We all know the feeling. From the moment you think of flying with an infant or toddler, some sense of anxiety starts to grow. What happens if (insert cryer’s name here) has a tantrum? We say – “who cares? Just prepare.”
Yes, it sucks to be the center of attention on a 777 because your little one is kicking and screaming but the truth is – you are never going to see these people again…except maybe for the flight back. Every time we get ready to fly with kids, we turn to carry-on luggage as our best friend for air travel. Regardless of whether we are taking a short domestic flight or a long international flight, thoroughly thinking through what we bring and how to prepare for the airplane can make the difference between in-flight relaxation or being “those” parents that people who used to have babies have no patience for. To make a flight more likely to be enjoyed by all, here are 5 tips to think through as you get ready for your next family flying adventure. And don’t forget, many airlines let kids fly free as lap-sitters until age 2.
- 1A) Food – The Short, Domestic Flights:
The last thing you and everyone else wants on an airplane is a “hangry” (angry and hungry) child on a long flight, so thinking through what your kids will eat on the airplane is important. Many airlines only offer food for purchase on domestic flights, if they offer it at all. When they do, the choices are not exactly the most kid-friendly options. Toddlers don’t usually go for the cheese box with crackers. Think of packing snacks or a light meal from home without liquids or gels. You may also buy a meal for the little ones after you get through security to bring it on the plane if you are flying at meal time. Not sure what you can bring, check our TSA’s Prohibited Item List.
- 1B) Food – The Longer Flights:
During international and other long flights, odds are, the airline will be feeding you at least one meal. Headed to Europe? You’ll probably get two meals and maybe some free wine or beer! Relying on the airline to provide a version of chicken, beef, or pasta that kids will find appetizing is not your best move on a long flight. We recently flew from Miami to Barcelona with the boys and confirmed that kids and airline food just don’t mix well. With that said, we also learned on this flight that many airlines actually offer a “kids meal” if you call in advance and request it as part of your reservation. However, the airplane will not be stocked with extra kids meals so you have to call your airline to reserve them in advance at no extra charge. They usually require at least 24 hours notice. While on the airplane, make sure you let your flight attendants know that you ordered the “kids meals” so that the flight attendants can easily locate your children at meal time.
- 2) Books, Toys and Games:
Entertainment can make or break the flight for parental sanity. Each child with a seat on the airplane is allowed their own carry on bag plus a personal item. We like to have our kids bring their own carry-on bag just for toys, games, books and other things that they will use on the airplane as well as throughout our trip. We also let them have a say in what they pack. We find that involving them in the packing excites them for the trip, lets them identify what they will enjoy and encourages them to ask questions about the trip too. This totally reduces the potential for whining and gives you the power to say “Well, Landon, these are the toys that you decided to bring. If you wanted different toys, you should have packed them in your bag.” You may even be able to save money by not having to buy new things if they already love what they brought. Although we let the kids have some say, we still “guide” them when packing toys and games. If they make noise, they don’t make the cut. We don’t want to be one of “those” parents right? We aim for items that are light, compact or foldable and easy to keep track of. Of course, whatever you pack needs to capture their attention for at least 20 minutes at a time. For example, we recently bought a pack of Uno cards and taught Landon (our 4-year old) how to play. We were able to kill an hour playing with him during a long flight to Spain and now he wants it for every flight. Other small items that provide extended entertainment are coloring books and activity books, especially those with games like connect the dots, mazes, and other brain games. It’s fun for them and educational. We usually also throw in some favorite books and small toys, especially Hot Wheels cars packed in this travel ready little race car caddy and track we found on Etsy. The passenger in front of you will thank you for the race track instead of constant kicking in the back!
- 3) DVDs/iPads/iPhones:
Electronics can soak up hours of your children’s attention whether at home or traveling, making them a great option. We are not big on sharing technology with the kids when we do everyday things, but when it comes to hours of travel, every parent can look themselves in the mirror and feel OK about relying on cartoons to keep you and the other passengers sane. Oftentimes, in-flight entertainment offers a family-friendly movie during longer flights but a couple of 90-minute movies on a small screen 5 rows ahead of you is not enough for an 8-hour flight. We usually come prepared with several options:
Portable DVD players are great for Landon and Jake to bring their favorite shows or movies. Before you fly, consider the power source for your player so you have the right adapters for plane, car and international power outlets. Every airline and airplane can have a different electrical set-up. During a flight to Europe, our plane had AC outlets only in every other row so we had to exercise our social muscle and ask the family in front of us to help us plug in. Check out seatguru.com to see if your particular airline or aircraft offer electricity so you can plan your seats reservations accordingly. You may want to have a converter (we got ours at Target) in the event that your portable DVD player only offers a cigarette lighter option or vice versa. Our kids were sorely disappointed on a flight from Miami to Atlanta last year when our cigarette-lighter plug couldn’t be plugged into the regular outlet beneath our seats.
iPads and iPhones are great in-flight since they can be an all-in-one option with education, reading, games, shows and movies. Most airlines offer wi-fi now but you have to pay between $5 and $50 depending on options. Wi-fi in the sky is not ideal for streaming so be sure to get videos and apps that can be played in airplane mode. When it comes to battery power, many newer planes offer either standard outlets or USB but bring an adapter just in case.
4) Sleep Schedules:
When possible, we like to book flights around nap time or nighttime hours. This will give you and passengers some built-in rest and relaxation time on the flight while the kiddos are taking their daily nap or while they fall asleep to the hum of airplane engines. On flights from the U.S. to Europe, the evening flight is ideal because the kids have dinner shortly after the flight takes off and then fall asleep for the night, making a long flight feel much shorter. If you have already booked your flight and it doesn’t exactly fall during your kids’ regular nap times, you may want to consider tweaking nap times that day if your kids can handle it without having an epic meltdown. We sometimes push back nap times a little on travel day so that our littles ones will sleep on the airplane instead of taking naps before our departure. You and everyone else on the airplane will appreciate it.
- 5) Airports can be Playgrounds:
Just like life, layovers happen. From the “HURRY AND RUN” connection to the dreadful hours-long wait, there are plenty of ways to make the most of layovers with children. We let our kids walk and run so that they can get it out of their system before another flight or airport security intervenes. Even better are airport sky trains, indoor play zones and bookstores, a perfect alternative to waiting at the gate. Many U.S. airports have added airplane themed play areas for children with games, climbing figures and videos. It is worth researching which airports do but we’ve made a list to share: Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Boston Logan International, Portland International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Nashville International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and Philadelphia International Airport. Landon still remembers when he was three and played in the Dallas airport kids area. We do too because the kids were so worn out after play time, they took naps on the second leg to San Francisco. It was a win-win for all.
One final thought when you fly with kids is to find a local bookstore in your airport. We love checking out the kids and travel sections at Books & Books located in Miami International Airport before leaving for our next destination. It’s usually where we begin to plan our next trip!
For other great family tavel tips, check out this great post from Trekaroo – Kid-Friendly Travel Tips for Airports and Airport Security.