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Traveling with little ones: Flying with Kids

little pilotsGetting some flight tips from a real pilot (Dad) at the Lied Children’s Discovery Museum

It’s a good thing that the lady who said people with young children should drive, not fly wasn’t on our flights to or from Vegas. Everything started off beautifully. We breezed through check-in and security (well, Johnny screamed as he did on the way to Vienna because he thought the TSA people were going to steal his shoes, but he calmed down quickly) and had a leisurely lunch near our gate. The first few hours of the flight were fine, too. The kids colored and played with stickers, and then watched an episode of Busytown Mysteries that we had on our netbook thanks to this review. There was some turbulence, but all three kids were coping well. I thought I had this flying with kids thing down.

Then things went downhill. Our flight had taken off at 6pm, so by 9pm all three kids were exhausted, particularly Johnny who had woken up earlier than usual and hadn’t napped. He cried for nearly two hours solid, until the flight attendant suggested that I ignore the fasten seatbelt light and go stand with him at the back of the plane. I followed her advice and he was asleep within five minutes, much to my relief. Emma and Lily had already fallen asleep, so the final hour was peaceful.

Check-in on the way back was a nightmare. We got stuck in one non-moving line, and were then told to move to another line that was moving – until we got in it. It took us over an hour to drop off our two bags. There was no line at security, and we went straight to our gate – arriving just as they were boarding. The flight went well until we started to land. Johnny went into a panic attack and had half the plane concerned about his well-being. He didn’t calm down until after we had landed and strapped him to Mike’s back in our ergo carrier.

Things that went well:

  • Getting kids from security to the gate, and feeding the kids on the plane. The kids were also really well behaved for check-in, even during our LONG wait at the Vegas airport.
  • Stickers and coloring books alongside owie dolls worked really well as airplane entertainment. Our crayon rolls got a lot of use on this trip. I think I may try sticker books (with designated places or scenes in which to place stickers) for our next trip. The Infant Bibliophile has some recommendations that look interesting.
  • Kind flight attendants, TSA agents, and fellow passengers going both directions.
  • The airline sat me next to an empty seat both directions, which made the trip much more pleasant!

Lessons learned:

  • Where possible, avoid flights that take off around bedtime.
  • Bring things I KNOW the kids will want to eat for take-off and landing. Gummy bears (brought by my parents from Austria where they taste SO much better) worked like a charm on our flight home. Johnny wasn’t interested in the food I had on the way to Vegas, and he wound up with hurting ears, which no doubt contributed to his falling apart.
  • US Airways does not carry milk on board flights – at least not for economy passengers.

Things I want to figure out:

  • How to keep Johnny from panicking when the plane starts to descend.
  • How to consolidate our carry-ons. It always feels like we are carrying more stuff than we end up using on the flight. We did use a larger percentage of our stuff on this flight than when we flew to Austria in December, so I’m making progress.
  • How to convince Johnny that the TSA is not out to steal his shoes. He’s been through four security lines in the past six months, and has fallen apart over having to send his shoes through the X-ray machine each time.

Have you flown with little ones? What are your tips and tricks? Any advice for our next trip (whenever that may be)?

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

15 thoughts on “Traveling with little ones: Flying with Kids”

  1. As much as we want to pare down to what we really need, I would rather bring stuff the kids don’t use than be unhappy on the trip.

  2. Recently we flew 6 hours straight to Fiji, awesome destination for kids, but still hard work getting there, with a 2, 3, 5 and 6y.o. (not all mine). I made up activity packs that were related to the place. A pirate ship and tropical fish to decorate bringing along glue, sticky bits, cut outs shiny sequins etc to stick on to the cardboard shape. We made a huge mess of the plane, but it kept the kids really entertained for around 1 hr. Playing iphone games and the inflight kids movies were a hit for the older ones. The 2 y.o. was the hardest work, colouring books, sticker books and playdough were all packed and used for her entertainment.

  3. You and your husband are seriously awesome to fly with three kids and get through it happily and be so organized in the process!

  4. Thanks for sharing your experiences! Luckily, I knew about “no milk” before we flew with Anna for the first time, since I used to travel a lot for work. We brought one of those Horizon packages, but Anna was not interested at all in flavored milk. I am a little worried that our next flight will be red eye – she didn’t sleep a wink on our previous flight in and out of NJ. Laptops with movies at least gave us some break from non-stop entertainment, and we also had the same things you did – stickers, Crayola Wonder coloring books, and also a magnetic board.
    .-= Natalie´s last blog ..We Play – Spelling Games =-.

  5. I learned a great diaper changing technique from a flight attendant on my last flight. I’m bringing a big green garbage bag in case I need to do it again. If the bathroom lacks a changing table, close the lid to the toilet. Because the toilet is built in, this creates a flat (filthy) surface. Take the huge garbage bag and spread it over that surface, covering every inch. Then lay your changing pad on top of that, and do your change like normal. Also learned on our trip to Oahu to be prepared for delays. Our 6 hour direct flight turned into a 13 hour + travel day with a diverted flight and two layovers. My son’s food allergies make travel really hard, so I have to bring a ton of food with me now just in case. I just cooked a pound of bacon to bring in a baggie!

  6. I’m pretty sure I won’t be flying with my girls until they are much much older and I am much much braver.
    No milk? That’s a new one… it surprises me since there are so many little ones who fly.
    .-= Quadmama´s last blog ..A Wrap Up of Our Week =-.

  7. Andrea @ The Train To Crazy

    My favorite trick is to put all expectations aside. Relax your own self as much as possible and take a deep breath when the children start to get worked up. Flying with 3 is difficult but can be a good experience.

    I’ve also learned that while the parentless people on the plane are often annoyed by you and your children, it is more likely that you’ll get dirty looks from parents traveling with just one child. Or multiple children and their nannies…

    I started just bringing a couple activities and less snacks. I discovered my kids don’t want to eat on the plane and they really don’t read books. Things they love to do most at home. When I have to fly alone with 4 kids I’ll let you know how that goes :)
    .-= Andrea @ The Train To Crazy´s last blog ..Make it, Wear it! =-.

  8. Elisa | blissfulE

    What is it about the plane descending that sent Johnny into panic mode? I would guess his ears, and in that case chewy snacks are the way forward. If it’s scary from a “we might crash” or some other fear standpoint, then you can talk it through validating his fears. Then, when he’s explored them in as much detail as he’s capable of, you can begin talking about all the flights he’s been on and how each of them was scary (in whatever way) *but* he wasn’t hurt. We do this sort of thing talking about loud toilets at our house… Any airplane book will be a good launching point for discussions like this. We enjoy Planes by Byron Barton – it’s very simple and all three of my kids like it.

    For the TSA shoe stealing thing, I would try getting a big cardboard box – at least big enough for Johnny and Emma to walk through – and pretend it’s the metal detector. Have a sheet or something next to it that you can put things on and pull through a smaller box next to your detector. Then you can pretend you have your own security screening system! And Johnny will get his shoes back each and every time! :)

    I am a big fan of going through new or troublesome experiences in as much detail as I can prior to embarking. I talk about what might happen and how we might react if those things happen. Just a little bit of rehearsal or imagination beforehand helps me have confidence my kids will know what to do and helps them know what is expected and what might happen.

    We all have our meltdowns from time to time. All the planning and prepping and loaded carryons in the world can’t prevent kids of these ages just losing it sometimes. Still, it’s our right to fly when we want to while we make the best of a difficult and tiring situation.

    p.s. It’s my opinion that the seatbelt signs are heavily overused in American airspace!!
    .-= Elisa | blissfulE´s last blog ..Michael’s drum kit =-.

  9. For the fear of losing his shoes issue – can you stand there at the security area for a minute and have him watch your husband and other kids shoes go through and be picked up at the other side and put back on. i always send my husband through first anyway so that he can be ready to collect our millions of carry ons.

    still amazes me how different the security measures vary – we are currently travelling for 3 mo with our kids and flew from Sydney Australia to Korea and then on to Paris and never once had to take our shoes off. (they did confiscate my small jar of peanut butter that was intended to feed my picky 6yo – aparently foods like that count just the same as liquids! talk about lesson learned)

  10. That has to be hard to travel with 3 kids! Abby freaked out about putting her kitty on the belt for security. She cried and cried! I had even shown her a video online about it and warned her for that reason.
    .-= Jenny´s last blog ..Love My Library =-.

  11. I have three kids under four and we have yet to take a flight (which is weird because I used to travel for my job before I had the kids). My in laws live in Austria, and I would love to visit them, but I just can’t fathom how to bring 3 little kids on a transatlantic flight + carry ons & luggage.
    .-= Heather – Dollar Store Crafts´s last blog ..Make a Copper Kitchen Wreath =-.

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