Tips For Traveling With Kids By Plane

My oldest is 7 years old. One afternoon she asked me how many planes she had flown on. When I started counting them up, I was shocked to inform her that she had been on around 35 planes from the ages of 4 months to 5 years old!

In my past 7 years of parenting I have taken my kids on trips spanning short, 2.5 hour flights with one baby all the way to flying 30 hour trips across the world, by myself, with three kids and quite a bit in between. I love hearing the question “Any tips?” because I feel like I have some!

Obviously, flying can be a very different experience for everyone depending on how comfortable you are with flying, how often your children have flown, how many and the ages of your children, and how long your flight is.  Take my tips for what they are worth.Tips For Traveling

Packing:

1.  I’ve heard a lot about people who try to put as much in their carry ons and bring as many carry ons as they can.  It saves on baggage costs, which I know is very important.  But I advise you to not do this, if you can at all help it, when you have young children.  The first time I flew overseas with two of my kids on my own I brought everything under the sun.  You know what this resulted in? A toddler carrying a slightly too heavy backpack who was panicked walking down the isle of the plane in front of me, my carrying my infant strapped to my chest, having a backpack on my shoulders, a car seat with a bag in it in one hand and a bag in my other hand all while the flight attendant was carrying a second car seat behind me.  I couldn’t do anything more than tell my poor 3 year old to keep walking and I’d pick her up when we got to our seats.  And then it didn’t get better from there.  I shoved what I could under the front of our seats, the rest in the overhead bin. Invariably there was something in one of the bags that I still wanted and I’d have to dig it out midflight.  Having so many bags just made getting on and off the flight cumbersome and stressful for everyone involved. So plan to have one small bag per person and even combine those if you possibly can.

My daughter got to carry her own small backpack, with wheels! I also put her in a very bright outfit so I could see her quickly . Taking a picture before any trip is a good idea, in case you have to show someone what your child looks like that day if they get lost.
My daughter got to carry her own small backpack, with wheels! I also put her in a very bright outfit so I could see her quickly . Taking a picture before any trip is a good idea, in case you have to show someone what your child looks like that day if they get lost.

2.  I read a tip online somewhere about having a different toy for every hour of the flight.  Brilliant! I thought.  For the next flight I packed so many different toys- ordering new ones online that I could surprise my daughters with and pulling out old toys they hadn’t played with in a long time. And then they refused to play with them.  Or they happened to get spread EVERYWHERE and created a nightmare for us to clean up at the end of the flight and frequently pieces were missing.  Don’t pack anything with several small parts (even for big kids). Don’t pack anything that will potentially cause huge messes or cause stains (like play dough). Don’t plan on the toys you bring for them being so entertaining that they will end up occupied for hours at a time.  It rarely happens.

3.  Always pack an extra change of clothes, even for your teenagers.  When I was a young teenager, my mom took me on a short flight to visit relatives and I spilled orange juice all over my lap.  I was really embarrassed and we had nothing to change into until we picked up the bags. My kids have all wet through or had blow out diapers at some point of our trip. Even once potty trained I’ve had them wet their pants because the bathrooms scare them. And on the several 30 hour trips we’ve endured, it is always marvelous to be able to change into fresh clothes after the longest flight of the trip.  And if the worst comes to it and your bags are delayed or your bags get sent ahead and you are delayed, you have extra clothes to change into while waiting at the airport or at your destination without having to buy expensive clothes in the gift shop.

Security:

1. Security is actually not a big deal at all.  Prepare your kids for what will happen in simple words.  “We are going to walk through security.  When we get to the conveyor belt, take off your shoes and backpack and put them in the bin I’ll give you.  And then wait for me to signal you to walk through the metal detector. Then we will put our shoes on together and grab our bags!” Kids might seem a little bit nervous but keep talking them through it. If they have flown before then they will remember doing it and have a base of reference for the next time. If they have never flown before, take a moment to watch another person or family go through security in front of you and describe all the steps as you watch.

2. Take your time.  At first I felt very rushed. I had to move quickly so I wouldn’t annoy the people behind me or the TSA agents who were waiting to wave me through.  But reality was that if someone was really in that big of a rush, they would likely not stand behind a family and go through a different line. And that is their choice. If you are too rushed your children will feel that stress and you might leave something behind or accidentally say something stupid that will land you with a pat down! I’ve been in a few airports that have a security line specifically for families.  That was cool.

We traveled as light as we could and took our time going through the airport.  It reduced a lot of stress.
We traveled as light as we could and took our time going through the airport. It reduced a lot of stress.

3.  Once you are through security you are done with the hardest part.  So sit back and relax. I’ve been through so many air ports and all of them have some amazing art work and sculptures and some of them even have play places for the kids. But even if they only have walking escalators, plan on using them a few times because the kids will get a kick out of them!

Boarding the Plane:

Some of the airlines that I’ve flown with have allowed families to board first. There are pros and cons to doing this.

Pros: If you board first you get your pick of overhead bins.  You don’t have to worry about your kids bumping into other passengers and your kids will probably be enthralled by watching everyone else board the plane.  It also gives you more time to get settled nicely into your seats and you don’t have to walk through as long of a line.  I would do this option if your kids aren’t too frustrated with small spaces and if you have several bags.

Cons: If your kids can go stir crazy in small places, getting on first would be a big mistake. Its noisy, busy and crowded and generally takes a half hour or more to get everyone seated. If you hang out in the waiting area for just a bit longer you don’t have to worry about keeping your kids calm or quiet for that much longer. If you have only a few bags that will easily fit under your seat I would definitely take this option.

                                                                         The Flight

Giving my kids small crackers that took them a long time to eat helped them stay calm and take up time on the flight.
Giving my kids small crackers that took them a long time to eat helped them stay calm and take up time on the flight.

1. I already suggested a few things about your bags, but here I’ll mention food.  I have two different types of children.  One type will get a bag of snacks and nibble on it for hours.  It is never a center of her attention.  She is excited for treats but her world does not revolve around them.  She pays alot more attention to her hunger signals.  My other daughter is constantly wanting to eat.  If you need her to be quiet then plunk a bag of snacks in her hand and she’ll be content to munch away for as long as the bag lasts.  Know your children in regards to snacks.

When you are traveling stationary on a plane you don’t burn very many calories.  Even if you are a nervous eater or snack out of boredom, don’t bring high calorie foods to snack on because it will just make you feel ill or more sluggish.  Also, pack foods that aren’t going to squish or smell or leave lots of random packaging all over for the flight attendant.  Snacks like crackers, granola bars and pretzels are good. So are cheese sticks, sliced or dried apples, and raisins.  I would not take pears, bananas, hard boiled eggs, Doritos, or an entire package of Oreos.

Two of my girls and I, traveling to Guam.  My husband happened to be on that flight with me.
Two of my girls and I, traveling to Guam. My husband happened to be on that flight with me.

2.  You know how you hear all the time about parents getting kicked off the plane because their kid is noisy? Or parents who are so nice they prepare 100 bags of earplugs and candy to pass out to fellow passengers? Don’t be worried.  You are more than likely going to be just fine, even if your kid does cry. Its the kids that are out of control who are going to be kicked off the plane.  If your kid cries because they are tired and all you have to do is start nursing, give them a pacifier, or stand in the back of the plane with them until they are calm again, no one is going to care.  Also- the plane is loud.  At times it seems deafening.  Your child’s fussing will likely only be heard by the people directly in front and behind you and even then it won’t likely be so loud they want to strangle you.

My girls fell asleep cuddled into their seats. Unfortunately the flash on the camera woke them up.
My girls fell asleep cuddled into their seats. Unfortunately the flash on the camera woke them up.

Minimal entertainment:

I already mentioned how my kids don’t end up playing with the toys I bring, so what did I start doing?  Well, I take a look at what will occupy their attention. During the boarding they will be very interested in looking around.  At take off they will want to see out the windows.  For the first half hour they will explore their seat belts, the lap trays and look at the people around them.  If you have a longer flight its highly likely that they will fall asleep.  If you are lucky to get a plane with individual monitors, they will be excited to watch a movie or two.  Then add in the drinks that are passed around, the bag of snacks you bring, and you are 3/4 done with the flight without having to pull out a single toy.

On longer flights I’ve made tents for my kids with the blankets.  You hook the blanket into the lap tray in front of you and then drape it over the seat behind you and the kids have their own hideout.  That’s just about the coolest thing ever.

General Tips

1.  I have NEVER had an emergency that has ruined my life.  No plane has ever crashed, I have never had to have an emergency landing in the water, I’ve never been on a flight that was diverted for someone with Ebola or someone having a baby.  The chances of these types of things happening to you on your flight is really low, so don’t worry about it.

2.  Even if you do struggle, there are SO many people who want to help. There is likely a grandma on your flight who is going to visit her grandkids or leaving from such a vacation who will gravitate toward helping.  Or another mother who has dealt with flying and is sympathetic to your plight.  The flight attendants are highly likely to be helpful if you have a few kind words for them.  Go into your trip looking for those good people and you’ll find them.

3.  If your kids end up flipping out and you get kicked off the plane then you’ll have a really great story to tell.  If your kid throws up on the plane, the poor chap next to you will probably request a new seat and you’ll have more room to spread out.  If you get diverted, you just might get a free ticket you can use to go visit your family again.  Basically, everything has a silver lining.

Above all, remember that flying can be an adventure. A stressful one, but exciting.  Allow your children to experience the wonder of flying and enjoy watching them discover such an awesome opportunity.

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