Traveling on a plane with kids does not have to be difficult! I get asked a lot of questions about air travel, so I have compiled my best advice here in a good ‘ol FAQ format. Enjoy!
Q. Do I bring carseats on a trip if traveling by plane?
A. You’re gonna need those carseats when you get to your destination– even if it is just to leave the airport. Renting carseats is a total crap shot, if it is even available where you’re going. So bring them with! It’s a pain in the butt to lug them through the airport, so I do not recommend taking them all the way to the gate. Go ahead and check them at the ticket counter. Be sure to ask for a plastic bag or bucket to protect the seat if they don’t automatically give you one. We use the luggage carts when we have to juggle several pieces of luggage. We just pop the carseats upside down, on top of the other luggage and roll on to the ticket counter like a boss.
We do not bring carseats onto the plane. There are a few reasons we have decided (for our family) that it is pointless. Some people will argue with me… and if you feel strongly about it, go ahead and bring yours aboard. Just understand, they are not made for or crash tested in airplanes, and you may need to ask for flight attendant assistance in getting it strapped in properly.
If you do not use a carseat on board, you should hold onto your small children during landing, as the seat belt is not designed for little people. Do not let your child sleep horizontal during landing, as they can slip out of the belt easily. Some flight attendants will ask you to wake them up or hold them.
Q. How can I keep my kids entertained on the flight?
A. I bring a big bag of “tricks” full of small toys, arts and crafts, and snacks. I get most of my supplies at Target’s dollar section. I also buy big sticker books, coloring books, foam sculpting clay (available in a bulk bag from Crayola, or various dollar store options), silly putty, color wonder/ magical ink type activity books and markers, drawing instructional books for my oldest, and magnetic games for toddlers. The key is to keep these things a surprise until you need each one. My kids love the surprises! I stock up on these supplies any time I shop, and hide them in storage until we go on a trip. We also bring a pre-loaded movie device that we can pull out in a moment of desperation.
Snacks are also very important. You can never have too many snack options. After L and I nearly starved on super delayed flight, we don’t board the plane without a bag full of snacks now, and we purposely get to the airport early to buy a meal for each person to take onto the plane (it serves two purposes: nourishment and an activity!). On longer trips, I always do these things above plus plan to purchase additional food on the plane. And don’t be afraid to buy an adult beverage to help you relax and be a nice person on your trip! Traveling doesn’t have to be stressful.
Q. How can I avoid getting frustrated in the security line?
A. Know the rules, follow the rules, and be prepared. Most security lines are long, and you have time to think it through– what do you need to pull out of your bags? Do you have belts or shoes that need to come off? Do you need to fold down a stroller?
Some domestic security tips:
- Kids do not need to remove shoes.
- Kids and pregnant moms go through the metal detector, not the xray machines.
- Kids that can walk (even your new walkers) can go through the metal detector on their own and then you can scoop them up or put back in the stroller.
- Some strollers do not fit through the xray machine. You will need to ask for assistance, and make sure your stroller has no bags, and it is empty. If it does fold up nicely, fold it up and be waiting to put it on the belt.
- Put your stroller and your shoes through first, before any people go through so it is waiting for you on the other side!
- Pull out any breast milk, formula, juice boxes, baby food, and (sealed) water bottles from your diaper bag. Put them all in one bucket, and tell the agent they are for the baby. They will let them go through without argument 99.9% of the time. Sometimes they bring out a weird machine that looks like a small microwave to “test” the liquid. Have fun if they do. Take a video– they don’t like being on camera so they will hurry up.
- If you hold a baby while you go through the metal detector, there is a chance they may “swab” your hands for explosive chemicals…another weird one. I have found that any time I hold a baby while walking through the metal detector, they swabbed me (and sometimes even “found” me to be containing “explosive” chemicals on my hands…requiring a full pat down in a private room and complete inspections of all my bags, stroller, and shoes). What a hassle, but they have NEVER swabbed by husband. Not once. It got to be a funny joke for him. I guess an exhausted mama schlepping babies around the airport is prime suspect for making and carrying bombs? As much as I would love to call them out on this sexist and obviously flawed test, we just started having Dad carry the baby through the metal detector. Problem solved. I can’t fix the TSA, but I realized I could save my sanity by avoiding their circus acts.
- WATCH your toddlers. When my daughter was about two and a half years old, she was super independent, and tried to run away from us twice during security drama *like pat downs. At that age, we sat her down and had a very serious talk about our expectations in the security line. Now, every time we are standing in line, we remind them of our family rules and expectations… and when we get on the plane we do a run down of expectations on the plane too (including NO SCREAMING).
- Sanitize everything after going through security. Recent studies have shown that the xray belt and buckets are the dirtiest places in the airport… more than the airport toilets. They never get washed. I give the stroller a good spray down, as well as everyone’s hands, (if you have a spray versus a gel you can just give everything a quick spritz and be on your merry way).
- You can use plastic wrap to cover up any sippy cup spouts or bottle nipples that may be exposed to germs through a side pocket of your bags. Bring a few extra sheets of plastic wrap or plastic baggies in your luggage for the return trip.
Q. How can I avoid germs on the plane?
A. Put some disposable spoons and small paper plates in your diaper bag for any food you might need to divide up on the plane. Disposable spoons can be found in kid size at the dollar store or Amazon. If you prefer to go more eco-friendly, bring plastic baggies to store utensils in (write “dirty” and “clean” on the bags). Bring extras for the return trip.
Bring a travel sized container of sanitizer wipes. These are perfect for wiping down the trays, handles, armrests, seats, and windows/walls in your aisle. Everyone in my family knows the drill: hands up, don’t touch anything until Mom wipes it all down.
Don’t travel with babies under 3 months old. Newborns have delicate immune systems, and all the sanitizer in the world might not be able to protect them from the nasties on the plane. Even the nicest airplanes can be incredibly gross– just pull up your arm rest or drop down the tray table, and you can see that they don’t clean them like they should. If you must travel with a newborn, I recommend using a soft carrier/sling that covers most of the baby, and keep him inward and close to your chest at all times. Be sure to wash your hands frequently. Do not let strangers touch your baby even for a second. Keep baby safe, warm, and calm with skin-to-skin cuddling. Change his diaper in your lap if you can. I hate to say “hide” it from the flight attendants, but your priority is to keep baby safe. Just make sure you wrap up any diapers in a discreet bag.
Q. Aside from snacks and toys, what should I bring?
A. Comforts. A lightweight blanket, a sweater for you and each of your children, a phone charger in case of delay, extra underwear and socks/ contacts or glasses / medications in case of lost luggage, and don’t forget extra clothing for your kids AND you. If your baby spits up all over your lap, you’re going to be glad you planned ahead. My daughter is pretty notorious for spilling her beverages on the plane, and my son for poopy mid-flight blow-outs.
Q. What is the best U.S. airline for families?
A. Know which airlines are child-friendly, and which may be more challenging. I like to poll my moms groups when I am unfamiliar with a particular airline. Here are some that I know (through frequent traveling with my kids):
- United Airlines (moderately family friendly– while not all agents are consistent with policies, like boarding children first, changing diapers on laps, etc, they won’t interfere with your parenting). United has snacks on every flight, and usually entertainment for purchase (and more and more planes are offering it for free on your own device via wifi). Overall the flight attendants are pretty friendly. I have rarely run into a crabby person working for United, but it does happen on occasion.
- Delta (most kid friendly in my opinion). We fly less often with them, but when we do, it is always a classy experience. We are treated with respect, and they have good snacks. They are also the most expensive. You get what you pay for.
- Spirit (appalling). These guys are cheapest for a reason, but what I really dislike is the culture across flight attendants of “kids are gross” and “parents know nothing”. The eye rolls and shrugs, and outright disrespectful and uncalled for comments from flight attendants from the ticket counter to the end of your flight. They are sassy and rude. Every flight I have taken with Spirit ended with me feeling stressed out and wanting to call and talk to a supervisor. Not a good way to travel! Also, no free snacks or beverages. Everything requires an extra charge, from your carry on to your drink.
- Sun Country (okay). We’ve had mixed experiences with Sun Country. Some were like Spirit, and some were like United…
- Southwest (okay). Child-friendly staff, but there are absolutely no snacks or entertainment on the flights, and the planes are often pretty old.
We have flown with these airlines internationally too in addition to LIAT and Air Canada. I have limited experience with those two, but LIAT reminded me of a third-world public bus, and Air Canada was a classy experience (as are the Canadian airports). Again, just my own experience.
One last tip: Don’t forget to download a grown-up movie on your little one’s rescue tablet… when they fall asleep, you’re going to find yourself bored if all you have downloaded is Sesame Street! Then order yourself a drink for a job well done. Cheers!