Traveling with little ones is so much fun but taking them on a plane can seem daunting. It doesn’t have to be. Here are my top 10 tips to make your next plane trip hassle free.
1. Do your homework and pick a child friendly airline to travel with. There are many choices of airlines, but they are not all created equal. Think about what creature comforts you like when you fly, and now consider your little one. If a pre-selected seat is important to you so your family can sit together, then make sure your airline allows for seat selection at the time of purchase. Would a TV help pass the time while in flight, look for airlines that offer in flight TV service. Do you feel like you pack the whole house when you go anywhere? If so, you will want an airline that does not charge for checked luggage. Check out the airlines website and review their traveling with kids section to see if they have restrictions on luggage, strollers, car seats etc. Do they allow families to board early? Every airline is different and they are always changing their policies so be sure to check them before you book your next flight.
2. Fly non-stop whenever possible. If you are like me, before you had children you picked the most cost effective flight and time that would get you from point A to B. Now that I have a child, that rule is out the window. Why? I find it is far easier to fly direct to our destination then to have him get on and off multiple planes, not to mention pre-occupy him during layovers. Time between flights equals a long travel day for children and that can interfere with naps and/or mealtimes, both of which are a recipe for a meltdown in the making. I won’t lie to you and say that cost is not a factor, because it is. But for me the few extra dollars spent on a direct flight is much better for everyone’s sanity. Let’s not forget the longer you stay in an airport, the higher the chances are that you might spend money on food, beverages or other entertainment, not to mention encounter travel delays. The best part is you will reach your destination quicker, and that is the ultimate goal right?!?
3. Choose your flight times wisely. Try to pick flights during their nap or bedtime. Most kids will sleep on a plane. I see it all the time. But the ones who have to fly during mealtimes without food or during their active times are just not happy campers. These are the children you dread sitting next to when you are traveling. If those times cannot be avoided then make sure you give them the opportunity to get plenty of exercise before they board the plane. We will let our son walk while holding our hand to wear him out. Many airports, including Orlando (MCO,) have children’s play areas to let them burn off some energy before flying. Make sure to google your airport(s) to see if they have a children’s play area and where it is located before you head to the airport.
4. Pack a child friendly carry-on bag with all the essentials. If traveling with an infant, you should include things like: formula/food, diapers, wipes, change of clothes for both the baby and yourself, medicine, pacifier, cup or bottle, blanket and quiet toys. I have traveled a lot both with and without my son and can tell you countless stories of frustrated parents trying to soothe their very upset little one, when they did not pack all the necessary items. Babies will have explosions and at the least desirable time. A change of clothes is always handy for those occasions, along with a plastic bag to seal them in. Medicine is always important to have because you never know when they are teething or suddenly get a fever. I always kept either Tylenol or Motrin on hand for these little emergencies. As far as formula goes, the TSA will allow you to bring “as much food/drink” as needed for travel that day. It is very loosely worded and the interpretation is up to the individual officer. I have always been able to travel with plenty of food and drinks for my son without incident. Keep in mind however, they may ask to test it. Be sure to visit http://www.tsa.gov/tsa-kids for the latest information when traveling with small children.
If you are traveling with a toddler or older child on a plane, there are some additional things to consider. I find the older they get, the more challenging it can be to keep them entertained and quiet during the flight. I got my son his own backpack with wheels and let him pack some quiet toys to take on the plane. He feels special that he gets his very own bag and is much more cooperative walking through the airport with HIS bag. I also sneak in a few new toys he has never seen that will capture his attention on the plane. It is never anything expensive. Things like Crayola markers with the color wonder paper (the kind where the marker only shows up on the paper), magnetic color forms, cars or his favorite stuffed animal, a book or a dvd player with headphones and his favorite movie, etc. Think inexpensive, quiet and not a lot of pieces to the game. No one wants to hear a toy singing “The wheels on the bus go round and round” throughout the flight. Also keep in mind that toys with lots of pieces to them can easily fall off their tray table and get lost. So you do not want to bring something valuable or that you will have to constantly pick up for them. Also pack diapers if not potty trained, snacks, a cup with milk or their beverage of choice and a blanket. It can get cold on flights and a blanket is always nice to have. The blankets on planes are not washed in between flights and can pass along germs. Snacks and drinks keep the kids from having meltdowns between meals.
5. Allow plenty of time for travel. This includes getting to the airport, checking bags, going through security and arriving at your gate. Most airlines say you should arrive 90-120 minutes before your flight. If that is tight for you traveling without a child, or you are not sure where you are going, allow extra time, especially during busy periods such as holidays and school vacations. Traveling can be stressful enough. Don’t add to it by arriving late and then doing a “Home Alone” style sprint to the gate. Extra time is always a good idea. Your kids can always investigate the shops, children’s play areas or watch the planes take off and land while they wait to board the plane.
6 When traveling with infants, place them in a baby carrier you wear while in the airport. Going through security is challenging enough without kids. Taking out your liquid, laptops, removing shoes etc. Now add little ones to the mix and it just adds to the stress. I always found it easier to wear my son in the baby carrier while in the airport. Your hands are free to sort through your luggage and since your little one does not need to remove shoes or a coat, you are free to walk through the metal detector with ease. They will give you a pat down and wand you if you forgo the new x-ray machine but it is still less invasive than if you were on your own.
7. Bring a stroller. This is a great option for infants or young children up to age 6 depending on your final destination. If you plan to do a lot of walking on your trip, a stroller is a must have. Kids as old as 6 have lots of energy but remember that walking several hours a day through an amusement park or zoo even tires adults out. I see plenty of parents carrying their older kids in amusement parks at the end of the day because they are tired. Bringing a stroller for them to take a break in will not only save you a public meltdown, but save you the energy of trying to carry them. Plus the stroller doubles as a great luggage cart while in the airport if the child is not riding in it. Most airlines will let you gate check your stroller at no cost and it will be waiting for you when you get off the plane.
8. Bring their car seat on the plane. Yes, I recommend this for infants too. I know this will strike up some controversy as kids under 2 do not require a seat and can sit on your lap. This is a great way to save money and I myself am guilty of previously doing this. That being said, I completely changed my mind after I saw the most recent footage of a baby flown from his mother’s arms during a turbulent flight. He was very lucky that another passenger several rows ahead barely caught him. He suffered only minor bruises. After seeing this, if I could go back in time, I would have bought a seat for my son when he was an infant. Most flights today are safe and we forget that turbulence does exist and emergencies can occur. However, if they do, your child would not have their own oxygen mask if they do not have their own seat. Children 2 and above MUST have their own seat, however, that does not mean it is safe for young children to just wear the lap belt. There is a reason they are in a car seat in your car. The plane is no different. The lap belt is not enough to restrain them during turbulence. This is just something to consider when getting ready for your flight. Beyond the safety aspects, there is the flight comfort to consider. When they are really little it is pretty easy to hold them in your arms. However, when they age, they get wiggly and giggly and just don’t want to sit still making for a long flight for you, them, and everyone around you. This last trip with my son we brought his car seat on the plane. It was very quick and easy to install and our trip was so much more pleasant. He was locked into his seat and either played quietly or slept during most of our flights. It also gave my husband and I the opportunity to read or relax a bit. Did you just gasp out loud at the very thought???? Relax on a plane with a child?!?! Ludicrous you say, but it can happen if you plan accordingly! ☺ Finally, let’s not forget when you land, chances are if you are renting a car you will need a car seat. Honestly, I just don’t trust a used car seat from a rental car company. You have no idea if the seat has been recalled or if it was in an accident. If you bring your child’s seat from home and check it, there is always the possibility of the airline losing it. The other option is to check it gate side which safety experts will argue could also compromise the safety of the seat by being tossed around with the other luggage.
9. Bring something to drink for your little ones on board to sip during take-off and landing. Drinking during these times helps relieve the pressure in their ears with the change in altitude. I have heard multiple people tell me “My kids ears are fine. They don’t have issues with their ears not popping”. All it takes is once and you, and the rest of the passengers on board, will be glad, that you had it handy. When they cannot relieve the pressure in their ears it is very painful for them. For mothers who breastfeed their little ones, plan to feed them during these times as well, or have them suck on a pacifier. Keep in mind the airlines DO NOT HAVE milk on board. So if that is your little ones drink of choice, bring some from home or buy it in the airport to bring on board.
10. Finally, clue them in and try to relax and have fun. In my line of work I often have clients tell me they are going to surprise their kids with a trip to Disney. Great! I love the idea. But the morning of your flight, please clue them into the schedule. Kids like to know what to expect so explain the process. First we need to check our bags, then we will go through security etc. Explain what to expect on the flight including the safety check, take-off and landing. If this is your child’s first flight, it will be an exciting adventure. Helping them understand what is going on will ease their anxiety and help them enjoy the flight.