The idea of flying with small children has to be one of the the biggest causes of stress for parents. As much as I love to travel, since having children I can’t help but stress out at the very thought of lugging a bunch of suitcases through an airport or making flight connections with tired and unhappy children in tow, and the very prospect of keeping them quietly seated for hours on end is simply exhausting!
My kids are no strangers to flying and have been visiting family in Italy since they were born. The more we travel, the more they have grown accustomed to long-haul travel. Having said that, they still get antsy or have the odd melt down – but then again, don’t us adults get those too after hours and hours of restless travel? Simple tips and tricks can help reduce any unnecessary stress while traveling by plane with young children.
These tried and true 12 tips for flying with toddlers will hopefully ease your anxiety and stress over traveling overseas with your little ones.
1. Early boarding is not always beneficial
Speaking from experience, it is more ideal to board the plane early only when traveling with babies 12 months and under. Boarding the plane first, means you get to snag that much-needed overhead-bin space. However, early boarding has its downside since it means at least an extra half hour or more on the plane — which is not the best idea when you have a long haul flight and an antsy toddler who can’t sit still. Depending on our mood and the circumstances we sometimes like to divide and conquer: my husband boards the plane first with all of our carry-ons and I wait until the last minute to board the plane with the kids.
2. Allow each child to bring his/her own backpack (2+ years)
Have each child bring a small backpack filled with their favourite toys or pack some new toys that will capture their attention and maintain their interest. Fill each backpack with a variety of activities, for example, crayons or markers, post-its, a notebook, maze or dot-to-dot books, figurines or small toys and cars, puzzles, new soft-cover books, sticker puzzles, colouring books and sticker books, personal earphones, etc. Also, put tissues and antiseptic wipes in the kid’s backpacks so you don’t have to rummage through your own continuously.
3. Pack more diapers than you would usually use.
When my children were babies I packed one diaper for every 4 hours of travel, just to be on the safe side. Although my son is potty-trained he still wears a diaper overnight so I packed 2 for the long haul flight plus double the amount of underwear (you never know how long you might have to wait to get to a bathroom!). My daughter is still potty training so I brought extra overnight pull-ups for her.
4. Pack a change of clothes…and then some!
Children get dirty very easily while traveling so it’s a good idea to bring a change of clothes in your carry-on as well as a longer pair of pants (if you’re traveling in the summer) and a light sweater in case it gets cold on the airplane.
5. Have a variety of filling yet healthy snacks.
We all know that overseas travel can take a toll on our stomachs so it’s best to provide the kids with healthy and light snacks. Options can include dried fruit, organic puffed rice bars or granola bars, animal cookies, cereal, crackers, etc. Buying items that are packaged individually is a great way to avoid packages opening up in your bag during travel and reduces bulk in your carry-on.
6. Know the pros and cons of non-stop flights.
A non-stop flight means you get to your destination quicker however, it also means a lot more time confined to a seat. You know your child and you know how much they can bear when it comes to sitting still for long periods of time. Booking connecting flights allows your child to run around and ‘let loose’ as much as possible before having to board another plane.
7. Choose at least one aisle seat.
When traveling with small children it is inevitable that you will have to get out of your seat numerous times during the flight. Choosing an aisle seat means extra more leg room, easy access to the overhead bin (and the bathroom!) and spares other travelers the annoyance of having to move out of the way every time you need to get up.
8. Plan for the security line.
A light umbrella stroller is your best friend when going through security since it is easy to fold up at the last second and throw onto the X-ray’s conveyor belt. Avoid placing items in the pockets of the stroller in case you forget what’s in there-like a wallet that you end up running off the plane 5 minutes before take-off to search for-in the departure gate garbage, only to realize (after take-off) that it is safely stashed away in the stroller in the cabin.
9. Ease ear pain.
When appropriate, bring lollipops, crunchy snacks, a sippy cup or a cup with a straw. This will help prevent your child’s ears from hurting due to the air-pressure changes in the cabin during take-off and landing.
10. Be smart about medication.
People are always quick to resort to offering children gravol or Benadryl to help them sleep ‘better’ on the plane. On the contrary, they could have adverse effects and make your child even groggier than normal if they don’t get enough sleep (which they definitely won’t!). If you do want to give medication, be smart and try it out ahead of time to see the effect it has on your child. Also, ask your doctor about how to give the proper amounts, since they sometimes differ when flying, or speak to a naturopath about more natural sleep aids, such as melatonin.
11. Bring a dish towel
Seems like an odd tip however, it will inevitably save you a ton of clean-up and mess! When I first started flying with my kids I always brought a ton of paper towels in case of major spillage. This time I brought an over-sized kitchen towel, which proved helpful at meal times (on and off the plane) as a sort of lap ‘bib’ for my youngest who tends to get messy when she eats!
12. Make friends with the air crew.
Stewards and stewardesses can be your best friend (or your worst enemy). Don’t be afraid to make a reasonable request to make your travel time more comfortable or bearable. If you ask nicely, they are usually more than happy to help! Note: If you have to resort to threats to get your child to listen, you could (I might have done this once) tell your child that the steward or stewardess will put them in time-out at the back of the plane if they continue to misbehave! (Sometimes, you gotta do, what you gotta do!).
And just one final tip – or at least somewhat of a comforting thought, no matter how ill-behaved your child, or how bad the flight is, sooner or later, you’ll get to your destination and remember that chances are you will never see any of those annoyed passengers again!