“Ugh, I hope the family with 5 kids isn’t sitting anywhere next to us…”
“Ugh, I hope the family with the kid isn’t sitting anywhere next to us…”
Haven’t we all said something in tune with this at some point of our lives before boarding a plane?
(I know I have.)
5 or 1, little humans aren’t always fun to travel with.
They cry, they stare, they can be loud, they kick the seats in front of them. They have their own problems that no one else understands, and some expect way more attention than the whole Kardashian/Jenner clan combined.
The first time I crossed to the other side while boarding a plane with my curious drooling octopus-handed infant snuggling comfortably on my chest, I saw the fear in the faces of others. It was real.
Air travel with kids?
A ton of fun!
Or a trip from hell?
12 Tips For Flying With Babies, Toddlers, and Kids
1) Check in early!
I am almost always running late with my kids regardless of where we’re going. For reasons unbeknownst to me, all kinds of odd incidents and accidents are bound to happen as we leave, and I’ve learned to accept that.
I’ve also learned that when you think you have an extra hour before you need to leave for something important, that is a full hour of things potentially going wrong.
If you’d rather be an hour too early than a minute too late, herd everyone into the car ASAP and speed towards the airport!
2) Get comfortable
What’s more annoying than getting through airport security? Getting through airport security with kids in tow and staying on top of everything and everybody and everyone’s TIED shoes.
No matter how cute those shoes are, simplicity is the key here – it’s called slip-on shoes for everyone. Try it!
If your kids are small and you’re traveling with your spouse, make sure said spouse doesn’t accidentally land a seat on the other end of the plane. (Keep reading.)
4) Never ask your potty-trained kids if they need to go to the bathroom before boarding a plane
Or, if you ask and they say, “Nah, I don’t need to go,” you MAKE them go. This is not the time for kids making their own choices, taking on responsibilities and accepting consequences. The consequences will be all yours, and you don’t want that.
With that said, even when you ARE being proactive, kids absolutely have the ability to make 43 trips to the bathroom during a 2.5-hour flight, and you have exactly zero control over that even if you ban all beverages starting now. Such is life.
5) Diapers, diapers, diapers!
A child in diapers? Let’s just say that because you’re really smart, you’re going to bring a lot more diapers than you could possibly need. Because kids.
Before I booked the flight for our first family vacation, I have been warned about babies pooping mid-air. A lot. As in – massively. It had to do with atmospheric pressure and Karma or something like that. I expected the unexpected.
About 20 minutes into the flight, my husband and I even joked about how funny changing a diaper on a plane would be. Like, so funny… ‘Cause where do you do it when there is literally no room but the filthy floor? Haha! And when almost everybody is within sniffing distance? LOL! We glanced into each other’s eyes. Could this get any better? On-time departure, clear skies, baby happily nursing since takeoff and falling asleep.
When our 10-month-old lap child’s diaper exploded exactly 4 seconds later, all hell broke loose.
In the diaper, out the back, down the legs, up the neck.
As expected, my husband – scanning the length of the aircraft for the nearest emergency exit door – turned out to be mostly useless.
I needed every extra square inch to get the job done.
He was also there to take full custody of our child after I got up to dispose of the bulky mid-air apocalypse wrapped in four plastic bags while slowly approaching the flight attendants in the back of the plane and mumbling something about an explosion.
(Lesson learned. Do not do that.)
When our 10-month-old went through 2 or 3 or 5 more diapers (you eventually lose count) in the next 10 minutes and the entire cabin crew felt safe around me once again, I was glad I had packed way more diapers than we really, truly, probably, possibly needed. Phew.
6) Baby wipes
Potty-trained kids or not, I can almost guarantee that you are going to need wipes, the parent next to you is going to need wipes, or the one two rows down is going to need wipes at some point during the flight. Somebody on that plane is going to need wipes.
I could give you 358 scenarios of what you’ll need the wipes for, but there could be 358 more that will be unique to you.
While you’re packing wipes, throw some hand sanitizer in your carry-on as well. Because kids.
7) Pack a change of clothes
During that first family flight of ours, I used all three extra outfits I had packed for my baby for the entire day. If I hadn’t brought all three extra outfits that day, she would have deplaned wearing a diaper and a turned-over blanket.
8) Snacks save lives!
Kids are synonymous with snacks, so bring aplenty.
Your kids will probably realize they’re starving the second they get into their seats. And the only thing scarier than a plane going down is a hungry cranky wailing toddler on a plane.
Pack a variety of your child’s favorite foods (this is not the time to try new foods, moms and dads, unless you’re eager to use that extra T-shirt), or at least buy something at the airport because the quality and price of in-flight food might make you order something from the drink cart as well.
You may also consider bringing bribes for older kids which you’ll want to hide well but not too well (don’t outsmart yourself).
For a headache-less hydration, bring empty sippy cups/water bottles and fill them at water fountains once you pass through security.
Baby formula/breast milk:
TSA guidelines (for updates and more information, click here):
Formula, breast milk, juice in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters are allowed in carry-on baggage and do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag.
Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings.
9) You’ll need in-flight entertainment
In-flight entertainment for babies
When it comes to babies, you have all kinds of brain-stimulating toys to choose from these days. A baby’s average attention span is about 5 nanoseconds, so multiply that by the actual time of your flight and rock or nurse that baby to sleep ASAP!
In-flight entertainment for toddlers and older kids
Entertaining toddlers and older kids is much easier than entertaining a restless baby. There are books, magazines, toys, favorite stuffed animals, workbooks, coloring books, card games, mini containers of Play-Doh and electronics to save the day.
If left in a pinch, a quick trip to the Dollar Store or the $1 – $3 section at your local Target can save the day should the scenery down below the window shades get boring (it will).
- Don’t pull out everything at once and never during boarding (unless you’re really, REALLY desperate – HUGS).
- Toys with multiple playing pieces are a no-go unless you and your child are OK with key parts rolling away and disappearing in the plane’s abyss forever.
- When you’re thinking crayons or pencils (FYI: every marker counts as a multiple playing piece), scale the rainbow palette down to 3-5 colors per child if your kids are small. They won’t really care too much, and you’ll be happy you don’t have to pick up 25 crayons every 8 seconds.
10) Takeoff and landing can be full of surprises when you travel with babies
It’s not uncommon for infants to cry hysterically during take-off or landing. The inability of their tiny Eustachian tubes (connecting the middle ear to the back of the throat) to open and adjust to the changing air pressure can actually cause a lot of pain. And, unfortunately, the only way babies can tell you something’s up is by screaming bloody murder.
Swallowing, yawning, and (also) crying opens up Eustachian tubes and helps with equalizing pressure in the inner ear.
Breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby during takeoff/landing, or have them suck on a pacifier. If you’re having a hard time calming your baby down and are about to start sobbing yourself, remember that crying helps equalize baby’s ears as well. (Your baby’s crying, that is.) If the scowl face next to you thinks you’re not disciplining your baby enough, let your baby cry some more.
For older kids, sucking on a lollypop will help ease their discomfort.
11) Baby equipment – bring or rent?
Some parents prefer to haul their entire mobile Babies R Us with them while others will rent baby equipment like car seats and strollers (and anything else they might need) at their destination. Your choice.
When it comes to car seats, we’ve done both – brought our own as well as rented (for driving purposes only). I prefer to use our own, but it’s an extra bulky item to worry about, even more so when you have more than one child in a car seat.
Our stroller was an item we never traveled without though, and we always checked the stroller at gate. Even though I preferred to wear my kids at the airport, I could discreetly change diapers in the stroller, plus it had the capacity to carry a lot of baggage. It was helpful and allowed us to have our hands free.
A few things to keep in mind when checking your stroller at gate:
- Always check your airline policies as they vary greatly!
- You’ll need to fold the stroller when going through security. If the folded stroller doesn’t fit through the x-ray machine, other means of screening will be used.
- Get a tag for your stroller at gate from the gate agent and attach it to your stroller.
- Upon boarding, leave the stroller folded as instructed (typically at the end of the jetway right by the aircraft entrance) and remove everything from the stroller’s basket and pockets.
- The loading crew will usually load gate-checked items directly into the hold of the aircraft and have it ready for you at the jetway when you disembark your flight (this could take some time if there is a number of strollers, car seats, wheelchairs or other gate-checked items to retrieve), or your stroller will be ready for a pick up at the checked-baggage carousel or elsewhere (always ask if not sure).
12) Preparation is the key to success!
- Try to fly nonstop with kids if possible, check your seats before boarding (when applicable), and understand the charges and regulations for each airline as they vary widely these days.
- If your child is prone to motion sickness, try to avoid sitting toward the back of the plane where the ride tends to be bumpier.
- If you can, travel in the morning or early to mid-afternoon. Late flights have the potential to turn even the nicest kids into hysterical wet noodles.
- Pack a soft blanket for small kids.
- Don’t let your kids drink large amounts of liquids before boarding a plane – you never know how long you’ll be held up during taxiing.
When you travel with kids, assume that anything that could go wrong probably will. Expect the unexpected, but stay positive. About a third of the plane will be empathetic, and Karma will take care of the rest.