10 Tips to Eliminate Kid-tastrophes on Your Next Flight
By Mykee Saunders
It is possible for everyone in the family to enjoy a less turbulent flight.
I’m not sure what’s worse: 1) being a passenger on a plane forced to listen to the hysterical commotion of kids three rows back or 2) being the frazzled parent, thoroughly embarrassed by the judgmental looks and comments of fellow travelers.
Wait. Actually, I do. Having been both, the frazzled parent wins. Hands down.
Let’s be honest, flying with kids is not for the faint of heart, but, as you well know, you can’t put your life on hold simply because it may be inconvenient for you or others. That being said, everyone enjoys a less turbulent flight. Here are a few tricks that I use to make our ride as smooth as possible.
1 | Pack Bungee Cords
I know what you’re thinking. Bungee cords? Really? But before you write me off as a crazy lady, hear me out. The bungee cords are not actually for the plane, because the challenge of traveling with kids really starts in the airport parking lot.
I was packing for a trip to Arizona. At the time, I had three kids (ages five, two, and six-months), and in a desperate attempt to escape a frigid Utah in January, I decided to visit my grandma in the Sunshine State. My husband wasn’t coming with us because, being a Certified Public Accountant, he was closeted away in his office until April 15. As I sat contemplating the dilemma that I would encounter the next day—how to get three little kids, three car seats, two suitcases, and a stroller into the airport by myself—I had a rather inspired idea.
Enter bungee cords.
I packed two cords in the front outside pocket of my suitcase for easy access. After parking the car and getting everything unloaded I pulled them out. I stacked my son’s booster seat on top of my daughter’s car seat and wrapped them (making sure that both seats were secured with the bungee) around my suitcase, like this:
This is how I used bungee cords to carry two car seats on top of a rolling suitcase. Using this method will prevent a lot of hassle while you’re running around the airport.
With two car seats piggybacking on my rolling suitcase, I could easily pull the whole thing with one hand. Then I simply opened the stroller (I was using my Baby Trend Sit N Stand double stroller for this trip), clicked in the infant car seat with a baby already strapped in, put my toddler in the front, handed my five-year-old the other smaller suitcase to pull, and we were off. It was a little bit of a challenge to push a stroller with only one hand. I had to use my foot to adjust course every so often. But it was doable.
Once we were inside and I could check the car seats and the luggage, I simply put the bungee cords back into the front pocket of the suitcase before giving it to the ticketing agent, so that I could perform this stunt on the other side of the flight. I happened to be flying as a solo parent that trip, but we use this trick when my husband is with us too, and it makes that transition super easy.
If you happen to only be traveling with one small child, or even two, then you can always purchase the handy BRITAX Car Seat Travel Cart to accomplish this task with a little more class and style, and if you don’t have to stack car seats then your child can sit in their seat all the way there.
2 | Bring Your Own Water
Sure, airlines usually have a complimentary drink service, but if you are traveling with young kids, waiting for anything can be difficult. If you are banking on the ONE free small cup of (insert preferred beverage here) you are in for a rough flight. I always pack a couple of empty Kleen Kanteen bottles, to take through security, that I can fill up before boarding the plane. A lot of airports these days have water filters at the drinking fountains expressly for this purpose.
Just remember, kids are fickle. Sometimes you may leave the plane with a heavily laden bottle of water, but don’t let that discourage you from following this step in the future. I promise you will be grateful, because on your next flight your kids may drink like a camel preparing to enter the desert.
3 | SNACKS!!!
Unlike the water that your kids may or may not drink on a flight, snacks make any trip more enjoyable. Not only does it fill their bellies if they are hungry (which is always) but “snack time” can be its own time-consuming activity in the countdown to landing.
As a side note, consider packing snacks that are non-candy and are low in sugar, such as pretzels or crackers. The last thing a parent (or anyone else on the plane) needs is a sugar laden active toddler in a confined space.
4 | Infants & Airplanes
Let’s be honest, flying with a baby is not for the faint of heart.
If you are flying with an infant this section is just for you. Traveling with a tiny one requires a different kind of preparation, and these are four of the products that make it easier for me. Not traveling with an infant? Skip down to tip #5.
One of the great things about flying with an infant is that you get to bring a diaper bag, and it won’t count as your carry-on. When it comes to traveling with a diaper bag, there are some that are better than others.
I love and highly recommend this boxy backpack style diaper bag from Petunia Picklebottom. Not only is it super sleek and easily cleanable, but it can double as both a single shoulder strap bag and a backpack. The backpack feature let you distribute the weight evenly on your shoulders, preventing aches and pains later but it also comes with handy little clips that allow you to evenly hang your bag from the stroller. It is roomy inside, with plenty of pockets including two inside and two outside ones that are perfect for holding bottles.
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If you are only traveling with an infant, you might want to consider forgoing the stroller and bring a baby carrier instead. Baby carriers are great because baby feels secure and close and you still get use of both your hands to haul everything else. Most airport security screening centers don’t even make you remove your baby from the carrier while going through security!
There may be cheaper models out there, but this one has a fantastic back brace built in to keep the extra baby weight from straining your back. I’ve had multiple carriers and this one is my all time favorite!
I know the last thing you probably want to do is lug around a big boppy pillow with you all over the airport but trust me when I say you will be glad you made the extra effort when baby goes to sleep. Holding a sleeping baby for long periods of time without extra support under your arms, plays havoc on your muscles (I can almost feel my shoulder muscles tighten thinking about it). The boppy pillow allows you to have the support you need while holding baby or simply lay them down on the bobby in your lap.
If you are a breastfeeding mother, you may already be aware of the convenience of a breastfeeding shirt. I highly suggest wearing one on your flight. It makes breastfeeding a tiny baby simple and discreet. Whether on the actual plane or anywhere else in the airport, a nursing shirt makes it easy to whip it out to feed a hungry baby, without traumatizing the 13-year-boy old across the aisle whose hormones don’t understand the functional purpose of boobs.
5 | ALWAYS Carry Wet Wipes
If you’re a parent, then you already know how valuable it is to have wipes handy, pretty much always (I prefer Huggies Naturals). Flying on a plane is no exception. From wiping dirty faces to cleaning up spills, “washing” hands to blowing noses and cleaning up poop. Keep these bad boys handy.
The last thing anyone wants is a baby blowout during takeoff, with nowhere to go and no way to clean it up until 20,000 feet. This actually happened to one of my friends, and it was not pretty.
6 | Activity Backpacks
Your children can engage in more creative activities than just an in-flight movie.
Kids love to model grown up behavior and giving them their own little backpack to carry on the plane makes them feel important. Parenting magazine has some great recommendations on the best backpacks for kids. I highly recommend Skip Hop for travel backpacks, because they can be carried or rolled. And they have a side pocket for water bottles! Pack their backpacks full of activities for them to enjoy once they are on the plane:
Many toddlers and elementary age children love coloring and activity books. This “Show + Tell: Transportation Activities” book is one of my favorites, because it helps children become engaged in their flight experience. Also, it has a lot of stickers.
If you make sure to manage your children’s screen time, a tablet is a fun, safe way to introduce them to the technological universe. I recommend the Amazon Fire 7 tablet for flying and traveling with kids. Remember to think ahead and download games and videos, so you don’t have to worry about paying for internet time during your flight.
Age appropriate picture books are an Activity Backpack essential. Also, don’t forget your kids’ treasured comfort objects and toys. Of course, don’t bring lego sets with a thousand tiny pieces.
For the sanity of yourself and fellow passengers, keeping those little minds engaged will make everybody happier.
7 | Binky, Bottle, Gum, or Other Ear Popping Device
The changes in elevation and cabin pressure can play havoc on little ones’ ears. Depending on their age, they may or may not be able to tell you. In my opinion, this is probably one of the most overlooked reasons for fussiness.
Make sure you pack something they can either suck on (like a binky or bottle) or chew (like gum for the older child) to help equalize their middle ear. If you have an infant that won’t take a binky and you breastfeed, then by all means nurse that baby.
8 | Noise Canceling Headphones
As a sleep deprived mom of four I would love nothing more than to simply sit back, relax, and block out the world. This is every parent’s fantasy, I know.
But the noise canceling headphone is not for you. It is for your napping infant or toddler.
Nothing irritates me more than loud noises while my littles are sleeping. So these Baby Banz noise canceling headphones* for 0-2 years go a long way when the well intentioned pilot blares over the loudspeaker to give his beginning, mid, and end of the flight announcements.
Side note: they also work great for stroller naps in amusement parks.
I’ve detailed some essential tips and products to make vacation naps a reality in another article.
9 | Light Jackets
Sometimes I board a plane and it is so stuffy that I get a little panicky as my lungs search for clean fresh air. However, more often than naught, I feel like I’m sitting in a airborne refrigerator. If you’ve ever been stuck in a confined space with a cold child, you know how miserable it can be for everyone, especially the little one. Airlines no longer stock enough courtesy blankets to give to every coach passengers, although on a good day, they do have a limited few available upon request (per Tim, the Delta steward on my last flight, if the crew is lucky and the plane is stocked right the number ratio for blankets to coach passengers is approx. ¼).
But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat shivering on a plane, sacrificing my own comfort, so that one of my children could use my jacket as a blanket. To help keep everyone comfortable, I suggest packing a light jacket in each kid’s activity backpack (see Tip 5). It is light enough to not weigh down their packs, and it’s there to keep them from turning into a kid-cicle if the plane is feeling frigid. If it is full on winter and your kids are wearing coats onto the plane, feel free to skip this step.
Side note: Airline courtesy blankets are not meant to depart with you. They wash and reuse them. Although it can be tempting to pack one up as you prepare to deplane (I’m totally guilty of having done this) just remember that it means there might not be one available the next time you need it.
10 | Be Familiar with Airline Policy
I recently read two articles about parents subjected to difficult situation because they weren’t aware of some of the rules surrounding flying with kids.
In the first story, a dad booked his daughter as a lap passenger, because she was one when he paid for the ticket. At check-in he was informed that she would need her own seat, because she had just turned two a few days prior to the flight itself. He was distraught because he couldn’t afford the $700 for his daughter’s last minute ticket. He got lucky when a good Samaritan stepped in and bought the ticket.
In the other story, a mother with twins booked one as a lap passenger and brought a car seat for the other. When it was time to board, however, she found out that the car seat was not EPA approved for flight. Being unable to make the flight with two lap passengers, the flight attendant asked her to deplane. She too was saved by a good Samaritan. What do we learn from these stories? Check out airline policies regarding children before you fly to avoid unexpected surprises
Here are links to some of the big ones:
There you have it, ten tips to help eliminate kid-tastrophes on your next flight. Advise aside, your little ones often have their own agenda. While these tips are meant to help ease the turbulence as much as possible, know that for any number of reasons your child may choose not to cooperate. That is just life with kids. Don’t let it stress you out. Take a deep breath and know that it will pass. Happy flying!
Mykee Saunders, Owner/Founder
As a writer and mom of four who loves to travel, Mykee designed this website to share tips, tricks, and destinations for meaningful family adventures. She is passionate about service and recently spearheaded the #familyservicechallenge movement.