“I’m about to fly for the first time with my baby! HELP!”
While perusing social media, I have noticed a trend of moms asking for tips and tricks for airplane travel with little kids. With the holidays quickly approaching, I know that worries about getting everyone packed, to the airport, through security (without running away), on the airplane, in a seat, and at least semi-quiet for the flight are beginning to keep many parents up at night. For better or worse, my kid is an inveterate traveler, so I consider myself a bit of an expert.
Here are my top tips for airplane travel with young children . . .
Before we get into age-specific advice, I have two general recommendations that apply to airplane travel with children of ANY age.
- FIRST OFF . . . relax. Take a deep breath. Airplane travel with small children is not going to be as bad as your worst nightmare.
- DON’T worry about your fellow passengers!!! I was so incredibly nervous before my first flight, convinced that my kid would fuss and cry the whole time. She didn’t, but that’s beside the point. Even if she had, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. As it turns out, planes are LOUD. It’s very hard to hear much above the ambient whoosh of the plane. Even if your child cries, most folks won’t be able to hear her. Also, chances are, your child isn’t the first crying tot your fellow travelers have encountered.
I’ve seen stories about the parents who put together goodie bags for other passengers on the plane. They contain notes with preemptive apologies for the noise and crying. I used to think those goodie bags were brilliant. They are unnecessary. Use the money you’d spend on those bags for a few plane treats for your kid – or a coffee for yourself!
Airplane Travel with Babies | Ages Zero to Six Months::
This is the GOLDEN era for flying with a kid. They don’t need a ticket of their own yet. They are still relatively light and easy to carry. It’s likely they will nap for most of the duration of the flight.
A few tips and tricks I used (or that I wish I had used!) to make the experience a breeze:
- Wear the baby. Check the stroller and carseat before you go through security. (It’s an FAA rule that they cannot charge you for these items, and then you don’t have to slog them through the airport!) You’ll appreciate having your hands free getting through security!
- Nurse or give a bottle at takeoff and landing. This helps with ear popping, and has the added bonus of helping your baby settle into sleep (which hopefully they will do for most, if not all, of the flight).
- Pack an extra outfit or two (and one for you, if you have room). I am sure you’ve heard the horror stories about plane blow-outs. These are REAL. I’ve also been unfortunate enough to be in a window seat and unable to easily get out to change a diaper. Which resulted in me getting peed on. I didn’t have any extra clothes, but I sure wish I had!
- If you have them, throw a cloth diaper cover over your disposable diaper. This is a great way to keep blow-outs contained (and limit the chances of you getting peed on!)
- There’s no need to invest in fancy gear – we got noise blocking headphones and a special holder for keeping a baby in your lap on flights. Both were extraneous and we barely used them.
Airplane Travel with Babies | Ages Six to 12 Months
This is not the hardest age for flying, but it’s also not the easiest. Chances are your baby isn’t napping as frequently as she did when she was younger. As a result, you may get a good chunk of sleep from them. Or they may not sleep at all.
Most of the tips from the first six months apply here (wear the baby through security, nurse/bottle at takeoff/landing, bring a change of clothes for everyone, etc.) but a few extras to throw in there:
- Get an aisle seat. If your baby doesn’t sleep, they will likely need some form of entertainment. Walking the aisles and seeing the different passengers is GREAT fun for a baby! An aisle seat also gives you quick access to the bathroom for diaper changes.
- Travel with a companion if possible. You will NOT regret having someone to hand the baby off to when you need a break!
- Pack antibacterial wipes. Little ones at this age are putting EVERYTHING in their mouths, so it’s great to give everything a quick once over, before you notice them trying to teethe on the tray table. These wipes also come in handy for other cleanups that may become necessary.
- If your little one is exploring toys, then bring some small (hopefully quiet-ish). A take-along version of a shape sorter is one lots of moms love.
Airplane Travel with Toddlers : Ages One to Two Years
I joke and tell people that this is the no-fly zone. If you can avoid it, try not to fly during this age. It can be overwhelming for all involved! Or, you could be a glutton for punishment like I was, and plan a trip just for you and your toddler, leaving your spouse behind.
No, but seriously, it’s not actually as tough as I make it out to be, particularly if you rely on some of these tips and tricks:
- If you still can, or if you child will allow it, wear them through security. The horror stories of a parent getting EVERYTHING unpacked into the security bins, just as a toddler takes off running back through the security line aren’t just to frighten us — they’re real life. If your toddler can’t/won’t be worn (toddlers can be big and stubborn!), be prepared to ask a kind stranger for help. People would rather help you wrangle your child and keep things moving than make you chase them through the airport with your stuff sitting in the security bins.
- Again, get an aisle seat. Toddlers like to get up and walk around. This gives you easy access to the aisles and those bathrooms for diaper changes.
- Bring a stash of special, favorite snacks and treats, which you can whip out strategically when your toddler starts to get fussy. I actually allowed lollipops, which helped with the ear popping at takeoff and landing, and take more than a few moments to eat!
- Bring a few new toys that pique your child’s interests. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive! My daughter was really interested in putting coins in a bank, so I brought a mini piggy bank along with us with about 20 pennies, which was a great plane activity. I also keep hearing great things about the Buckle Toys from moms who believe they’re the BEST travel toys for little ones learning dexterity with buckles and zippers. .
- I haven’t done it, but many moms swear by wrapping these new toys up, and bringing them out at strategic intervals. The fun and excitement that comes with opening a gift can help a flight pass quickly!
- If you can, allow a bit of screen time. Just be aware that many children this age don’t have much of an attention span, so screen time won’t necessarily work as a good way to pass some time.
Airplane Travel with Toddlers | Ages Two years and up
For better or worse, you have to buy your child their own seat at this age, so it’s considerably more expensive. However, it’s a treat not to have a squirming child on your lap, so in my opinion, it’s worth it! Many of the tips and tricks for the early toddler phase remain (tasty snacks; small gifts; screen time) but there are a few others that I’ve relied on:
- Bring a car seat or booster seat onto the plane. Your child will be much more comfortable in a seat that they find familiar. Invest in a lightweight seat for travel. I like the Cosco Scenera, which is only about $50, and at least 10 lbs lighter than our Graco Extend2Fit.
- Pro tip: You can purchase car seat travel straps to fasten the seat to your wheeled carry on luggage, so you don’t have to carry it! There are also car seat strollers you can wheel the seat on – lifesaver!
- If you can, time your flights around nap time. With any luck, your child will sleep on the plane! (Or, yours will be like mine, and will be so excited by being on a plane that there’s no way she’ll sleep)
Flying is not particularly comfortable these days. Cut yourself (and your kid) some slack. It probably won’t be easy, but I bet it will be easier than you thought it would be! I wish you luck and happy travels!