Ah, travel—the passport to unforgettable family memories and the thrill of new horizons. But let’s face it, the journey to ‘Paradise Island’ with tiny travelers in tow can sometimes feel more like a trip through the Bermuda Triangle. If you’re flying with toddlers or young adventurers, you know the drill: a carry-on full of “just in case” items, nervous glances at neighboring passengers, and a silent prayer for a smooth flight.
Fear not, weary wanderers! This guide is jam-packed with tried-and-true tips for flying with kids that will make your airborne odyssey not just bearable, but downright enjoyable. From masterful packing strategies to in-flight entertainment hacks, we’re here to turn your travel dreams into reality, with a dash of patience and a sprinkle of planning. So, fasten your seatbelts; we’re about to take family travel to new heights!
1. Book a Direct Flight or One with a Longer Layover
Let’s keep it real – traveling with kids can be a game of patience. Booking a direct flight can be a game-changer, eliminating the fuss of plane switches, potential delays, and that pesky concern of misplaced luggage. It might pinch your pocket slightly more, but think of the peace of mind and convenience it offers, especially with young adventurers in tow.
However, if direct flights are off the table due to availability or budget constraints, choose a flight with a longer layover. Aim for at least a two-hour break. This window will give you enough time to transition to your next flight, handle restroom breaks, snatch a bite, and let the little ones (and yourself) stretch and roam a bit.
2. Fly with a Kid-Friendly Airline
The airline you pick can make or break your travel experience. Some airlines roll out the red carpet for families, offering perks like family-centric seating, ample luggage allowances, and early boarding. These little things can ease out the journey significantly. If you’re contemplating splurging on first or business class tickets, you’re not just buying space but a more relaxed experience overall.
Airlines like JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Delta, and Alaska have often been applauded for their family-friendly amenities. For instance, our experiences with JetBlue and Delta have always been smooth, even when gate-checking larger items like the Veer wagon.
On the flip side, budget airlines, while friendly to your wallet, might not be as accommodating. Carriers like Spirit or Frontier might nickel and dime you on bags and other fees, complicating your family travel plan.
3. The Seat Dilemma: Lap Infant vs. Separate Seat
If your little jetsetter is under two, you’ve got options: go for the budget-friendly lap infant route or invest in a separate seat. Let’s break down the pros and cons.
The lap infant choice can be easy on your wallet. Many airlines offer either free or deeply discounted fares for children under two who share your seat. It can seem like a no-brainer, especially for short flights and tiny infants. However, as your child grows, so does their need for space and your need for comfort. Squirming, spills, and general in-flight fussiness can take a toll. The FAA also recommends approved child restraint systems for optimal safety during turbulent phases, takeoff, and landing.
Now, about that separate seat—it’s like getting VIP access to Comfortville. My wife and I can vouch for the dramatic difference it makes in the quality of the flying experience. You get more room to breathe, easy access to in-flight essentials, and a spill-safe zone. Plus, if you’re bringing along a car seat, remember it’ll need to be situated in a window seat as per most airline regulations.
Ultimately, the best choice depends on a blend of factors: your child’s age and temperament, the length of your flight, and your own peace-of-mind needs. Consider all angles before making your decision.
4. Catch the Early Bird Flight
Think rising with the sun for a flight is madness? Not when you’re flying with the kiddos. Early morning departures are usually your best bet for a smoother, quieter experience. These flights are less prone to the dreaded ‘D’ word—delays—since air traffic is lighter and weather conditions are often more stable.
Plus, let’s be real, your youngsters are probably still groggy and wearing their PJs, making it the perfect setup for some in-flight snoozing. Another perk? You’ll touchdown early, giving your family more daylight to dive into your vacation adventures. Just make sure you pack and prepare the night before to sidestep any morning of mayhem.
5. Choose the Right Seats for a Smoother Ride
Seat selection can dramatically impact your in-flight experience when traveling with kids. If you’re bringing a car seat, most airlines require you to place it near the window for safety reasons.
Traveling with multiple kids? Try to book seats close together or across the aisle. It makes wrangling easier and saves you from vaulting over strangers. For an insider edge, consider using SeatGuru. It offers invaluable insights into the best (and worst) seats for your specific flight.
6. Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
For a smoother, quicker airport experience with kids, consider getting TSA PreCheck for domestic flights or Global Entry for international travel. TSA PreCheck lets you speed through security without removing shoes or jackets. The best part? Kids under 12 can tag along with you without needing their own membership.
Global Entry expedites customs and immigration but requires all family members to have their own membership. Having Global Entry also gives you TSA PreCheck, so I recommend this to anyone that plans on traveling internationally.
Both programs require an application fee and interview, but many credit cards offer fee credits. With these services, you’ll bypass long lines and make flying with your family much easier.
7. Prepare for Airport Security
When flying with kids, it’s crucial to be well-prepared for the airport security process. First, make sure to check the TSA website for the latest information on what you can and cannot bring on the plane. Be mindful of rules regarding liquids, gels, aerosols, medications, baby food, breast milk, formula, and more.
Organize your carry-on bags in an accessible way, so you can easily extract or stow items that need separate screening. Have your boarding passes and IDs ready for inspection – remember, even with TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, rules still apply!
Dress your little ones and yourself in comfortable and easy-to-remove clothing. For instance, opt for slip-on shoes and layers like jackets or sweaters, so you can swiftly breeze through security checks.
8. Relax at an Airport Lounge Before Departure
If you have some time before your flight, consider relaxing at an airport lounge with your kids. An airport lounge is a private area in the airport that offers amenities such as comfortable seating, Wi-Fi, food and drinks, entertainment, showers, and more.
To access an airport lounge, you have a few options. You can pay a one-time fee (usually around $30-$50 per person), have a membership (like Priority Pass or LoungeBuddy), possess a certain credit card (like the American Express Platinum Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve Card), or fly with a specific airline or class (like first class or business class).
Online tools such as LoungeBuddy can help you find and book the perfect airport lounge that suits your needs and budget. This way, you and your kids can unwind and recharge before your flight, making for a more enjoyable travel experience.
Remember, each airport and lounge is different, so do a bit of research beforehand to ensure you find a lounge that caters to the needs of your family. With a little planning, you can transform your pre-flight experience from being hectic and stressful to relaxing and entertaining for both you and your kids.
9. Visit the Airport Restroom Before Your Flight
Before boarding your plane, it’s a good idea to visit the airport restroom with your kids. This way, you can take care of any last-minute diaper changes or restroom needs before getting on board. Trust me, navigating the tiny airplane bathroom can introduce a whole new level of challenge, especially if you’re trying to change a diaper in such a cramped space!
Airplane bathrooms are notorious for being small, cramped, and dirty, with some of them lacking changing tables or enough room for you and your kids. Also, there may be a long wait in line if you decide to use the facilities on the plane. Plus, who enjoys dealing with turbulence or seat belt signs turning on just when you and your little one need to go?
10. Take Advantage of Family Boarding
If you’re flying with young kids, utilize family boarding for early access to the plane. Most airlines offer this perk for families with children under a certain age, like up to six years old on Southwest. You’ll typically board right after first class and elite members, allowing you to secure overhead bin space and settle in more comfortably.
Check your airline’s website or call customer service to confirm their family boarding policies and age limitations. At the gate, simply inform the agent or a flight attendant that you’re traveling with children to take advantage of this feature. It’s an easy way to make your family’s flight experience more convenient.
11. BYOE: Bring Your Own Entertainment
Some planes have TVs in the seats, but let’s be real—you can’t always count on them. I have been on too many flights where the TVs don’t work, and I have nothing to entertain my kids. Bring your own magic: Tablets loaded with movies, headphones that actually fit their heads, books, coloring stuff, you name it.
Charge everything up before you head out, and maybe toss an extra power bank in the bag. If the kids are busy watching their favorite shows or drawing, they won’t have time to kick the seat in front of them or ask, “are we there yet?” a million times. It’s a win-win, my friend.
12. Talk to Your Kids About What to Expect
Before you head to the airport, make sure you sit the kids down and give them the lowdown on what’s going to happen (if they’re old enough to understand, of course). Tell them about the cool place you’re going to and how long you’ll be up in the air. Make it like a mini-adventure story! Also, lay down some ground rules—seat belts on, listen to the flight attendants, you know the drill.
Oh, and don’t forget to prep them for the weird stuff like their ears popping or the plane shaking a bit. Throw in some life hacks like chewing gum or having a good book or game ready. Maybe show them some YouTube videos of planes taking off or pictures of where you’re going—it gets them super excited!
13. Pack Smart for Your Flight
So, about packing—you’re gonna want the essentials but don’t go overboard. Make a list. Diapers, snacks, a couple of their favorite toys—those are musts. Just pack enough diapers for flight day, not the entire trip (more on this in the next section). And organize your carry-on like you’re Marie Kondo or something. Get some ziplock bags or packing cubes to keep things neat; you don’t want to be that parent digging forever in a bag while everyone’s waiting.
Accidents happen, especially with juice boxes and crayons, so throw in some extra clothes. That’s for you too, not just the kids! It’s also a lifesaver if your checked bags decide to take a different vacation. Also, airplanes can be freezing! Pack a light blanket or scarf so the kids aren’t shivering the whole time.
Trust me, do all this and you’ll have way fewer headaches on the plane.
14. Pack Light, Buy Later
You know how you want to pack the entire house when you go on a trip? Yeah, don’t. Seriously, you can get stuff like diapers, wipes, and even sunscreen where you’re going. Plus, your back will love you for carrying less at the airport.
Oh, and light luggage means less chance of losing it and quicker moves through security. Not to mention, you’ll have room to bring back some cool souvenirs. So the next time your better half starts piling stuff into the suitcase like they’re stocking a bunker, you get to say, “I told you so.”
15. Snack Like a Pro
You absolutely cannot pack enough snacks for your kids. They are the ultimate peacekeepers, especially when you’re up in the sky. Go for the good stuff: granola bars, fruit pouches, cheese sticks, and crackers. Keep the sugary or super salty stuff out, unless you want them bouncing off the airplane walls.
And remember, TSA has some rules on what you can bring. Stick to those ziplock bags or small containers, and you’re golden. Trust me, a well-fed kid is a happy traveler, and that makes everyone’s life easier.
16. Bring a Stroller and Gate-Check It
If you’ve got young kids, don’t even think about hitting the airport without a stroller. It’s like your Swiss Army knife for the terminal. It hauls your bags, turns into a makeshift bed, and saves you from becoming a toddler taxi.
You can roll that baby all the way to the gate and check it there for free. Just ask the gate agent for a tag. That way, it’s waiting for you right when you land. Just check your airline’s policy to make sure your stroller fits the bill, and then don’t leave home without it.
17. Double Up on Baby Gear
If you’re flying with a baby or toddler, think of it like you’re prepping for a tiny apocalypse. Double up on diapers, wipes, formula—anything you can’t easily replace. Delays happen. Luggage gets lost. You do not want to be stuck without enough baby essentials.
Oh, and about feeding time? Pack extra milk or formula. And a baby carrier is golden for those long airport walks. Your baby stays close and comfy, and you keep your hands free.
18. Takeoff, Ears and Tears
Kids and ear pressure on planes don’t mix well. Takeoff and landing can be the main event for mini meltdowns.
Pack something they can chew or suck on during takeoff and landing—a pacifier, a bottle, or even some gum for the older kids. It helps with the pressure. Most young kids don’t know how to intentionally yawn, so it can be tricky. I’ve had great success with headphones with my four-year-old.
If you have a baby, giving them a bottle during takeoff and landing is basically your magic wand. It’s the baby’s triple threat: comfort, food, and ear relief! And if you’re flying with breast milk, TSA’s usually cool with you bringing more than the standard liquid amount. Just give them a heads-up at security.
19. Make Your Kids Laugh and Just Breathe
Long flights can make anyone a little grumpy, kids especially. But here’s a secret weapon—laughter. You know the tickle games, goofy faces, or silly songs that get your kids laughing? Deploy those tactics mid-flight. Anything to keep them distracted and entertained will work wonders for you both.
And hey, if the going gets tough, remember this isn’t forever. Take a deep breath. You’ve got this, and you’ve got a whole vacation ahead of you. Most importantly, keep the vibe light and easy-going. Your chill will rub off on the kiddos.
Remember, a relaxed atmosphere makes a world of difference for both you and your kids when flying. So, keep breathing and laughing, and enjoy the journey together.