You don’t have to stop traveling just because you have kids. Plan ahead and get ready to see the world through their eyes.
All parents know that air travel with a little one can be daunting. Comfort and routine — two critical components of a young child’s emotional safety net—are tough to find in a bustling airport or within the confines of an aircraft. Holidays are the most popular time for families to travel, but holiday travel also brings increased crowds and delays.
So how can you and your family make the best of the journey? The answer is simple — preparation and a little insider knowledge. We’ve researched and compiled the best tips from family travel experts to make your flight less taxing and more relaxing.
Before You Fly
We all know that keeping kids on a schedule can be a real challenge. Tantrums, blowout diapers, missing toys—these things happen. So plan to show up early and give yourself a big buffer to navigate the airport. If you do find yourself short on time, find a representative of your airline. They can coordinate with the gate or help get you across the airport quickly.
Download your airline’s mobile app and set it up before you leave. This will help you keep current on delays, cancellations, gate reassignments, and other potential setbacks.
Digital boarding passes can save you time and hassle getting through security, especially if you’re juggling three pieces of luggage and a diaper bag.
Security isn’t scary.
Read up on TSA’s child-friendly policies. Children under 18 don’t need an ID, and formula, breast milk, and juice are all ok if they are separated from other liquids. For an additional sense of security (get it?), print the rules and bring them with you.
Gate check is your friend.
A collapsible stroller can help steer your little one through the airport, but be aware it must be checked at the gate before boarding (and keep in mind that most airlines do not allow non-collapsible strollers to be gate-checked).
Wheel don’t carry.
If you have to bring a convertible car seat with you, this adapter is a lifesaver — it allows you to wheel both the seat and the child through the airport.
Know your airport.
Download Winnie to your mobile phone to easily locate mother’s rooms, restrooms with changing tables, family-friendly places to eat, and more.
Flying With a Baby
Though the “crying baby” gets a bad rap, young babies are lovely travel companions. Play your cards right and yours may even sleep through the whole flight!
Most airlines will allow a child under the age of 2 to fly on your lap for free, but they will still need a boarding pass in their name to get on the plane. You’ll also want to check ahead and see what the airline policy for lap infants is—some may ask to see a birth certificate or other proof of age, especially if your child is on the larger side.
That said, if you can swing it, buy a seat (or at least a seat upgrade). You’ll both be much more comfortable with the extra space.
Suck and you’re in luck.
Your baby will probably be most fussy during takeoff and landing due to the change of cabin pressure. These are the perfect times to nurse or give a bottle as the sucking motion will help to pop their ears.
Prepare for wardrobe malfunctions.
Every parent knows to bring a change of clothes (or two) for their baby, but what most forget is to bring one for themselves. The altitude can do... interesting things to a baby’s tummy and some of that mess could wind up on you.
Sleep it off.
If your baby has their own seat then you can bring your FAA approved infant car seat with you on the plane. If they are flying in your lap, an infant carrier is very helpful—just note, you may be asked to take the child out during takeoff and landing.
Bring the good stuff.
Most babies are completely fine on flights, but sometimes the pressure changes cause them a lot of discomfort. Airports may not sell infant pain relief medication so if you think you’ll need it, bring your own.
Flying With a Toddler
Toddlers are a complex beast. You may get lucky and get a long nap on the flight, but unlike babies you can’t count on it. That said, the great thing about toddlers is that they are easier to entertain with books and movies, or even chatting it up with your seatmates.
The key to success when flying with toddlers and preschoolers is to burn up as much energy as possible before you get on the plane. Many airports have play areas, or you can run them around the terminal a bit. Once on board, your options for physical exercise are much more limited.
Evening flights can be great for toddlers—if you can time it right, it will feel like bedtime to them and they’ll wake up in a new place!
You can’t count on milk to be available on your flight so you will definitely want to bring some if you aren’t nursing. You can bring ice packs on board, or try shelf safe milk that doesn’t require refrigeration before it’s opened.
Hack your snacks.
Bring snacks that take a long time to eat, like Cheerios or dried fruit. Keep a special treat in reserve to handle a fussy situation—sugar-free lollipops can quiet them down and help pop their ears.
If you’re not bringing a car seat, you can still contain your squirmy toddler with an FAA approved safety harness. They’re lightweight, easy to deploy, and have a crotch strap that keeps them from sliding off the seat.
Keep them entertained.
If you’re cool with screen time, bring a device preloaded with things they like to watch. Music and audiobooks are another great way to keep them busy. If your child struggles with headphones, try a headband with built-in speakers.
In the Air
At last! You’re finally sitting down, strapped in, and ready to go. In addition to all the great snacks and toys you brought, it turns out the plane itself has a few built-in amenities that can be useful when traveling with young kids.
This is a good time to mention that all airlines are different, and international and domestic flights can also have different facilities and policies for families. If you have questions about breastfeeding, infant carriers, car seats or anything else related to your travel, just give your airline’s information number a call.
Locate your nearest… changing table.
Now is the time to ask your flight attendants whether the plane has a changing table. Most lavatories have one, located over the toilet, but unfortunately it’s not a guarantee.
The aisle is your friend.
If the “fasten seatbelt” sign is off, you’re good to walk (or crawl) your baby up and down the aisle. It’s a great way to pass the time and stretch those little legs.
Keep things cool.
The flight attendants will provide you with as much as you need to keep your food, milk, breast milk, or whatever else cool. Fun fact: the airsickness bags are waterproof and can be filled with ice. How nice!
Make new friends.
Introduce yourself to your neighbors! If you are pleasant and say hello, they are less likely to get irritated later if your child has a meltdown. You might even find yourself a free babysitter onboard.