My kids and I travel. A Lot. Both my kids are United Premier members due to the number of miles they have flown with me and my husband in the past year. We live in Eugene, Oregon and have flown with our kids to London (3 times), Barcelona, Istanbul, all over Mexico ( a lot of my family is there), Boston (my husband’s family lives there), NYC (my brother lives there), Miami, Denver, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland Maine, and the list goes on. I am very proud to say that I have never gotten off a flight without other passengers commenting, surprised, on what good travelers the kids are. In our most recent plane flight back from London (via San Francisco, a hellish 12 hour plane ride) a flight attendant said I should write tips and tricks for other parents. She said she had never in her 20 years of flying seen kids who behaved as well as mine on a long flight. The kids were 2 and 4 at the time of the flights.
Now lets be serious. I wish I could tell you in that smug parent way that my kids are always well behaved. I like to think that my husband and i are good parents– but our kids are by no means perfect. They have their meltdowns. They have their “fits” (tantrums as described by my four year old). They fight with each other, they don’t always listen. Just like any normal 2 and 4 year old. But so far we have been able to avoid having any major meltdowns on a plane or in an airport (OK now I feel like I may jinx our next trip!!!). So I thought I might heed the flight attendants request and give you some do’s and don’ts for plane travel with kids. None of these are guarantees, but they have worked for our family. Let’s start with the DONT’S:
- DON’T bring large STUFF. The last time I boarded a plane I watched a couple with their less than 1 year old twins get on a plane. Each parent carried a baby, and a stuffed bear the size of the baby. They had not bought seats for the babies, which is fine, but they sat there trying to juggle the babies and these ridiculous bears on their laps. Truly, truly how much entertainment can a large stuffed bear bring to a nine month old? This also means don’t bring pillows, or large blankets. A comfort blankie for a small baby is a must — but a bed sized quilt — not good for anyone.
- DON’T bring lots of small toys with little parts.Your kids won’t care. The toys will go every where and you won’t find them. Junior may scream because the toys can not be found. Junior can throw the toys (not a good thing!). Junior is more interested in pulling the window shade open and shut, taking the in-flight magazine in and out of the pocket in front of them, trying to “use” the in-flight phone, and playing with the pretzels and or plastic cups. Everything on the plane is more interesting than any toys you may bring. toys take up room, are usually bulky and your child will use them for about 2 min. Skip them
- DON’T bring a baby car seat on board unless your baby truly LOVES the seat and just wants to hang out there ALL THE TIME. The reality is — if the plane actually crashes — everyone is in trouble. Car seats take up a TON of room, and prevent you from letting your child move a little bit — and be less sedentary.
- Unless your child is 5 or more, and really does love to color, skip the crayons and pens. Just like the small toys, in about 2 minutes they are rolling all over the floor of the plane. Ad pens lose their caps and make kids upset. Chances are, your little one won’t really color for more than 15-20 minutes before they get bored
- DON’T fool yourself and bring entertainment and reading material for yourself. It just takes up precious space in your carry-on and believe me — you won’t have time. If you are very very lucky you may be able to close your eyes for 30 minutes. Your purpose on the plane is to be completely attentive to the needs of your child, anticipating their hunger, moods, sleepiness, etc. so that you can keep things going smoothly. We all know that once the tantrum or crying fits starts — its very hard to stop. The name of the game if avoidance and distraction. You will become the mommy and or daddy circus.
- DON’T treat good behavior on planes with candy. Don’t get lose because you are traveling and buy them sweets. You WILL regret this as will your fellow passengers.
- DO understand that the name of the game while traveling with young kids and babies is SELF SUFFICIENCY. Do not rely on the airline or anyone else to provide your child’s needs.
- DO pack lightly. This helps you be self sufficient. My husband and I bought these bags from Costco about 2 years ago and love them for travel with the kids. They open up to have 2 separate sides, so I pack each child on one side in one bag, and my husband and I do the same in the other bag. All 4 of us travel with just those 2 bags as checked luggage – no matter how far or long we are going. If it doesn’t fit into those bags, we just don’t take it. As long as you are not packing HEAVY things like large shampoo bottles or heavy electronics these bag pack full and are still under 50 lbs – the current limit on checked bags for most airlines. My husband can roll these 2 bags without anyone helping him, and I deal with the 2 kids in a double stroller. I carry a backpack carry-on as does my husband. We have walk over 6 city blocks in Manhattan and London with our luggage and kids to get transportation to the airport — without needing any help. My kids do know that when we are in a hurry or have to get somewhere with them and the luggage they MUST sit in the stroller.
- DO bring a stroller, even if you think your child is old enough. Airports mean LOTS of walking, sometimes very quickly to get a connection, and with often kids that are very tired from early flights or missed naps. Worst case your stroller can carry things and your child can walk. best case you can put both kids in it and RUN from Gate 22 in Denver all the way to Gate 98 to catch that last flight to Eugene. Yes I have done it. Our kids are now going on 5 ad 3, and for the next 3 trips we have planned, 2 across the country and one down to San Francisco, I still plan on bringingthe double stroller. I have a McClaren Twin Triumph. It is super lightweight, folds like an umbrella stroller, fits through ALL doors, and supports 55 pounds per side.
- DO understand that your carry-on luggage is not yours. It is your child’s (or children’s). Bring one bag, preferably a back-pack (hands free is key). This bag will carry everything you need to sustain your kid(s) for the next 24 hours. You want to make sure you are prepared for delays, cancellations, late arrivals and lost luggage. I always pack:
- 2 changes of clothes for each child including underwear and socks. I have had a child have a pee accident which not only wets his pants and underwear, but his shoes and socks as well. A nice clean pair of synthetic socks can make a BIG difference. If you pack one change of clothes, Murphy’s Law states that your child will spill their orange juice all over them at breakfast at the airport AFTER check-in, and you will face a 12 hour day of travel with no extra clothes. Believe me. I have been there.
- enough diapers to make it through 24 hours in case your luggage doesn’t show up
- enough wipes to use them liberally for everything from diaper changes to pseudo sponge baths
- Baby/kids tylenol, motrin, and benadryl. Most USA airports let you take baby/kid stuff through security that is more than 3.4 ounces. If you are not sure — but airport size containers that are child safe, and tranfer your medicines into them — well marked. You don’t want to face a fever/ear ache/flu mid way through your flight with no medicine.
- a thermometer. A plane is not the palce to argue with your husband about whether baby has a fever or not. Make it simple – pack the termometer.
- Water bottle or sippy cup. My kids have the 13 oz SIGG bottles which are easy to travel with. You will have to take them through security EMPTY and then buy water after security.
- Healthy, filling, fun food. It takes creativity but you can find snack type food that does well on flights, but in a pinch can sustain a little one for hours and hours. My favorites are: Pirate’s Booty, Barabra”s individually packed vanilla animal crackers, organic individually wrapped cheese sticks, whole wheat goldfish, small little apples, individual organic apple sauce containers, pretzels (although United gives those out and the kids like getting them), kid cliff bars, little jars of Organic Baby brand baby food (when the kids were infants).
- DO bring “real” age appropriate entertainment. A few paperback books with favorite stories are easy to pack and keep kids happy. My husband and I sucked it up and got the kids IPODS to travel with. We purchase movies and tv shows for them. The kids have entertainment that they like and we get a little peace and quiet. Kids really have to be about 2 yrs old to be able to watch any shows — otherwise they just don’t have the attention span. And yes, I know TV is bad for babies and young kids. Our kids watch very little to none at home — so traveling with their IPODs is a real treat. When you are traveling wtih a baby under 2, baby books and food along with comfort items do the trick.
- DO bring a BIG bottle of sanitizer. A flight attendant once watched me use a baby wipe with sanitizer to wipe down the seat rests, tray table, window, window shade, and all buttons accessible to children. She said to me “aha you figured out the secret to reducing sickness. All flight attendants do exactly what you are doing. You would NOT ant to know the germs that are on those seats! Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I am too anal. But I swear to you I think it helps reduce illness while traveling. I dispense the sanitizer liberally while in airports and on planes. I have actually been asked on multiple occasions by fellow travelers if they too can have a baby wipe with sanitizer to clean off their area.
- Do bring COMFORT sleep-inducing items. Hopefully your child has one or a few. Our kids both had small blankies they loved as babies and between that a nursing they would be off to sleep in minutes. When they got older and stopped nursing I let them have bottles and or warm milk in sippies. For our kids all it takes to get them to sleep on flights when tired is lying down in the seat with a bunch of airplane pillows and some warm milk. Our older child no longer naps — but is happy to rest and watch some PBS shoes on his IPOD with his warm milk. It is very calming for him. When we take the over night flight to London (we go at least once a year if not more for business and family) I bring PJ’s to change the kids into on the plane. It helps them understand that it is night time and they need to go to sleep.
- Do talk to your kids about what is going to happen. Even at a young age. When they are very little you can read them plane books and get them excited about planes. As they get older you can go into more details. Because we live in a small town we are usually 2 flights from anywhere. My 4 year old does really well when I lay out the trip for him in detail. I tell him when we are going to go to the airport (sometimes it is “in the middle of the night” as he says, because we have a 6am flight. Other times it is later in the afternoon because our connection is a night flight. We start discussing the trip a good month ahead of time, and work up to more and more details. He usually can tell you on the day of travel how many planes we will be on, and what our layover cities will be, and what meals we will be eating at the airport. If plans change during the trip – I tell the kids. Last summer we had 3 flights to get back from Portland Maine to Eugene Oregon. Our flight was so delayed into Denver we didn’t think we would make the last flight to Eugene. We told both kids (but particularly aimed the discussion at the 4 year old) so that they knew we would have to run — and that even while running we may not make the flight. Our 4 year old was so cooperative because he KNEW what to expect. He ran almost the whole way and was excited about the “adventure” of it all. He also know that if we didn’t run we wouldn’t make the plane, but even if we ran we still might not make the plane. HE was totally on board and thrilled to bits that we made it, forgetting that he had been promised whatever he wanted for dinner in the Denver airport. Had we not told him and simply dragged him along — we could have been in for one of his famous “fits”. Kids do better when they know what to expect, just like adults do.
So maybe you think I am crazy. Maybe you think I shouldn’t drag my kids all over the place. But I love traveling with my kids, and I love exposing them to dofferent places. I travel a lot for business and have been lucky enough to take along my mom to help out – or my husband (who runs the business with me) will also come, so we bring the kids. The more we travel the more miles we build up, which we now use almost exclusively to bring along family members for help when we travel with the kids for business. Last year our kids clocked 50,000 miles apiece. They love to travel and still get excited about trips. I like to think we are doing something right … but I am always open to suggestions and feedback!