We have definitely done our share of flying with babies and toddlers. In fact, we have a trip coming up this week! We no longer have a baby to fly with, but our niece and nephew have an upcoming trip to Hawaii and asked for our tips.
Choosing the Schedule
When possible, fly direct. It is nice to get out and stretch everyone’s legs, but it is not worth the extra travel time.
We fly early in the morning to maximize our time at our destination, but I actually recommend late morning flights. This gives the kids time to play a little, eat breakfast at home, get to the airport, clear security, play a bit at the gate, and then hopefully be ready for lunch and nap on the plane.
When we fly early (generally 4 am wake up) my 2-year-old son will take a nap on the plane but my 3.5-year-old daughter is awake until afternoon nap time.
Choosing the Seats
Unless we have a tight layover, we always aim for the back of the plane. Stuff gets scattered over the course of the flight and we want to be able to stand in the aisle and gather our stuff without an impatient line behind us. The bonus is we are close to the bathrooms and the stewards/stewardesses.
Ultimately the goal is to maximize the space for your family to use. Once you’ve done that, the car seats go on the outside of your zone. You don’t want to have to reach over a car seat for anything.
Check everything you don’t need for the plane. The less you carry on the better, and you will have your hands full with what you do need for the plane. I have published my packing list for flying solo with 2 toddlers, but a baby in the mix requires some adapting.
Being organized is key in these situations. You don’t want to desperately need a pacifier and have to dig through several bags to find it.
You can bring a carry-on and a personal item per person on most airlines. That means a family of 4 can bring 8 bags on the airplane! Don’t. Compress down to what you really need.
This is the bag you’ll put in the overhead compartment and hopefully not touch. Extra changes of clothes, diapers and wipes beyond what you think you’ll need, baby Tylenol, etc. Remember to bring at least a change of shirt for Mom and Dad, we are often victims of the children’s messes!
Essentials Bag/ Diaper Bag
Store this under the seat in front of one of the children and keep it within arms reach. This will have diapers and wipes, pacifiers, snacks, and everything that is essential for your family!
Small Soft Cooler
Depending what you pack for lunch, you may be able to skip this and store all your food in your essentials bag. Sometimes I bring one, sometimes I don’t.
For us, this is a little backpack that the kids help us pack. They know exactly what is in it and they can open it as soon as we are on the plane. It generally includes a board book or two, a couple fun toys, and a bouncy ball.
This is where we keep the good stuff! Coloring books (I love the “magic” ones because you only need 1 marker and the kids never see these at home), new books, new toys (dollar stores are great for these), stickers, temporary tattoos, etc.
The surprise bag should also include some special snacks. For us, this could mean lollipops (help with ear pressure!), chewy fruit snacks, breakfast cookies, etc.
The important thing is that the kids never get a look inside the Surprise Bag! This bag is strictly as-needed and you don’t want your kid going through it in the first 5 minutes.
Day of Travel
- Decide in advance how you’re going to handle drop off. It works for us to have Mom and toddler take all the bags and check them while Dad and baby park the car. If you can get someone to drop the whole family off, even better!
- Use the baby and toddler carriers to navigate the airport. You can keep them on during security! We have long since abandoned taking a stroller through the airport, but if you’re bringing car seats you might as well. You’ll have to gate check the stroller and you may want to consider a stroller bag.
- Spend the $5 to push your stuff around on a cart. You can load up the car seats and carry-ons and be able to focus on the kids. We grab one before and after security if available.
- Kids under 12 are included with an adult’s TSA Precheck. Shorter lines and not having to take your shoes off is a huge deal when you have little ones! Definitely worth the cost and effort of applying.
- Take deep breaths, it’ll be over a few hours and you’ll be on vacation!
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