People travel with kids every day and many do it without incident. However, it is important to understand from the outset that flying with kids is not for the faint-hearted. However, you can totally do it if you’re prepared!
We are a traveling family with 5 kids! We’ve traveled with babies, toddlers, and older kids. Here are our hacks from many local and international flights.
Schedule your departure time wisely
Early Morning Flights: Early flights are usually less crowded and there are often fewer delays at takeoff and landing. Your baby/toddler might be tired and just wanting to nap.
Sleepy Time Flights: Consider scheduling your departure time close to your child’s downtime. For example, if you have the option of choosing a flight around the time your child goes to sleep anyway, grab it with both hands. That way, you can have a few hours of peace.
Book a bulkhead seat if you are traveling with a baby
The bulkhead seat is heaven-sent for parents traveling with babies. They will give you a bassinet, which will be attached to the bulkhead. However:
- You need to book it ahead of time and specifically ask for it. It is usually available on a first-come-first-serve basis, so book early;
- You will have to take down the bassinet during taxi and takeoff, landing, and during turbulence. This is a hassle because you will have to wake your baby if he/she is asleep during this time, but it’s a small price to pay for the benefits you receive.
- There are weight restrictions. These vary by airline but it’s generally around 22-24 lbs.
Avoid long layovers
If at all possible, avoid flights with long layovers. If you are flying with kids, they are a recipe for meltdowns. They will drain you and they will certainly drain your little one.
Avoid short connection times
This may seem crazy – why would you want to prolong the flying process. However, it makes perfect sense. Here’s why:
Deplaning with children takes way longer than it would for other passengers. Here’s what you can expect:
- Because you’re packing up things and trying to ensure that nothing is left behind, you’re probably going to be one of the last people off the airplane.
- If you’re traveling with a stroller (which is highly recommended for traveling with babies), you will most likely have to wait for it. If you’re lucky, it will be waiting for you at the door of the airplane but 9 out of 10 times, you’ll have to wait for it.
- Once you are in the terminal, chances are good you’ll have to find a restroom to change diapers and freshen up.
These delays are normal if you’re flying with kids. Therefore, if you have a connecting flight, make sure it is not too close to your landing time. Otherwise, you will be rushing from terminal to terminal.
Pack an inflatable footrest
If you are flying with kids, these things are amazing because you can make a makeshift bed for kids.
A lot of time kids will get antsy because they are tired but they can’t sleep comfortably. An inflatable footrest is really helpful for toddlers—you place it in the open leg space between your child’s seat and the seat ahead of theirs.
Consider an umbrella stroller or baby carrier
Imagine moving through the airport with a baby on your hip and your luggage! Perish the thought!
For infants, a baby carrier might be a great idea because being carried calms babies and generally keeps them happy.
An umbrella stroller, on the other hand, is a small stroller that you can easily fold up. They’re not as fancy as the bigger stroller, but for travel, they’re great because they’re small and portable.
Tell toddlers and older kids what to expect
Unless you explain it to your child:
- He/she does not understand that running around or speaking in loud voices is not allowed;
- If things are not like they usually are at home, your little one is likely to throw a tantrum, and he/she won’t care that there are hundreds of people on board;
- Your child will not understand that you are stuck on an airplane and you can’t just leave.
If children know what to expect, they are more likely to go with the flow. Take the time to explain to your little one what is going to happen, and how you expect them to behave.
The above video will help them understand why they have to stand in long TSA lines. It’s helpful to find similar videos and kids’ books about the flying experience.
Carefully consider the early boarding option
Lots of airlines will offer early boarding if you’re flying with kids, but there are pros and cons to taking them up on the offer.
Pro: With early boarding, you can get settled in, pick the best overhead space for your carry-on, and calm your kiddo(s) down before everyone else boards. However…
Con: If you have a toddler running around the terminal, those extra few minutes might really help him/her get the sillies out before you board.
Dress in comfortable layers
Whether you are flying across the ocean to a different season or not, be prepared for drastically changing temperatures on the airplane. Dress your little one(s) in layers so that they can comfortably add or remove clothes.
Try to avoid zippers, belts, buttons, or anything that could slow down getting to the bathroom in time.
Pack a change of clothes
This is especially important for babies and kids under 6 years old. Accidents happen when you’re flying with kids! Be prepared for them and have a change of clothes for each child, neatly packed in separate ziplock bags. That way, you can grab the bag and go to the bathroom, instead of trying to sort through things. Also, pack at least 1 top for yourself—if your baby messes or spits up on you, you don’t want to be messy, wet, and stinky throughout the entire flight.
All this should be packed in your carry-on so that you have quick and easy access when you need it.
Make sure devices are fully loaded and charged
If you are usually wary of screen time, you will have to get past that. This is not the time to limit screen time. By allowing your child as much screen time as he/she wants, you are giving yourself peace and quiet.
If you are on a long-haul flight, there are usually games and movies for kids to watch but don’t rely on those. They work for only so long. Be prepared and make sure electronic devices are loaded with movies your kid(s) will like and their favorite games.
Also, be sure to pack kid-size headphones so that they can listen in private.
If you are on a short flight, they may serve peanuts, pretzels, or two cookies. If you are traveling with kids, you cannot rely on this.
- it may not be enough and;
- they may not start serving those when your child needs it.
Avoid that hassle and be prepared with your child’s favorite low-sugar snacks. Also, make sure it is easily accessible!
If you are on a long-haul flight, snacks are equally as important because kids don’t always like airplane food. Also, by having snacks, you can feed your kid when he/she needs it, instead of waiting for mealtime.
Consider a car seat for baby
If your child is under 2, he/she can travel sitting on your lap.
This is completely doable but on long, international flights, it can get very uncomfortable for you and your baby.
If you can afford it, buy a seat for your baby too, then bring a light car seat along for your baby to sleep in. There are airplane car seats that are light and narrow so that they can comfortably be carried through the aisles.
Use mileage upgrades carefully
It may seem like a good idea, but upgrading to first-class for you and a rowdy toddler or crying baby is perhaps not the wisest idea. First-class passengers pay a lot of money to be there and they will not take kindly to the unrest kids bring. Back in economy, people are way more understanding.
A clever way to use your mileage is to get a seat for your baby. Babies under 2 years can fly sitting on your lap, but your life will get a lot easier if your baby can have his/her own seat. All you’ll need to do is travel with a car seat.
Pack ziplock bags
Heaven forbid your baby has a blowout at the airport or airplane. (Been there, done that!) If you carry ziplock bags, you can seal dirty clothes in there.
This is not just for babies in diapers. One of our older kids had diarrhea and soiled himself once. (We didn’t have ziplock bags back then and had to throw the underwear away.)
If you’re flying with kids, do yourself a huge favor and buy a few things to entertain your child. You don’t have to go overboard and this doesn’t need to be expensive! Stop by the Dollar Store or Target and pick out a few things that may occupy your little one.
- These could include little books, toys, window gel stickers, etc.
- Try to avoid toys that come with lots of little pieces.
- For drawing, be sure to get rectangle or triangle crayons, otherwise, the crayons will roll off the tray table.
Reserve kids meals for long-haul flights
Some picky eaters are just not going to eat the adult airplane food, but they may eat the kid’s meals. Be sure to book that ahead of time if you are going on an international (or long-haul) flight.
Another benefit of ordering a kid’s meal is that they get served first!
Consider pull-ups/ bedwetting underwear
Perhaps you have a toddler who is out of diapers but may occasionally wet the bed. Don’t take the risk— he/she may fall asleep and have an accident. Prepare for it by letting them wear pull-up diapers.
Pack what you need, then stop
You’re packing snacks, a change of clothes, activities, electronic devices—all of which have to fit into your carry-on.
Keep in mind that you have to manage all the stuff and your kid(s). Here’s a helpful packing list to go by when flying with kids:
- A comfort item like a pacifier. (Be sure to pack more than one in case it gets lost, or better yet—use a pacifier clip);
- Sanitizing wipes;
- Diapers and wipes (One diaper per hour of travel is recommended for babies under 6 months);
Toddlers and older kids
- Smartphones or tablets loaded with your child’s favorite movies, shows, and games;
- Kid size headphones. If you have more than one child but just one tablet, use a headphone splitter so that they can share the device;
- An activity you think your kid will like. For example art supplies (a small box of crayons and a small coloring/activity book should be enough);
- Ziplock bag or plastic bags for trash;
- Water—you could fill collapsible water bottles once you get through security;
- Low-sugar snacks like pretzels, Cheerios, crackers, string cheese, nuts, etc.;
- Pull-ups for long-haul flights;
- Hand sanitizer and wipes.
Relax the rules
As parents, we have all kinds of rules on how we raise our kids. While rules like not yelling, not kicking the seat in front of them, and not standing on their seats must always apply, you may want to relax a few other rules.
For example, screen time limits. This is perhaps not the time to be watching the clock. Kids (like everyone else) get bored and they need something to keep them occupied.
Also, consider the candy. If your child would usually bounce off the wall after eating a lot of candy, the airplane is obviously not a good time to give them candy. However, if your child can eat candy and calmly play on their devices or watch a movie, perhaps allow them the indulgence.
Manage ear pressure during altitude changes
The altitude changes can be really bothersome for some people so you will want to be ready for it. To help relieve it, you’ll want to be sucking or chewing on something.
Babies: If you have a nursing baby or your baby is bottle feeding, be sure to feed during take-off and landing.
If your baby or toddler takes a pacifier/dummy, be sure to offer this.
Toddlers and preschoolers: offer lollypops or soft and chewy candies like starburst. (Ask them to suck the lollypops, not bite them).
Older kids: If your older kids can chew gum, offer this. If not, also offer lollypops and/or chewy candies.
You’ll want to time this well, otherwise, the feeding or candy will be done before the ascend or descend.
Avoid the aisle seat for little ones
Little hands and feet can be sticking out when the food and beverage cart comes by. Or your little one could reach for hot beverages. Avoid these preventable accidents by putting babies and toddlers in the middle or window seat.
Beware of germs
Thanks to Covid, we all understand the importance of wiping down surfaces. Once you get to your seats, wipe down everything—you know how kids love to touch everything. Don’t forget, babies put everything in their mouths.
On long flights, we all like to take our shoes off to relax. However, do not let your kids go to the bathroom with bare feet—that may not just be water on the bathroom floor!
Ignore whining adults
If your baby is going to wake up in the middle of the night, he/she is going to cry as usual, with no regard to other sleeping passengers.
While most passengers are wonderfully understanding, you may on occasion run into someone who complains about a crying baby or a toddler who speaks in a loud voice. Keep in mind that as long as you’re trying, most people will empathize with you. The best way you can handle unpleasant people is to not engage—just focus on your child.