I love reading how people fly with their kids. There’s always something that I didn’t know, or something I forgot, or something that reassures me that I’m doing ok.
The following tips are based on things that have worked for me when I fly with my kids.
Selecting a Flight and Seats
- Pick a time that works best for you, when you are most alert during the day. Logic has told me that trying to schedule flights for times when my kids normally naps. This has repeatedly not worked for me. Toddlers and logic don’t mix. I’ve had flights delayed so much that they were just waking up from naps as we were boarding. I’ve had later flights where I’m exhausted, but my kid is wired with the excitement of flight. So now, I schedule around my needs.
- Pay for peace of mind. I don’t want to have to worry about sitting together, so I pay for the ability to select a seat. I consider it part of flying now and don’t think of it as a separate fee. For international flights, I upgrade to comfort seating. I need the extra space and early boarding.
- Window when possible. We usually end up in the middle three seats, which means there are two aisles my son will want to try to run down. The window gives him something to look at, which he loves.
- In the debate between bulkhead and back row, I pick back row. Bulkhead is nice if you get a bassinet and you have a lap infant. However, each time we’ve had bulkhead our son has been distracted by all the people waiting for the bathroom. Or worse, the people who want to cross in front our seats to get to the other aisle. Also, our son is a bit visual. Being at the front of the plane, he doesn’t really know or notice all the other passengers so he’s more likely to be loud. In the back of the plane (or, I should say, the back of the section) he sees all the other people and he’s more likely to behave. The only thing I don’t like about the back row is that he can now kick the seat in front of him, but we’re working on that!
Carry On Tips
- Bring exactly what you need and nothing more.
- I’ve read that a diaper an hour is a safe bet. This doesn’t really work for us since we tend to fly for longer periods of time and I’ve never actually needed 18 diapers. For diapers, pack what you would normally pack for an excursion of that length, and then add 1 diaper for every 3 diapers you pack. If you normally need 6 diapers, pack 8.
- Pack an extra outfit for the kids, an extra shirt for the parents.
- Make space for all the electronic things you can’t pack in your check-in.
- Enough snacks/formula/bottles to get you through the flight and a extra for delays. Include snacks for yourself.
- Pack a few toys. My son doesn’t need too many toys. Bring their favorite, something somewhat interactive, a coloring book and crayons, and a surprise toy for desperation.
- Andrea over at Passports and Pushchairs brings her kids pillows on flights. Though bulky, it is worth the space it takes up. It helps create both a comfortable and familiar environment for children to relax in.
- If you have any more space (which I don’t know any parent who does), take a look at the food and diaper supply and add more if needed.
- Keep packed in a separate bag things you will need easy access to. For me this is usually a few diapers, wipes, and a changing mat. Then a separate bag of snacks and toys. Once on board, unpack that bag and place it under the seat.
At the Airport
- Get there early, especially if you don’t have your seat assigned. Depending on the airline, you won’t be able to request a bassinet until you are at the airport. Keep that in mind.
- If you have a lap baby, ask if there’s space for them to have their own seat.
- I bring their stroller and have a baby carrier (I use the Beco Butterfly II). I let my toddler walk as much as possible and alternate carrying my daughter or putting her in the stroller. (While most airports that I’ve been to in the US will have gate-checked strollers at the door of the airplane when we exit the plane, some airports in Europe don’t do this. The gate-checked strollers are sent to the luggage carousel with the other luggage. Find out in advance so you know where to look.)
- Start prepping for the security line as soon as you can. I once saw a family keep a cheap tote bag in a pocket in their carry on. When they went through security, they threw all of their loose things in that bag plus their jackets, belts and shoes. Then they just grabbed the bag and headed to the side to get themselves fixed up again.
- Waiting for your flight isn’t the time to just sit and wait for your flight. You have plenty of time to do the sitting on the plane. Let the kids explore, play, walk, run, jump.
- Some airlines and airports still allow families with small children to board first. If that’s the case, it can be worth it to guarantee you have enough space to put your suitcase in the overhead bin. My kids are still young enough that this is our best option. It’s likely that the next time we fly, my very active 30 month old son will need extra time to get his wiggles out pre-flight. In that case, I’ll board with my daughter and the boys will join us later.
On the Flight
- Let your children lead you to what they want to do on the plane. Within the rules, of course.
- Use Andrea’s advice and use their pillows and blankets to make their space comfortable.
- Draw out each activity to last as long as possible. If they’re looking at a magazine, make a game out of it. Search for certain photos, talk about what’s on the pages. If they’re eating a snack, take it out of the wrapper slowly, let them eat it without other distractions.
- Let them be bored and just observe what’s going on. Don’t feel you have to entertain them if they’re not actively doing something. Some kids just want some space.
- For long flights, let them walk around when the seat belt light goes off.
Aside from the tips above here are two more things to help for smooth airline travel with kids:
Keep your children involved in the whole airport process. Talk to them about flying, tell them what they should expect at the airport and on the plane, and how you expect them to behave. While on the plane, point out all the new sites and continue to tell them what is going to happen as the plane lands and you leave the airport.
Most importantly, be patient. Flying is stressful for everyone involved. Kids included. As parents, it’s our responsibility to help our kids through it and remain calm regardless of everything else. It’s ok, though, because as parents we can also book ourselves a nice spa visit once we land.