Traveling on an airplane with your kids means the days of one checked piece of luggage and your carry-on handbag are long gone. Your wiggly, happy toddler is your new carry-on, which is basically like having a Gremlin on your lap. Everything they can touch, pull, tap or put in their mouth is fair game.
As you’re preparing for your first airplane trip with kids, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed and worried. Rest assured, most parents are relieved to find that the trip went much better than they thought.
Infants are fairly easy to travel with, as they often will sleep in your arms. Toddlers can be more of a challenge while traveling, as they’re not old enough to sit still for hours on end, and they’re not sleeping as much as they did as babies. In addition to taking breaks to walk the aisle with them and avoid feeling like you’ve transformed into an octopus with unruly limbs, here are some tips for keeping airplane travel comfortable and fun.
Plan ahead and leave plenty of time. Know your airline carrier rules regarding gate-checking strollers, whether or not children under 2 need their own “seat,” and if so, what the cost is, and what the boarding process entails. Shop for all your travel needs a week in advance. On the day of, leave extra early so there’s time for a diaper blowout, an airport meltdown, a lost stuffy, or to get a cup of caffeine if you need it.
Dress and pack smart. Although diaper bags can offer plenty of space, it’s easier to travel with a backpack. Keeping a change of clothes, diapers, snacks and toys in a backpack lets you hold hands, push a stroller or carry your kiddo.
Clothes with buttons and zippers can cause discomfort in close quarters. Stick with comfy, easy to change, if needed, outfits for yourself and the kids.
Baby loves snacks! Have a variety of healthy snacks available to satisfy hungry tummies. Bringing your own will help you avoid expensive airplane snacks, and ensure that you have your kids’ favorite items available.
Snacks also help with the pressure changes during takeoff and landing, which can be scary and painful for little ones. Swallowing creates a natural release of pressure in the ears. For babies, giving them a bottle or nursing during these times is a good option; toddlers can munch on snacks or drink from a sippy cup.
Toys and games. Plan to bring that favorite toy or stuffy and a few “plane toys.” Getting a handful of new, small toys can make the experience exciting. Check your local resale shops for things they can zoom, build or stack on the tray table. For added fun, wrap the new toys in tissue paper. “Unwrapping” the toy creates an extra activity of fun and supports fine motor skills.
Toddlers are also in language development mode, and enjoy learning names of animals, sounds and colors. You can play games like “I Spy,” and point out some of the exciting things passing by out the plane window. Best of all, this doesn’t require any extra packing!
Creativity and reading. A new coloring book, stickers, maze book or picture book are great ways for kids to explore their creativity and keep distracted on a plane. Children 4 and up do well with audiobooks and can wear headphones.
Screen time. It’s okay to relax your screen policies for a special trip. Apps, movies and family videos can be secret weapons when you need them. Save for a last resort or a reward for good behavior.
Self-care for parents. Don’t forget to take care of you, too! Try to be as rested as a parent can be and bring items for your own comfort, including neck pillows, headphones and your own favorite snacks. If it’s an option, choosing a flight with a layover might be the right choice for your family. It could be the break you need for running, jumping and a change in scenery. Leave time for relaxation when you get to your destination and arrive home – and enjoy yourself!