I used to be scared of traveling with kids because visions of them throwing tantrums and crying nonstop danced through my head. But after our recent 8-flight round trip, I’ve become a complete convert, and definitely plan on traveling a lot more with our kids. Now that we have a little experience under our belt, I think flying with young children — especially domestically — really doesn’t have to be difficult or scary. Sure they may throw a tantrum or two, but they will probably be much better behaved than you anticipated. Hopefully these tips we’ve learned will help make your next flight a little smoother, and inspire you to travel more often with your little ones!
First, these are the top 4 things without which I would not have survived our monster trip to the Philippines, where we logged over 40 hours of flight time, not including the time spent on connections and traveling to and from the airports!
1) Breastfeeding – If you’re thinking about weaning before an upcoming trip, I’d try to put it off until after your trip if you can. I would not have survived our recent trip if Olive weren’t nursing because:
- I’d have to carry a ton of bottles for take-off, landing, and feedings in between on the plane.
- I’ve never had much luck timing bottles with take-off and landing on previous trips because Charlie (who was weaned at the time) would get hungry before take-off, or our flight would be delayed. But babies can nurse more frequently than they can take a bottle, so I nursed Olive (10 months) at almost every take-off until I discovered her ears were fine without nursing.
- I was able to nurse Olive to sleep on the plane and everywhere else we traveled. Her sleep remained good throughout the trip, and I never had to worry about whether or not she would sleep.
2) Baby Carrier – For a younger baby, the easiest way to get through the airport is wearing them in a wrap or carrier. You don’t even have to take them off when going through the metal detector, but you or your significant other will have to be patted down. Another benefit of the baby carrier is that Olive doesn’t typically nap in the baby carrier, but she took many, many naps in the carrier while we were traveling. The secret? Wearing her on our back. At home I wear Olive facing me or facing out like most people do. But on the plane and when we were abroad, my mom wore Olive on her back. I think when I wear Olive in front facing me, she’s too busy trying to face out to see all the action and she can see my face so she doesn’t fall asleep. But when she’s on my back, she’s facing forward so she’s happy, and she can’t see my face, so she eventually falls asleep. This actually worked when I wore Charlie (2 1/2) on my back too! So if your baby doesn’t normally nap in the carrier, I would try the less commonly used back carry. It was a lifesaver both on the plane and when we were traveling.
3) iPad – The ipad kept Charlie occupied for most of our many flights and connections. It was way too much screen time, but you do what you gotta do to survive long international flights. And even though Olive can’t watch a video for as long as Charlie, there are definitely some games and apps that keep her entertained for small stretches of time. In fact when she’s super fussy, the only thing that calms her down is this Twinkle Twinkle Little Star app! I’ll go over our favorite games and apps in an upcoming post!
4) Travel Boppy – I learned about the travel Boppy from Irene on the Hellobee boards, and bought it just before we left for our trip. It’s smaller than the regular Boppy I use at home, neatly zips and folds in half, and comes with a strap, so it’s easier to travel with. Since Olive is already used to the Boppy, I knew that she’d probably sleep well on it. Plus it’s much easier to let your lap infant sleep on a Boppy than hold them in your arms. On the long leg of our return flight home, Olive slept on the Boppy for 8 hours straight!
And now on to the tips!
- Since the time of day you fly is important when you have a young child, check out the website Hipmunk which lays out flights in a visual timeline, so you can see what flights are available on specific airlines at specific times. You can also have multiple searches open in tabs so you can easily compare different itineraries instead of having to do a complete new search like you do with most travel sites.
- If you’re traveling alone with your child who has his or her own seat, book an aisle and window seat. You may get lucky and end up with no one sitting in the middle seat. And if someone is sitting there, they’ll be happy to change their middle seat for the aisle or window seat.
- Aisle or window seat? Although looking out the window can keep your child entertained for a little while, I prefer an aisle seat because you usually have to get out of your seat often when traveling with a child, and I don’t want to disturb the person in the aisle seat so frequently.
- If you input your flight number into Seatguru, you can find out exactly which seats are the good or bad ones and why.
- Kids under 2 fly for free as lap infants, but I would definitely consider getting your child their own seat if they’re older than 1 and if you’re taking a long/international flight. Flying in a car seat is definitely the safest option. It’s also tough to fly with a wiggly, squirmy toddler in your lap for an extended period of time! When Charlie was 12 months old, he flew in his own car seat on a 6 hour flight and it was awesome – he slept the whole way roundtrip.
- Every airline has different regulations when it comes to using car seats, so check directly with them before selecting your seats. For instance, Jet Blue only allows car seats in window seats.
- Standard car seats are often wider than airplane seats, so you can go to Seatguru and input your flight number to find out exactly how wide your seats are. For example, our Graco Snugride is 18.7 inches wide, and on a Virgin flight, our seats were 19.7 inches so our car seat fit. On a Jet Blue flight, our seats were 17.8 inches which was too small for our car seat, but since we were able to raise the armrest, it was ok. Some planes/seats may have fixed armrests as well. On all our 8 flights, the bulkhead seats had fixed armrests, so knowing the width of the seat would be very important if we were bringing a car seat on board.
- Morning or evening flights? Some parents swear by booking flights timed around bedtime so kids will sleep the whole way. Others swear by flights first thing in the morning when kids are happier and well-rested, which means a smaller likelihood to throw tantrums. It’s also easier to deal with flight delays when you’re on a morning flight. There’s no way to tell how well your child might do on a flight if they’re not a seasoned traveler, and age is a big factor as well. Younger infants under 6 months will probably sleep well no matter the time of the flight. At 12 months when Charlie flew in his car seat on an evening flight, he slept the whole way. At 2 1/2 years old when Charlie flew on that same evening flight, he didn’t sleep a single wink because there was so much going on around him. 10 month old Olive took a 1 hour nap on that flight which was at her bedtime, and was awake for 5 hours. If your child does not sleep on an evening flight, it can be tougher on you since most of the passengers are sleeping. Or you could luck out and your child could sleep the whole way… unfortunately there’s no way to tell!
- Bulkhead seats (seats with a wall in front of them instead of passengers) provide a lot more room for you and your kids to stretch out. If you have nice flight attendants, they may be ok with you laying a blanket down on the floor and letting your kids play there for a while. You may be able to request the bulkhead seats when traveling with children on a domestic flight. The policies vary from airline to airline, but it never hurts to check. On Jetblue, the domestic airline we fly most frequently, you have to pay an extra $80/pp for the bulkhead seats. On international flights, bulkhead seats may be first come first serve. We were told to arrive 3 hours before our flight departure and were able to secure the bulkhead seats. Note that you don’t have any space to put your belongings in a bulkhead seat and must put everything in the overhead compartment. So prepare a small bag with just the essentials for take-off (bottles, candy, toys) until you can move around the plane again.
- Request a bassinet if you’re flying with an infant on an international flight. A plus is that the bassinets on the airline we flew (Japan Airlines) were only available in the bulkhead seats, so we had bulkhead seats for 3/4 of our international flights. We didn’t end up using the bassinet too much since Olive is a mobile, older baby that could fall out. At 10 months, she fit exactly into the bassinet, but the size of the bassinet also varies from airline to airline.
- I’ve always been able to get cheaper tickets through Asian travel agencys when traveling to Asia. Most recently, I paid 1/3 of what tickets were going for online. We’re inclined to book all travel online nowadays, but it doesn’t hurt to see what rate you can get through a travel agency since it doesn’t cost you anything.
- We brought a GoCrib with us because we knew our destination would not have one. It’s easy to set up, lightweight (11 pounds), comes in its own backpack, and is small enough to be carried on the plane. We also own the BabyBjorn travel crib, and while that’s a great travel crib as well, its length requires that it be checked in, which may or may not be important to you. You can call ahead to the hotel to see if they provide a pack n play, but I have heard horror stories from parents of poor quality, so I’d always just travel with my own.
- Buy a pair of Kidz Gear headphones that are just the right size for little ones.
- Buy a children’s book about the airport and read it in the weeks leading up to the trip to get your child excited about the trip.
- Pack everything in ziploc bags to keep things organized and to prevent leaks. For instance diapers, wipes, and Aquaphor; formula and bottles; a complete change of baby clothes, etc. And pack extra gallon and quart sized ziploc bags too!
- Take infant’s/children’s acetaminophen/ibuprofen with you on the plane. You also don’t want to be caught without it abroad!
- There are services that ship baby supplies like diapers to your hotel so you don’t have to worry about packing them. When traveling to grandma’s house, I always opt to ship baby items directly there via Amazon or Diapers.com than pack them.
- Buy cheap toys at the dollar store, wrap each one up, and give one to your child one every half hour or so. Unwrapping the surprise is half the fun! The dollar store I went to didn’t have the greatest selection, but I picked up flashcards, post-it notes, toy cars, toy bugs, tickets (fun to pull apart), and best of all… glow sticks.
- Take a portable dvd player with dvds, or load your iphone/ipod/ipad with lots of games and videos. If you’re taking a long international flight, consider purchasing a Mophie External Battery pack for your ipod/iphone/ipad. It was definitely a lifesaver for us.
- Pack new toys that your child hasn’t seen before, or pack away favorite toys for a couple of weeks leading up to the trip so they’re excited to play with them again.
- Pack lots and lots of snacks — tried and true favorites along with junk food. Our go to snacks are lollipops, Pocky, Nutrigrain bars, and fruit leather for toddlers, and mum mums (though they can break easily), Cheerios/puffs, and yogurt melts for infants. Most parents love the squeezable fruit pouches as well.
- Babies and children are not required to have id on domestic flights, but pack a copy of your child’s birth certificate, especially if you’re traveling alone with your child, to prove that you are the parent. This will also serve as proof of age if you’re traveling with a lap infant.
- If your child is traveling with one parent or an adult who is not a parent, bring written authorization for travel signed by one/both parents. Some airlines may require you to provide this information, especially when traveling abroad according to the US Customs and Border Protection.
- For an older child, take either a stroller or a car seat with something like that Gogo Babyz Kidz Travelmate or the Traveling Toddler Car Seat Accessory which converts your car seat into a stroller. You never know how much you’ll actually have to walk in the airport, especially if you have a connecting flight, and it won’t be easy to carry a tired child on top of your carry-ons.
- You can attach your car seat to your carry-on suitcase with some inexpensive bungee cables (we did this on a flight with great success) if you’re wearing your child and not checking in any luggage. Then you can gate check the car seat if you won’t be using it on the plane.
- You can gate check your car seat or your stroller. I’ve heard that they can get pretty banged up, so you may want to invest in a bag for your car seat or stroller if you’re going to be gate checking them.
- Car seats don’t count towards your checked luggage allotment. Car seat bags like this one from JL Childress provide ample room for you to stuff in your coats or other belongings!
- You can take milk and food through security when traveling with a child. They didn’t even confiscate our regular plastic bottle of water that we forgot was in our bag. For containers that are open, they will pass this paper detector above the item.
- Let your kids run/crawl around to burn off some energy since they’ll be sitting still on the plane for a long time.
- If you’re traveling with your significant other, split up and have one person preboard with the bags while the other boards last with the kids. Give the kids as much time as possible to run around the airport.
- Everyone knows about nursing/giving a bottle/giving something to eat/chew/suck on take-off and landing to help babies and children clear their ears. Before our trip, I read a posting from a flight attendant that said they’d never seen a child have a problem with their ears on a plane. Since we were taking 8 flights, which meant 16 take-offs and landings, I hoped that was true! I didn’t give Charlie or Olive anything on some of the flights, and they were fine. My ears are extremely sensitive — I have to clear them like 30 times on a flight — while my mom never has to clear her ears at all, so I think it just depends on the person.
- For take-off, a lollipop is Charlie’s favorite treat, and it keeps him occupied the longest!
- You have to shut off ipads/iphones/ipods at take-off, so don’t let your child use them until you’re in the air or they might throw a tantrum when you take it away. (This may have happened to us.)
- If you have a newly potty trained child, put them in an overnight diaper on the plane anyway. The last thing you want is an accident on the plane! We had Charlie in a diaper, but he actually used the bathroom just fine the entire time.
- Here’s a super thoughtful idea — you can create little goody bags with a note for all the passengers like this parent flying with twins did.
- Accept that your child will be exposed to germs. I wiped down the tray tables, arm rests and remotes with wipes, but I couldn’t stop Charlie and Olive from touching every germy surface. They actually made it through 8 flights without getting sick, and Charlie is the king of getting sick!
- The CARES Child Aviation Restraint System is the only FAA approved child restraint alternative to a car seat for toddlers and children that are able to sit in their own seats. I didn’t get one for our most recent trip, but I wish I had because the too big seat belt that Charlie could slip out of was a huge source of tantrums on our trip. Next time I’m going to let Charlie get familiar with the harness before our flight so that he’s excited to use it!
- Water in plane bathrooms is not potable, so bring as many bottles as you’ll need during your flight because you won’t be able to wash them.
- Pictures and videos on your phone can be a great source of entertainment for kids.
- Consider taking melatonin after returning from a trip to help with jetlag. It’s been 11 days since we got back from the Philippines, and I’m still not over the jetlag! It’s much harder to recover when you have kids because their sleep schedules are off, which really messes with your sleep schedule that’s already off due to jet lag.
- To combat jetlag, eat meals according to local time so your body adjusts. Try to see sunlight and lots of it as soon as you wake up to reset your internal clock.
The travel itself wasn’t that hard. Kids are much more adaptable than we think. The hardest part of the entire trip was actually when we returned home and had to get the kids back on their sleep schedule. But that wouldn’t stop us from traveling again, and we’re probably heading somewhere this Christmas!
Do you have any great tips for flying with young children? Leave it in the comments and we’ll add the best ones to the post!
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16. Vegas (with a) Baby! by Mrs. Yoyo
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