I live in Utah, but my parents and brothers still live in Toronto, Canada, where I’m from. This makes for a lot of flight time each year.
When I was a newlywed, flying back and forth to see my family was more boring than anything. I’d kick back, read my book, and even had a nap before a hit home. But fast forward a few years, and I now had a six-year-old and a three-year-old tagging along. In other words, my days of napping on the plane were over.
Traveling on a flight with young children could be difficult – you may already know this. But you may not know how to make the experience easier, not to mention, more enjoyable.
Best Flight Tips for Kids
Since we travel to Canada approximately three times each year, I’ve become mannered polite acquainted with the process of flying with kids. The first time I took my kids along, I was terrified of being “that mom.” You know, the mom who has to deal with dirty looks because her kids won’t calm down? So in an effort to keep everyone quiet, I searched beforehand for the best ways to entertain kids in-flight without spending a fortune.
1. Head to the Dollar Store
One of the first things I do when preparing for a trip was to head to the dollar store sans kids. There, I grab a ton of brand-new toys, games, puzzles, and coloring paraphernalia – whatever I could find.
I don’t wish to bring any of my kids’ pricey toys on the plane because they could get easily lost – and besides, my kids love getting new stuff. The dollar store trip covers it; during the flight, I could pull out new coloring books or stamp pads to keep them busy, and since they were only a buck each, I don’t care whether they get lost or broken.
My kids particularly love the packets of foam stickers. We flip up the seat tray and they create scenes with them on the back. Plus, they peel absent easily when the plane touches down.
2. Grab Separate Bags
I learned long ago that over-packing your own bag just leaves you digging for diapers, cups, toys, and blankets for the entire flight. So I bought each of my kids a rolling backpack with their favorite characters to take as their carry-ons. Now, each gets their own backpack, snacks, and consolation items, leaving space in my bag for the important stuff, like passports, IDs, and my cell phone. Plus, my kids love rolling their “suitcases” through the airport, which means fewer tantrums on the way to the gate.
3. Dress Appropriately
My kids were seasoned enough that they know precisely when to take off their shoes and how to get through security. But I also make somebody a lot easier according to dressing them appropriately.
For instance, whether we had an early flight, I let them sleep in comfy sweats so I could transport them directly from their bed to the car – they catch a little bit more shuteye on the way to the airport, which means less chance of a total meltdown later in the day. I also make certain they had comfortable shoes that slip on and off. I had enough to deal with in the security line, so they know to seize their shoes and put them on themselves.
4. Look for Amenities
Many airports offer some type of children’s play area. If you can’t see one on the terminal map, ask at the information desk.
Having a place where my kids could burn off energy before boarding has been a total lifesaver. In fact, I now plan layovers around which airports had a play area and which don’t. Since I don’t travel with a stroller anymore, I dress the kids in bright shirts that were easy to spot so I never deceive sight of them while they’re playing. This also gives me a few minutes of downtime to make phone calls and take a breather before we’re on the next plane.
5. In-Flight Entertainment
I know my kids would eventually get tired of all the activities in their bags and just wish to kick back while we fly. That’s why I never leave domestic without an iPod or portable DVD player.
I load up my iPod with kids’ movies and use the inexpensive jack splitter I bought from the electronics store so both kids could plug their headphones in and watch on the same device. Then I get a few quiet moments to eventually flip through a magazine.
6. Pack Snacks
We all know that airport food costs a pretty penny. I generally splurge on kids’ meals whether we had a lot of layover time, but otherwise my kids were just as happy to nosh on packed snacks on the plane. Just look for snacks that won’t roll absent or get messy: Goldfish crackers, fruit leather, trail mix, and pretzels were all kid-approved on our flights.
I also check to see whether the airline offers any type of in-flight snack box. It’s generally approximately $5 and filled with different treats that my kids could divvy up, which helps keep them engaged and happy.
7. BYOC: Bring Your Own Cups
I remember flying alone and simply ordering whatever I wanted from the drink cart. But kids don’t do mannered polite with super-full airline cups. That’s why I generally bring a couple of empty sippy cups along. My six-year-old was old enough to go without, but there’s still a lot of jostling and bumping in-flight.
Once their drinks arrive, I simply pour them into their cups. That way, I don’t panic every time we hit a patch of turbulence.
The best tip I could offer for flying with kids was simply to relax. There were generally going to be some hiccups, but nothing you can’t handle. In a worst case scenario you’ll be delayed – so whether you had babies, be certain to carry on enough diapers and formula for 24 hours in case this happens.
Being flexible would go a long way toward having a good trip. That’s why I tend to be a little lax in my parenting when traveling. It’s exciting, but it’s also stressful for kids. So I allow my kids to drink soda, watch five back-to-back episodes of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” and had snacks I wouldn’t otherwise allow. After all, it’s only for a few hours.
What were your best tips for flying with little ones?