Flying with Baby or Toddler? 8 ways I manage a calm flight
My husband and I had our first child in October 2016. Then 15 months later, baby Emily arrived. Over the past 2 years, we have flown a lot with these babies. Jimmie (now 2) had been on 24 flights before his first birthday. We’ve flown with both of them to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, Turks and Caicos, & Costa Rica. When it comes to managing the stress of flying with baby and/or a toddler, each flight was a lesson learned. I’m not going to sugar-coat it. Gone are the days of reading a book, or enjoying a glass of wine in the airport bar, while waiting to board your flight. And there’s no more kicking back with a movie on your ipad, mid-flight, while snuggled next to the hubs. But there are some things you can do that will make flying with a baby easier and more stress-free for all parties involved. With the right expectations family travel can be, quite enjoyable.
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#1. Mom sets the tone.
If mom is stressed, everyone traveling with her, will be stressed. It’s amazing how children can pick up on mommy’s vibe. Traveling with kids is not easy. And it’s certainly not predictable. Delayed flights, long security lines, diaper blowouts in the airport, luggage doesn’t show up, shit happens. It is inevitable that you WILL get frustrated about something. But just like all things in life, there’s one thing you can control. And that’s how YOU decide to respond to the situation. A bad attitude can set the tone for your whole vacation. In these circumstances, I take a deep breath and remind myself that this is an opportunity to grow and learn. Not only that, but when my kids see this, they too are learning adaptability & patience. Rather than complain, I choose to find the humor and try to appreciate the lesson. It was Dale Carnagie who said, “It isn’t where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It’s what you think about it.”
2. Get Global Entry / TSA precheck
Consider the one-time $100 investment. For us, it has been a life saver.
Global entry speeds up the process of going through customs when you are returning to the U.S. from another country. But even if you aren’t a frequent international flyer, the TSA precheck aspect of global entry, makes it worth it. It saves a huge amount of time through security lines in U.S. Airports. Kids slow EVERYTHING down. If you happen to be running late for your flight, imagine how less stressed you will be, knowing you get to skip the long security line and go in the TSA precheck lane. Plus other advantages, such as getting to leave your laptop & 3-1-1 liquids in your carry-on bag, and you don’t have to take your shoes off when going through security. Babies and toddlers won’t need Global Entry until they are older. I did recently add it to Jimmie’s passport, after he turned 2, since we now need to purchase his own seat. Since Emily is under 2, they haven’t yet questioned her passport for Global Entry. But if you are flying with a baby or toddler, I recommend dad and mom getting TSA precheck/Global Entry.
3. Preparation is KEY
Don’t forget your baby’s birth certificate or passport. If you are flying with a baby in your lap, make sure your child (must be under 2) is on your itinerary as “Infant in Arms.”. Two lessons I learned the hard way. Most airlines will let you add ‘Infant in arms’ when you book your flight. If not, CALL AHEAD! Southwest Airlines, however, allows you to add “Infant in arms” when you check in at the airport.
Before-Flight Preparation in the Airport: Let your kid burn off energy before you board the plane. We let Jimmie run around the terminal as much as possible. He loves watching the baggage carts and planes arrive and take off from the terminal windows. Do one last diaper change before boarding the plane. And don’t forget hot water (for formula or for warming breastmilk) or warm whole milk (for toddler) from a coffee shop before boarding. It always helps to have it ready when taking off. Bottles/sippy cups help with the ear popping.
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4. Pack Smart
And by smart, I mean light. Ever since I started flying with a baby & toddler, the whole minimalism lifestyle has been much more appealing. Kids come with so much stuff. Nowadays, for most of our trips, all 4 of us share one large suitcase that we check. We also check the carseats and travel crib (those check for free). For the airport, we share 1 carry-on suitcase and personal item, and the stroller. Basically, pack as little as possible. The less crap you have to carry around, the less stressed you will be. A week before our trip, I plan every single outfit for each day of the vacation, for myself and both kids. I pack ONLY those clothes. Every item of clothing packed is worn on our trips…some more than once. I usually try to book a property with a washing machine. I also buy diapers, formula, baby food, and baby wipes once I arrive at our destination. Most convenience stores sell them. I’ll bring just enough of those items in my carry-on to get there.
5. Bring NEW (travel-size) Toys
When flying with a baby, you can get away with the magazines on the back of the seats for in-flight entertainment. But for my toddler, I have found that a few new small toys (that he’s never seen before) will buy so much quiet play time on the plane or anywhere for that matter. He LOVES these hotwheels.
6. Have a meltdown-emergency item. (Snacks, Snacks, & more Snacks)
If you travel enough, it’s inevitable that your baby or toddler will eventually cry on the plane, or in the airport security line, or in a restaurant. In my house, we don’t allow the kids to have sugar/candy very often. So it’s a BIG deal when mama whips out a sucker (these suckers I get from Amazon are perfect). It’s my go-to meltdown-emergency item for my son. Raisins also work. (For a baby, a prepared bottle, or simply, the boob.) Snacks, in general, often work. Whatever it is, have your “tantrum-stopper” for when the time comes. And it will, but you will be prepared, so won’t be so stressed out.
7. Fly with baby around nap time.
This one actually depends on your kid. For us, Jimmie can sleep pretty much anywhere. He’s even fallen asleep while tubing, in the water, behind a boat. It goes without saying, that if your child is sleeping on the plane, your flight becomes SO MUCH EASIER. However, if your kid doesn’t fall asleep easily, or can’t sleep anywhere other than his/her crib, then my my advice would be to travel in the morning. Because pretty much every child is a morning person. Jimmie is always in his best mood in the morning. And if you wake them up at 4am for an early flight, you will be guaranteed that they’ll fall asleep on the morning flight since they will be so tired from that early wake-up call.
8. Bend the Rules
I wouldn’t call myself a helicopter mom, but I do have a few strict rules we follow at home. That said, when we are traveling, all bets are off. Anything to stop a tantrum mid-flight. We limit screen time at home, but on the plane, we use the amazon fire (ipad for kids) for as long as it works. If Jimmie wants to watch another movie on this 3 hour flight? Sure. Another sucker? Why not. If you have a ‘whatever goes’ attitude, you’ll be a lot less stressed.
Bonus Tip: Be apologetic to other flyers
It’s funny the look some people will give you when they realize they will be sitting next to 2 babies on a plane. I get it. I used to be that person before I had kids. My husband and I try to be apologetic from the get-go. I find, when we set the tone as friendly and apologetic passengers, we get a lot less bad looks when my toddler accidentally kicks the seat in front of him or baby begins to cry. And nowadays, most people wear head phones while watching movies or listening to music on the plane. So you can feel a little less stressed knowing they don’t hear the crying going on in the seat across the aisle.
Some final IMPORTANT advice. Don’t let stress or worry of flying with a baby stop you from taking that vacation. Don’t be that family that decides to wait to travel until their kids get older. It’s easy to worry and think of all the things that could go wrong. Right now, these memories are for you, not them. They won’t appreciate that beautiful ocean view. But you will. And, momma, you need it! Babies, toddlers, kids, they are incredibly adaptable. And the earlier you expose them to travel, the better they will behave when they do get to that easier age. My son loves planes now. He gets so excited when he sees one in the air or in a book and he’ll say ‘go on ae-pain?’
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Happy and Safe Travels!