One thing friends always ask after we take a trip is “How did Brynn do on the plane?” My answer is always the same “She did great!”
With one exception… There has to one exception, right? My daughter loves flying primarily because she knows she gets unfettered use of her iPad and practically unlimited snacks. One flight, a long, long time ago, she was overly tired and needed a nap. But, she didn’t want one. Typical kid FOMO. Mom and dad were arguing about whether to keep the peace and just let her continue to watch her iPad even though she was exhausted (dad’s choice) or to let her cry herself to sleep for a few minutes even though it would disrupt other passengers (mom’s choice). I don’t even remember the outcome, but I remember the stress.
Having a kid on a plane is stressful. But, that stress is manageable with a little preparation.
So, with no further adieu, I present to you my Top Ten Tips for Flying with Kids.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Snacks. Snacks. Snacks.
- Bring on the Electronics.
- Old-Fashioned Entertainment.
- Familiar Water Bottle.
- Don’t Pack the Car Seat.
- Let the Kids Run Wild. When Appropriate.
- Plan for Sleep. And Lack Thereof.
- Potty Before the Plane.
- Teach Your Child Plane Etiquette.
1. Snacks. Snacks. Snacks.
Fill your carry-on with all the snacks you think you may need for the flight. Then, double it. Heck, triple it. Bring way more snacks than you think is reasonably necessary.
Snacks are multipurpose:
- Entertainment. Are they actually hungry or just bored? They don’t know. Either way, you want to avoid both hunger and boredom for everyone’s sake.
- Bring on Happiness. Snacks are the way to their heart. ♥
- Pop Ears. Little ones don’t usually know how to pop their ears for themselves. The chewing and swallowing moves their jaw to help pop their ears. We usually make our daughter wait until actual take-off (i.e., wheels lifting off the ground) for her snack to ensure her snack lasts long enough to also help her ears with the change in altitude.
- Fill Bellies. Ya, know. The actual purpose of food.
Snacks can save the day (for you too!) in the case of a missed meal. Delayed flights and tight connections happen. Sometimes, you may be left with no time for an actual meal. Personally, CLIF Bars saved the day and were served as our Thanksgiving lunch after a flight delay.
My tried and true favorite travel snacks:
- Goldfish Crackers. These are the least messy snacks I have found. They are generally small enough for your kid to eat in one bite, so you can avoid the chipmunk chew and the crumbs that accompany that. I like the single serve pouches for easy traveling and limiting germ transmission.
- GoGo Squeez Applesauce Pouches. These are easy and, again, produce very limited mess. Applesauce is also a crowd-pleaser in my family, for parents too.
- CLIF Bars. These are especially helpful for meal replacement as they contain 9-11 grams of protein in each bar. They also have a variety of flavors. So, if you get the ole “I don’t like that” response to one, you have another flavor to offer (hello, chocolate chip!).
- Fruit Snacks. The chewiness is perfect for popping little ears. The Annie’s Bunnies are a favorite, but they can be a little stickier than others. I also like grabbing fruit snacks with a favorite character on the packaging, like these Scooby Doo ones.
2. Bring on the Electronics.
I know, I know. “Good” parents limit screen time. That’s all fine and dandy, unless you’re putting your kid on an airplane and expecting them to sit still and quiet for hours at a time. Call me a bad parent all you want, but, when we’re flying, I put very little limitation on the electronics usage.
So, you think, the plane has screens in the back of the headrests and we’ll just plug in the headphones. Boom. Done.
Airplanes do not always have the screens. If there are screens, they don’t always work. If you’re actually able to connect your headphones to the jack provided on the plane (because sometimes they don’t even match up with your headphone jack), the sound quality can be total crap. And don’t even try to show up with Airpods and expect to connect using Bluetooth.
Please don’t risk these things happening to you.
If you don’t already own one, I highly recommend that you break down and buy that iPad. Throw the kid headphones in your cart too. They are made for smaller heads, are comfy on those little ears, and can have some sound limitations for safety purposes. My daughter has been sporting these headphones lately and we’ve had zero complaints! And, don’t forget a case for that iPad! This inexpensive case has been on our iPad for years and has helped our iPad withstand many tumbles. Bonus: It has a tab that flips and can be used as a stand. We also use it when grocery shopping as it hooks the iPad onto the shopping cart. It’s a win-win.
OK. So, you have the iPad. Awesome. I promise your sanity will thank you.
But, don’t stop there.
Don’t just show up to the plane with the iPad and think that the plane’s wifi is going to offer sufficient entertainment. Again, please don’t take this risk.
The plane wifi often limits you to only watching entertainment available through the airline’s app. Your kid may have their heart set on watching Trolls for the 100th time and what if that movie isn’t available from the airline’s app? Is a meltdown going to ensue?
There’s an easy way to avoid this problem.
On the day before your flight, get that iPad prepared. First, download the apps you plan to use. Our favorites are Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video. Next, sit down with your child and let them select some favorite movies and shows to download. Download a ton of options on all of those apps, because you know kids and their short attention spans. You don’t want your kid turning to you an hour into your 5-hour flight and telling you that they’re bored. Download their favorites and even some new things to keep things exciting.
BONUS TIP: When heading back home from vacation, get back on those apps the night before flying and make sure the downloads are still ready to go. On some apps, the downloads will time out after a few days and require that you re-download them.
Last thing in the electronics department, keep that battery charged! We always start our travel day with batteries fully charged, but we always bring backups. First, travel with the charger. That will help you charge in the airport and sometimes outlets are available at your seat on the plane. But, we need a backup plan in case the battery is dying mid-flight and no outlet is available. Enter, the portable charger. This portable charger has saved us on many occasions. It packs enough charge to charge up multiple devices plus it’s super small and lightweight.
3. Old-Fashioned Entertainment.
Even with a fully loaded device, sometimes kids just get bored. Don’t forget to pack the old-fashioned stuff for a screen break.
My top concerns with entertainment on a plane is it needs to be contained and not messy.
My hands-down favorite unmessy and easy travel entertainment:
- Melissa & Doug ColorBlast! Books: These books come with one magic marker that changes black and white pictures into color magic. Note: ONE marker, so you only need to keep track of one marker. Plus, the marker is “clear” so it is mess-free. Whether your kid is into dinosaurs or fairies, there’s a magic coloring book for you.
- Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free Coloring: The name says it all “mess free.” The markers are clear and leave no color anywhere but on the special paper. Kids get a kick out of the magic of it and you don’t have to scrub marker hands. We love these packs with coloring pictures of our favorite characters.
- Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Books: These books are always a hit with my child. They sell all kinds of themes for these books – farm, mermaids, pirates, you name it. The stickers are repositionable and won’t permanently stick to the airplane and leave the cleaning crew any unpleasant surprises.
- Playdoh: Yes, I said Playdoh. Listen, Playdoh gets a bad rep. But, seriously, it doesn’t make a big mess unless your kid is breaking it up into teeny tiny pieces. It doesn’t stick to clothes and is easily removeable from other objects. I buy these little tubs of Playdoh, give my kid only one or two of them at a time and then throw them away. I leave the dirty germy Playdoh right in the trash as soon as we’re done with it.
- Window Clings: One of our absolute favorite things to pack for a flight is a little sheet of window clings. They stick to the window or to the tray tables, but are easily removeable and leave zero mess. If you’re a little germaphobic like me, these are cheap and thereby easily tossable after a flight. You can find holiday or other cute packs in the Target Dollar Spot, but I also love these educational packs with letters and word/picture matching.
BONUS TIP: Make sure one of these activities is something new to spark some excitement. Even if your child is used to coloring, a new coloring pack with their of-the-moment favorite character will spruce up their day.
4. Familiar Water Bottle.
Whether you have TSA pre-check or not, you cannot carry water through security. You can, however, carry an empty water bottle.
Bringing your own water bottle is one of my biggest recommendations for traveling with a child. First, kids can be particular about their water bottles. Having a familiar cup eliminates any issues with “I don’t like that.” Second, you likely already own a spill-free thermos for your child. Rather than having to constantly monitor a little one with an open-mouth disposable water bottle to ensure they don’t dump it down their chest, the spill-free style will let you all relax a little better. Next, most, if not all, airports now offer bottle filling stations alongside their water fountains. Filling up your own water bottle is easy peasy. Lastly, yay for Mother Earth!
BONUS TIP: When you first open the water bottle after altitude changes, open it away from you and your stuff if possible. The altitude change may cause a little water to fly out of the bottle. Your child (or you) may not appreciate the accidental shower.
When on an airplane to surrender some control over temperature regulation. Sure, you have a personal air conditioning vent at your seat. But, that little vent only gives you a tiny bit of control over your comfort.
To plan for the “I’m hot” or “I’m cold,” we always dress in layers when flying.
My favorite style outer layer for flying is a fleece-type jacket with a zipper front. This gives you a layer for the plane, a jacket for at your destination, and a zip-up if they’re really cold or open for a little more air. I avoid a pullover style so my daughter can manage the jacket on her own and so her hair doesn’t get crazy from taking it on and off.
Plus, that outer layer makes a great makeshift pillow or blanket for naptime.
BONUS TIP: If your kiddo has a sensitive stomach, gets motion sick or is still in diapers or potty training, bring a change of clothes. For your child and you. Roll a spare outfit up tight and zip it into a Ziploc bag in your carry-on. You may never need it or you may be very thankful to have it.
6. Don’t Pack the Car Seat.
You read that right. Don’t pack the car seat. And, no, I don’t mean don’t use one once you get to your destination.
Rent the car seat.
This is my personal opinion and, of course, you will want to weigh all of your own priorities. Renting a car seat means that it may not be as comfortable as the one you own, it may not be as clean as your own, and it comes with a cost. However, a rental car seat comes with the immeasurable convenience of not lugging that heavy thing through the airport. Additionally, renting a car seat will ensure that the car seat is compatible with the car you have at your destination and that the car seat complies with local laws. This is especially important when traveling internationally when vehicle features and the car seat laws vary greatly.
If you choose to leave your car seat at home, don’t fret too much about where to get one. You will find baby and child gear rental companies at most destinations. Just make sure you do your research to find a rental at your destination and reserve it ahead of time. For a one-stop-shop, BabyQuip is great for renting all things baby- or child-related. Don’t stop at the car seat, but rent a crib or toys while you’re at it!
Additionally, car rental agencies offer car seat rentals. You can simply add the car seat on with your car rental reservation. Depending on the rental agency, the daily charge is about $10-15 with a maximum rental fee of about $60-75.
7. Let the Kids Run Wild. When Appropriate.
Flying means sitting still for long periods of time. For a little one, this can be extremely difficult.
Let them run wild when you can. No, I don’t mean let your kids make complete fools of you, but let them play, walk, run, stretch their legs and burn off some energy. If that means skipping thru the airport, let them. If it means racing them on a moving walkway (been there, done that), do it. As long as they aren’t disrupting other people, let them have some fun.
If your child is walking proficiently, I recommend having your child walk as much as possible through the airport. If you have a little one, you may want to bring your stroller through the airport as a back-up plan. You may need to rush or run through an airport with no time to spare for child wanderings. However, getting your kid to walk and stretch their legs whenever possible will make everyone happier once you are forced to sit on the plane.
While waiting on your flight, don’t sit down if you can avoid it. Keep your kid walking. Until we board the plane, I try to keep my daughter moving. We “explore” AKA walk around the terminal, even doing laps if we have to.
Some airports even offer playground areas. We all now live in a COVID world, so access to these fun areas may be restricted. Nonetheless, take a look at the airport directory and see if something interesting is available to your child.
BONUS TIP: Many airlines allow families with small children to board in one of the first boarding groups. For us, this just doesn’t work. Why would I want to make my child sit in that seat for any longer than necessary?? Instead, we don’t rush onto the plane but just board with our assigned boarding group.
8. Plan for Sleep. And Lack Thereof.
Kids. They’re wild animals. We never know exactly what they’re going to do.
Your child may love to sleep on the plane. That white noise of the airplane certainly puts me to sleep. Your child may do the same. To the contrary, your child may not be able to get comfortable and refuse to sleep. Our job: plan for all of the above.
To plan for sleep, bring whatever necessary comfort items your child requires. If a particular cuddle or stuffed animal is needed for your child to sleep, pack it in your carry-on. Bring a jacket and have it ready to serve as a blanket or pillow (see #5 above) should the need arise.
For international, overnight or long flights, you need to put even more serious thought to your sleep plan. We found a lot of success with the JetKids by Stokke BedBox. It is a carry-on bag that opens and folds out to form a little “table” between your seat and the seat in front of you. It turns the seat into a “bed.” We used this on an overnight flight from Miami to Milan and my daughter curled right up as if in a regular bed. The BedBox is also just plain fun. It’s made for your child to ride on while you pull it behind you. Just a warning for clumsy children (speaking from personal experience), the wheels spin easily and it can move quickly. It can result in some spills if your child plays on it.
To plan for the lack of sleep… just be ready to roll with the punches. Long travel days may come with missed naps or late bedtimes which may lead to meltdowns. Cater to your child a little more than usual and pick your fights. Flying days are the not the days to insist that your child eats all their vegetables. Flying days are the days to let go a little and let your child have their way (within reason). Sacrifice some of your rules for the sake of keeping the peace.
9. Potty Before the Plane.
Sure, sure. You know airplane bathrooms are small and gross. But have you tried changing a diaper in one? How about squeezing yourself and a small child in there simultaneously and trying to turn around?
Let me just tell you from experience… you want to avoid the above situations if at all possible.
On top of the airplane bathrooms being less than ideal, they’re just not always available. The whole taking off and landing process on the plane takes about 30 minutes on either end of your flight. During those periods of time, the seatbelt sign is on, requiring you to stay in your seat. If your plane is experiencing turbulence, the seatbelt sign will be on. Even when the bathroom is available for passenger use, it can be occupied and have a line. The last thing you want to deal with in those situations is a kid who can’t hold their bladder long enough to make it to the potty.
Try to avoid it altogether by insisting on a bathroom trip before boarding.
10. Teach Your Child Plane Etiquette.
Please, for the sake of all of us, teach your child to be a good flyer. Can you imagine if we don’t teach plane etiquette rules to our kids and then they grow up to be boisterous adults putting their barefeet up on other people’s armrests?? Ugh… I shudder.
My top airplane etiquette rules that little ones are totally capable of learning:
- Be easy with the tray table. It is not a toy. It goes down or it stays up, but it is not to go up and down repeatedly. Be easy when lowering or raising the tray table so as not to disturb the passenger sitting in that seat.
- Control your volume. This goes for both you and your electronics.
- Do not turn around and stare at other passengers. Staring is rude.
- Keep your feet to yourself. Feet do not belong on the armrest of the seat in front of you. No kicking the seat in front of you.
- Disembark row by row. Unless running for a tight connection, sit down and wait your turn. We unload the plane from the front to the back, going row by row.
- Clean up after yourself. Gather your trash and give it to the flight attendant when they collect it during the flight. If you have any trash left when the plane lands, take it with you.
What are your best tips for flying with kids? Drop them in the comments below!
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