Flying with kids this summer? I know, the thought can be overwhelming. Sometimes just getting your kids to the grocery store or playground is daunting. There are so many things to think about: what to pack, what to eat, what if someone gets sick or won’t stop crying? The more you travel with your kids, the more you will discover that, although it can be a lot of work, it can also be a lot of fun. Most of us think of vacation as time spent at our destination, but your travel time can be part of the fun when you allow it to be! As a flight attendant mom of two well-traveled kids, I’m here to help. Here are a few tips to help you make the trip go smoothly and to help ease your anxiety:
Packing-Get the Kids Involved
Get the kids involved in the vacation early on by letting them help pack. Here is a list of age-appropriate packing duties for your children. Of course you can adjust it to the needs and abilities of your children. If too many choices overwhelm your child, set out just a few items for them to choose one or two things. Once everyone has decided what to pack, set everything out on your bed. I’m almost always able to eliminate about half of the clothes I initially select. It helps to see it all together so you can weed out the unnecessary items.
Packing-Carry On Items
When I’m traveling with my kids, I pack one 26” rolling duffle bag for the kids and my stuff. (If my husband is traveling with us he packs his own checked bag.) For our carry-on bags I use a backpack for my toddler’s and my things. We have a rolling backpack for my 7 year old and I also carry a lunch tote with our snacks. I like to also bring a reusable cloth grocery bag to use for overflow once things become not so organized.
Some items to bring on the plane to make the flight go more smoothly:
- Car Seat for Infants and Toddlers– You have a better chance of your child napping if you have the car seat since they are used to being in it. Using the car seat is not only safer for young children, but it allows you to have your hands free and keeps the child contained and more content. The one downside with toddlers using the car seat on the plane is that they kick the seat in front of them. Rear facing is an option if the seat will fit that way. I usually speak with the person in front of us at the beginning of the flight. I let them know I will try to keep him from kicking the seat and offer to buy them a snack or drink to make up for the inconvenience.
- Car Seat Carrier-There are a number of options for how you will transport a car seat through the airport. My very favorite is GoGoBabyz TravelMate, which straps onto your convertible car seat with a quick-release strap and turns your car seat into a stroller. You can have your child ride in the car seat/stroller or if your child wants to walk, put the bags in the car seat. A less expensive option is a luggage strap which attaches your car seat to a rolling suitcase.
- Cup with Lid (Gerber Take & Toss are great)
- Blanket (most airlines no longer provide these)
- Sweater-even though it may be 100 degrees outside, the airplane might get cold in flight. I always pack a light sweater for everyone. We almost always use them on summer flights.
- Toys– Stick to small toys and activities. I pack a 1 Gallon Ziploc bag for each child. Here is an example of the types of things we pack to fit in that size bag:
- Headphones-Over-the-ear types are best for younger children. Older kids might prefer the ear buds. Be sure to test them out at home with the younger ones. Not only is it a rule to use headphones or turn the volume of your electronics off, it is common courtesy to your fellow passengers.
- Empty grocery sacks-for collecting trash as you go throughout the flight.
- Baby wipes-Even if your children are older, baby wipes always come in handy. I will never travel without them.
This is not a complete list of what you need to bring on-board! Don’t forget a change of clothes for each person (2 or 3 for babies), medications, snacks, diapers, and bottles!
*Did you know? The FAA requires that car seats be placed in a window seat. It cannot be between a passenger and the aisle.
If you don’t have elite status with your airline, it can be difficult to reserve seats together for your family. If you are not able to pre-reserve seats together, reserve the best seats (aisle and window) you can obtain on the aircraft, even if the seats are scattered throughout the plane. At least this will give you something decent to trade if you’re stuck trying to swap on the airplane. Some other things to do to try to get seated together as a family (you may have to try all of these options in order if the flight is completely full):
- After making your reservation, keep checking at least once a week to see if better seats pop up.
- Check in online as soon as possible. Most airlines allow you to check in online for your flight 24 hours before departure. One good reason to do this is if the flight is oversold, you may have an oversold ticket without knowing it (it’s not announced). The agents process oversold seats in order of check in. Checking in early gives you the advantage in this case.
- Check in at the self-service kiosk and select “change seats” to look for a better seating arrangement. Or check with an agent at the ticket counter and ask if it’s possible to get seated together.
- Ask the gate agent at the gate if seats together are possible.
- Ask the flight attendants on-board for help.
- Bribe passengers to trade seats with you.
- If all else fails, a crying child will probably convince a passenger that they would rather sit in a middle seat than take care of the crying child next to them. If your child is really young, go ahead and let them show anxiety. If your child is older, he/she just might enjoy the adventure and responsibility of sitting on their own. Let go. Let them feel grown up.
Give Yourself Time
When flying with young kids, time is your friend. When you have to rush around the kids feel the stress and tend to make more demands as they try to carve out some time to have fun. Crowded airports and long check-in and security lines can be irritating to everyone. Try to give yourself time to get through security without panicking about making it to your flight on time. Having enough time before the flight to explore the things the airport has to offer, such as kids’ play areas, local art displays or even just the colorful advertisements along the walls, will help your child feel relaxed for the whole travel day.
These are just some general ideas to make your trip more relaxed. Flying is stressful these days, but the more prepared you and your kids are, and the more time you give yourself to relax, the more you can enjoy the journey.
Happy Cloud Surfing!
Beth Henry is a flight attendant mom of two frequently flying kids. She offers tips for flying with kids on her website: Cloud Surfing Kids. You can follow Cloud Surfing Kids on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Have a question about flying with kids? Feel free to ask in the comments below!