Does the idea of flying with your little one conjure images of calming a screaming child while all the other passengers sip wine? While prepping for a trip to Europe with our four-month-old a few years ago, my mom gave me this advice, “The plane will eventually land, you will eventually get off the plane, and you will never see those people again.” This has been my mantra whenever we are flying with kids, followed closely by “You can never be too prepared” and “Rules on the ground are WAY relaxed in the air!”
Here are My Five Top Travel Tips When Flying with Kids
1. Flight Time
If possible, book travel first thing in the morning as kids are generally in a better mood at this time. Last year we invested in TSA Precheck; it’s worth the money to avoid that line with children! I use an umbrella stroller as a multipurpose tool; a baggage cart and/or a seat for the first child who tuckers out. We gate check it and it’s waiting for us on arrival. While waiting to board, watch planes take off, ride the people mover, talk to other kids, etc. anything to avoid opening any bags of goodies until you are on the plane. Do one last bathroom trip/diaper change before getting on the plane.
Seating is tricky with a family of four or more. Generally, the options are various forms of dividing and conquering, but for families with two or less kids, there’s the additional option of one adult taking kids and allowing one adult in the kid-free, “unicorn” row. The advantage of the ‘divide and conquer’ option is both kids can have a window seat and the built-in option for one child to stand up and talk to the family behind him/her, and it keeps the kids separated.
3. Keep Them Busy
When flying with kids, have each child pull their own wheeled carry-on full of trinkets, activities, and snacks. Wrapping the trinkets adds extra excitement and more airplane life to the toy. Some of our favorites are cars, transformers, books, Legos, stuffies, toy animals, and stickers. Paper, crayons, scissors, painters tape, and books stashed in a pencil case are also favorites. I like to make easy DIY, “put in” activities as well, like q-tips in an old spice jar, cotton balls in a water bottle, or cut straws in an empty parmesan cheese container. Google search “put in” activities and you will find plenty!
Fill each kid’s snack bag with their favorite snacks, plus some new, fun ones. Some of our favorite travel foods are fruit snacks, yogurt pouches, cheese sticks, grapes, strawberries, granola bars, beef sticks, and pretzels. On our last trip I added holiday Captain Crunch cereal and Mickey Mouse goldfish for a special treat. Make sure to pack some protein to decrease hunger meltdowns. Snacks with a dual caloric/activity purpose are bonus, like cheerios to string onto a pipe cleaner or cheese cubes and toothpicks for building. Plus, the occupational therapist in me loves the fine motor work they get with these activities.
5. Back Ups
Pack a parent-carried backpack filled with back up supplies (you can never be too prepared)! This bag can include electronic devices/screens, children’s headphones, clean-up and sleep necessities, and more snacks and trinkets. Our bag is a big backpack with three front compartments. One compartment contains diapers and wipes, another has medicine (Advil, Benadryl, and inhalers), and the other houses emergency snacks (my kids will do anything for a lollipop). The big compartment holds iPads, headphones, a change of clothes for each kid, essential sleep items (binkies, lovies), more wipes (can you ever have too many?), and more trinkets. When my children were babies I packed a back up shirt for me as well. I forgot the back up shirt once and ended up covered in spit-up for half a plane ride and then a long car ride…gross.
Concerning screen time: When flying with kids, I refer back to the mantra about relaxed rules. On a plane we say, “watch all you want!” Prior to the trip, I always download a few new apps/shows. The last time we flew, both kids were occupied for two hours with the iPads, and I actually read a book. Glorious! If all else fails, take a breath and say the most important mantra, “this plane will eventually land…” then get up and go for a walk up and down the aisle.
Jessica is a pediatric occupational therapist and owner of The Wiggle Room, an indoor play space for all abilities in the Hollywood neighborhood. Jessica’s greatest passion is helping children and their families live a great life no matter what their abilities. She loves spending time with her husband and two boys walking in their NE Portland neighborhood, at the beach, or on their sailboat. Day dates, DIY projects that actually get completed, naps, and consignment shops also make her smile.