flying with kids

Flying with kids, especially little kids, can be intimidating. No matter how many times we've traveled by air, I'm always nervous about how they'll react to being 40,000 feet above the earth in a confined space surrounded by Wall Street Journal reading business travelers.

I'm no expert, and I have done the crying kid on the plane thing, but I'd love to share with you what has helped me when I fly with our kiddos. I've flown dozens of times with them, mostly without my husband, and while I always have butterflies the night before, I'm also always pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to travel with little ones.

First, know this: if your kids are restless, you're probably more bothered by it than anyone else around you. And if those around you are bothered, you'll probably never see them again - so don't fret.

I've had the most luck flying early (like 7am early) with my kids. You're unlikely to have delays, the kids are fresh and rested, and you'll probably be to your destination in time for afternoon naps.

The days leading up to the trip...
1. Aim to be packed a day or two before you depart, in order to allow yourself time to remember what you might've forgotten. Try to pack as little as possible. The more you pack, the more stuff you'll have to deal with when you arrive (and the more you'll have to unpack and wash when you get home).
2. If your child is 2 or younger and flying free as a lap infant, you must have a passport or birth certificate to prove their age. Make sure to pack it or you'll be buying a full priced ticket at the gate.
3. Charge any electronics and make a list of chargers / adapters you need to pack at the last minute.
4. Talk to little kids about your trip! Tell them a little bit about what they'll see and what you expect of them.
5. If you are checking a car seat, slide two large trash bags into an outside pouch of your suitcase. The airlines sometimes run out of car seat bags, and unless you have a trash bag to cover the car seat, it'll get tossed into the luggage cargo space as is. As expensive as car seats are, it's worth bringing trash bags to protect them just in case.

Carry-On's & Strollers
1. You will have to take your child and all of your belongings out of your stroller to go through security -- and you'll also have to collapse your stroller and put it on the security screening belt for X-Ray. TSA will not help you with this, so make sure your stroller is one that you can easily fold down and pick up.
2. Kids under 12 no longer have to remove shoes at security!
3. I pack a backpack for me and one for the older kids to share. Everything baby-related is in my backpack, plus our tickets and birth certificates. The older kids' bag is for all of their loot.
4. Since water costs a fortune in the airport, consider packing an empty water bottle and filling it up once you pass through security.
5. For kids under age 2, here is what I pack:

  • Large ziploc of snacks. The squeeze pouch baby foods are great for helping their ears to clear on takeoff and landing.
  • Large ziploc with diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes for baby.
  • A new book or two. I like to pack the ones with flaps to lift, panels to slide, etc. because it makes the book an interactive toy. It really helps if baby has never seen the books before.
  • Crayons, stickers and a notepad. Stickers can be seriously entertaining for little hands.
  • A small container with a flip-top lid, filled with Cheerios. Target's Dollar Bin has little Elmo bowls right now with these lids.
  • My secret weapon: lollipops. In real life, I'd never give my 21-month old a lollipop, but on a plane, anything goes. They're a great way to keep their ears clear on takeoff & landing. I feel safer with big Blow Pops than small Dum-Dums because they can't bite the Blow Pops, but that's just me. (Obviously they'll never get to the gum.) Pack a few extras for desperate moms around you. :)
  • My other secret weapon: a few drinking straws. If baby doesn't want to drink (and you're not using the lollipop), stick your straw in some water, cover the top to hold some water in the straw, and "pour" the water into baby's mouth. Just swallowing that small amount will help their ears clear -- and the novelty of the straw might buy you some time.
  • Along the lines of the lollipop is a DVD player for a young child. As much as I try to not let my littlest ones watch TV, as I said above, anything goes at 40,000 feet. If baby will watch a little movie, rejoice. It won't hurt.

6. For older kids, packing is more streamlined. Here are some ideas:

  • playing cards (if you think they can handle them without playing 52 card pickup)
  • crayons and notepads (skip markers -- too easy for caps to go rolling off tray table)
  • a small digital camera (amazing to see what they take pictures of)
  • binoculars (so fun to look out the window!)
  • post-it notes to make a flip book or use as "x" and "o" cards for tic-tac-toe on the tray table.

In the airport...

2. Go to the bathroom before the flight.
3. Get a stroller gate check tag as soon as you're in your boarding area. Ask a ticket agent for the tag well in advance of takeoff. You're required to have one to check your stroller at the gate and if you don't do it before boarding begins, the ticket agent won't have time to help you while she's trying to get the other 200 people on your flight. No fun.

In flight...
1. I had two kids before I realized that most airplane bathrooms have a fold-down changing table above the toilet. If baby is restless, take him to the bathroom and let him stretch out on the changing table. I know, not exactly the ideal play area, but it does the trick.
2. Save the snacks and toys until you NEED them. Wait until kids are flirting with restlessness before you break out your arsenal of supplies, and when you do, bring things out one at a time.
3. Don't expect anyone to help you. If someone helps, be surprised and thankful.
4. For bigger kids, show them the Sky Mall magazine. My kids get a kick out of the odd and unusual finds in those magazines!
5. Four words: Barf Bag Hand Puppets.

I think that does it for me. I'm sure you have tips & tricks to add, so feel free to comment in the name of helping others. Happy trails!
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  1. Great list! I'm hoping to take my kids on a plane in the next year and these are great tips! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love the tic tac toe on post it notes! Great idea!