5 Rules of Air Travel with Kids

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Travel by air is by far one of the biggest stressors of convenience in modern life.  While it is much quicker (usually) to travel by air, it is not without its aggravations and inconveniences.  Add kids into the mix, and it can become a recipe for disaster.  No longer are your kids on their normal schedule, no longer can you control what they do (okay, who are we kidding, when can we ever really do that anyway?), no longer do you have all of the things to keep your kids (and YOU) rested and in good humor…the list goes on. Take it from me, I’ve been traveling internationally solo (without my husband) with the kids for years, and if I can do it on a 24 hour door-to-door trip, anyone can. But, worry not, mamas! Here are my tried and true hints to make your air travel a little smoother this summer!

Rule #1-SAFETY FIRST

As moms we are always thinking safety; we childproof outlets, doors, windows, and mount furniture all in the name of safety. Safety during air travel is a huge concern. Yes, it is less expensive to travel with an infant in arms, and yes, I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t done that a time or two, but if it is possible for you to get a seat for your infant, please do.  According to both the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), the safest place for your child is in his or her car seat until he or she reaches the minimum recommendations for height and weight for using the aircraft’s seat belt.  Believe me, I know the struggles of carrying two car seats and children while schlepping through customs at London’s Heathrow Airport. The reality is, unless you are staying at an all-inclusive resort with your children, or using the Disney Magic Express, you will likely need car seats at your destination.  

In addition to your kids being safer on the plane in their car seat, it’s also safer for the seat! We’ve all seen what happens to our luggage when we check it…do you really trust that your equipment will be unharmed on a flight? The answer for this mama is a resounding NO! I strongly encourage you to bring the seat with you. If your seat is heavy or bulky, you might want to look at this list for some inexpensive car seats to use for travel. Be sure to check that the seat has the FAA approval sticker on it as well. If you absolutely cannot bring the seat on the plane with you (no judgement here, I’ve been there), then put the car seat in the original manufacturer’s box and check it at the ticket counter in the box.  The original box was designed to protect the seat during shipping and can offer protection during travel as well. 

Rule #2- BE A GERM-A-PHOBE 

Ask any of my friends and I think they’d tell you that I tend to reside in the land of reason with regard to children and germs. Germs boost the immune systems of children. This article summarizing the book Dirt is Good has some interesting thoughts on the matter. All that being said, airplanes are disgusting petri dishes and this is the time to be a germ-a-phobe.  I always bring the travel size Lysol disinfecting wipes and wipe down the armrests, tray tables, seat belts, etc. before installing the car seats.  I bring Babyganics alcohol-free hand sanitizing wipes to wipe the kids’ hands and my hands before and after we eat. I also bring pacifier wipes (which I rarely use in any other place) in case sippy cups, teething toys, or pacifiers fall on the floor. The additional advantage of the car seats is that you can minimize what your kids touch because they are confined to the space of the car seat. 

Rule #3- RELAX

I know, I know…how are you supposed to relax?  On an international flight, I’ll give you one answer: Wine or Champagne. Okay, that’s two words, and I’m sort of kidding. Sort of. But, in all honesty, do what you need to do to be patient. Things will go wrong…like the time we had a 4 hour layover in London’s Heathrow Airport and almost missed our flight because security was such a bear. Or, the time we, and what seemed to be 10,000 of my closest friends, landed in Atlanta at the same time and were stuck in a hot customs line for what seemed like an eternity. (Perhaps, not my finest hour.)

Your kids will feed off of your energy, and you will likely need the kindness and help of strangers, and both of your kids and the helpful strangers you will meet will appreciate your “please and thank you” when they’re helping carry that car seat off of the plane for you as you wrestle your exhausted toddler. The best way to create a calm environment for your kids is to keep realistic expectations.  Your kids will need to get out and stretch, so plan for that BEFORE they get antsy.  

flying with kids
flying with kids
flying with kids
flying with kids

 

Understand that it will be hectic and you may be frazzled. Accepting the reality helps to ease the discomfort.  

Rule #4- MINIMALISM AND NECESSITIES

It is so tempting to want to bring everything on the trip with you, but you don’t want to carry four bags with you to and from the bathroom at the airport when you need to go (see Rule #2), or you’ll be wiping everything down with Lysol or Clorox.  For example, for short trips, I never gate-check the stroller; I check it at the ticket counter. It’s one less thing to worry about, and I use my baby carrier instead to carry the baby on my chest or back.  That way it is at baggage claim (when I likely have another person to help unload bags, or I can get a baggage cart).  

Diapers and wipes are necessities, as are extra food and snacks. I always pre-package the snacks in tiny baggies or containers so that when the kids are hungry, I have something easy to pull out and hand to them. You never know when hunger will strike; you could be in a long line trying to re-book your flight and the LAST thing you will want to do is dig around your bag to pour out Goldfish. I also always bring empty sippy cups of water bottles.  You don’t want to keep changing kids’ clothes because they spilled that tiny airline water cup.

Rule #5- NOVELTIES

This rule might seem like it conflicts with Rule #4, but it does not.  It is necessary to have a few novel items.  Think of things that your kids haven’t played with in a while, or go to the Dollar Store or Target’s Dollar Spot and see what you can find. Don’t bring their favorite toys…bring something that is expendable. That way, if you lose it, or it gets ruined because your red wine spills during turbulence, it won’t matter.  Some of our favorite novel items have been silly putty and slime (win-win because I don’t have it in my house), post-it notes (you’d be surprised how much fun these can be), washi tape art and scratch art (like those found here), Water Wow! water painting, or any of these Usborne Books and More activities.

Again, it doesn’t have to cost any money. You can search Pinterest yourself or follow me for some DIY activities for plane travel (as well as road trips).  Just remember to think small…you don’t want all of the stuff to weigh you down (see Rule #4), bring a few fun-filled novelties that you can bring out. And, I’ll be honest, as an “in case of emergency” situation, I bring an electronic device. Hey, don’t judge me…after 14 hours of plane travel, I think you’d let the five-year-old watch a little Daniel Tiger too. 

I hope these tips help make your summer air (or car) travel easier. Happy traveling!

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Erica
Erica is an Omaha transplant from Northern California and has lived in Omaha off and on since 1993. She is mom to two wonderful children who fill her with love and joy. Because her husband’s career requires him being gone for long stretches of time, she has learned to streamline being a career mama while flying solo for months at a time. Her middle school reading students add some excitement to her days, and her kids keep the humor going strong into the evenings. Erica also manages to have a Mary Kay business in her "free time". She has many tips for traveling with small children as well, since she travels internationally with the kiddos at least once a year. She enjoys reading, and belongs to the best book club ever; being active; and sharing an occasional cup of coffee or wine with friends. You'll find her out and about on weekends and evenings embracing every drop of motherhood.