Van has been on almost 50 flights in his 3 years of life. And in Dre’s first 12 months, he has been on 10 flights. Some flights have gone great! No meltdowns, got an empty seat (or even row) next to us, everybody napped — we could do this forever! But, some flights have ended with us wanting to go to the bar and swearing we would never do it again.
(For the record, these are all bad phone photos — I’m not even trying to bring my camera onto flights with my kids haha)
Here are 6 tips to help make your travel with kids just a little bit easier:
- Get An Empty Seat Next To you on the flight
Full disclosure that sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. But, when it does? It feels like you hit the jackpot! We have two ways that we try to make this work. If you have a child under two years of age, you are not required to buy him or her a seat. When we only had Van, we would book two tickets and choose one window seat and one aisle seat leaving the middle seat open. If it’s not a full flight, chances are that middle seat will remain open. I mean, who chooses a middle seat intentionally? In the instance that someone does end up there, you will still be next to each other because that middle seat person is for sure going to swap with one of you for the window or the aisle. But, when you hear the flight attendant saying that the door is closed and that middle seat is still open, it is high fives all around and now your little one has a seat!
The other way that we have done this is to straight up ask for one. Every time we get to our gate, we go straight to the counter to ask if there is a row with a seat open where we can sit. I’m guessing that it has been a third or more of our flights that the attendant has snagged us a row with an empty seat. A few times, they have given us an entire row of 6 seats! Now that we have both Van and Dre, and even though Dre is only 1, we spring for 4 tickets. We found the extra money for the extra space to be 100% worth it. So, when we book the tickets online, we choose one full row with both aisles and both windows leaving both middle seats open. The few times that people ended up in the middle seats, one middle person swapped to the window and we still all sit next to each other. Well, with one of us across the aisle. And then Dan and I take turns who gets to take a break in that seat 😉
2. Strollers, Car Seats, and the Bassinet
I would never survive traveling with my kids if I didn’t have a stroller with us. Whether it’s for Van and Dre to sit in or to carry all of our stuff, a stroller is absolutely priceless in an airport. The first stroller I traveled with is the Mountain Buggy Nano. It’s lightweight and easy to manage. Once we had Dre, we definitely needed more space. I ended up with the Joovy Sit and Stand. I love it because Van can either sit in the second seat or we can take the seat out and he can stand. The awesome thing is that you can take it all the way to just before you step on the plane. Before getting on, we unload it, fold it up, and leave it right there. When we get off the plane, it’s there waiting for us right where we step off of the plane. Same goes with a carseat. Dre’s carseat fits right into the stroller so we can take that with us to the gate, as well. It’s nice because we can put Dre right into the carseat in the stroller and head to baggage claim. Make sure you get gate tags for anything you end up doing this with! We check Van’s carseat for free when we check in for our flight.
If you are on an international flight, most airlines have a bassinet at one of the seats. When you book your ticket, call the airline to request the seat with the bassinet. Sometimes they say it’s first come, first served for these seats, so make sure to get to the airport a little early if they tell you that. But, if you can for sure reserve that seat, you are golden for having somewhere for your baby to sleep on the long flight!
3. New & Fun Surprises
Bringing things on the flight that Van and Dre haven’t seen before has saved me. If you are a parent, you know that new toys will keep kids occupied for at least a few minutes. And “a few minutes” on an airplane is worth its weight in gold. If you can find some really cool new things to bring, you could have them occupied almost the whole time! Since we fly so often and I’m not trying to break the bank, and because Dan is very restrictive to how much plastic he lets me buy (doing his part for Mother Earth), I have to get creative.
I have used painter’s tape for Van to rip apart, toy cars (he’s obsessed with cars), random little things from the dollar store that don’t make noise, window clings, new snacks, a Water Wow (huge hit), books, and magnets. I try to stay away from things that have too many small parts because it gets realllll annoying bending down to find what was dropped over and over. The dollar section when you first walk into Target often has some gems that work great on a flight. I recently found a felt car and road play book where the pieces are removable.
Once Van was old enough to be interested in an iPad, I downloaded shows I know he would want to watch. And we have zero shame in using screen time on an airplane. It’s a lifesaver for up to 15 minutes sometimes for these little dudes! I’m sure once they are older, they will watch longer, but for now, even 15 minutes is a great breather for us.
If you don’t have the money to spend on new things, consider hiding some of your kids favorite things for a few weeks leading up to the trip. When they haven’t seen these toys in a while, it’s almost like they are new! We have separate toys in Michigan than we do in Seattle and every time we go back to the other house, our boys are in hog heaven with their “old, new” toys!
4. Ask For and Accept Help
I’ll never forget the first time I flew alone with Van. Going through security, I had to unload him from his carseat and stroller, collapse the stroller, get our bags up on the conveyer belt, and take off my coat all while trying to do this quickly so I wasn’t holding up people behind me. My bag ended up getting caught on something on the stroller while holding Van and trying to get the stroller folded up. I became completely flustered because I wasn’t about to put Van on the floor to detach my bag and do what I needed to do! The woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Would you like me to hold him for you? I’m a NICU nurse and I would be happy to help you.” I gladly accepted her help and was able to quickly get organized so we could go through the metal detector. I mean, it’s not like this was a crisis or anything, but in that moment when you have so much crap and so many people are waiting behind you, it can get a bit tense!
Other times, I’ve had people offer to help collapse my stroller, lift up my bags for me, distract the boys for us by talking to them and making them smile, and on one particularly rough flight (aka Van was in a mood and Dre was the definition of fussy), the woman behind us said she has a baby at home and asked if we wanted a break. She walked Dre up and down the aisle for about 10 minutes.
Hopefully, this doesn’t turn you off from traveling with your kids. Overall, we have had great experiences. But, when it has gotten hectic, I’ve learned that, as long as I’m comfortable with the situation, I have no shame in accepting help or even asking for help if I really need it. People are generally so willing and actually want to help!
5. Rent It If You Can’t Bring It
We use Airbnb every time we travel now. Having two kids in a hotel room just isn’t conducive to our lifestyle anymore. One thing I love about it is that the places we stay often have supplies for children such as a highchair, pack n’ play, and even blackout blinds. Now, not every Airbnb will have these items, but I always ask and we once had a host borrow a highchair and pack n’ play from a friend us! How awesome is that? In the instance that they don’t have the items you need, we have found that most cities have companies where you can rent them. We rented a crib and highchair in Italy, Mexico, and in Maui. They drop it off right to where you are staying and, while I don’t exactly love paying for things I have already bought at home, the convenience of this service is so worth it and it really isn’t too bad price-wise.
6. Flight Times
This is a tricky one and can depend on the age and sleep patterns of your kids. The flight times we choose have varied from month to month. Newborn stage? No problem! Flight times really don’t matter that much. The first few times we flew with Van he was only a few months old and he slept most of the flights. Same thing with Dre. But, once they left that sleepy newborn phase, they didn’t sleep at all unless it was their designated nap time.
Is a redeye right for you? We decided we were going to try a redeye flight and it actually went really well! Van slept from the minute the flight took off until we landed. Sounds great, right? Well, there are a few downsides to taking a redeye. Van and Dre are both the type of travelers who don’t fall asleep until we take off in flight. And on the 60+ flights I’ve been on since having the boys, I’ve paid close attention to other babies and kids who are flying and this definitely seems universal. All good if you take off on time! If not, it can be a recipe for disaster. I was on a redeye flight alone with Van once and we were delayed by an hour and a half while we were on the runway. We are already messing with their sleep when we do a redeye, which can lead to an overtired, cranky kid. And that is exactly what he was. But, once we took off, he slept the whole time. A positive about taking a redeye is that, since it does interrupt their good night sleep overall, it can help them to adjust to the new timezone that you land in. We find that our boys adjust most easily to the time change when we do a redeye flight. However, we are usually exhausted from only sleeping a few hours (if that). We only do redeye’s when flying from Seattle to Michigan where my in-laws happily watch the kids for a few hours when we arrive so we can get some sleep. We have zero family and support in Seattle (unless we hire a sitter), so it’s really nice to have the help when we are in Michigan. If you don’t have the luxury of catching up on at least a little bit of sleep the next day, a redeye might not be the best option for you.
After the nightmare delayed redeye flight, I decided I would never take another redeye. So, we started looking at when can we get the most bang for our buck with nap time. Now, we schedule our flights based on when our boys nap and that works really well most of the time. If you have young kids, flying during sleep time can make for a much calmer flight! In the end, though, you know your kids and the times of day when they are most content. Paying attention to that when you choose your flight times can really help.