Surviving Air Travel With Young Children

Once a year, I fly to Missouri to visit my family for a week. Brett cannot leave his business for a full week, so he usually only goes for a few days. Which means once a year, I fly alone with my children. And, surprisingly, I don’t dread it. I’ve made many flights alone with my crew, so today I am giving some tips I’ve learned along the way!

  1. Dress your kids cute(ish). I do not know the science behind this, but in my experience, people are kinder to kids who look presentable. You guys know I am the queen of homeless looking children, so I am not saying to go buy new outfits. Just brush their hair and don’t wear pajamas (itty bitty babies notwithstanding). This sounds superficial (it is) and especially dumb if you’re on a late night flight. But I promise people are afraid of tired looking children. And I promise that the chance of your child sleeping is about 0% (itty bitty babies notwithstanding). I don’t dress my kids fancy, and they may wear sweats for comfort…but I pick the best sweats with a cute top.
  2. Bring the flight attendants a little gift. I usually pick candy in a cellophane bag. Yes, this is thoughtful. And yes, this is bribery. When I am in a confined space with my four children for hours, I need as many allies as possible. And those allies for sure won’t be businessmen (or adults traveling with pets). A small token of appreciation for a flight attendant goes a long way. I am sure they’d prefer cash, but I have to take out a second mortgage to feed my children at the airport. So I am usually running a bit low.
  3. Bring your kids a little gift. I always pack my kids’ backpacks: photo 3BBF7BA6-7742-4BE4-BAF4-7075A3251488_zpslrd4ovox.jpg
    Non-sponsored plug for L.L. Bean: I LOVE these backpacks. We’ve had them for quite awhile, and they still look brand new. They have an awesome warranty. And in a pinch, they help me remember my kids’ names. I kid. But they actually do allow the flight crew (and hotel staff, if we’re traveling elsewhere) to call my kids by name…which allows for more personal service.

    I pack a backpack for each child. I am careful not to overpack them, but dispersing our travel goods among the four makes my bag more manageable (and it’s fun for them). I divide snacks among their bags. I pack a few items they want to bring. And I always include something new and fun. This year, I found cute sticker/activity books at Aldi for $3. They’re nice quality and will bring hours minutes of entertainment. I find an activity to be more useful than a toy (and avoid anything with pieces). When my kids were little and couldn’t be trusted, I bought Color Wonder packs. A little gift is a small investment in making the trip a little more enjoyable.

  4. Embrace any and all help. When my entire family flies together, people treat us as a circus to be avoided at any and all costs. On a Southwest flight, the seats around us are the last to fill up. But when I fly alone with my children, TSA, flight attendants, and sweet grandmas treat me as a delicate flower that needs to be gently coddled. And I enjoy every last minute of it. If a TSA agent offers to fold up my stroller, I take it. If a grandma offers to hold my baby (when I had one) while I use the restroom, I say yes. I am typically an independent woman, but when flying all day alone with my kids, I ration my efforts and accept all help.
  5. Refuse the judgements of fellow flyers who paid the exact same amount for their ticket as you (and especially businessmen who didn’t even pay for their own ticket). (This is where my independent woman comes in.) Your children have as much right to act like children as grown men have to act like children with their deep sighs and eye rolling.
    (Disclaimer: This definitely does not apply to all businessmen. I’ve had as many good experiences as bad ones with businessmen on a flight.)

    There are few things worse on this planet than a crying baby or a tantrumy toddler on an airplane. But as one who has experienced it all, everyone (including you) will survive. It’s only a few hours. And life will go on for everyone. (And consequently, this is where you’ll be happy you have allies.)

  6. If I am flying alone with my four children, we (obviously) take up five seats. Which means one unsuspecting traveler will be sitting in a row with two of my unsupervised children. I always offer to buy that person a drink. Again, allies. And also it’s just the right thing to do. I barely want to be flying with my children…this person definitely did not sign up for it.
  7. Pack lots of snacks (duh!). And bring out the big guns (CANDY!!) during that last part of the flight when everyone is getting antsy.
  8. Consider flight times when making reservations. Last year, I made the rookie mistake of picking a flight that landed at midnight. I am guessing it was the cheapest flight, but it was very stupid of me. Change dates, pay a few dollars extra…whatever it takes to fly at a reasonable time for all. Flying at midnight was dumb, but flying super early is dumber for my family. Our sweet spot is 11a-9p, so I look for flights during that time.
  9. I realize this is probably rare…but if you find yourself flying without your husband on one way of the flight, always fly with him home. In years previous, all six of us would fly to Missouri together…and Brett would fly home before us. I learned my lesson the hard way last year (in a much too long story that involved me praying the plane would crash to avoid the embarrassment of my child). Kids are always so much better, happier, and more fun on the flight there. So fly alone with them then. After a week at Grandma’s, my kids (and I) are oversugared, overtired, and sad to be leaving the most spoiled greatest place on earth. This is when I need the most help. Now I plan trips so Brett can fly home with us and help manage the circus.
  10. Always, always, always bring a change of clothes. Drinks spill. Kids have accidents. Flights are delayed overnight. There are so many variables. Having a change of clothes for each person prevents many a tragedy…including the possibility of your daughter walking without pants through the airport in the dead of winter. Not that I would know anything about that.

Traveling with young children is totally doable. It can be stressful and frustrating at times…but it’s definitely worth it for the fun that awaits at your destination!!

Tell me….what are your best travel tips?!?!?

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