Flying with kids
Flying with kids: a mother and kids in the airport – nadezhda1906 (canva)

Are you going on holiday or visiting your family abroad in the near future? If you are like me, you’re probably losing a lot of sleep about the logistics involved in taking your kids on the flight. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with some of the best tips and tricks that are sure to help keep everyone sane. 

1. Booking Your Flight 

While booking a flight for your family should be fairly simple, there are some factors that you should consider. You need to time it perfectly and choose the best available seats. Here are some tips for making the right booking: 

Get Your Newborn or Toddler Their Own Seat 

Newborns and toddlers under 2 are considered lap passengers, which means that they don’t need a ticket and you can fly with them on your lap. However, the FAA advises flyers against this due to the fact that you won’t be strong enough to protect them if something were to go wrong. 

Be mindful that ideally newborns are not supposed to fly until they develop a strong enough immune system. Here’s when it’s safe to travel with your newborn.

It’s always a bonus if you get to save some costs, but you have to ask yourself if it is worth your child’s life in case of an emergency. Buying a ticket for your little one and letting them fly in an FAA-approved car seat is the best way to ensure their safety. Plus, having your child on your lap the entire time doesn’t sound ideal, especially during a long flight.

If for any reason you do choose to leave the car seat behind, check out our article on flying with your infant on your lap. Here, you’ll find the 10 best practices to ensure that your baby is safe and comfortable during the flight. 

Avoid Flying During Witching Hour 

Witching hour is the time that your child is most difficult and fussy, usually in the afternoon or right before bedtime. Try to book a flight that is either after this dreadful time, or long before. This will ensure that you, your children, and all the other passengers don’t experience the wrath of a fussy child. 

Fly During Their Usual Bedtime 

Flying is very exciting and your children will try to stay awake for as long as possible because they won’t want to miss anything. Nevertheless, flying during their bedtime is the best option because they are more likely to get tired and sleep a little if it coincides with their regular bedtime. 

Choose the Right Seats 

As if all the other elements of flying with kids aren’t stressful enough, you have to be careful when choosing your seats. First of all, avoid placing your child in the aisle seat because accidents happen and flight attendants are constantly passing with trays filled with hot drinks. Secondly, choose your seats based on the feature that is most important to you. 

Seats With Enough Space 

Choose a seat with enough space for your family because children can’t sit still for too long and they may need to stretch their legs regularly. The area in front and the area at the back are both good options if you would like some extra space.

Seats That Provide Peace and Quiet 

If you are after some quiet to help your kids fall asleep faster, the middle aisle is your best bet. However, if your kids are frequent bathroom users, the middle area isn’t a good option.

Seats That Are Close to the Bathroom 

Needless to say, the area at the back is ideal if your children need to visit the bathroom more often. Plus, walking down the aisle past rows of passengers is very awkward, especially if you are on your way to change your baby’s smelly diaper. 

Seats That Provide the Most Privacy 

The only spot where you’ll be able to enjoy complete privacy without the feeling of people watching you from behind is the back row. Plus, there’s a good chance that the back seats may be empty because they aren’t very luxurious. 

2. Preparing Your Kids for the Flight

For some extra peace of mind, you can start prepping your children for the flight long before the day arrives. If they are well-prepared for what is going to happen on the day, the process could be much smoother.

You can begin by telling them everything about flying, from passing through security to boarding and landing. Show them what the security is going to do and ask them what they think their favorite part about the entire experience is going to be. Plus, by showing them Youtube videos and flight-related movies, you can visually prepare them.    

3. Tips for Surviving the Wait at the Airport 

For local flights, you don’t have to wait for hours at the airport before boarding the plane. This is great because you won’t have to deal with bored kids in a busy airport. If you aren’t going far, try to be early but not too early, because both the rush and the long wait aren’t fun with kids.

However, if you are traveling long-distance, you need to be at the airport at least 3 hours before your flight departs. So, how are you going to keep the little ones entertained and happy at an international airport swarming with strangers in a rush? Let them be active, that’s how. 

Choose a safe and quiet spot in the airport (preferably as close to security as possible) and let your kids be active for as long as they can. Let them play where you can keep an eye on them at all times. Not only will this stop them from constantly nagging and whining that they are bored, but it’ll get rid of all the excess energy and leave them tired and calm during the flight. 

4. Keeping Your Kids Busy During the Flight

There are many ways to keep your kids entertained during a long flight. I mean, the cloudy view from the window won’t cut it for more than a few minutes at a time. For attention-grabbing alternatives, you will need some supplies and a lot of patience. 

Bring Surprises and Gifts 

A fully stocked goodie bag with little surprises and gifts could be a lifesaver on a long trip. Not only will it give you a few minutes to catch your breath on the flight, but some items can be useful during your entire visit. 

I wouldn’t recommend individually wrapping each surprise, because nobody wants to pick up tiny scraps of paper when the rest of the passengers are getting off the plane. Just gather some small and inexpensive items that you know will keep your children busy for a few minutes, like a pencil and paper or a Rubik’s cube.

To ensure that the goodie bag does the trick for more than half an hour at most, you can make a game out of it. The child that can sit still or keep quiet for the longest gets to pick the first item from the bag. Then, the child who can nap the longest gets the second pick, and so forth. 

Pack Enough Snacks 

One of the best ways to keep a child quiet and calm is by handing them a bowl full of their favorite snacks. A packet of complimentary salted peanuts isn’t the best snack choice for toddlers and smaller children because of the choking hazard. Plus, they may be allergic to nuts so you’ll have to bring your own alternative to keep your kids fed and happy. 

Pack enough of your children’s beloved healthy snacks into a sealable container. Try to opt for ready-to-eat dry snacks that don’t need to be kept cool or warmed before eating. It’s also best to choose snacks that can be eaten with their hands, like a packet of chips or dried fruit sticks. 

Play Road Trip Games 

Contrary to popular belief, road trip games are meant for other types of trips too, and this includes long flights. Although there won’t be any license plates to spot on the way, there are other games that are perfect to kill time in the air, like 20 Questions, hangman, and fun card games. You may need to plan these games by printing out the templates. 

Bring Some Electronics 

While I understand why you would try to avoid whipping out the electronics and keeping screen time to a minimum, this is cause for an exception. Letting your kids play a game on their portable console or putting on their favorite show or movie on a phone or tablet can save you from unnecessary hassles. You can also hand your child a camera or cell phone and ask them to take photos of the view from the window. 

Kids playing during a flight
Kids playing during a flight – Oleksandr Pidvalnyi (pexels)

5. Bringing Your Stroller on the Flight 

Strollers can save a lot of effort when traveling with small children, and the good news is that most airlines let you take them for free. Here is some information that may be useful to you if you intend on taking your stroller on your next flight: 

Stroller Policies of Different Airlines 

Southwest Airlines 

With Southwest Airlines, you can bring your stroller for free. The general rule is one stroller per child in the hold of the plane, as long as it weighs less than 50lb (22.7kg). There is also a size limit that prevents you from bringing a stroller bigger than 62 linear inches (157.5cm) for free. 

Read Southwest Airlines stroller policy for more detailed info.

United Airlines 

United Airlines lets you check in a 20lb (9kg) stroller for free. You can check it in at the gate or baggage drop-off and if your stroller is collapsible, you will be able to take it on board.

Read United Airlines stroller policy for more detailed info. 

American Airlines

AA allows you to bring a collapsible stroller of no more than 20lb (9kg) that will be tagged and transported in the overhead bin at no extra cost. Strollers that weigh more than the limit need to be checked in with the rest of your luggage. 

Read American Airlines stroller policy for more detailed info. 

Other Airlines

Gate Checking Your Stroller 

If your stroller needs to be gate-checked, you can rest assured that it will be free and it won’t count towards your checked baggage limit. For more information about gate checking your stroller, check out our article on this topic.  

For more tips check out our article for a complete guide about flying with a stroller.

6. Bringing Your Car Seat on the Flight

As I mentioned before, bringing a car seat is a much safer option than flying with your child on your lap. You can find out everything you need to know in our article about traveling with a car seat, but here are some tips to prepare you.

Renting a Car Seat 

This is a great choice if you want to skip out on the hassle of tagging your car seat along. It also keeps your car seat from getting damaged because airport staff tends to work roughly with your belongings. However, there are some things that you need to consider before putting all your hopes on a rental:

  • Rental car seats can be expensive, so have a look at the prices online and work it into your budget before the day of your flight arrives.
  • The first agency you visit could be out of stock or they may not rent out car seats. Thus, you need to try and book a seat beforehand. 
  • The safety features of quality car seats depend on several things, like the expiry date. Plus, seats that have been involved in an accident before aren’t safe. 

Checking in Your Car Seat 

If you want to take your own trusty car seat along, you are in luck. Most airlines in the US will allow you to check your car seat at no charge. Just remember to cover the seat because it may get damaged or dirty at some point in transit. 

Car Seat Policies of Different Airlines 

Southwest Airlines 

You can choose to take your car seat in the cabin or check it in with your other baggage. Both of these options are free, and they don’t weigh it and add it to your baggage limit if you check it in. 

Check Southwest Airlines car seat policy for more detailed info.

United Airlines 

With United Airlines, you can bring a car seat for free if it’s FAA-approved. Your child needs to be under two and they need their own booked seat. 

Check United Airlines car seat policy for more detailed info.

American Airlines 

AA has some strict rules when it comes to the car seat that you may bring along for free. It has to be FAA-approved and the label has to state the following: “conforms to all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards” and “this restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”

Check American Airlines car seat policy for more detailed info.

Other Airlines

You can opt to have baby under 2 years old on your lap
You can opt to have baby under 2 years old on your lap – Kaspars Grinvalds (canva)

FAQ 

Am I allowed to bring formula or breast milk on the flight? 

The short answer is yes, you are definitely allowed to bring formula, breast milk, and juice on a flight. You can check the milk in and let it travel in your checked luggage, or if your little one is going to need it, you can pack it into your carry-on luggage. The best part is that these liquids don’t need to adhere to the 3.4-ounce (100ml) rule. 

Can I keep my infant on my lap during the flight?

You can keep your infant on your lap. Children under the age of 2 don’t require tickets to board a plane, which means that if you don’t purchase an extra ticket for them, they will need to sit on your lap. However, due to safety reasons, it is recommended that you get them their own ticket and let them sit in an FAA-approved car seat. 

Can I bring my kids’ medicine on the flight?

Yes, you can take medicine on the flight. Most airlines will allow you to keep your over-the-counter or prescription medicine in your carry-on luggage if you are going to need it during the flight. The other option is checking it in and leaving it in your checked luggage. 

The general rule of thumb is 3.4 ounces (100ml) in your carry-on luggage. You can travel with medicine if you are traveling in the US or leaving the country. If you plan on entering the US, you will need a valid doctor’s note for any prescription drugs in your luggage. 

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