Flying with small children can be a fun adventure or a tremendous headache. Preparation and attitude will make all the difference. Follow these 10 tips and your travels are sure to be less stressful.
1. Plan Ahead for Flying with Small Children.
Think through all the details of your trip and how you will handle flying with small children. If you can, book your flight so that it falls during nap time. Thankfully our children are good sleepers and we’ve found that if we schedule our flight to occur during a nap time, they will usually fall asleep for the majority of the flight. Allow yourself plenty of time at the airport to maneuver your entire party and gear through the whole process of getting from the car, to the check-in, through airport security and on to your flight. It’s also important to know that most airplane bathrooms are not equipped with baby changing tables, so allow enough time to change your child’s diaper before you board the flight. Here’s an extra tip: put your child in an overnight diaper for the extra absorbency to help prevent leaks.
2. Pack Lightly.
Now most airlines charge for checked luggage and some even have begun charging for large carry-on luggage. It’s important to pack as lightly as you possibly can. If you’ll have access to a washer and dryer at your destination, plan to bring half as many clothes and do a load or two of laundry part-way through your trip. You can buy diapers, formula and food when you reach your destination, so just pack what you need to get by for a day or two until you can get to a store. Even if an airline allows you to check luggage for free, remember that you’ll have to get all of the luggage from your vehicle to the check-in counter with one or more small children in tow. Most airports have luggage carts available to assist you for a small fee ($4-5 per cart during our most recent trip).
3. Don’t Forget Your Car Seat.
Chances are you’ll need your car seat where you’re going. You can either rent a car seat, carry yours through the airport to use on the plane or check it at the ticket counter. Read our post about the pros and cons of each option for more information and tools that can make it easier.
4. Bring the Smallest Stroller You Can Manage.
Bulky strollers can’t fit through the x-ray machines used to screen carry-on luggage and may require additional time to get checked by a security officer. They also can be awkward to maneuver through the airport during peak travel times. We really like our Jeep Wrangler All-Weather Umbrella Stroller. It durable enough to withstand travel and the wear and tear of being gate checked. It also has a small basket underneath to store a few small items during travel or while we’re on our vacation.
5. Offer Your Child a Bottle, Pacifier or Sippy Cup During Take-Off and Landing.
Drinking from a bottle/sippy cup or sucking on a pacifier will help your child’s ears to “pop” as the cabin air pressure changes. You’ll know it’s the right time when you start to feel your own ears pop. In 2006, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began restricting the size and quantity of liquids you could bring in your carry-on to 3.4 oz or smaller. However, liquids essential for small children (e.g. breast milk, baby formula, food) are permissible. You just need to pull the liquids out of your carry-on when you go through airport security. Be sure to allow a few extra minutes to get through the security checkpoint in case additional screening is necessary. Visit the Transportation and Security Administration’s website for more tips about the airport security screening process.
6. Secure Your Child in a Front Carrier During the Flight.
Some airlines may ask you to remove the child from the front carrier during take off and landing. Thankfully we’ve found most flight attendants have allowed us to keep our child in the carrier. For our first son, restraining him in the front carrier facing me put him to sleep every time we flew. Our second son would scream when we tried to put him in the carrier, but after he fell asleep on the flights we were able to transfer him into the front carrier where he could nap without us having to hold him the entire time. Flying with small children in the front carrier allows you to be hands-free to enjoy snacks, read a book or watch a movie while the child is securely napping. The front carrier is also helpful for getting on and off the plane with your infant so your hands are free to simultaneously jostle carry-on luggage or hold the hands of other children. We have the Jeep 2-in-1 Baby Carrier as shown in the picture. We love how the child can face forward or backward in the carrier. The climate control feature is also very nice as you can get quite warm holding a baby that close for an extended amount of time.
7. Use Plastic Links to Attach Toys to the Front Carrier.
If you’ve managed to put your child in the front carrier while he or she is awake, use plastic links to attach a few small toys to the straps of the front carrier. This way if the child drops the toys, they don’t fall to the floor where they can become contaminated or roll away to another row.
8. Carry a Backpack as Your Diaper Bag When Flying with Small Children.
Similar to using a front carrier, having a backpack as your carry-on luggage allows you to be hands-free as you get on and off the plane. On our most recent trip, we only had a half hour between flights so I actually wore our infant in the front carrier and the backpack on my back as we hurried across a busy airport. I can only imagine the sight I must have been, but it was incredibly helpful to have my hands-free to grab our three-year old’s hand so he didn’t get lost in the shuffle. A backpack can also hook over the handles of the stroller if your stroller doesn’t have a large enough cargo basket underneath.
9. Stock Your Carry-on Bag with Essentials.
Snacks, inexpensive toys and books, an electronic device, extra clothes along with your travel documents top our list of essentials to pack in your carry-on. Read our post about what to pack for babies and small children in your carry-on bag for more information and a FREE printable packing list.
10. Have a Great Attitude or Fake It Until You Make It to Your Final Destination.
Flying with small children can be extremely stressful. There are a lot of details to manage. Layovers between flights may be tight and crowded airports are the norm. Airline employees or other travelers may be grumpy or unhelpful. All this is compounded if flying makes you or your partner nervous. Whatever the case may be, choose to have a positive attitude and rise above it. Children are highly perceptive and will take their cue from you. If you have a bad attitude, so will they. Flying with small children will go better for everyone if you do your best to put on a smile. (It also may be helpful to have a few pain reliever tablets on hand in case the stress of travel or noisy children brings on a headache!)
Are you a pro at flying with small children? What additional tips do you have for flying with small children? Please comment below to add to the list.
“Flying with Small Children: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Travel” is one piece of a three-part series on Flying with Small Children. Other posts in the series:
This blog post contains affiliate links. All opinions expressed are our own, derived from our personal experience.