Flying with Kids – Tips and Tricks For a Smooth Flight
A lot of people think we are CRAZY for flying with Jimmy all around the world. Some people think it is amazing and congratulate us on our bravery. His first flight was at 5 months old, and now at almost 3, he’s been on too many flights to count. He’s flown more than my husband and I ever did at his age.
When Nate and I got married, we promised ourselves that we wouldn’t stop adventuring and traveling when we had kids. We know a lot of families that feel like when they have kids that their traveling days are over and they never fly anywhere. At least for us, we don’t have much of a choice to not have Jimmy tag along. We have never lived near family since having Jimmy, so leaving him with someone when we travel isn’t a choice. My parents love Jimmy, but being in their late 70’s, tire out after a day of watching an energetic toddler. Nate’s parents are great, but both work full time and have young kids of their own that they are in charge of. This doesn’t leave much room in their schedule for grandparent babysitting trips. Nate and I both know that we either take Jimmy with us, or we don’t go. Not going isn’t an option for us, so we take him along, and for the most part, have had amazing experiences and created fantastic family memories that we will cherish forever.
People ask me all the time,
“Any Tips For Flying With Kids?”
So, I’ve rounded up a list of tips and must have items when flying with your little ones that I hope is helpful on your next family trip.
Happy Flying and Happy Traveling!
Consider What Time Is Best To Fly
The time of day that you fly really comes into play when you have a little one with you. There isn’t really one golden time that is best for flying with kids. It all depends on your little one, their age, and what their daily schedule looks like. Flying a red eye flight can be really nice if your child is a good sleeper. If they would sleep for the majority of the flight, that would be amazing for everyone. I think red eye flights are especially great for small babies when they just snuggle right into your arms. But if your child doesn’t sleep so well outside of their crib, flying a red eye might be a nightmare. Instead of sleeping the whole time, you might have an over-tired screamer who is cranky and wants everyone else around them to know about it. If your child is older, I would recommend flying during the day. An older child is easily entertained by electronics. A flight that is quiet and full of electronic watching and snack eating sounds super nice to me as a tired mom.
Get There Earlier Than Normal
Flying with kids is always full of surprises and keeps you on your toes. You just never know what could happen- a scraped knee, a poopy diaper right before boarding, a meltdown, etc. Make sure to give yourself extra time for these type of things to occur because, well, they usually do! Nothing is worse than being pressured by the clock and trying to hurry when you’re flying with kids. You don’t want to miss your flight!
Request an Extra Seat
When you get to the airport and you check-in, ask how full the airplane is and if there are any empty seats available. I have done this so many times and have gotten an extra seat next to me, often times having a whole row to myself. It’s nice to get an extra seat that you didn’t even pay for. Kids fly free up to age 2, so if you’re flying before their 2nd birthday, it’s nice to have the extra space and not have to have them squished on your lap the whole time. It gets a little crowded. It’s also great to have the extra space to hold your diaper bag or for your child to roam around a bit. It makes all the difference. You might not get it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask!
Get Some Energy Out Beforehand
If we have some time to kill before we board the plane, I use it to get Jimmy’s energy out. Nate and I will take turns watching our stuff while the other one chases Jimmy around the airport. If we can tire him out physically before he gets on board, then he will be more likely to sit still and watch a movie while on the plane. Every little bit counts.
Take Advantage of Early Boarding
One of the good things about flying with a child is that you get to board before everyone else. The worst thing is when you’re running late and you miss this advantage! I’d recommend getting to your gate very early so you can be right there and ready when they call for early boarders. This gives you a little extra time to get settled and organized before everyone else boards.
Get an Aisle Seat
When you are traveling with kids, it is best to have an aisle seat instead of a window seat. There will be lots of getting up and down throughout the flight, especially if it is International, so unless you want to be constantly climbing over strangers, aisle seats are best. With an aisle seat, you have easy access to the bathrooms, a hallway for your toddler to walk up and down, and a place to stand and soothe your crying baby. If your child is two or older and has their own seat, then I’d recommend having your child in the middle seat and you in the aisle seat. This will keep him contained so he doesn’t reach out and touch people or injure themselves when the food carts arrive. I love when all three of us are traveling together because then we get the whole row to ourselves. We put Jimmy in the middle and take turns entertaining him.
Should I Bring a Baby Carrier or a Stroller?
This was always a big debate in my mind. My answer is, it depends on your child’s age. When your baby is smaller and still fits into their baby carrier easily, I think the baby carrier is the best option. Whenever I traveled with Jimmy and wore him through security in his baby carrier, they didn’t make me take him off, but allowed me to walk right through while wearing him, which was so easy! The baby carrier keeps your hands-free, which is so nice for holding a coffee, holding another kid’s hands, or for pulling carry-ons onto the plane. As Jimmy got older and was too heavy for the baby carrier, I switched to using the stroller. I love traveling with my YOYO+ stroller because it is one of the only travel strollers that collapses small enough to fit up above in the airplane carry-on bin. I keep Jimmy in the stroller throughout the whole airport trek (however, I do have to take him out during the security check) and roll him right up to the airplane door. I quickly take him out, collapse the stroller, and walk onto the plane with the stroller draped over my shoulder like a shoulder bag. I put it in the compartment above my seat and I’m done. It is so easy and brings me peace of mind that my stroller won’t get broken down below. I like having it with me and knowing it is safe rather than checking it. If you have the space, then bring both. They both might come in handy at different times especially when you’re on your vacation. And, most airlines check your stroller for free, no questions asked.
Consider the Option to Pre-Book a Bassinet
For international flights, and if your child is young enough and fits in the weight requirement, you can request to have a bassinet brought to you for your child to sleep in. We’ve had good and bad experiences with this depending upon the airline. One time the bassinet was a good size and Jimmy slept really well in it, but then another time they brought out a tiny little bouncer type chair that was way too small for him. Also, it’s all great when your child is sound asleep in it, until some rough air causes the pilot to turn on the seatbelt sign. When this happens, they force you to remove your sleeping child and hold them in your lap until the seatbelt sign turns off. It crushed me every time this happened. Jimmy would just have gotten to sleep, and we’d have to move him. So frustrating and so much crying! So the bassinet can either work great or not, just depending on the situation of the flight.
Go On Walks With Your Child
It really helps Jimmy when I allow him to take a walk through the airplane hallways. A little change of scenery and some body movement is always nice. Some people might roll their eyes and get annoyed by you walking past them over and over again, but don’t worry about them. Other people find it entertaining and think your child is cute. When your child is restless, this really makes all the difference. Nate and I will take turns. I always cherish those 5 minute alone time segments, even if they are short.
Diaper Changing Table
The majority of airplane bathrooms have a diaper-changing table. The bathrooms as you know are tiny, but the diaper-changing table is even tinier. It is just a small counter that comes down from the wall on top of the toilet and is really only the right size for a child less than a year old. When Jimmy was older, it was quite the challenge to even change him on it without him falling off, but we made do. I would say about ¾ of the airplanes that I have traveled on have a diaper changing area in the bathroom, but there are some that I have flown on that don’t. They don’t have any designated areas for moms to change their kids. I was horrified. I ended up having to change him on the floor of the bathroom, which was so small and dirty. It was awful, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do! If you’re worried about your plane not having a changing area, consider bringing a small portable changing pad to lay your child down on.
Learn to Laugh It Off
It’s so important to have a sense of humor when flying with little ones. Things could go to complete hell, but at least you’ll have a funny story to tell afterwards, right? Having a good attitude really helps and makes horrid flying nightmares turn into funny moments that will be talked about for years to come.
What to Bring
The key here is being prepared with the essentials while not going overboard and packing too much. Sometimes actually packing light on Jimmy’s diaper bag is less stressful to me than having so much stuff that I can’t comfortably zip my bag. I hate when I can’t easily find things either when I’m looking for them. Pick and choose what you think is an absolute must to bring and then leave the rest at home.
Sippy Cup / Pacifier-
When the plane is descending towards landing, my ears start to go crazy with the air pressure. If it’s hard on adults, I can’t imagine what little kids feel like. Seeing your child in pain is never fun, so make sure you bring them a sippy cup of some kind to suck on as the plane is descending. I like the Munchkin Miracle 360 cup in stainless steel because it doesn’t spill and it keeps liquids cold. Fill it with something that your child likes and will be willing to drink. Encourage them to take sips here and there. For babies, a pacifier is always a great idea. If you’re breastfeeding, just nurse them or bring a bottle of milk for them to drink. And remember, save the drinks for when you take off and for when you’re preparing for landing so they are extra thirsty when the time comes. Their ears will thank you.
Pack the amount of diapers that you think you’ll need for the flight and then throw in a couple of extras. You can never be too safe. One time I was changing Jimmy’s diaper and as I was pulling one of the sides to fasten it across the front, I pulled too hard, and the whole strap ripped off right in my hand. The velcro piece came off and the diaper was completly unusable. I was so glad that I had thrown some extra diapers into my bag! I’ve also heard horror stories from friends of their babies having massive blowouts during flights and they were so glad they had enough diapers. Be prepared! And with being prepared, make sure to pack an extra outfit too for your little one just in case!
Pick out some things that your child has interest in but that they might not play with on a daily basis so they are excited about it. For Jimmy, these are some of the things that I love to bring to keep him entertained on long flights:
I usually grab a few new cars for him because he loves them, they are cheap, they are small to pack, and they hold his attention for a long time. This 9 pack might be more than you need for a flight, but they are a great deal on Amazon and have some fun cars in the mix.
These are great and are perfect for traveling. The kids color with a special water pen and colors appear on the pages. It’s like magic and so convenient for flying!
Jimmy loves both of these books. We take them with us on trips and read them on flights. It is fun for him to make connections from the book to his world and help him know what to expect. In fact he knows the books so well that the last time we flew, he made sure everything went in the right order. We asked him to take a nap and he said, “I can’t take a nap! We haven’t had a snack yet!” He knew from the book that the snack comes first and then you nap.
Here is an easy and super fun thing that will keep your toddler entertained for a while on a plane and only uses two items- an empty plastic water bottle and some craft pom poms. Jimmy loved putting the poms poms one by one into the top of the water bottle. After he fills it up, I dump them out and he does it again. I was amazed how much he liked it for how simple it was!
Jimmy loves this Cheerios Activity Play Book. He places Cheerios in the book to fill in the missing items on the picture. It works like a charm, and Jimmy loves to eat the Cheerios after he uses them on each page. It’s an activity and a snack in one. Win, win!
IPAD and Headphones-
Once Jimmy hit the age where he would watch a whole movie and be completely entertained and engrossed in it, my life changed. Flights suddenly became so much easier. I could actually read a magazine or get caught up on some movies that I never watched. It was so nice! We also always bring an IPAD with us full of games and movies that he is interested in. I try to pull out the other toys first and read to him as much as I can before I resort to electronics, because I know that once he starts, he won’t want to stop. Also, make sure to bring some headphones that fit on your child’s head and are ones that he will actually wear. Jimmy would never wear the ones that go into your ear and my headphones were too big on him. We ended up buying some children’s headphones that are good for ages 3 years and up. They don’t have the best sound quality, but they are sufficient for Jimmy’s needs.
This is a given, but always have snacks with you. Again, make it something special that your kid doesn’t normally get so they are excited to eat them. I always have fruit snacks with me as well as crackers, Cheerios, and applesauce pouches. And for really long flights, I’ll bring some M&M’s and a sucker or two for those times when I want to pull my hair out and I’m desperate. Whatever it takes to keep Jimmy quiet and happy on long flights!
I’ve found in general that people are overly nice to me when they see that I am flying with a child. People will often look at me and say, “I’ve been there. You’re doing great,” and offer to help me. I’d say if people aren’t jumping in to help, then don’t be shy to ask someone yourself for help. An extra hand can be nice and often essential when I’m flying alone with Jimmy without Nate.
So if I could preach one thing from my little corner of the internet, it would be, Don’t stop traveling once you have kids! Your life isn’t over when the little ones come. Teach them to be adventurous and learn to love and appreciate different foods and cultures. It's the best education you can give them and helps shape them into well-rounded and loving human beings.
Thanks for reading and as always, feel free to leave me a comment or question below! I’d love to help out if I can!
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