May 01, 2012

How to Travel On a Plane with Children

What? It makes me so sad that it's been over a week since I've posted. I have all these thoughts but I haven't had the time to get them out.

(Except for all that time after the boys go to bed and I sit down with ice cream and something to read. Except for that time.)

I thought I'd write about something near and dear to my heart, of which is also fresh on my mind. 

Traveling on an airplane and through airports with a child and/or children. 

Micah just completed his 19th plane trip and Asher his 4th, so I consider myself a tiny bit of an expert. But only sometimes, because I'm also apt to make the same mistakes again and again. Like overpacking. 

(Hi, my name is Sara and I'm a Chronic Overpacker.

(Even though I so judge other families, only in my mind of course, who travel with too much stuff.) 

But first, some important things to tuck in your back pocket.

You will get off schedule. There's no getting around it. I try my best to stick with it to an extent but it's just completely unrealistic to keep such things as naptimes at their regular time or for them to nap as long as they may normally nap, or anything else schedule-related. If you can tell yourself that beforehand, it lowers the Anxious Level an eighth of a notch. 

You will most likely have at least one episode of a crying/screaming child on the airplane. Yes, the inner sanctum of your nerves will light on fire. But you will also survive, and so will everyone around you. Nobody has yet died from listening to a screaming child on the airplane. Stay calm, keep a sense of humor, and put those Foxhole Prayers to some good use. 

Okay, Traveling With Infants and Toddlers. 
  • Consolidate your carry-ons. I use a simple school-like backpack and make it my purse and diaper bag. That way I only have one bag to keep track of and I can have both hands free. This is especially helpful through TSA screening. Also, if you have any liquids (baby food, tylenol, etc.), keep it all together in a ziplock bag so you can quickly get it out for screening.
  • Pack one change of clothes (I usually do pajamas) for each child and about 3-4 diapers per child. Trust me, Madame Pack-Too-Much, statistically speaking they do not need any more than that.
  • A small, umbrella stroller is your best bet. Anything bigger is usually completely unnecessary and a bigger hassle. Jogging strollers in the airport should be outlawed. (They actually are on some airlines, like everyone's beloved Southwest Airlines.) Coming from someone who has to load those things, I have a deep-seated dislike (read: hatred) for jogging strollers in the airport. Unless the airport that you're going to requires 4-wheel tread, leave it at home. 
  • Pack snacks and try to choose ones that aren't messy. I've learned this the hard way. Apple slices are much less messy than bananas. The same with ham and cheese sandwiches over PB and J. 
  • Secure a DVD player. Seriously, this has been the biggest help for us on the airplane. It's so hard (impossible) to explain to a toddler why they can't get out of their seat and run up and down the aisles, so having something like a DVD player is great for when all your red-faced explanations break down. 
  • Between planes on your layovers, let them out of the stroller and run around like a crazy person. They need to get out their energy and it makes the next leg a little easier if they're worn out. 
  • Search the maps and find where the kids' play area is. Most major airports have them and some of them are pretty snazzy. 
  • Be kind and amiable to the people sitting around you. On our last flight today, as soon as we were sitting down Micah started kicking the seat in front of him. Of course I was stern with him about it but I knew that it was probably not going to stop anytime soon because it was mostly subconscious kicking, so I tapped the guy's shoulder and told him I was so sorry and that I didn't want it to drive him crazy, and I asked him if he'd like to change seats. I also told the flight attendant the same thing on his behalf when she came by. The passenger had a great attitude about it and behold, before we knew it Micah was passed out anyway. But it helps to go out of your way to be thoughtful of the people around you, especially the flight attendants.
  • Lastly, try as hard as you can to keep a good attitude. Your experience will largely depend on your attitude. I've seen some parents so stressed out, for no apparent reason other than that they were in an airport and they had kids, that I was tempted to take medication myself. Stay relaxed, calm, easy-going. Have fun and make the best of it. 
Also remember that this too will pass. We've been in every situation imaginable. We've been stuck in an airport for 12 hours with a 9 month old, we've had 4-hour layovers with both kids, we've sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half with a cranky, impatient toddler, we've had poopy blow-outs mid-flight, and everything in between. We made the best of it and lived to tell about it. And I'd do it again tomorrow. And the next day. 

If there's anything else I didn't hit on, feel free to leave a question in the comments. Hopefully this helps!


  1. Oh thanks for writing this! In June I will be taking my third trip with baby and he'll be 8 months old then. Good to hear some thoughts from an expert!

  2. So good to hear your tips!! We leave on Sunday for LA with both kids, so this will help!

  3. Basically you're my hero! :-)