Stressful flyer? Why don’t you add a toddler and an infant to the mix? Extra baggage, flight delays, and wiggly bodies in tiny seats will make you second guess your decision to go anywhere at all. But it doesn’t have to be too terrible.
I recently took my family’s first flight with two children (almost 3 and 7 months) and was nervous about entertaining the toddler and keeping the baby quiet. Did we pick the right flight times? How would they eat? Nap? Sit in the plane seat during turbulence without flying out of the window?!
My anxious mind needed answers from those who have gone before. I asked experts—a professional family trip planner and a travel-bug parent—for tips to share with parents who may be flying with young kids for the first time.
With the right preparation, your trip will be just fine—and it doesn’t last forever. So before you book flights or stress-pack for your next family vacation, read our Q&A with two travel experts.
Q&A With Family Travel Planner Laura Beilin
Laura Beilin is a family vacation planner and creator of Travel Bucket. She enjoys exploring the world with her family and wants others to feel confident doing the same. Here are her answers to some FAQs about traveling with kids.
What are your five go-to quick tips for parents flying with kids for the first time?
Get a direct flight if possible to limit time spent in airports (and get it all out of the way at once).
Bring extra clothes for the kids and yourself. They might have an accident on themselves or you!
Shoot for an aisle seat in case you’re moving around a lot.
Bring more snacks than you think you'll ever need.
Don't feel guilty about taking advantage of screen time on the plane. All rules go out the window when flying—it’s about survival.
It’s my baby’s first time flying! How do you make the most of flying with an infant?
Breastfeeding helps your baby's ears during the plane’s takeoff and descent. It’s helpful to bring a baby carrier on the plane so you can walk the baby up and down the aisles to help calm them. If you take a car seat on the plane, you'll have to pay for the seat (vs. lap infant). However, having your baby in a car seat for a long flight might help the chances of sleeping.
When is the best time of day for flights with kids?
I like flying early in the morning, but that’s mostly because my kids never sleep during the flight. A red eye might be a good choice if your child sleeps on a plane. Early morning flights are good because if there’s a delay, you still have a chance of getting in at a reasonable time. Early flights also are more likely to leave on time.
What is the best way to get to and from the airport with kids?
Have a friend or family member drop you off and pick you up from the airport if possible. They drive you in your own car with your car seats. You get dropped off right in front (no shuttles, etc.), and you don't have to worry about finding an Uber with car seats. I always offer to drive my neighbors and friends to the airport because I know how much it reduces stress—and I so appreciate it when they can do that for me!
Bonus Tips from Frequent Traveler and Parent Ashita Shah-Bora
Like anything with kids, asking those who have gone before you—and often—applies to family travel, too. We asked Ashita Shah-Bora, a pro-traveling parent and an Advisor for Fora Travel, for more advice on flying with children in tow.
Mornings before flights are stressful enough. How do you get ready for flights with littles?
Getting ready for travel day can be a process, but with a little preparation, you can make it simple and quick. Make sure the kids wear pajamas that can easily transition from the bedroom to the car (nothing bulky or fussy). I always like to wake up earlier than the kids and have the car loaded before they wake up!
How can I make my toddler and baby comfortable on a flight?
Your baby’s ears may be sensitive to pressure changes. A pacifier or lollipop will help minimize ear pain. Bring a bottle in case they need milk, especially during takeoff and landing. Try to prepare their favorite blanket and stuffed animal. A well-stocked diaper bag with wipes and disposable baggies is a plus!
What are some of your go-to activities for keeping a toddler entertained (and semi-still)?
Stock the diaper bag with cards, play dough, coloring books, headphones, and an iPad (preloaded with their favorite movies and games) for easy ways to keep kids occupied while on a plane. Don’t forget to charge electronic devices.
What if I have to take a red-eye flight with young kids?
If you must take a red-eye flight with kids, consider skipping a nap, so they are exhausted for time on the plane. Expect that they will be uncomfortable and crying. Keep them entertained and calm, then hopefully they can doze off in no time.
With Laura and Ashita’s advice, I felt prepared for all the meltdowns and the inconveniences. Luckily, things went smoothly, and I’m glad we made the trip.
The best part? Our flights as a family of four were (mostly) seamless. Booking 10:30 am flights both ways meant the baby was ready for a nap during takeoff and the toddler would be alert enough for two hours of headrest movies (thanks, Delta! He still doesn’t know we own an iPad even though I brought it). I nursed the infant during landing, and everyone was ready for a long nap when we got home.
We did it—and so can you!