The rules of air travel with a small child.

Thanksgiving week is hands down the craziest week of air travel. Lots of people will be flying home to see family and that means there are going to be lots of small children flying as well.

We have flown with our kids (4.5, 2.5, 1) a lot. Our 4.5 year old has been on easily 25+ flights. It’s not a walk in the park but you can do this. Just because you have a child doesn’t mean you have to sit at home for the rest of your life. There is a whole wide world out there so here are my tips for flying with young kids.


  1. Pick flight times based on your kid’s schedule. I’ve found that mid-morning flights are the best for our kids. (Please note, the longest flight we’ve taken with them is 4 hours so if you are flying on long international flights I got nothing for you.)
  2. Pack well. Your bag has to be organized because if someone spits up or poops there is no time for searching for a wipe. I usually have one backpack that has entertainment items in it, iPad, leap pad, stickers, and coloring books. The other backpack has snacks, diapers, wipes. Bring more than you need because delays happen, poop happens, etc. You will also need 4x the amount of pacifiers because they will disappear in droves when on a plane.
  3. Be prepared for dirty looks in the airport. People think our kids are cute everywhere except the airport. They are all thinking “please don’t be on my flight” and there’s nothing you can do to prevent this so just let it roll off.
  4. Be the last ones on board. I know they will call for family pre-boarding but that isn’t a privilege, it’s a punishment. Our kids are pretty active, so the less time they are confined to an airplane seat, the better. Before you board you need to wear them out. Let them ride the walkways, dance, walk around, whatever. If you have a walker you should have them out of the stroller as much as possible in the airport.
  5. Set up shop once you get on the airplane. Wipes, a diaper or two, and nursing cover if needed go in the seat back pocket in front of you. In front of the kids you put their water and the first few things they will want such as an iPad or snack. You want to avoid digging in your bag as much as possible.
  6. Don’t make those lame goodie bags for people around you because you have children with you. You paid for a ticket just like everyone else and you paid for your child’s ticket. You don’t have to apologize for having children on an airplane. Let’s be real, you have a much higher chance of being pooped on than anyone else on that airplane so you are the one that needs the candy bar, not business traveler Sam.
  7. All kids need to be eating or drinking something on the way up and the way down. So save a snack or hold off a nursing baby until takeoff because their ears will hurt otherwise.
  8. Once you are in the air the only rule I have for my kids is no screaming or whining allowed. There are no screen time limits at 30,000 feet. If your child watches two hours of movies on the iPad while flying somewhere they will still be an intelligent human-being. I assure you that their SAT score isn’t going to drop because they watched movies all morning that one time you flew to Florida. 30,000 feet is not the place to be a tiger parent. The same goes with snacks. If your child will be quiet if you give them cookies or M&M’s or fruit loops then you do it. They are not going to become an obese adult or get type 2 diabetes from a morning of unhealthy snacks.
  9. Accept help from strangers on the airplane. If you have a 4-year-old that needs to go to the bathroom, a 2-year-0ld that needs a diaper change, and someone offers to hold the baby while you take them to the lavatory you say YES every time. It may seem odd to hand your baby off to a stranger but guess what, there is NO WAY they can steal your child because you are all at 30,000 feet. Add the amount of witnesses they are surrounded by and you can confidently hand off baby to Grandma Sally in the row behind you for 3 minutes.
  10. Only order water for yourself from the flight attendant when they come around. My husband has had to learn this the hard way too many times. He LOVES getting the entire can of cranapple juice when he is on a flight. You know what color that is? Red. You know who it gets spilled on EVERYTIME when the toddler or baby hits it? Mom. He has also attempted to order coffee before as well. You know who can order hot drinks or red drinks on an airplane? Not you, parent of small children.

So get out there and explore the world and remember, you can do anything for 2 hours.


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