Last year I wrote a blog post about my top ten must-haves for flying with a toddler. You can find it here! At that point, we only had one child but I flew with her a lot, often by myself across the country. On our most recent trip we had two kids, a 9-week old and a four-year old. It was Kip’s first flight but Kya’s 45th flight (or so - I’ve lost count). That girl is more well versed in flying than driving! She thinks a super long road trip is driving 30 minutes to church! She could hardly handle the four-hour trip we took to the beach in SC this spring. We’ve got to work on that!
So all that to say, I don’t have a lot of experience with road trips just because we live so far from family and we fly every time. But I do have a good bit of experience flying with a child and a little bit of experience flying with two children. During our last trip, which I posted about on Instagram stories, I received quite a few DMs asking me if I had a blog post with tips on flying with kids. I realized the only one I had was a year old and didn’t address flying with babies. So during a long wait for our delayed plane in Atlanta back in May, I basically wrote out this post on my phone while everything was fresh on my mind!
Here are some of my best tips for flying with kids. This is from my most recent perspective, flying with a newborn and a preschooler. Most of these tips will apply in some way to families with small kids but will vary depending on the ages of the children. I hope this can be helpful to those of you who are about to fly with your child/children for the first time! It can be logistically overwhelming but it’s definitely doable!
Bring a stroller AND a wrap or structured carrier for baby.
Some people may disagree, but as much as I’ve flown with a baby I highly recommend having both a stroller and a way to wear baby, especially if your trip is more than one flight. Babies love variety. Having a stroller is so nice in airports because it allows you to have a place to buckle baby up for those often hurried walk/runs through airports! I used a double on our most recent trip and it. was. a. lifesaver. Expecting a toddler or young child to happily walk through huge airports might backfire. I know it definitely would have with us - especially in Atlanta! Babies often get overstimulated during the travel process (for good reason - there’s a lot going on) so having a way to wear your baby is ideal. My baby was very small during our recent trip, so I wore him in my soft wrap (Solly Wrap) during a good portion of our airport time. It helped him stay calm and sleep well on the go! For an older baby, I like a structured carrier like an Ergo or Lillebaby. Another reason I love strollers in airports is that it allows you to have a spot to stick a mobile baby/toddler during a layover when you need them contained to eat or rest. We always check our strollers at the gate. The only reason I’d pass on checking a stroller at the gate is if you know your layover is super short. Sometimes the gate attendants don’t get them brought up to the jetway fast enough. If you only have one baby with you and no other child requiring a stroller, you might be better off wearing the baby and hustling to your connecting flight rather than waiting for a stroller.
Bring extra clothes (for everyone).
I’m preaching to myself here because I always forget to pack an extra set of clothes for myself. But my kids always have extra clothes in our carry ons. Both of my babies have had horrible reflux so I don’t go anywhere without three changes of baby clothes. I used all three sets of extras on our last trip, believe it or not (between poop explosions and spit up). I would also take a couple extra sets for a child of potty training age. I only packed Kya one extra set this time because she’s been potty trained for two years but I figured she could definitely spill something on herself in all the hustle and bustle. But I’m an over-preparer! I need to be better about packing an extra set of clothes for myself! Kya gets air sick if she doesn’t have motion sickness meds and I’ve been thrown up on in planes quite a few times - you’d think I’d learn my lesson!
Say yes to screen time (for toddlers + older kids).
Kya rarely uses a tablet at home. Maybe once every few months is all. She usually watches a show or two on TV every day but we’re pretty strict with devices. Unless we’re on an airplane. I throw all restrictions out the window. I load up our Kindle Fire with shows from Netflix and let her watch as much as she wants. We also bring coloring books and crayons and she loves that too, but I don’t feel a bit guilty about letting her use her tablet while on planes. It saves my/our sanity on long travel days. Also, invest in a pair of kid headphones - a must have!
Always allow more time than you think you need.
This might go without saying because parents of every generation know this to be true - it takes five million times longer to go places with kids and grows with the addition of each kid. The same is true of airplane travel. We try to get to airports for sure two hours ahead of time when traveling with kids. Between all the luggage, car seat removal, checking in, going through security with a gazillion of those gray bins, potty breaks, food runs, standing in lines, etc. YOU NEED TIME. This would also be true for layovers. Try your best to plan for layovers that allow you time to do the things you need to do - feed the baby, change diapers/clothes, eat, get coffee, take your big kids potty, and have a few minutes to walk on some energy before entering the next plane. I personally like a two-hour layover when I’m traveling with kids!
Wear your baby through security.
Of all the times to be hands-free during the travel process this is it! Strap that baby on and walk through. Your stroller has to go through on the conveyer belt (small strollers) or be checked by hand (large strollers) but you can wear your wrap or carrier without taking it off. No need to wake the sleeping baby!
Choose reasonable flight times.
When it’s just you or just you and your friend or you and your spouse traveling, you can get by with red eye flights and suuuuper early morning flights. But with kids, I recommend trying your best to fly at reasonable times of day. It definitely depends how far you’re going and the prices of the tickets. We found that with just one kid, we could definitely swing the early morning flights. But we’ve sworn off of those ridiculously early flights since having two kids. There were times when we flew with Kya that we would get up before 3:00am to make a flight! Doable with one kid, maybe not with two or more. You’ll have to do some more searching and maybe pay a little extra, but flying during more normal daytime hours will save you from having way over stressed, way worn out kids (if you can help it).
Always ask if the flight is full.
We most often have had our kids sit on our laps until they require a ticket at age two. But you can always ask the gate desk attendant if they flight is full and sometimes they’ll let you snag an extra seat to place your infant car seat and baby in (if you didn’t check it under the plane)! It’s happened to me several times. It never hurts to ask!
Baby should nurse, take a bottle, or use a paci during take off and landing.
Most mamas are aware of this, but I was not and I was so glad someone told me before I flew with Kya for the first time! Babies (obviously) don't know how to handle the pressure on their ears as they ascend and descend in an airplane. Allowing them to suck on something helps them swallow, relieving any pressure. Some babies do better than others. Mine have never been bothered too much by the change in pressure as long as I’m careful to follow this practice.
Store car seats in gate check bags to protect against scuffs and stains.
We have used these red gate check bags since Kya was a baby and they’ve worked well to protect our car seats while they’re under the plane. And since they’re bright red, your car seats will be easy to spot at baggage claim!
Wear comfortable shoes.
Let’s be honest, I still like to look cute when traveling but up until last year I could never find comfortable, cute shoes for travel. So I’d wear boots in the winter (my feet got hot) or sandals in the summer (my feet got cold). I snagged a pair of THESE AMAZING SHOES last spring and they are my go-to travel shoe! I wear no-show socks so I don’t have to walk through security bare foot (which kind of grosses me out)! You’ll be walking (or running) all over airports with kids, strollers, luggage, etc. Don’t skip the comfy shoes. They’ll probably save the day!