This wasn’t the angle I was planning to go with this blog this time, but the question has come up a couple times this year already so I figured I would throw together a quick guide of what works and what doesn’t for us when flying with babies and toddlers. (Update now that I’ve finished it- it’s not quick. It’s extensive. Buckle in haha). Now that I’m thinking about it, I may have already written a similar post years ago- but it was with one child vs four.. so I think it’s safe to say I’ve learned a thing or two since then in the dozens of trips we’ve taken. 😅 I don’t make a penny off of any links I include below- they are products we genuinely use and like.
Packing & Preparation
Depending on where you’re going, you may need to travel with car seats, strollers, or boosters. (Or in our case, all of the above). All of these items fly free when you’re flying with children. If it’s within your budget, I highly recommend purchasing car seats that you only use for travel. Here’s why: we were extremely picky when choosing car seats for our car. They’re cushy, comfy, safe, and… heavy. For this reason, we purchased some cheaper car seats because they’re so much *LIGHTER*. They’re still plenty safe, but they have no frills. They take some of the stress out of lugging them in and out of the airport because they’re not heavy and the goal here is to simplify what is already a stressful event. They’re light enough that I’m able to travel solo with my kids without a problem. We use an older version of these at just 11lbs, but anything around that weight is ideal.
To make it even easier, we always use a car seat bag. This style has a back pack option for carrying which is super helpful before departure or at arrival. By using the car seat bag, we’re also able to slip our boosters right into the bag with the car seat. (we use these– they’re currently out of stock but the Bubble Bum or regular backless booster would travel well too.)
We prefer to check our car seats at check in so we have less to carry through security and to the gate. If you’re concerned about damage, by all means you can gate check the seats. Our experience has been that they handle it with oversized luggage and have seen no notable damage. ***side note- since they group it with oversized luggage, it’s pretty common for it to not come out on the baggage claim belt. It’s usually in another area behind it. No need to panic!
Any stroller is fine and can be super helpful for navigating the airport with babies and toddlers. We’ve done everything from compact to double strollers. Simply get a gate check tag at your gate, collapse it and leave it at the door to the plane and it will be there waiting for you when you de-plane at your destination or layover. Our favorite for travel is our compact, the Gb Pockit– it can be folded up small enough to fit under your seat if desired and also takes up less space in your car at your destination.
Next, luggage. Obviously, any luggage will do. If you plan to travel a lot and are looking for a great bag, we love our Away luggage. We often visit our families for two weeks at a time and I am able to pack a week’s worth of clothes and necessities into ONE large suitcase for all four kids. David and I split a second large suitcase. Less is more when you’re traveling with multiple kids and this luggage really maximizes the space along with being durable and gliding like glass through the airport.
Lastly- carry ons. Each of my children has their own backpack (except for the youngest, for whom I use the diaper bag). They are fully stocked with snacks, activities, and water bottles. Be sure their water bottles are empty before you go through security. I like to pack them snacks that are filling or fun and special for them to eat on our trips. At this point, my shipt shopper knows when I’m about to travel because my order contains those specific items. Apparently I’m predictable. 😂 Some of our go-to’s are fruit snacks, freeze dried strawberries (good and gather has snack sized individual bags), veggie straws, mini beef sticks, suckers for take off/landing, date & nut bars, fruit strips, and pouches. If there aren’t enough dedicated pockets in the backpack or diaper bag, keep all the snacks together in a gallon ziploc to make them easy to find.
Depending on the time of day I sometimes pack a lunchable for them to eat as soon as we get through security as a “meal”. (I don’t like to wait too long after we leave home so any meat and cheese doesn’t get gross. Last time we brought lunchable subs and it was perfect!) Hungry kids = cranky kids. You don’t want that. 😉
Each of our kids has their own Amazon Fire tablet. Some of you love that and some of you won’t- that’s fine. We restrict use of it for flights and extra long road trips only. My reason for restricting it to those two has less to do with limiting screen time (important as that can be), and more to do with it ACTUALLY keeping them engaged for a good portion of the flight. They don’t quickly get bored of it because they don’t typically use them, so it’s a win in my book. Even if you don’t prefer a tablet, a pair of children’s headphones is a great option if your flight has movies or if you have a favorite video on your phone for them.
Other activities we love for travel include- blank drawing pad, a few crayons or colored pencils in a ziploc or pencil bag, Melissa and Doug Water Wow, suction toys, stickers, pop-its, teething toys for the babies (bonus points if you connect a pacifier clip to the toys so they don’t fall to the floor), and a stuffed animal that they can use as a pillow if they decide they want to sleep.
Tips, tricks, and things I’ve learned
Perhaps you’ve flown hundreds of times, but never with a child… let me tell you- it’s a different ball game. It doesn’t have to be a bad one, though! Even if you have flown with your kids before, I’m going to make the assumption that some readers have not, so will be mentioning things you probably know, that new parent travelers may not- simply so they know what to expect ahead of time, taking the guess work out of it and making the whole experience that much smoother.
Checking in: For many airlines, you cannot check in online if you have a lap infant. They like to see that your child is in fact under the age of two (though I’ve only been asked for a birth certificate ONCE and do not travel with any proof- so don’t stress it if you forget to bring that). You will need to check in with an agent upon arrival.
Security: After your luggage and car seats are dropped off, you’ll move on to security with just your stroller and carry ons. If you happen to have your baby in a carrier like an ergo, you can leave them in it through security. If they’re in the stroller, you’ll need to carry your child while security inspects your stroller. All children are allowed to leave their shoes on, so no need to remove them. Tablets will need to be removed from backpacks but once in a great while they tell you to leave them in- I love when that happens. 😅
Yes, you can travel with breastmilk. I have not done it personally, so I can’t speak to the process of them testing it. But I know you can.
Gate: Once through security we stop for bathrooms and water filling. When you arrive at the gate, it’s a great time to get everyone fed and get the stroller gate checked. At boarding time, it’s common for airlines to allow families with small children to board at the beginning. If you’re planning on using your car seat ON the plane, by all means take advantage of that extra time. If not, we like to board as one of the last few people. Minimizing the time the kids have to be still and in their seats goes a long way. It takes roughly 2 minutes to get everyone buckled and situated, so the extra time isn’t really needed and is better spent letting them run around at the gate.
On the flight- One of the first things I do once we’re situated is locate the sickness bag. You really never know when or if a child will develop motion or elevation sickness, and believe it or not they don’t always remember to check that every seat has the bag restocked. Speaking from experience… make sure it’s there. If you already know your child is sensitive to motion, now is also a great time to give them children’s dramamine.
Once the plane begins to taxi, all the kids are given a sucker, fruit snacks, or if a baby: bottle or breastfeeding time. A child with popped ears is a recipe for disaster, so we try to minimize the risk as much as possible. Babies will *hopefully* sleep for awhile from that point. (I find that even if you’re not breastfeeding, a nursing cover helps keep them from being distracted or disturbed from lights going on and off).
After you’re in the air, open each child’s water bottle/sippy cup lid for a second to release the pressure and avoid a big mess.
The flight itself is usually the easy part. You’ve packed the activities and snacks, now all you need to do is help them as needed. Many times my kids will make friends with the flight attendants and people around us, watch movies, attack their snacks, and take naps if they’re tired (side note- don’t skip naps that typically fall before the flight if you don’t have to- a well rested but awake kid is a way better flyer than an overtired kid!). Don’t forget to encourage another sucker/drink/etc as the plane starts to descend.
Other things I’ve learned: If you follow me or my husband on IG you probably saw that we were recently stranded at the airport overnight with all the kids in tow. 🤪 During that experience I learned a few things I didn’t know. For starters, if you go to the airline help desk (in our case, Delta), you can get free snacks, water/soda, toiletry bags, and more. This is helpful if you end up in our situation or have any sort of major delay or layover. I also ran out of diapers during that stay- they keep a stock of that sort of essential as well- just ask! I also recommend familiarizing yourself with the nursing mothers rooms at the airports you’ll be traveling through- some have extra amenities such as toys for toddlers and cribs if you need a quiet place for you littlest to take a nap.
Enjoy your flight!
Lastly- the phrase “more is caught that taught” definitely applies here. If you’re relaxed and go with the flow of traveling, taking any changes or stressors in stride- your kids will pick up on that and mirror you. I can’t promise you it’ll always go without a tantrum or meltdown, or a child that decides to come down with the flu mid flight (again- not speaking from experience or anything 😬)- kids will be kids! My hope is that by being prepared and knowing what to expect, that you can enjoy traveling with your kids as much as we do. Bon voyage!