I’m going to be incredibly honest–when people see us going through airport security, I can totally see the looks on their faces every single time…you know, the look that screams “PLEASE DON’T LET THEM BE ON MY FLIGHT”. Four tiny children aren’t exactly the ideal passengers you would want on your airplane, no matter how long the flight. But because of those looks, I always feel extra-motivated to make sure that our kids are on their absolute best behavior during travel, and I plan for weeks before we leave, going through every detail of how to keep our children entertained, respectful of their fellow passengers, and happy.
I’ve read articles online that basically say there is no reason to fly with a child under the age of 2 unless it’s an emergency, and I’m just going to insert my two-cents here to say that’s ridiculous. I’ve written before about how much I love road trips, but sometimes airplanes are necessary and way more convenient. In the age that we live in, families are separated by thousands of miles, people move to new places constantly, and let’s be honest–you shouldn’t have to give up travel just because you have a baby. No, the baby won’t remember the trip, but guess what…YOU will, and wherever you take your child, whatever experiences you have together, that shapes who they become. So, if you’re considering booking a trip with your child but can’t get past the negative comments from strangers, I can’t tell you enough how lucky we feel to have ignored the haters and experienced so many wonderful memories of travel with our kids.
With that said, travelling with little people is WORK, especially when you fly on a plane and hundreds of strangers are staring at you every time your child makes a noise. But, don’t panic, here’s some of the tips that we’ve personally found helpful over the years:
- LEARN FROM PRIOR EXPERIENCES. If you’ve flown with your children before and can recall the exact moment that they’ve had a meltdown, plan for it again and brainstorm ideas to deescalate. If you’ve never flown, compare it to your last road trip or time that your child was restrained in a small space for a lengthy period. The last time we flew with all four kids, Luna and Lela fought over EVERYTHING during the last fifteen minutes of the flight, and it was a small nightmare. Because of that, we’ve packed two of the exact same everything, so there’s nothing to fight over. This brings me to my next point…
- STAY POSITIVE, NO MATTER WHAT. My husband is a stricter parent than I am, and we both agree, airports and airplanes are NEVER the time to be a disciplinarian. Flying is tough, it’s weird for kids, and even though the plane cabin is pressurized, the popping in their ears is a new sensation that confuses them. So, don’t pick a cross-country flight to decide to start disciplining them for something they don’t normally do. Bad behaviors and tantrums are going to happen, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity, try to keep it positive and redirect your child to something more positive when they start to crack under pressure.
- SCREENS ARE A LAST RESORT. This might be where I differ from the normal opinion, but we only give the kids our phones or a tablet if absolutely nothing else is settling them down. If you start the flight by handing them the most entertaining, over-stimulating device known to man…it’s all downhill from there. What if they get bored with it? How do you top that? What if they want something on there that requires Wifi? What if the batteries die? With our kids in particular, the tantrums increase by ten thousand percent when we let them use phones or tablets. If your kids do great with them, then go for it; this is just our experience. I give them our Kindle Fire if things go too downhill during the last 30 minutes of a flight, and I make sure there’s plenty of games and videos downloaded on Freeplay for them that don’t require Wifi. If you turn your device on Airplane Mode to test out before your flight, you’ll be able to see everything that is accessible without internet.
- ACTIVITY BAGS. Most airlines let you have a personal bag in addition to your carry-on, so we let the kids each carry a very small backpack full of entertaining things. For our upcoming flight, here is what they all have packed:
- Lennox (7)- a few chapter books, a travel Spirograph, and a book on how to do Dollar Bill origami with some dollar bills in an envelope. These have always entertained him for HOURS, but if your older child has different interests, just make sure to pack things they love!
- Lela (3) and Luna (almost 2)- we have the exact same things packed in both bags to avoid tantrums and arguments. I went to Walmart this week and raided their Easter basket-stuffer section; so for about $10 total, I got them a bunch of travel activity sticker books, coloring books and crayons, tiny dry erase boards, fake jewelry, candy necklaces, and ya know, other small trinkets that they’ve never seen before. That’s one of the biggest tricks I’ve found–make sure everything is exciting and fresh for them! On top of the small/cheap trinkets, I packed them each some magnetic tiles (they LOVE these) and quiet books (they EXTRA LOVE these). The girls do great in take-off and landings because there’s a lot of movement and noise, but during the still portion of the flight, we break out the toys.
- Leif (7 months)- we pack his favorite small baby toys, nothing fancy. He’s teething right now, so we’re overly prepared for that with teething supplies and foods for him to be able to chew on during the flight.
- SNACKS. Right before the plane boards, we let the three older kids go to one of the little Hudson News stands in the airport and pick out one salty snack and one sweet snack to have on the flight with them. We use the sweet snack as a motivator for positive behavior–during takeoff, we usually tell the kids that if they are kind and patient for 15 minutes, we will give them their candy when the seatbelt sign turns off.
- DON’T OVERWHELM YOUR KIDS. With a full activity bag and snacks and screens, don’t play all of your cards at once. I make sure that I’m always in charge of the kids’ bags, and I hand them ONE toy or snack at a time. When their interest starts to fade with that ONE toy, trade it for a new toy in the bag. The biggest mistake we used to make when we would fly with Lennox as a baby was just dumping a whole bag of toys in front of him and expecting it to hold his attention. If your child seems to get overly eager to see everything in the bag, set a timer on your phone for ten minutes and let them know that when the timer goes off, they can have the next toy. Make it fun and exciting!
- BE ON YOUR A-GAME. Don’t go into the flight grumpy or tired or checked-out or fearful. This is game time, and your baby is counting on you to not make this miserable. At the first sign of a tantrum, it’s really easy to just give up, but please stay positive and soldier-on. This is going to sound pretty ridiculous because I’m married to a pilot, but I used to be really horrified of flying and would take anxiety medicine to sleep the entire flight. I had to quickly get over that fear and be fully present once I had my babies. If you are scared of flying and can’t shake the fear, just be sure to not mention it in front of your kids because it then teaches them to be scared, too. Discuss airplanes in a positive, calm way before you get to the airport, and explain to your kids that it might be loud and bumpy sometimes, but everything is fine and pilots are amazing people who have been trained to get them to their destination safely. It also helps to introduce them to the pilot when you’re boarding–we try to do this every time!
- PACK LIGHTLY. No matter how many adults are travelling with you, it’s still a total pain to have to drag a ton of luggage and baby gear through the airport, while still trying to carry your child. Keep it simple, and remember that most hotels have laundry rooms so there’s no need to pack ten thousand outfits. As far as baby gear, we wear the baby in a Tula carrier, we pack the Dockatot as a carry-on, check all of the carseats, and gate check our double stroller. If you remember last October when we went to Disney, our stroller got SUPER messed up in transit from our flight, so make sure you don’t pack your really nice stuff. We have travel carseats that we use, just in case they get damaged, too.
- ALLOCATE EXTRA TIME FOR SECURITY. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my husband have to be body-checked in the airport because of flying with baby formula or other random baby items that set off red alarms. The TSA agents are usually really nice about it, and they let us pick which one of us wants to get frisked. But still, if your baby is formula fed, there is a huge chance that your formula will set off the alarms when they’re searching your belongings. We usually try to Amazon Prime all of our formula and diapers to our hotel room at the destination ahead of time, just so we don’t have to travel with it. Call your hotel before you order anything and ask them what to write on the address label (usually it’s FUTURE GUEST: CHARLOTTE CHATMAN or you know, your name not mine). I’ve never had a problem with my breastmilk OR pre-made bottles in security, but powder formula in the past was always a nightmare. Also, you CAN wear your baby through security. I’ve seen so many blogs say that you have to take the baby off when you walk through security, but we’ve flown to/from a ton of airports, and I’ve never had to remove the baby from the carrier. Just an FYI!
- MAKE FRIENDS WITH PASSENGERS. I try to be extra friendly to the people sitting around us, just to put them at ease for their unfortunate seating arrangement next to the lady with 100 babies. As soon as we sit down, I’ll ask them where they are from and introduce the kids to them. Out of the dozens of times we have flown with the kids, I’ve only had ONE bad experience with a fellow passenger, and she was grumpy as soon as she sat down. You won’t be able to please everyone, but MOST people on your flight will be incredibly friendly and even offer to help if the kids get restless. Oddly, my faith in humanity multiplies every time we take the kids on an airplane. It’s not just with our kids either–on our last flight, there was a little girl across from us, just raging the entire time, and the entire plane stepped in trying to help with zero judgment or anger. Don’t assume the worst out of everyone, but makes friends instead!
We leave in six days for Newfoundland with our babies, and I know a ton of you have big Spring Break plans. So, happy flying with your happy babies! ❤