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10 Tips for Flying with Kids

Little boy in airplane

Over the past year, I’ve flown a lot–way more than I would have anticipated with a new baby. Lila and I have flown up and down the East Coast and all the way to Europe. It hasn’t always been easy–especially when it’s been just us girls–but I’ve gained some useful travel tips along the way:

1. Book your baby’s ticket. Even lap infants need their own tickets. Call customer service after booking your own, because there’s typically no obvious way to do this online. If your child is under 2, she flies for free domestically, but there are taxes and fees if you fly overseas. Lila chilling on my lap added about 10% to the price for our round-trip to Geneva.

2. Dress simply. Airport security is an ordeal for everyone post-9/11, but even more so when you’re traveling with a toddler in tow. Keep things simple. Wear shoes you can easily kick off in the security line, like loafers or flip-flops.

3. Seek necessary help. When flying alone with a baby, you carry endless gear. There’s no way you can schlep everything from your home to your destination without some help. If no one’s offering, ask. If need be, embrace your inner chutzpah and direct unencumbered adults: “Could you put this car seat on the metal detector conveyor belt?” (It’s not really a question.)

4. Shun the red-eye. The worst thing you can do for your toddler is fly overnight (as we did to Geneva). Meghan Casano, sleep team leader at Boston-based Isis Parenting, recommends that you fly during the day, so if any sleep is missed, it’s nap time. By the time you reach your destination, your child will be tired and more inclined to sleep, rather than completely overtired, having missed a whole night’s rest.

5. Pack some toys, find others everywhere. Lila loves spoons, so I like to pack plastic spoons and other small teething toys in my carry-on bag. However, with airlines’ copious baggage restrictions and fees, it’s often easier to pack less and find more on-board. We’ve discovered that sugar and pretzel packets make great rattles. Ditto for (closed) roll-on deodorant, if you stowed personal items on board. Plastic cups from beverage service are also fun for your toddler to roll, crunch, and chew.

6. Choose helpful accessories. Changing diapers can be challenging on solid ground; Lila lunges, rolls, and shimmies. In an airplane bathroom, which is smaller than most closets, there’s no room for large diaper bags (or much else). Flying to Geneva, the three of us crowded into the tiny bathroom. I wore our messenger-style diaper bag, which kept necessities in easy reach, while my husband held Lila still. If you can change your toddler’s diaper mid-flight, you can pretty much do anything.

7. Sit on the aisle. I’ve always preferred aisle seats, but with a baby on board, it’s crucial. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle seat with a cranky toddler. That aisle seat enables you to easily stroll up and down, calming your baby, whether she finds the movement soothing or is simply curious to see all the new faces in-flight.

8. Relax about the rules. As a 1-year-old, Lila doesn’t watch TV at home. But you can’t control your environment when you travel. When every seat has its own television screen, you can’t realistically prevent your child from watching TV, even if you’re not. Relax, the limited exposure won’t do irreparable damage, and you can return to regular routines at home.

9. Pray other kids are on-board. Lila was mostly miserable on our red-eye to Geneva. She typically loves charming adults, but at her most overtired, even that grew tiresome. The one thing that cheered her was playing Peekaboo with the 2-year-old boy across the aisle. If you’re lucky, other parents will be sitting nearby with their little ones, and they can entertain one another.

10. Remember it’s temporary. If you don’t sleep (as I didn’t heading to Geneva; Lila napped for only an hour), remember there’s a bed at your destination. After a good night’s rest, all will be right with the world again–for you and your toddler.

For more travel tips, check out how to survive a road trip with kids, traveling with a baby overseas, and what to say to people who complain about kids on planes.


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