Flying with kids does not have to be a drag. Ever since my oldest was a newborn, I have been boarding flights with my kids. Not once has my husband been with me on the plane – so I learned over the years how to make planes rides with my 3 children a smooth process.
The trick is to prepare beforehand and simplify as much as possible.
What to pack for carry-ons
Pack light. This is going to sound crazy when you see the lists of things you will need to bring down below but the idea is to pack smart not hard.
Unless you are only going away for a few days, check the bulk of your luggage and save your carry-ons for emergency clothes, essentials, and activities.
Use a backpack for kids that can carry their own. I have never used the little mini suitcases that have handles and wheels because eventually they would become my burden to roll through the airport. Backpacks are much simpler and mobile. If your child is old enough to wear a backpack to school, they can carry a backpack for the plane ride.
Pack a diaper bag for younger kids. If your kids are smaller, or if they won't carry their own bag throughout the trip, I would forgo bringing a separate bag for them and instead pack one large diaper bag. I use a backpack or large shoulder bag for this.
- Wet wipes – the versatile cleaner-upper. Use to clean off hands, wipe down trays, and more.
- Snacks and meals – bring familiar, healthy foods as alternatives to the airport and plane food. Pack these in pre-portioned servings for easy access.
- Extra clothing – just in case something goes awry on the plane. One outfit per child, including underwear, should work. And you might want to bring one for yourself also.
- Important documents – identification, passports, medical releases, anything that you will need on your trip as far as paperwork should be on your person. Make sure you can get to these easily during checkpoints.
- Recycled grocery sacks – or gallon size baggies to hold dirty clothes, toys, trash, etc.
- Medication – any medicine you will need should be in your diaper bag or purse.
Let's talk about diapers
It is possible to fly with a baby and use cloth diapers. If you are absolutely against disposables, prepare to bring more cloth diapers than you think you will need. Bring plenty of wet bags for soiled diapers. If you don't want to deal with hauling around poopies, you can get biodegradable liners or inserts to place in your diapers.
For disposables, bring twice as many as you would use in one day. Tummies might get upset, flights might be delayed, and you also want an ample supply when you arrive and get to your accomodations.
Laptops, tablets, and technology
I recently flew from St. Louis – Tokyo – Seoul and found out at security that all electronics with screens had to either be removed from your bag and sent through the scanner separately or stored in a special bag that opened flat and had nothing underneath the device.
That meant I had to remove my laptop, each of the kid's tablets, and the e-reader we brought along. It meant we spent even more time in line sorting our belongings.
To top things off, the plane ended up having touch screen seat-backs with games and movies you could choose individually. I'm still glad I brought our technology, but in the future I plan on calling ahead and seeing what accommodations there are and think about slimming down on electronics.
What to wear on the flight
Dress in layers. Chances are you will experience several different climates transferring from airport to plane and back out into the world. If you need to bring winter coats, plan on storing those above your seats on the flight. Otherwise, have everyone wear a t-shirt with a sweater (or tank top with t-shirt over top).
Wear something comfortable. Kids don't need to wear anything fancy and comfortable clothes with help them relax and enjoy the flight. Knit pants, t-shirts, skirts with leggings, and sport shorts are all good choices.
Everyone should wear shoes that are easy to get on and off. Because everyone will have to do it at least once through security. We had to remove our shoes a total of three times on our trip to Korea.
Ways to entertain on the plane
You don't have to go broke buying new toys. I try to find a few fun things from the dollar store or thrift shop to add into the things from home we bring.
- Crayons – pack 3-4 colors for each child in their own bag. Any more will just roll all over the plane.
- Stickers – my kids love sticker books and I try to find ones that are relevant to where we are travelling.
- Books – puzzle books, coloring books, science books, bring one or two for each child and switch mid-flight
- Small toys – I found a nice set of Little People at the thrift store for $3. Look for toys with not a lot of small parts and that can stand nicely on the plane tray table.
- Cards – quiz cards, lacing cards, and strewing cards are all fun and compact
- Packing an airplane busy bag
Before you board, move around! Utilize your time before you get on the plane to let your kids move around, use the restroom, have a snack, etc. so they aren't asking to get up 5 minutes into the flight. To encourage them, make a game out of everything. See who can count the most suitcases, who zooms like an airplane the best, exploring the bathroom (ok – be careful with this one). The point is to let them wiggle before they have to be still and to enjoy yourselves. If they see you are nervous or irritated they will be less likely to enjoy the ride.
When travelling with little ones, you always want to pay attention to safety issues.
Plan your seating arrangements. If you are bringing a car seat make sure it is approved for air travel. Personally, I have never used car seats because I couldn't carry one and take care of 2-3 kids. On our last flight, we used the CARES restraint system for our son. Make sure to bring along the card with the rating information on it as well because our pilot could not allow it's use until I provided proof is was FAA approved.
Figure out beforehand the best way to seat all of you so you are not scrambling at boarding. If possible, take advantage of the pre-boarding for small children (especially if you have a stroller that needs to be checked plane-side).
Watch your belongings at security. I've never had anything happen, but I always make sure to double check that I haven't left anything in my rush or that anyone has taken our items by mistake. Slow down. People behind you might get upset but you are handling not only yourself but your kids and all your bags as well so you deserve a little time to compose everything before you head out. I try to find a side table where I can put my stuff down and help the kids with their shoes, bags, etc.
Stay seated during flight. This will be the hardest part. Your little kids will want to wiggle and stand up in their seats. It's your job to make sure that they are in their seats and safely buckled just in case of nasty turbulence. Don't let them wander the aisles and try to go with them to the bathroom.
In all our years of flying, I have always found and befriended the helpful passengers and attendants who go out of their way to accommodate us. There always seems to be a few on each flight. They understand that kids need a little extra time and love. Flying with children takes a lot of patience and organization, but it can be an enjoyable experience.