If you're flying with a baby or a toddler, here are 10 tips on how to get through it. And, if you're on a flight with an unhappy child, here's a bonus tip for you: Glaring at the parent of said unhappy child is probably not going to improve the situation. Here are 10 tips for how to survive a flight with a baby or toddler or any small child.
How to survive a flight with a baby or toddler
While I don't have the magic cure-all to make your child not cry or act out during a flight, these tips will make hopefully make things easier for everyone.
1. Talk to Your Kids About the Trip
Even if you think they won't understand. While a small child probably won't fully get your explanation of what it’s like to go through airport security and why we shouldn’t kick the back of the seat in front of us, kids absorb more than you might think. They'll draw some nuggets from your pre-trip conversation and this might make travel with kids run more smoothly.
2. Have a Child Under Two? Buy the Seat vs. the Lap Ticket
Your mileage may vary but in general, parents of kids under two can save the airfare if their small child flies as a lap child. While it is tempting to save money, don't do this, especially if your flights are longer. Yes, your child will still probably sit on your lap some of the time but you'll appreciate the extra space to spread out.
3. Electronic Entertainment FTW – But With Headphones, Please!
Load your child’s iPad or tablet with a combination of new games and videos. If you set strict rules about screen time, a long flight might warrant loosening those rules. If your child is not used to headphones, practice before the flight so you don't inflict Blippi or Baby Shark on your fellow passengers.
4. Don't Stress About Schedules or Jet Lag
If you're a schedule-driven parent, try to relax your rules. If you approach a long day of flying with the “My child will stay on a schedule, or else!” mindset then you're setting yourself up for failure. Cross your fingers and hope for a nice long nap. And, jet lag is what it is. Even a couple of hours' time difference throws everyone off. Jet lag doesn't last forever and kids bounce back quickly.
Pack your melatonin gummies and try to get everyone on the local time when you arrive, then hope everyone acclimates quickly. Lots of natural light during the day helps.
5. Make a Plan for How You'll Deal With the Dreaded Ear Popping
Ear popping is caused by pressure changes during takeoff and landing. Babies and toddlers may experience extra discomfort due to undeveloped eustachian tubes and in general not understanding why their ears are hurting. Chewing or swallowing can mitigate ear pain and pressure. Younger kids can suck on a lollipop. Offer a bottle or nurse younger kids to help with ear popping.
6. Consider Bringing Your Child's Car Seat
If you're worried about your child sitting still on a plane, why not bring something they're used to sitting in and probably napping in? The car seat is familiar and bringing it on a plane will solve the problem of having to borrow or rent a car seat at your destination.
Car seats on a plane can be a divisive parenting topic so if you're doing internet research, be prepared to see warnings of the dangers of keeping kids in their car seats for an extended period. Realistically, your child won't sit in their car seat for an entire long-haul flight, so there will be opportunities to take breaks.
7. Bring the Stroller
While no one likes taking a stroller through airport security, the hassle is worth it in the long run when traveling with kids. Not carrying a child through the airport is the goal. Even if your child walks on his or her own most of the time, the stroller's cargo area can hold backpacks and purses. Check to see if your flight will allow your stroller to be gate checked, which means you'll have it available until you board your flight and get it back again as soon as you arrive.
You can also check a stroller as checked baggage, the same as you would a suitcase, but then you'll lose the benefit of having the cargo space, plus a handle to lean on, while you are in the airport. Don't estimate the importance of that handle to lean on!
8. Know Your Airline's Policies
Most airlines allow families with children to board early to allow families extra time to get seated. The rules vary across different airlines on when family boarding happens, how old the kids have to be, and how many people can be included in the family. Know the rules before you show up.
Also, make sure you understand your airline's policy on seating families together, and don't assume. Some airlines require a higher fare category for passengers to select their seats and sit together. And, don't assume families will automatically be seated together or that other passengers will switch seats to make that happen for you.
9. Expect the Worst
Lower the bar. Nope. Lower than that.
Don't expect a lot. Go in expecting your kid to have your very worst day and that the other passengers will glare and mutter under their breath for the entire flight. Oh, and expect the inflight Wi-Fi to be down and the beverage service to be delayed because of turbulence.
I normally don't advocate being a Debbie Downer but low expectations are the key to surviving a flight with young kids. You're in survival mode and anything above survival is a bonus.
10. Remember, You'll Never See These People Again
Even if your kids are absolute monsters on the plane and everyone on your flight cheers when your family gets off the plane, so what? You're not going to see these people again, and even though it might feel like your flight is lasting forever, it doesn't last forever. Ignore the dirty looks and the snide comments, if they happen.
The odds of seeing the people on your flight again are slim to none so just get through it. This too shall pass.