Our kids grew up with grandparents on opposite sides of the country, so before they could walk they were getting on planes. Yes, we got those looks from people when they saw us get on the plane with two small kids, but more than once we had people comment on how great our kids did. Some planning helps.
Before we talk parenting on a plane, just a brief digression into parenting in general. Kids who are undisciplined when they are not on planes will not suddenly become able to follow instructions while on a plane… and they have to.
We watched in amazement once as a woman who had a child or 3 or 4 unable to keep her child in the seat belt for takeoff. It is not legal for the flight to take off with a child crawling on the floor and we fully expected them to be escorted from the plane. If you can’t get your child to follow your instructions on a regular basis, then bringing them in a crowded enclosed metal tube will not make it better.
I suggest well before you fly you establish standards for how you expect your kids will behave and enforce them. Of course, enforcing them with a 12-year-old will require conversation, while enforcing them with a 2-year-old will require a lot of distraction.
Here are some things we found that help with the parenting on the plane part:
Traveling with Infants
- Be aware that while there are restrictions to bringing liquids past security the TSA does have exceptions for “Baby formula and breast milk if a baby or small child is traveling”. You will need to have those bottles “declared at the checkpoint for additional screening”.
- At take-off and landing nurse your child or give them a bottle because swallowing is the best way for them to equalize the pressure in their ears.
- If you bring your car seat to use on the plane you may not be allowed to use it if it does not have a sticker with FFA approval. The label should read, “This restraint certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” Booster seats are banned during take-off and landing for safety reasons. Be aware that different flight attendants will enforce different rules for how your baby must be held or secured on take-off and landing.
- Assume your flight will have some delays and plan the number of diapers you take accordingly. Many moms advise taking a smaller bag with just the essentials for one changing to take with you to the very small restrooms. Be aware that not all restrooms on the plane may be the same size. On many planes the restrooms in the back may be larger and have a drop-down changing table, ask your flight attendant.
- You also might think about a change of clothes for your baby and maybe a top for you unless your baby has never spit up on you.
- On long flights, especially international, see if a bassinet is available and if so get a bulkhead seat with a bassinet. You will need to do this as far ahead of time as possible.
Traveling with Small Kids
- Consider a different flight plan than your usual. When our kids were small my wife preferred a flight with a connection that gave the kids a chance to run around over a long cross country flight. Some moms swear by doing a red-eye with small kids.
- If you are trying to decide between holding a toddler (under 2 years) on your lap vs buying a ticket, see how long they will stay happy on your lap at a restaurant or other outside activity.
- Bring snacks
- If the flight has a meal service see if they have a kids meal, some flights at least used to offer a happy meal
- Bring snacks
- Pack books or other activities but take them out one at a time as the child becomes bored. Try and avoid small parts that would get easily lost. Include a comfort item like a teddy bear.
- Bring snacks
- Take advantage of the time when the seat belt light is out to walk around and use the restroom. Use the restroom whenever you can with small kids especially before the plane takes off. It might be a while before that seat belt light comes off.
- You can’t bring a full water bottle through security, but you can bring an empty bottle and refill it from the water fountain.
Traveling with Older Kids
- Have a packing list and have the kids do their own packing. At first, they will need supervision and inspection but they will need less over time. When you forget something on a trip make sure it is on the packing list for next time. I recommend school-age kids (and maybe preschoolers) pack a small carry on bag with wheels and a backpack with things to entertain themselves. The rule in our family was you pack it you carry it so double-check that the backpack does not get too heavy.
For Moms and Dads
- Recognize that the flight itself is part of the vacation, not something to be endured but time to spend with the kids. Try and get into vacation mode before the fasten seat belt light turns on.
For more information on traveling with kids listen to Traveling with Small Children – Amateur Traveler Episode 142.