Flying with babies and small kids can be stressful, but with a little planning and smart packing, the experience can be enjoyable for the entire family. There are many ways parents can do to avoid tough situations, tips to help them and the kids enjoy air travel and arrive at their destination refreshed and ready for a great family vacation. Here are a few of them.
Create an airport layover plan by printing the terminal maps in advance. Most airports have nursing mothers’ room and family restrooms to ease the stress of feeding and changing baby while en-route. Some airports even have kids’ play spaces for fun exploration during a layover. It’s best to book flights with at least a two-hour layover to allow ample time for bathroom breaks, meals and playtime for kids between flights.
Get kids excited pre-family vacation by reading airplane related books, learning about the destination, and even going to the airport in advance for a visit.
Make sure any liquids required for feeding small children, including breast milk, meet TSA guidelines. Currently, parents are allowed to take any necessary amount of breastmilk and formula in a carry-on item. Be sure the milk is separate from any other liquids, and prepare to screen any freezer packs as well. Take comfort in the knowledge that breastfeeding mothers are legally allowed to feed their babies on the aircraft. Breastfeeding can also help with kids’ altitude-induced ear discomfort.
Prepare for Takeoff
Parents and caregivers should review the FAA safety guidelines for travelling with children. Currently, the FAA does not require – but strongly recommends – children to be in a child safety restraint system (CRS) such as a car seat or a CARES five-point safety harness.
While parents have the option of holding a child under 2-years-old on their laps, purchasing children their own seat will allow use of a CRS during the flight. Some airlines, including Southwest, offer discounted infant fares. A foldable car seat travel cart or a sit-and-stroll style car seat instantly add wheels to the car seat and makes moving through the airport a breeze. Some kids sleep comfortably in their CRS, making this option – and the added peace and quiet for mom and dad – worth the ticket price.
For parents who opt not to purchase an extra seat, using a baby carrier or sling can ease airport connections by allowing the parent to be hands free for handling luggage and siblings. These families can choose to check their car seat by packing it into a specific car seat carrying bag, or the airlines will often offer to gate-check the car seat and stroller.
Some international flights offer infant bassinets, located near the bulkhead and often in premium seating sections. These can be reserved in advance and create restful space for parent and child during long-haul flights.
Packing and Gear
Dressing kids in matching brightly colored shirts can keep a family group together and help keep kids safe in a busy airport. Easy on-off shoes and a carry-on with accessible compartments for liquids and electronics help speed everyone through security.
In addition to packing light, assign one packing cube per family member for in-flight items including kid-appropriate snacks and games, and keep these cubes in one carry-on for easy accessibility during the flight. For the kids, be sure to have ample diapers, wipes, baby food and outfit changes should there be a delay or lost bag.
Note that child-sized headphones may save the day when those offered by the flight attendants are too big for kids’ heads and ears. Also teething necklaces, worn by mom or dad, are a great distraction for an exploring baby and remain easy to access during the flight.
In Flight Entertainment
To keep everyone happy in flight, be sure to pack lots of distractions for the kids. Games, crayons, and small coloring books are good options. Small kids can also be entertained by gel window clings that stick to the seats, trays, and windows. Even a roll of painter’s’ tape can get a toddler’s imagination going. They’ll stick it to siblings and the seats, then and roll it up, flatten it out, make a ball etc., all without damaging a thing. Great fun!
Use screen time as a special treat for long flights by downloading favorite shows or movies in advance. Many apps and games also double as educational tools for toddlers and preschoolers.
Creating goodie bags to pass out during transit to seat neighbors can ease tension on a flight when a young kid’s cries may disturb other passengers. Fill small muslin bags with earplugs, gum, and candies.