So you are getting on an airplane with your baby/toddler/preschooler.
What can I say about that?
Not much beyond “may the force be with you”.
Just kidding – it’s not nearly as bad as you think it will be.
Or it might be.
That’s the fun part!
It’s like Russian roulette for your sanity.
Will you spend six hours with a screaming baby or a sleeping baby?
Will your child have an explosive diaper situation that will have you carrying a bag of poop soaked clothes off of the plane or will they be a perfect angel who holds their poops until you land?
I have flown a ton with my kids and I can honestly say the first flight with each is the worst. Not because of their behaviour – but because I had no idea what to expect. Once you get that first flight over I promise it’s not nearly as stressful.
Wait, that’s a lie.
It’s totally still stressful. But the worry about how your kids will be on flight is somewhat diminished.
And it’s stressful not in how horrible it’s going to be, but stressful in how much crap you are carrying, setting them up, leaving your stroller at the gate, etc.
Let’s just say your days of strolling on a plane with a coffee in one hand and a new book to read in the other are gone.
No matter how well I prepare myself, I am always a sweaty mess by the time I buckle my seat belt.
Because I have flown so much (and done a ton of reading) I do have some tips to share for how to make flying with kids three and under not totally horrible.
Before we get to the tips there are some things that you just have to accept:
Flight Days are not fun. Simple as that.
Even with the most well-behaved child and excellent flyer, they are long, somewhat boring, sweaty and a lot of work.
Be okay that it will suck a little.
Be okay with all the crap you have.
I have tried so many times to pack light but it just seems impossible. I am not one of those minimal mommies and I am highly suspect of people who are.
This is me on various trips. Oh, my other tip? Don’t bring dogs like I do.
Flying with Babies 6 months and under
This is the best time to fly with your kids! So if you always wanted to take a vacation to Australia or Japan – go when your baby is a very little baby. They basically sleep all the time. If you are able to breastfeed you don’t even need to pack bottles.
I flew with George when he was three months and I was terrified that he would scream the whole time. Lucky for me, he was an angel.
Here’s what I did: kept him wrapped up in his Solly Baby wrap.
Oh and breastfed him/shoved a soother in his mouth at all times.
In order to board the plane, you need to be hands free. Hopefully your baby likes being wrapped like this. If you don’t have a wrap yet but plan on flying with a tiny baby – buy one NOW. The only thing that bites is that your airline will make you take the baby out for landing and take-off. I actually don’t understand this. You have to keep the baby in burping position – which they are in wraps. And isn’t it better to have your hands free if something were to happen? But I can’t change the laws so there you go.
George loved looking out the window on this flight which is pretty much all a little baby can do. But the noise, the soother and the snugglyness to me kept him asleep for most of the four-hour flight.
I flew with Alice for the first time when she was about 6 months old. Similarly to George, she slept for a good portion of time. The rest of the time she happily sat on the floor and played with a couple of toys which brings me to my second (and slightly expensive) tip: book the seats with extra legroom. I flew to Vancouver from Toronto via West Jet and paid the extra money upon check-in to sit in the front row. Best $300 we ever spent. I basically created a nursery. It also allowed me to have easy access to get up and down when diapers needed changing.
And finally tip #3: pack extra clothes for everyone!
I forgot to do this on a flight to Chicago in which G decided to have an ‘up the backer’ situation. I had stupidly forgot to pack him a change of clothes so he had to go topless for the rest of the flight.
I remembered this the next time I flew in which we had a similar thing happen.
This time was even worse: the poop was all over him, the wrap, and myself. Luckily I did have a change of clothes for him but I had to de-plane with a poop stain on my shirt and the Solly packed away in a garbage bag.
Flying with Babies 7 months to 18 months (give or take a few months)
I won’t lie. This is the worst time to fly with your baby.
Even with a wonderfully behaved child who doesn’t scream the entire flight – this is the worst time.
They are too big to sleep the whole way and they are too small to be distracted with an iPad for a long time.
They are at that discovery age in which holding them on your lap for landing/take-off/turbulence becomes a battle of wills.
Keeping them contained is your only form of entertainment therefore long flights are quite boring. I always pack a book to read when I fly – it’s like tempting fate. I never get to read my book.
I flew from Toronto to Vancouver with both my kids and having that first row made all the difference. Flying back, I missed getting that row and we were cramped with a stranger. It was the looooongest flight ever. Alice just wanted to crawl around and climb on me and climb on her brother.
Now that you know it sucks, here are some tips I have picked up over the years. It’s all about having a bag stuffed with supplies that you can constantly bring out to entertain your baby. So empty your bag of your stuff and fill it with these:
Nothing promotes a better relationship with food than using food as entertainment for your baby. Just kidding. I doubt a flight here and there will have any lasting damage on their psyche (although it might on yours!).
Alice can sit happily and eat one goldfish cracker at a time for a good ten minutes. Rice cake? Another five. Yogurt? Three seconds.
My friend said her secret food weapon was a lollipop. Her son rarely ate sugar at that point so was enthralled by the sweet taste and it took him forever to lick it.
I tried it on George but he crunched it down in about two seconds.
2. The ‘put something in/take it out’ game
George loved this activity. Alice not so much. Does your baby like to take a bag or a box and fill it? Then take it all out and begin again? If so – this activity can buy you a good twenty minutes.
I used one of those plastic containers puffed baby cereal comes it. You cut a hole in the lid and fill it with pom poms.
George could spend forever putting pom poms in that hole and then starting again. I once accidentally put this in my checked baggage and had a huge panic attack. I discovered a box of smarties works just as well! This was before George knew you could eat Smarties. Once that happened, the jig was up. You could also just get a deck of cards and use the airsick bag.
3. Plastic Egg Animal Surprise!
You know the empty plastic eggs you see at Easter? And the small little animals you can get at the dollar store? Put them together and you get plastic egg animal surprise! (I’m amazing at naming games)
Babies love shaking the eggs, opening them, discovering a surprise and then trying to put the eggs together again. Tons of fun to be had by all parties.
4. Bingo Dapper Art
Babies aren’t particularly adept at colouring yet (or my two weren’t – they ate the crayons instead) but that doesn’t mean they don’t love playing with art and colour. Grab a bingo dapper and some paper and voilá! Ten minutes of fun for baby.
5. Expensive Toys
The first few flights I took with George I would trek down to a local (read: expensive) toy store for some fun little items to distract him. For the amount of money I spent, I definitely did not get the value of distracted baby time out of them. Save for two toys that both my kids have continued to play with for a few years (they also live in our restaurant bag which is another time you need to distract your baby).
First is the pipSquigz which are fun little suction cup ‘highchair’ toys that you can stick to the tray table, the window or the wall. Babies like to bat at them, shake them and, of course, gum them.
The other is any type of magnetic blocks – this pick is good because they are fairly inexpensive. Alice particularly likes these to stack and build things. Plus they are light and can be shoved anywhere in your carry-on.
6. Dollar Store Treat Bag
Any child or baby is excited when they have new toys to explore. I pop into the dollar store and grab a few new items like animals, playdough, a vehicle or even something random that has texture (George was very excited to play with a crinkly craft bow and a scrubber sponge).
Then I bring them out at intervals during the flight.
I hide them again while we are at our destination and bring them out for the flight home because kids forget easily and are excited once again by ‘new’ toys.
Be careful of the whole gels and liquid thing – I once had a really fun wand thing taken away at security.
Another cheap place to score great distraction toys is VV Boutique (Value Village). They package random toys together in $5 bags and we’ve found great little treasures. If you are grossed out – just fill a bowl with soapy boiling water and sterilize them. Then you can drop them off at a charity shop at the other end and re-stock.
7. Gel Window Decals
This only works if your baby isn’t stuffing everything into their mouths.
I did this with George and the first thing he did when he peeled off a sticker was eat it.
But he loves these things now and you might find your baby will have fun peeling these on and off the table tray or the window. The dollar store always has these in the seasonal aisle.
8. Screen Time
Being on an airplane with your child is not a time to take a stance against screen time. Although if that is your choice – have fun! (insert sarcasm here).
No one is going to judge you as a ‘bad’ parent. Everyone around you will be grateful you are keeping your baby entertained and quiet.
I find babies at this age aren’t as engrossed in an iPad as a toddler or preschooler – but it’s still worth a shot. I am a big fan of Sesame Street so you can download a few episodes (I love the old school ones you can get) and just let them watch it in mute. There are also some apps that your baby might have fun with:
- Sandra Boynton Books If you don’t know Sandra Boynton yet get yourself to a bookstore STAT! We love Sandra Boynton and have basically her entire library. This app is fantastic for the fact it reads to your child (I once lost my voice and this saved me) and has really fun animation that surprises you where you least expect it (think steaming up your screen during a hot bath and you having to wipe it clean)
- Elmo Loves 123s What child doesn’t love Elmo? This is a fantastic app worth spending the extra money on. Both my kids like it and it has tons of great features as well as videos that will keep your baby enthralled.
- Sesame Street Makes Music This one is another favourite of both my kids but you might need to get a set of baby headphones so that you (and the rest of the plane) aren’t subjected to several rounds of Ernie singing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.
- Laugh & Learn by Fisher Price Fisher Price is a trusted brand and babies enjoy the bright colours (all of their apps are great)
- See n’ Say This is my favourite Fisher Price app and is just like the toy we all had growing up. It comes in a vehicle version too
- Any Sago Mini app All of these apps are fantastic. Simple, bright illustrations and educational. Worth the money.
- Kidzongs Babies like music. Babies like watching bright colours. Done.
- Any balloon popping app Or bubbles. Both are widely available. Alice really likes this one where she can pop the balloons and a touch of her finger makes more balloons come
- Any aquarium app These too are widely available. It’s like being at the aquarium but flying in the sky. Babies love it.
9. Baby books – I like the Indestructibles books because they are light and obviously your baby can chew and be rough with them. And I also enjoy Lamaze Peek-a-Boo books for the same reasons. Or the safety manual. Kids like that too.
Flying with toddler 18 months and up
This is when it gets easy again. The above games/toys/apps still apply with a few more additions. I never have an issue with George on the plane as he is basically happy with some movies (current obsession is Toy Story), a couple snacks, a colouring app, and a truck. Even better if you are in a plane that still has a television on the seat back because it’s fun to watch the map (or Treehouse channel).
Here are some apps we’ve enjoyed at this age:
- Eric Carle’s Brown Bear Animal Parade Just like the book, we meet animals of vibrant colours. George really enjoys this one.
- Toca Kitchen Monsters George adores this one. You feed a monster random food and then use a blender. It’s weird. But so are kids.
- Endless Alphabet This is a fantastic app for all the time. Kids put letters into words like a puzzle. Just make sure you have the sound off or headphones because it sounds . . . . well special
- Little Writer This is a great tracing app for little preschoolers
- Puzzingo This is a fantastic puzzle app that George has a ton of fun with.
- ABC My First Alphabet Workbook Another great tracing app.
- Daniel Tiger apps I don’t know about your preschooler but George is obsessed with Daniel Tiger (who BTW if you don’t know yet – is the ‘new’ Mister Rogers-esque PBS show). He adores this app.
Random Travel Items and Reminders
Below is a list of random little things I’ve just found handy over the years that have helped.
- Milk & Baby food – the liquid/gel ban has made things confusing for what you can pack but I believe most airports have similar regulations. You are allowed to bring more that 100ML of a liquid if it is for your child. So those squishy packs of food are good to go.
Also in terms of milk: most airlines only have those little milks for coffee & tea so make sure to bring your bottle already full or buy milk at Timmie’s/Starbucks near the gate.
2. Bring a coffee travel mug
The little flimsy cups they give you with coffee or tea are easily spilled in cramped quarters by your kids.
3. Wipe down your seats with disinfectant wipes.
I read about a mom who travels with four kids and does this. I have yet to get myself together to do this but seeing as my kids always get sick after a flight I should really try it.
4. Bring your car seat on board for your toddler.
I have never been able to do this due to the fact I am always by myself or with my husband and our dogs and it would be a disaster. But my friend always brings her car seats on board and her kids sleep long and happily in them
5. Speaking of carseats – this is my most favorite trick – get a car seat bag. We have the Cosco Scenera carseat for travelling because it’s light.
And then I get this epic car seat bag which holds so much. Actually, it probably holds too much as I have arrived at Heathrow with so many things in the bag that we don’t quite fit in small UK cars. But it’s fantastic for shoving all the crap you need for your kids without having to spend extra money on baggage. I mostly use it for diapers. Thanks M.J. for this tip that I have stolen as my own!
6. Have some sort of luggage to entice your toddler to walk.
I stupidly assumed my son would walk off the plane when we took our first flight with him as a walker.
He flat out refused to walk and my gate-checked stroller was far away at baggage claim (fun fact about Gatwick Airport: your stroller does not meet you at the gate like other airports. They do have complimentary strollers you can use but there were none near my gate).
Therefore I have this suitcase that George thought was so fun to pull.
Although that lasted one flight.
So for our next flight I got him the Trunki ride-on suitcase.
This worked out awesome!
You can’t steer it which meant we did run into a few walls/passengers – but it’s really easy to pull for when your child refuses to walk. Or they have fun walking it themselves. Or, as George is doing above, they can pretend to be cowboys catching cows with their ‘cashews’ (that is what he calls a lasso).
6. To leash or not to leash
No judgement here because I am pro-leash.
There is a certain age in which your toddler will just RUN away from you.
For George it was when he was 2. He thought running away from me was hilarious.
The problem with chasing him was that I was 7 months pregnant.
And even if I wasn’t pregnant, these little buggers can run fast.
So we got this leash or ‘safety harness’ and it worked really well.
Until George realized it was a leash so then the turkey would just stop, drop and roll. I’m telling you – kids are cunning little muppets.
7. If you are travelling a red-eye/international flight I found this bed pillow thing.
Granted – it’s somewhat bulky in your bag but I loved it when we flew to England.
Basically it’s a box shaped blow-up pillow/bed that fits in the foot well of your child’s seat. Therefore, they can have their feet up and lay down to sleep as opposed to having to sleep curled up on you.
It’s still too cramped to lay perfectly horizontally but George curled up right away and slept almost the entire flight!
Fun fact: when the seatbelt light goes on, you must put your child under 2 on your lap even if you bought them their own seat. So have fun waking up your toddler a few times an hour.
8. And finally, do you medicate your child?
I’m sure some people will shake their heads at drugging your child to get them to sleep. I’ve seen judgemental blogs saying that parents shouldn’t medicate their kids because if they ‘want to fly with kids then they should deal with kids’.
Well, go shove it up your judgey bum. I say what works for you to keep you and your family sane is your business. Not to mention: a sleeping child is always better than a screaming child for everybody.
My doctor friend says the risk is that your child’s hear rate speeds up. But she is also a woman who gave her daughter Gravol to fly to Mexico. Have I done it? Yes. Did it work? No. It actually had the opposite effect on George and made him hyper. But if we were doing another long-haul flight I would consider Benodryl for sure
I hope these ideas help you fly better. Just remember to get to the airport early (the Engineer is currently guffawing at this as I am always in the nick of time) because things take forever with kids.
Security will test your milk and swap your food squishies.
Your child will inevitably poop right before boarding.
You will fight to fold your stroller and get it to fit in your stroller bag.
You will be a sweaty mess.
It will be a long, crappy day.
But here’s the good news: on the other end will either be a fabulous vacation destination where a family adventure awaits or grandparents who will be happy to make dinner for you for a few days (those are the only options right?).
In any case – the memories you make with your children will outlast the memories of a long, boring flight.