Flying with young kids? Toddlers and babies are a lot of work, but a little planning and preparation before the trip can help make your travel day less stressful.
Let’s talk plane rides. Specifically plane rides with young kids in tow. Since the middle of September, we’ve flown as a family (2 adults and 2 kids) from Columbus to Minneapolis and back two times, once for a funeral and once for a wedding. While this isn’t the most elaborate travel plan – it’s a fairly simple, 90-minute direct flight, it’s still time, on an airplane, with two kids under the age of 3.
Before we left on our first trip, I asked for some tips from fellow parents on my InstaStories. I thought it might be helpful to compile those tips, plus several of my own, into a blog post for other parents who may be preparing to fly with kids. There’s no doubt about it…it can be stressful. Especially for people like me who like to plan and be in control.
All you can really do is your best. Plan and prepare, hope for the best and be ready to deal with the worst.
First, some important things to note:
- You can wear a baby in a carrier (like an Ergo) through the metal detector.
- Babies and toddlers don’t have to take their shoes off.
- Whoever is wearing baby may or may not have to take their shoes off (definitely not with precheck, but one flight I was able to leave them on even in the regular line)
- You don’t have to take your ipad out of your bag or out of the case.
- You don’t have to put the ipad away during takeoff and landing.
And now some tips:
- Bring empty water bottles with straws. Fill them at the drinking fountain or buy bottled water near the gate. One tip I got was to buy juice to put in it during takeoff and landing to encourage them to drink to help their ears pop. This would definitely be helpful if your kids aren’t huge fans of just drinking plain water on demand.
- Download movies ahead of time on Netflix so you don’t have to pay for wifi. However, make sure you also have apps/games downloaded that work without wifi…because if you get on the plane and suddenly Netflix won’t let you log into your account, you’re going to want something else to keep them busy (not that we learned that the hard way or anything….)
- Also, pack headphones if your kids like using the sound.
- If you can, ship diapers and wipes directly to wherever you’re staying. We were staying with family friends and I ordered a package of diapers for each kid on Amazon and had them shipped directly there. That way you don’t have to pack enough diapers for multiple kids for multiple days, which can take up a lot of space.
- Pack a change of clothes for everyone (including yourself) in the diaper bag in Ziploc bags. Use the ziploc bags to store dirty diapers if you do end up having to change one on the plane. If the baby pukes on you or has a blowout while you’re holding them, you’ll probably be glad you have a fresh shirt! And dress everyone in layers.
- If you are nursing a baby older than about 6 months, and it’s in your budget, I’d definitely suggest buying them their own seat. Even if you end up holding them the whole time. Little Miss is 11 months and extremely long. On our second trip we had a seat for her but for the funeral, since tickets were super expensive to buy on short notice, we didn’t buy her a ticket and it was challenging to nurse her without her head hanging out into the aisle or half her body over the armrest on the stranger next to me.
- Think carefully about using the infant-in-arms. It’s nice to save money, but having the extra seat as space for a squirmy child can be a lifesaver. You know your child best. If they’re for the most part content to sit in your lap, it might be ok. If they’re constantly squirming and wanting to move, it could be a long ride.
- Wear what you’re most comfortable in, especially if you’re nursing. On the first flight, for some reason I decided to wear a nursing tank and bra, which I haven’t worn in forever. It was awkward and uncomfortable. I much prefer to just wear a looser shirt and a sports bra that I can easily push up, so that’s what I did the rest of the flights and it went much more smoothly.
- Save a big bribe for the end. Bonus points if it’s salty to get them to drink water on the descent. For us it was m&ms, which I saved in my purse until the last possible moment before a meltdown. Squish had a hard time once we landed with wanting to get off the plane immediately (don’t we all?) so feeding him m&ms one at a time for good behavior helped us pass the time.
- Pack all the snacks. And then pack some more. My kids are both happiest when they’re fed, so I was ready to provide a steady stream of cheerios, crackers, apples, etc to keep them pleasant and moderately well-behaved. Plus, you never know when you’ll get delayed, stuck on the runaway, etc. Better to be safe than sorry!
- Hope they’ll sleep, but don’t count on it. You can do your best to plan around sleep and nap schedules and yes it’s fabulous if they do end up sleeping, but the reality is, they might not. So be as prepared as you can for them to be awake the whole time. Even though we flew close to naptime for all 4 flights, the baby only slept 15 minutes on one flight and the toddler didn’t sleep at all.
- Prepare for a meltdown. It will likely happen no matter what. For us it was while waiting for our luggage after we landed at home from our longer trip. Squish went 4 days without a nap and it was oh-so-obvious. We used the divide and conquer method. Hubby waited for our luggage while I took the kids and we rode the moving sidewalk down and back 100 times to keep Squish occupied.
- On that note, do your best to keep your kids from screaming on the plane, but cut yourself a little slack if they do. Little Miss screamed for a little while during the descent of one flight. Her ears were hurting, she didn’t want to nurse, she didn’t want to eat…I did my best to keep her quiet but mostly kept repeating to myself the reminder that you likely won’t see most of the people on your flight ever again. So maybe they’ll go home and complain about you to their friends, but you’ll probably never hear about it 🙂
- Remember that you can gate check your car seats and strollers. On the same note, think about the size of both airports. Columbus is a fairly small airport so not having a stroller for Squish wasn’t a huge deal. However, Minneapolis is a bit larger and it probably would have been nice to have a stroller to get to our gate coming home instead of carrying a 40+ pound 2-year-old.
- If you’re unable to pick seats together when buying your tickets, email the airline. I did this before our first flight and they were able to move us so that hubby and Squish had two seats and then Little Miss and I had the aisle and middle across from them instead of being a couple rows apart.
- And finally, pick your battles. Especially with the toddlers! And tell your hosts to have a beer ready and waiting for you 😉
As far as what to pack for plane ride entertainment? Honestly, we probably could have gotten away with just an ipad and snacks on our trips. Squish alternated between movies and games, and I mostly entertained Little Miss with items from my purse and the seat pockets. But, for kids who are not quite as fixated on the ipad, here’s what we brought. The links below are affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using them, I get a small percentage, without any additional cost to you!
- Melissa and Doug Water Wow! pens/pads
- Reusable sticker books (I just tore a page or two out with some stickers so I could fold them and they would take up less space then the whole book. Also consider window clings/stickers they could play with on the windows!)
- Coloring books + crayons
- ipad + headphones with movies and games downloaded
- Painters tape (they can stick it anywhere and it comes off easily!)
- Squigz (suction cup toys that can stick to tray tables, arm rests, etc
- A few new toys they haven’t seen before!
- Snacks: Annie’s bunny grahams, Annie’s cheddar bunnies, cereal (Cheerios & Love Grown), apples and m&m’s for the kids, trail mix, jerky and KIND bars for the adults.
- Empty water bottles
I tried to limit things like crayons/markers/toys with wheels (basically anything that could easily roll away when dropped) to just a few since the kids were so young and drop them frequently, but those would be good options as they get a little bit older.
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That’s all I’ve got. Have you traveled with young kids recently? Leave your tips in the comments!!