Today I’m sharing my tips and tricks for flying with babies and toddlers (or both!). I’m sharing some car seat/stroller logistics at the beginning and then I get into some specific tips for babies and then toddlers.
Tyler and I have flown a bunch of times with our kids and have sort of gotten the hang of it by now. Some of these tips are common sense, and some are of the “learn-the-hard-way” variety.
We are kind of starting to–dare I say–enjoy traveling with the girls. It always feels like a fun adventure and gets me so excited for all of the future trips I’ve been planning that Tyler doesn’t know about yet.
BUT. Please don’t get me wrong: it’s not always this dreamy seamless experience for us. Our kids are annoying and needy just like everyone else’s.
Travel days, to me, are akin to the idea of “any given Sunday” in NFL football. Anything can happen to any team–or in this case, family–any given game (travel) day. I know you guys know what I mean here.
However, it would be dumb not to be as absolsutely prepared as possible going into it, right? We don’t see Tom Brady skipping a week of practice at random, do we? Okay, sorry, I’m done with football, I swear.
The point is this: even though we know that air travel days can (will) be a hot mess with young kids, we plan, prep, and get all of our ducks in a row, if you will, to mitigate disaster IF WE CAN. Proactive over reactive, ya feel me.
Also! I do have another post about traveling with a baby in Europe that is more focused on the trip itself. I wrote this after we took Charlotte to Europe when she was 10 months old. That post has tons of planning, destination, and packing tips. Today’s post will be focused solely on airports and flights and all of our advice about flying with kids and babies.
I’ll start with stroller and car seat logistics which can be the most complicated part about flying with kids. We have done pretty much every combination you can think of, so I’ll share my thoughts on every option.
First thing’s first: just check your suitcase–even if it’s a carry on sized one. When it comes to flying with young kids every hand counts. We need them as free as possible. It takes a while to get off the plane and whatnot with babies, so it’s really not a big deal to wait for your baggage to roll out.
My recommendation is to use a backpack as your carry on bag so you can be as “hands free” as possible. I typically just use my normal diaper bag–I have this one and love it for travel and everyday life. Inside, I always keep diapers, wipes, and a changing mat in this handy clutch from Target so I can easily pull it out and bring just that with me into the bathroom to change her.
If you have a tiny baby that is content in a baby carrier, you can always check both the car seat and the stroller and just carry the baby through the airport. I like this option. We’ve done this before, and it’s definitely the easiest from a logistical standpoint. Having a baby strapped to your front and a diaper backpack on your back can be strenuous, though, so just make sure your back can handle the walk through security and the airport. Here’s the link to our favorite carrier.
When I’ve used the carrier before, I’ve had some agents make me take the baby out and send the carrier through the detector and then some agents who let me walk right through without disturbing the baby.
We’ve never had an issue with our car seats or strollers getting damaged if we check them, but bear in mind that it is a risk. Consider using a cover or a stroller bag (we use this one from Uppababy for checking and gate-checking ours).
Another option would be a stroller/carseat combo, like the Uppababy Vista stroller frame with the car seat that clicks into the top. This is good for babies who are younger and still content in an infant car seat. These are easy to roll through the airport. You’ll have to take them apart for security, though. The car seat should fit through the conveyor belt and then TSA will wheel the frame through the walk-through detector for you.
If you do bring your stroller and/or car seat through the airport, you’ll have to “gate check” them right before you board the flight. Once you get through security and find your gate, ask the airline staff member at the counter for a tag for your item(s). Then, when it’s time to board, you walk or carry it down the jet bridge and leave it next to the airplane door. When you land, the baggage crew will bring it back up to that same area at the bottom of the jet bridge. It’s really very easy.
If you get lucky and have an empty seat next to you, the crew will let you bring the car seat aboard.
If you are traveling with two bigger babies/toddlers and have a double stroller, I recommend taking it through security with you. When Emmie was smaller, we would sometimes ditch the stroller completely–I’d have her in the carrier on me and Tyler would be in charge of Charlotte walking next to him. This worked pretty well for a while, actually, but then Emmie just got way too heavy for me. Now that we have two extremely mobile toddlers, it makes more sense for us to have them both contained within the stroller.
Another option would be to use a lightweight travel stroller. These are awesome because they fold up easily and are way more compact than a stroller like the UppaBaby Vista. Once it’s folded up, you can carry it with one hand (a big advantage if you’re traveling alone with a baby!). We’ve used this one from Amazon on a few trips and like it a lot.
If you are renting a car at your destination, consider leaving your car seat behind and reserving one with your rental car. We have done this before, and it definitely makes things WAY easier at the airport.
Each airline is a little different, but you will need to add your “lap infant” (babies under the age of 2 who fly free) to your ticket prior to the flight. When we fly Southwest, we usually have to call to add Emmie’s name to my ticket. And then when we get to the airport, we have to check in at the full service counter so they can verify her age before giving us her boarding pass. You’ll need to bring a birth certificate or a shot record to the airport for this step, but then you can put it away after you get checked in because they don’t look it again at security.
You can bring liquids through security for a baby, but TSA will ask you to take them out so they can test them. I’ve had no issue bringing bottles of breastmilk through. I always bring a Hydroflask for both girls with me and try to remember to dump the water out before we go through so we don’t get stopped but it’s no big deal either way.
If I can make one thing abundantly clear, my #1 tips for flying with babies and toddlers is TSA PreCheck. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, worse than making a small child wait in a line. TSA Pre’s line is always a fraction of the length of standard security’s, and it moves twice as fast. Also, you don’t have to remove your shoes which is always a bit undignifying.
Apply for TSA Pre here–it’s worth every penny and ounce of effort, trust me! Also, check to see if your credit card covers the cost. We did this years ago, and it was free as a benefit with our Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
Unless things got really out of hand, I always kept my girls awake at the airport when they were babies. I wanted them to be as tired as possible as we got on the airplane. A sleeping baby is a happy baby, right? The longer they sleep on the plane, the better. Keeping a newborn awake is obviously nearly impossible, though, so just do your best.
I try to hold off on nursing until the plane is about to take off. The change in air pressure during takeoff and landing can bother their ears, so nursing/drinking helps with this. Also, if they baby is tired enough, they will hopefully fall right to sleep!
I keep this portable sound machine in my diaper bag at all times, and it comes especially in handy for travel. I use this on the plane, too! As soon as I would start nursing, I’d turn the sound machine on and keep it in my lap. Planes have a lot of white noise, but I liked the extra layer of “protection” to help keep the baby asleep. This is especially crucial if you are traveling with a noisy toddler!
I always travel with a lightweight swaddle blanket to drape over the baby after they fall asleep. This blocks the aggressive air vent from above and helps make their space a little darker, too. Always make sure the baby’s airway is clear, though!!
Don’t stress yourself out with bringing a bunch of toys for your baby. If they are anything like mine, all they want to do is play with your stuff anyway. We would just let the girls sort through our wallets, play with safety cards from the seat-back pocket, cups from the flight attendant, etc. Last week, Emmie and I burned 20 minutes sorting the Southwest snack mix (name a better airline snack offering. I’ll wait). For longer flights, though, you’ll probably want a few tricks up your sleeve.
I will never forget our flight home from Europe a couple of years ago. Char was having tummy issues and needed her diaper changed like 7 times. Messy diaper changes in an airplane bathroom are not for the faint of heart. It was HORRIBLE, but luckily I had packed just enough diapers to get us home. Ever since then, I always pack way more than I think we need because I was so scarred by it.
It’s always smart to pack an extra set of clothes for your baby (or toddler, for that matter), in case of a snack/spit up/blowout incident (also, I suppose, if your luggage gets lost–this hasn’t happened to me in years but there’s always a chance!). For a long haul flight, I’d pack one diaper for every hour of travel day. So, if it’s an 8 hour travel day in total, I’d pack 8 diapers plus a few extra in case your luggage gets lost.
I’ve found that most people will rise to the occasion if you ask them for help. Not always–but usually! Find the friendliest looking flight attendant and ask them to hold your baby if you need to use the restroom or clean up a mess. Or maybe your seat mate can help get something down from the overhead compartment upon arriving at your destination.
Toddlers can be more difficult than babies because they are on the move and also just more volatile in general. They are unpredictable and can be a nightmare to keep happy on airplanes. Also, young children struggle with transitions, so getting from the car, to baggage check, to (and through) security, and onto the actual plane can be overwhelming.
The best tip I have for toddlers is to make it a huge deal and talk about the travel day for an entire week beforehand. We always prep Char in the most obnoxious way possible. We talk relentlessly about the airport and the airplane (one and the same for Char: “airplane port” is what she calls both of them). And then, of course, we yammer on and on about whatever our destination will be, too.
In the morning before the flight, I always ask her to help me pack her little backpack. It’s a tiny bit of extra work having her bring her own backpack because we end up carrying it sometimes. But it gives her ownership over the day, and she gets a real thrill out of stuffing Uni and Bear in there next to her water bottle. I even have her pack her mask for the airplane in the front pocket. She loves having a hand in logistics, so this whole process helps set the tone for the busy day.
I like to narrate every single thing that’s happening to Charlotte as we go through the airport, from parking the car, to going through security, through the entire boarding process. It’s over the top: “Okay, Char, now we are going to give them our suitcases so they can put them in the bottom of the plane for us!” “Okay, Char, look! She’s printing our tickets for us.” “Okay, Char, let’s let them check our backpacks and walk through the metal detector!”
Just hearing me talk about what we are doing, even if she doesn’t know what a “metal detector” is, helps her process what’s going on. I also like to think that it keeps her brain busy enough to not start whining, lol.
After we get through security, we always walk them over to the big windows and show them our airplane which burns a good five minutes.
I carry their tickets through the airport, but I do let Charlotte have it at the last minute to give to the counter on our way onto the plane. She gets really puffed up and proud when they scan it for her.
This is always kind of fun. We let Charlotte choose one snack from the bookstore at the airport before we board the flight. We make a huge deal about how lucky she is to choose a snack to eat on the airplane. It’s all about hype building–but that’s all of parenting, isn’t it? She usually gets popcorn–my daughter, after all.
No amount of snacks will ever be enough for a toddler on a travel day, so just do your best to pack your carry-on/diaper bag full. We love cheddar bunnies, Serenity puffs, GoMacro kids bars, and I usually pack them both sandwiches too. For babies, it’s probably a good idea to bring bring a few extra squeeze pouches. Also, I wouldn’t be caught dead on an airplane (/anywhere?) without a secret stash of YumEarth gummie bears–an item that I use exclusively for bribery purposes if things ever get dicey.
This is crucial. I like to always have a nice stock pile of activity and sticker books that are just for travel or on-the-go days (out to brunch, long car rides, etc). Charlotte loves these mess-free coloring books. And the last flight we went on, I brought a sticker activity book for each of the girls (we LOVE the sticker books from Usborne), and they were a huge hit. Even Emmie played with hers almost the entire flight. I like to just keep small sheets of stickers in my diaper bag for emergencies too. They never fail me.
What do I look like, some kind of super woman? Of course we let our kids watch shows on the plane! We basically try to hold Charlotte off as long as possible. And then once she gets antsy or starts to act up, we let her watch a show for the rest of the flight. (Emmie isn’t into shows yet so this doesn’t work for her). Parenting at it’s finest, ya know?
The important thing here is to download some shows or movies on your phone before you get on the plane or else they won’t work. This is probably obvious, but we have forgotten before and it wasn’t ideal.
I never thought I’d be the girl who “forgets” to eat, but on busy travel days with the kids, sometimes I do forget to prepare accordingly. And then I’m suddenly an absolute monster, the sky is falling, and I forget how to be a mom (human). Much like a small baby, I function best when I’m rested, well-fed, and hydrated.
Make sure to pack snacks for yourself and EAT them when you need to. Sometimes this means scarfing before take off if I know the baby is going to fall asleep on me and I won’t want to wake them. I always, always, always buy a ginormous Smart Water (or two) after I get through security.
If the baby does fall asleep on you, yay! Pull out your phone and relax. I like to have either a podcast cued up or a book downloaded on my phone or kindle. Just make sure to do this before you get on the plane.
Every flight has a screaming baby, and today just might be your day. And that’s OKAY. It’s easy to get panicky if you think the other passengers are inconvenienced or annoyed with your kid. I’ve been there so many times, and what I’ve learned is…who cares. People might roll their eyes, but it really doesn’t matter. The truth is that most people are good, and some are even helpful (I had a woman THROW me a package of Red Vines across the aisle just last week when Charlotte was screaming about her ears popping. It was generous and inspiring). Everyone else can take a hike. All that matters is getting to your destination. So just tunnel-vision it, focus on your baby, and try to relax.
I hope you found these tips helpful! For more tips on traveling with kids, click here.
It’s a pre-weekend pick me up: just a little note with links to the latest blog posts, what I’m reading lately, and products I’m obsessed with. Think of it as a friend dropping off a surprise latte in the morning--you know?