The first time I ever considered flying with kids, I remember thinking it sounded absolutely bizarre to hold the baby on my lap for an entire flight.
“What?” I thought to myself. “People do that?”
Traveling was never a huge passion of mine before kids, but vacation is, so 50+ flights with kids later (the majority of which I held a child on my lap!), now I’m an accidental travel expert for traveling with babies and toddlers.
My family and I live in Los Angeles and started flying with our two girls (now 3 ½ and 1 ½ years old) when both were just weeks old. We have been all over the U.S.: as far north as Portland, as far west as Maui, and as far south as Miami. I have done it all, seen it all, and I am here to share everything I’ve learned.
Elizabeth Lim’s Top Ten Tips for Traveling with Children
Decide What’s Best for Your Family – Buy a Seat or Not?
Many safety experts recommend purchasing a ticket (and bringing a car seat to install on board) for your child under age two, although all airlines allow this age group to fly for free and sit on an adult’s lap. See the FAA Guidlines.
Bringing a car seat on the plane works for many people to keep your baby content, contained, and safe. As with everything, you need to weigh the risks and do what works best for your family. My first child couldn’t stand her car seat, so this was absolutely not an option for me.
Takeaway Tip: When my girls were under age two, we always chose the lap child ticket option.
Gate Check Everything
While it may be super tempting to drop all your gear off with the rest of your luggage at the ticket counter, check your car seats at the gate. Not only does this keep them safe and undamaged, but it also allows you to take certain items you may need (i.e., a stroller) through the airport.
All airlines will gate check your strollers and car seats for free – just walk to the end of the jetway, collapse your stroller and drop your car seat, and it is magically stowed on the plane and waiting for you on the jetway again when you arrive at your destination. I’m still trying to figure out how I can get this service in my everyday life!
Decide Whether or Not to Bring a Car Seat
Since we have already determined gate checking as the best option for gear, if you need a car seat on either end of your travel, you will get the pleasure of lugging that seat (or seats) throughout the airport.
Here is how I make it work: If my child is in an infant seat, I take that since it is inherently lightweight and portable – no travel bag or base – and it can easily be carried by the handle or rested in the stroller (without a child).
For a child normally in a convertible seat, I take a separate lightweight travel car seat with a carrying backpack bag. I prefer one that can be carried on your back because hands are a valuable commodity! (See following tip.)
If I have to travel with more than one of car seat, one can be propped into the stroller and your child can be worn or can walk. For either option, it is a pain to carry them to the gate but, remember, you can leave them at the end of the jetway.
Takeaway Tip: Consider buying a car seat and shipping it to your destination.
I shipped a new car seat to a friend who was picking me up at the airport and then sold it on Facebook Marketplace at the end of the trip. It was $60 which I thought was a fair price (and I made back!) and it saved me the hassle of lugging it through the airport.
Invest in Travel Gear
Top 3 travel products I have purchased:
- Lightweight travel car seat (for any child that is in a convertible seat) with a car seat carrying bag backpack, as mentioned above.
- Child-size Bluetooth headphones.
Top 2 Products I would never leave home without:
Takeaway tip: Download movies for your kids onto your device before the flight – never count on being able to stream while in the air. If you pay for streaming services like Disney+, Netflix etc., you can download the apps onto your device and download any movie onto your phone for free.
Along with your usual diaper bag essentials like diapers and wipes, I recommend to take an extra set of clothes (for baby and yourself – no one wants to wear spit up for the duration of a long flight), a bag to use for trash on the plane (collect everything in one place and throw away at the end), a blanket for each child, a water bottle to fill after passing security, and headphones for the toddler with cords in case Bluetooth decides not to work mid-flight (don’t be me and learn this the hard way).
We always pack our favorite pajamas as our backup clothes; roll them and they’re super compact.
Plan Your Flight Times Wisely
Avoid connections if you can. Fly early in the day (it means fewer chances for a delay – which can really make or break your travel with kids.)
While I always try to count on some sleep from a baby/young toddler on a flight, I never purposefully skip their usual nap or keep them up extra late in hopes that they will be “extra tired” for the flight. It backfires every time!
Keep Calm and Carry On
It can be extremely unnerving to have a child who is throwing a tantrum or won’t stop crying mid-flight (or my least favorite time – during boarding). However, the more calm you are, the more calm everyone else around you will be. Plus, chances are no one else besides you is even noticing your child’s behavior – everyone always has air buds, is sleeping or is chatting with their seat mates.
How many snacks can your toddler possibly eat during a 2-3 hour flight? How many toys could they play with? I used to bring a Mary Poppins-sized bag full of treats and entertainment but have learned to streamline it to keep it simple.
- a couple of novel snacks (lollipops, mini cookies, fun crackers, etc.)
- a screen and headphones for the 3-year-old
- a coloring book with anti-roll crayons and stickers for the 1-year-old
Keep in mind there is plenty to do that doesn’t involve “stuff:” sing songs, look out the window (always get a window seat when you have a lap child!), walk to the bathroom and wash hands, even play “I Spy.”
Set Realistic Expectations
Leave your in-flight to-do list at home. Don’t expect you’re going to be diving into the latest novel. This will be nothing short of a workout. There is lots of lugging of the stuff, calming of the tantrums, and overall stress. But the more you have realistic expectations, the more enjoyable your experience will be. And I can almost guarantee that no matter what, it will go better than you think it will!
Read more about Elizabeth Lim and Beach Cities Moms here.