4 and know where and when to check in with their mini-group leader (see above).
Have a carrier bag spare in case anyone’s baggage fails the weight test
If you’ve made the baggage allowance clear in your correspondence with parents and guardians, they will hopefully have weighed their suitcases beforehand. And you could also weigh everyone’s suitcases before they get on the bus, or when they meet you at the airport, before their parents leave them.
But a spare carrier bag for decanted items always comes in handy.
Encourage students to listen to the safety briefing on the plane
It’s really important that students listen to the safety briefing, so you may need to do some classroom management to ensure they listen, as they’ll be so excited to be finally departing.
Devise a strategy for baggage reclaim
Before you drop your bags off, it’s a good idea to use a bit of bright, sticky packing tape to make your group’s cases stand out on the carousel. One of our former teachers used to use the black and yellow striped hazard tape to do just that.
It’s also a good idea to designate a team of baggage reclaimers. Sending a couple of strong members of staff and students to collect all the cases and shuttle them back to the group is an awful lot easier than sending the whole group to collect their own cases, both for your own group and other passengers.
And, of course, this is a lot easier if every case is marked with the same sticky packing tape.
If you do want students to collect their own bags, it’s better to get them back into their mini-groups and send a spare member of staff over to a quieter area. Then, once each student has collected their bag, they can head over to that member of staff.