Flying With Kids

I awkwardly pulled my laptop out from under the seat in front of me while trying not to spill the little plastic cup of soda and bag of pretzels precariously balanced on my airplane tray table. My son across the aisle from me whined, “Mommy, I’m hungry!”  Then his brother said, “I need to go potty!”
Meanwhile, my two youngest children sitting next to me were impatiently waiting for me to start the Dora movie on the laptop.  “We want Dora!” they chanted.  They had not yet comprehended how computers are not instant satisfaction on startup.  At the same time, my husband (who was sitting next to the two older children across the aisle) had his eyes closed, resolutely ignoring the boys as they tried to get someone’s attention to feed them and take them to the bathroom.

Hmmm… Are we there yet?  

Thank goodness it was only a two hour flight.  The last flight we took as a family was over four hours and that was easily the maximum capacity for my two-year old for flying on a plane.  After that, I vowed no more long flights until he was older.

Flying with kids can be a challenge or it can be smooth-sailing.  Very much it depends on the age of your child, the length of your flight, and the time of day of your flight.  

I love to travel, and I really enjoy taking my kids places so that they can experience sights and adventures that I never had the opportunity to see and do as a child.  I even actually enjoy flying with my kids (usually).  However, I enjoy it more when they are older than three years of age and when I have enough adults around to help me.  Let’s just say it’s a little less stressful and a whole lot less to pack.

It’s amazing how much STUFF a baby needs.  I remember taking my oldest on a flight when he was five-months old.  He was a tiny little baby, and he had an entire full-size suitcase dedicated to him and his STUFF.  You know what I’m talking about – the diapers, the wipes, the bottles, the warmer, the clothes, and the backup clothes, the baby soaps and shampoos, the bibs, and the backup bibs, the blankets, etc.  Not mention the car seat, portable high chair, toys, and so on.  

So, how to survive a flight with your little one?  Here are some ideas (based on age):

Young Infant – the nice part of this age is that entertainment is not necessary.  Most of the times they are content to eat, sleep and poop as they normally do when not in an airplane.  The biggest issue will be helping them to “pop” their ears and equalize the pressure in them during the flight.  Generally, if your ears are popping, their little ears are trying to do the same.   To help your baby with this, make sure that he/she is swallowing during takeoff and landing.  You can do this by feeding your baby during these time periods.   Just make sure to pack extra clothes and diapers, including extra clothes for you in case of unexpected spit-up or diaper accidents.

Check the TSA website listed later in this blog post to familiarize yourself with rules regarding bringing formula or breastmilk onto the airplane.

Older Infant/Toddler – This is a challenging age for flying.  You can certainly fly successfully with a toddler, but timing is of utmost importance in this age group.  Choose your flight time by avoiding anything near naptime or bedtime.  Tired toddlers make lousy travel companions.  Pack plenty of snacks, favorite toys and distractions.   If at all possible, try to book nonstop flights to minimize the total travel time.  For really long flights, a break in the middle at a connecting city for a few hours may be ideal – however leave enough time so that you won’t be running for a connecting flight with a toddler in tow.  

Bring your stroller all the way to the gate and check it in at the gate just before you board.  It will make getting all your belongings and your baby to the plane easier.  Also, bring an empty sippy cup and then buy something in the airport to fill it, or ask them to fill it on the airplane with water or juice.
Some pediatricians recommend bringing along an weight-appropriate dose of Benedryl along in case your toddler is really having a difficult time with the trip.  Benedryl is an allergy medication that generally causes drowsiness as a side effect.  However, be aware that a small percentage of children actually get hyper on Benedryl.  Therefore, it is wise to test this at home before you discover that your toddler is wild after taking Benedryl on the airplane!

Children Ages 2-4 Years Old – This age group generally loves airplanes… at least they love looking at them.  Flying in them may be a different issue.  Reading about flying or going on an airplane is a good idea if this is your child’s first trip.

I usually try to buy a surprise activity for each child to do on the airplane – a new coloring book or new activity that travels well.  The fun of trying out a new coloring book and new markers will entertain most children for at least a portion of the trip.  Don’t give it to them until you are actually on the plane to enhance the surprise (and distraction) factor.

Also, while I don’t normally advocate video watching – a portable DVD player or laptop or ipod can work wonders to keep little minds occupied for a good portion of longer trips.   Taking a few walks up and down the aisle midflight helps to break the monotony of sitting in the seat.  Feeding children in this age group just before you fly, or bringing food on the plane, is also a great way to pass the time.

School-Aged Children and Older – Luckily, this age group tends to be able to entertain themselves.  Favorite activities include books, handheld games, and MP3’s make flying a more enjoyable and less boring experience for this group. Let them pack their own backpack and have them each carry their own carry-on.  It makes traveling much easier (especially if you can pack things for a younger sibling in their bag also!). 

Again, food is an excellent way to pass the time, so bring a meal onboard and give them something to do.  This will also ensure that they will not be hungry during the flight.

With the many travel rules these days from TSA, it’s a good idea to check out their website for rules about traveling with children.  They have a useful website at: