Five Road Warrior’s Tips for Flying with Small Children

Snuggled up on last flight home
Snuggled up on last flight home

I’ve travel a lot. Part of my work involve being in the air getting to client’s offices all across the country.  Next week, I embark on a 5-day 4-city hop across three time zones.  It will be hectic, but normal for any seasoned road warrior.  So, you may have a question: How did this road warrior manage traveling with young kids?

Well, having done several transcontinental and international flights, with my kids as infants and toddlers, both alone and with my husband, I figured out our own personal successful tips that work great for us.  I hope this helps you.


#1: Book Early Flights

I mean early – like 6 am early. This may sound intensely painful, but it actually makes things easier in the end, especially if you’re on a transcontinental flight.  When you have a flight that early, you will have to get up before 3 and depending on your commute, out the door around 4 so you can arrive at the airport by about 5.  For 6 am flights, don’t try to get to the airport before 4.  Many airports don’t open counters and security before 4 or 4:30.  Check with your local airport on their opening times.

With very early flights, your kids will be so sleepy, they’ll sleep in the car on the way to the airport.  When you get to the airport, they’ll usually fall asleep in the stroller and will be pretty groggy and for the most part chill through security and on the first part of the flight.  They might even fall back asleep on board the air craft.  But if not, they won’t be all wound up with adrenaline and instead will be ready to eat and play games, read stories, or do other more quiet activities.


#2: Schedule Long Layovers

This may seem counter-intuitive, but is rather logical.  When I flew to Jamaica for my cousin’s wedding in January, I intentionally booked a 4-hour layover in Miami.  My reasoning is that after a 5.5 hour flight from SFO – MIA, the kids will need to run.  And boy did that work out.  First our flight was late getting in, so we didn’t have to worry about missing our connection and secondly, the kids got to nap and run and play.  So by the time we had to get on our 2nd leg, they were excited to get back on the plane.  Fortunately, the flight from Miami to Kingston is not that long, so even though it was end of day and they’re rather cranky, it was short enough that we could get by with intense entertainment and distractions.


#3: Pack Lots of Snacks

My kids snacking in-flight.
My kids snacking in-flight.

This is pretty normal for a parent to pack snacks, but it’s even more crucial on a flight.  There’s nothing worse than a hungry toddler trapped on an aluminum jet 30,000 miles in the air.  It goes without saying to avoid sugary snacks.  The only other worse predicament than a hungry toddler is a hyper-toddler.  Plus, it will save you money than paying for overpriced airplane snacks.


#4: Toys and Games

Yes, pack lots and variety of toys and games and stuffed animals and finger puppets and anything else you can think of to keep them occupied.  Don’t bother to pack your favorite magazine or current book.  When you’re in flight and the kids have nowhere to go, you’ll be their entertainment 150%.  Plan on being on parenting over-drive.


#5: Stash Some Rewards

Excited for Take Off to Jamaica
Excited for Take Off to Jamaica

One of trick I’ve learned is to hide some rewards in my purse.  My preschooler loves stickers, so I give him challenges and goals to meet so he can earn his sticker.  This is a great way to buy some time in flight and keep him occupied.  My toddler who was 13 months when we traveled to Jamaica, didn’t play on her own as much, but she understood the concept of earning her reward and certainly wanted to get her reward.

So, what will your carry-on luggage look like?  A lot. Just try to remember to consolidate.  Remember you’ll have to wrangle kids, stroller and luggage.  Packing is an art, and even I still haven’t mastered that art form just yet.

Safe and Happy Travels!

5 thoughts on “Five Road Warrior’s Tips for Flying with Small Children

  1. As a new mom, I am so glad I found these tips! I will be traveling with my infant daughter and 4 year old son to Costa Rica next month and I hadn’t even thought of many of these ideas about booking and how to keep the little munchkins occupied and happy. Thanks so much for shairng your experience!
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  2. I flew with my three children when they were infants and toddlers. These are all fantastic tips, especially booking early! For me, it was important to keep my kids comfortable and happy and to not let anything get to the point where they were irritating other passengers. If you have a nursing infant, nurse or bottle feed your baby or toddler during takeoff and landing, to help alleviate painful changes in air pressure in their ears – older children and adults can chew gum to have the same effect. Contact your airline in advance to make arrangements to bring bottles of formula and juice boxes to avoid having to dump them out at the TSA checkpoint. Bring plenty of toys and games, I made my older kids a map illustrated with cartoons glued to a small cookie sheet with an airplane magnet to move across the country as we went and we looked at picture books about the animals that lived in the country below us. The two older children had backpacks with “crafts” to make something to give their grandparents on one trip and each a steno pad and crayons to draw me pictures of things they’d like to do when we got there. I would have loved to have had a kindle then, to download a huge pile of storybooks and things to read to them or even a special kids’ movie they could watch.

    1. Thanks Gaabi! Those are great tips.

      I regards to formula and security, TSA no longer requires families to dump milk or formula for infants and babies. Juice boxes probably will be harder to get through but milk and formula are no longer confiscated. Additionally mothers do not have to “taste” pumped breast milk if they are traveling without an infant.

      Many strides have been made with protecting family rights but every now and then there are new or untrained employees that give flyers a difficult time which can be unfortunate.

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