I (we) started flying with the little guy when he was 6 weeks old. I would have rather waited until he was a little older but we had no choice since we were moving to Puerto Rico for my husbands new job.
For the two and a half years since then I have been flying with Aiden every 8-12 weeks frequently by myself, and about half the time on red-eye flights. I wanted to share a few things that I have learned up to this point.
To make this post a little easier to read I am going to separate in into 3 sections. Tips that apply to kids in general, infant to elementary age, tips for infants, and tips for toddlers.
Keep in mind that these are all my personal opinions and things that have worked for our family. Every family and situation is different.
General tips for flying with kids of all ages
- Make sure you bring snacks and or a meal. You might not ever bring it out of your bag but it is better to have it, than not have it. On one flight I got stuck in the plane on the tarmac for 2 hours before they took us back to the gate to change planes. During that time the flight attendants were not passing out food or drinks, my snack supply saved our plane from the “hungry monster” that my toddler has been known to morph into…
- Bring entertainment. That might be a favorite toy or maybe your iPad that you load with back to back episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse… Not that I have ever done that… It is my opinion that an airplane, restaurant or other “public” setting is not the time to be a parenting hero. Use restraint at home and limit the time your kids is in-front of screens but when you board the plane do whatever you can to keep your kids happy, for your sake and the sake of those around you. Having said that, every kids has their meltdowns and I have had them happen at 36,000 feet. Do what you can and then don’t worry about what other people say or the eye rolls. It has been my experience that most people have been there too and they feel sympathetic more than anything else.
- Bring a favorite treat. When Aiden was little the “yogurt melts” were perfect for this. We called them “baby crack”… Now I take a sucker or two, we rarely give him candy so this is the perfect treat that we can use to bribe him if necessary. Like I said, I’m no parenting hero when we are on a plane.
This picture was taken after an epic meltdown at 36,000 feet. I caved… I negotiated with the “terrorist” and I gave him a sucker… But I still have my sanity (barely) and I’m pretty sure that it was months later before he had another one. It is survival folks, do what you gotta do!
Flying with a young infant
- If at all possible, take your car seat. Baby and you will be happier and safer when he is strapped in and your hands are free. We didn’t always buy a ticket but we would take his infant seat with us to the gate and then with the nicest smile and cute little sleeping baby, ask the gate attendant if there might be any open seat on that flight so we could bring our carseat on board. About half of the time the gate attendants were able to accommodate us and we we able to use the seat with out buying an extra ticket. When we could not get the extra seat the agent would gate check the car seat and we would pick it up as we exited the plane. Airlines are not required to let you take the carseat on unless you purchase the seat so make sure to smile and ask nicely ;).
- Carry on as little as possible, but make sure your diaper bag has more then you think you will need. At least 2 extra sets of clothes for baby, more diapers than you think and if your baby is a spitter bring an extra shirt for yourself.
- Take a bottle or be prepared to breastfeed during take offs and landings. It is more important during landings for their ears. The pre measured formula packs are great for flying. They are more expensive but well worth it since the formula dispensers take up too much valuable space. For fights I would splurge on the packets.
- Bring a sling, ergo carrier or front carrier of choice so you can be hands free when necessary, especially when you are traveling alone. If you don’t think you need one try holding your baby and going pee in a small bathroom and get your clothes back in the right place. You will quickly see the importance of some sort of front carrier.
- Bring extra pacis if you use them, those little suckers have a way of rolling 10 rows behind you the moment they hit the floor…
- Know in advance that babies have good days and bad days just like us. Don’t think that because you have one bad experience flying that they will all be that way.
In my diaper bag when Aiden was little:
- Bottled water for mixing bottles. (If you are traveling with an infant you can bring water through security, TSA just needs to screen it, make sure and tell TSA that you have water in there.)
- 10 diapers (we got stranded in airports several times…)
- A soft sided pack of wipes, the hard travel cases take up too much space and don’t carry enough wipes.
- At least 2 changes of clothes for baby and a clean shirt for me.
- 2 blankets
- Disposable changing pads
- Plastic bag for dirty diaper.
Babies grow quick and changer even quicker. What didn’t work yesterday might work tomorrow. When Aiden was little I was having to change my tactics with him every 3 months or so, they are growing up and changing so quickly at that age.
Here is another random “trick” that we used before we had to start buying a ticket for Aiden. When Tavis and I would fly together we used this little “trick” to increase our chances of getting an extra seat to use Aiden car seat. We would book the upgraded seats that cost about $30 more and we would book the window and the isle seat leaving a seat between us empty. The reason is because **usually** a person won’t pay extra money to upgrade to a seat that is in the center and that seat is more likely to remain open. If someone did end up booking that seat, when the flights were really full, they were always more than happy to trade to the window or the isle especially with the thought of us passing a baby back and forth over them. We get the extra empty seat about 50% of the time.
Flying with a toddler
As Aiden got a little older and was in the toddler stage there were a few more things that we started doing:
- Carry the car seat on the plane. Aiden is a “good” kid but he is a toddler… and wants to run and explore. He learned how to unbuckle the airplane’s seatbelt when he was about 14 months old. The carseat is our saving grace. When he is in his seat he is perfectly content and happy. On the other hand buckle him into a airplane seat and it is mission for the next 3 hours to escape the contraption and run up and down the isles of the plane. Carrying the seat through the airport is a small price to pay for the 3 hours of peace I get on the plane and the added safety. This is SOOOO much more important on the red eye flights, there is no way that I would let myself doze off if he was not buckled into his seat where I knew he could not get out. Here is a picture of us trying to get Aiden to sleep on the seat between us… but all he would do was kick me in the… soft spots…. And a few more pictures of Aiden… not sleeping until the last 20 minutes of the flight…
- Give them time to play and run before the flight so they can get their energy out. We always travel with our large jogging stroller so it is very tempting to let Aiden sit in the stroller where he is perfectly content right up until we get on the plane… Whatever you do, don’t do that! We usually keep him in the stroller until about 45 minutes before boarding then we get in out and take turns following him as he explores the terminal. We want to make sure that when we get on that plane he is tired out and happy to be in his car seat. This little trick has worked wonders on the flights and he is much more relaxed.
- On red-eye flights we keep his carseat rear facing even though he is over the hight/weight requirements to be facing forward. The reason for this is that when he can see all the TV screens, not only in our row but the ones for the people in front of us, he never settles down and falls asleep. Even though you can turn yours off, you cannot turn your neighbors off. Rear facing blocks him from the distraction and he usually falls asleep about the time we take off.
For us it has been a learning process. Each flight we are trying new tactics. I am typing this as I sit in a hotel in Washington, DC thinking about my flight with Aiden 2 days from now.
What worked earlier this week on our flight? What didn’t work that I should phase out?
What are your favorite tricks for flying with a young child? Share them in the comments below.