Airplane travel with a baby or toddler.

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Airplanes and children

Yay, a vacation! A trip! Let’s go! Oh wait, we have a kid. Never mind, we’re not going.

Traveling with children can be, well, discouraging. Let’s face it—they require endless amounts of gear, have unpredictable mood swings and are still running away from you in public. But, you can’t sit back and miss out on life—and plenty of people survive traveling with kids each and every day—so take a look at some tips and tricks to help ease some airline travel headaches to ensure your next trip is a seamless one.

Booking

Try to find direct flights whenever possible. Timing is also crucial—consider naptimes, lunchtimes and cranky high times. If you are running into limited options, it might be best to chalk it up for just one day and risk them not taking a nap to secure a great price and ideal schedule. By morning, you will all be over it. There is always the option to book a direct flight to one airport, rent a car and drive the rest of the way to your destination.  This would lessen the chance of your second flight being delayed, shuffling furiously during a layover, luggage potentially being lost and it puts control back in your hands rather than the other way around.

It’s appealing to not have to buy a plane seat for a child two and under, but if you can swing it, purchase one. Sit in the middle and give your child the window. Your aisle seat traveler will thank you.

Car Seat/Restraining the babe

Ahh, the car seat dilemma. There are a few ways to handle the car seat, as well as shuffling your child around the airport:

  • There is the option to bring the car seat on board and secure it to your child’s seat. For easy transport of the car seat around the airport, there are wheeled car seat carts for purchase, like this from Britax. This would allow the car seat to double as a stroller in the airport. The only hang up for an adult who is traveling solo with an infant/child is that getting through security can be hectic as you have to unravel and remove the car seat from this carrier and place each through the belt, while managing your child and other carryon items, and then reassemble it on the other end. It gets hairy, but I’ve done it solo, so it can be done.
  • You could also do the above, but do a gate check of the car seat and hand over the car seat just as you are about to board and it will be waiting for you (or shortly thereafter) when you deplane.
  • Checking the car seat in and crossing your fingers it will arrive at your destination is a possibility. Ask for a bag to seal it in before they send it down the conveyor belt. Chances are, it will arrive at baggage claim, but in the event it doesn’t—ask the luggage customer service if they have a spare one in their sea of unclaimed bags you could use in the interim until you gets yours back.
  • If you choose to have your child carseat-less, but are worried about their mobility in flight, you could bring aboard this CARES buckle restraint system. We’ve used it the past few flights and the flight attendants were really supportive of me using it for my son.  You just need to pull down the tray table of the seat behind you to get it attached. 
  • Umbrella strollers make fantastic travelling companions for multiple reasons. They are cheap, have a tiny basket for storage, fold up nicely and easily and you can do a gate check of these as well.
  • These Bambinoz travel high chairs and portable chairs may also be super helpful. Looks like they offer other travel items as well, including a bottle warmer and warming pads.

Packing/Day of takeoff

I always pack with the rule of thumb, child or not, that checked luggage will get lost or not arrive at my final destination. Therefore, I carryon all essentials I need and everything my child needs. Pack plenty of snacks. I repeat.  Pack plenty of snacks. And don’t bring them out all at once; you need to strategically introduce them throughout the entire travel day. Since airport lunch options are limited, and rarely speak to the healthier side of things, you might consider packing a lunch. I am a big fan of this Yumbox waste-free lunchbox. This Packit Freezable Lunch Bag is extremely convenient and keeps items cold for hours. Bring sippy cups for water and milk. Kids might be sensitive to altitude, so drinking and eating—especially during take off and landing—can alleviate some pressure.

Pack plenty of toys that are thin and light, like books, coloring books, stickers, iPad, etc. and remember to not show your cards all at once–bring toys out one at a time.

Don’t forget grocery bags or ziploc bags for trash and paper towels, napkins and wet wipes for clean up.

Try to get to the airport a little earlier than usual to allow time for check in, security and a chance for your little one to burn some energy running around before they are cooped up on the plane. You may even be lucky enough to have an airport that has a kid play area.

Changing the children. Try to find family restrooms. They are typically outside of men and women restroom areas. We loved this Pronto Changing Station. Since we never really used a diaper bag, we used a backpack for our son, this changing station is great because you can store your diapers and wipes in it and it just clips on to an exterior backpack strap, leaving more space for storage in the backpack itself. It’s also efficient because you can just unclip when you need to run to the bathroom with the little one either in the airport or on the plane.

Other insights & tips

  • Those people who might stare at you when your child makes the smallest peep, or just can’t seem to calm down? Don’t mind them. You will never see them again in your life. It’s a public space. You are not a bad person. You are just trying to get from Point A to Point B (and sometimes C and D) but with a lot of gear in tow. Just look ahead and ignore.
  • For diapers, pack only what you need in your carryon for about a day. News flash–you can buy diapers just about anywhere! They take up a lot of valuable luggage space, so don’t waste it all on things you can buy when you get there. I’ve also ordered a big box of diapers on Amazon before a trip and had them shipped to my parent’s house so they were there and waiting.
  • Consider allotting space for things that you know will help your child/children adjust, like favorite stuffed animals, noise machine, blankie, sound machine/projector. There is even a white noise app on the iPad if you need it–it has been a lifesaver for us in the past.
  • Don’t forget your monitor, that is of course if you have one. Super helpful.
  • This portable crib is great for road trips. It comes in handy if you are traveling to a family member’s house and you can buy and ship there and have it waiting, or if you happen to have a family member who is driving where you are going and is willing to drive it for you. It’s actually just great to have in general in case you have guests that come and stay and have a child. My son never really took well to pack-n-plays with all the rustling around, but this crib mimics a wooden crib really well. Note: I’m pretty sure the mattress is purchased separately, and don’t forget sheets!
  • And remember, if you happen to forget something, you will survive. You will do what you can to adapt and move on. And, if not and things get too unbearable and the trip is just miserable, it’s also ok to wave the flag and go home. We had to do that once, straight up left a family vacation in the middle of the week. It was hard, and I was really upset to say goodbye to family, but nothing was jiving with our kid.

I will do my best to update and add to this as other ideas, products, etc. come up.  And, if you have more than one child or are going internationally, I’m sorry, but I don’t have experience with that!  If any of you reading do have further tips, suggestions, recommendations in those areas-please comment and share them!  I know how much work it is to pack for a trip, so if we all share our tips & tricks, things might be easier.

I also know another hot topic is nursing, traveling mothers and their struggles with transporting their breast milk, pump and supplies.  I have done it before, but I had all my ducks in a row, had done my research and was prepared to give TSA my mind and show them my rights (I had them printed out) and I luckily got through seamlessly.  I will work on another post with tips on this.

Safe travels!

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