Tip Sheet: Flying With Kids
Taking care of the air necessities By the MiniTime Community
Know and follow the rules of flying for a pleasant experience. (Flickr: tienvijftien)
Smart General Advice
1. It's nice to see so many airports offering family lanes at the security checkpoint. It makes traveling with small children much less stressful! -Beth from St. Louis, MO
Editor's Note: If you're not familiar with the self-select lanes, here's a good rundown of which security lane is right for you, along with good tips for getting through the checkpoint more efficiently.
Need help planning your next family vacation? Chat or talk with MiniTime's travel experts for free!
2. I use my cell phone's camera to record all sorts of info I need to remember for later. For example, I always take a picture of the marker for my place in the airport's longterm parking lot so I can find my car when we return home. On our last trip, I took a picture of a poster in the airport that listed local taxi companies and their phone numbers. We always had it with us during our trip, and I just deleted it after we left town. -Cheryl from Chippewa Falls, WI
3. Since I travel all the time for business, I am somewhat of an expert in getting through a security line quickly. When we travel as a family, my wife and kids and I all follow these rules: (1) Wear slip-on shoes. (2) Don't wear a belt. (3) Put your keys, wallet, loose change, Nintendo DS/Gameboy, and cell phone in a carry-on bag. It takes a lot of time to empty your pockets of all that stuff, and you have to collect it all again on the other side of the scanner. (4) Remove watches and other large pieces of jewelry before you get to the security line, and put these in your carry-on, too. -Andrew from Manassas, VA
4. We fly with six kids aged 6 to 12 and get compliments that we make it look easy.
- Everyone wears a brightly colored t-shirt and is responsible for his own carry-on and backpack. Each kid has a different colored carry-on with wheels and a backpack that matches. We only do carry-ons so nothing is lost or missing.
- My husband goes through security first with the valuables, followed by all the kids (youngest to oldest) and then myself. Nothing gets stolen and the kids have time to put their Crocs (so easy!) back on.
- In the concourse, everyone takes a bathroom trip as close to boarding time as possible.
- Everyone pairs up and the shorter kids give their carry-ons to one of the taller kids or Daddy to stow while they're settling in.
- Everyone gets gum for take off and landing. The kids are reminded to pop their ears continuously as well.
- The kids each get a new book to read on the plane. Baby wipes, Shout wipes, and Ziploc bags are great for messes.
- At our destination, we stop at the first drugstore and buy shampoo, gel, hairspray, and toothpaste. So much easier than carrying or mailing. We leave what little is left for housekeeping staff if they'd like it.
- We use "elevator rules" for everything. Daddy first, then all kids, then Mommy. If we get separated, the first group waits for the second.
Lastly, my husband and I each carry our cell phones just in case we get separated. -Nicol from Rochester, NY
5. The temperature onboard airplanes is completely unpredictable, regardless of the season. It can be stiflingly hot or freezing cold but never, it seems, pleasantly in between. Whenever we fly, I have everyone in my family dress in three layers-tee-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, light sweatshirt or sweater. We're ready for anything. -Serena from New Rochelle, NY
6. Instead of writing lists and notes to myself to help me remember information when I travel, I use my cell phone as a reminder service. For example, I will leave myself a message with my hotel's name, address and reservation booking number. I will leave another message reminding myself exactly where I parked my car in the airport parking garage. It is useful for so many things. When I don't need the information any more, I just delete the message. -Jean from Portland, OR
7. Think outside the weekend-to-weekend vacation box. Sometimes shifting your flights one or two days forward or back can make a big difference in airfare. Also, midweek flights are often less crowded, which makes for a more pleasant trip. -Kimberly from Minneapolis, MN
8. We use a simple system of keeping track of our miscellaneous belongings when we pass through airport security. I give every member of my family a one-gallon zip-top bag for the contents of their pockets, keys, loose change, etc. (My 6-year-old son's bag contained a pack of chewing gum, some spending money from his grandma, and a few HotWheels.) The security officers can see what's inside, everything stays together, and it makes gathering up your stuff much faster on the other side of the x-ray machine. -Daniel from McAlester, OK
9. With so many delayed take-offs at airports these days, I know that there's a good possibility that our plane might get stuck on the tarmac for a long time before we even get in the air. I also know that nobody can use the on-plane lavatories during those delays. So, the last thing my kids and I do in the airport before boarding a flight is to take a bathroom break. -Trish from Lyndhurst, NJ
10. Book your tickets online and reserve seats in the same row. If you can't get seats together, politely ask other passengers if they would swap seats so that you can sit next to your children. (Hint: You may want to bring a couple of Starbucks gift cards along as a nice thank you.) Also, have your kids wear slip-on shoes and carry their own backpacks. This makes it easier going through security. -Sherin from Atlanta, GA 11. If possible, print out online boarding passes up to 24 hours before your flight to avoid long check-in lines. -Robin from Princeton, NJ
12. I got this tip from watching Peter Greenberg, the travel expert on the Today show. Whenever we fly home from a vacation, my husband retrieves our car from long-term parking and picks up me and the kids at the Departures concourse, rather than at Arrivals. The line at Arrivals is always torturous, whereas there is never a line at Departures. This strategy works great when you call a taxi or town car, too-just tell the dispatcher to pick you up at Departures. -Candace from New York, NY
13. I always tuck a crushable duffel bag into an outside zippered compartment on my largest suitcase, and we have yet to return home without using it. If I check my bag and it happens to be over the weight limit, I just take out the duffle and transfer some of my belongings into it so I can avoid the penalty. Other times, we use it to bring back souvenirs that we bought on vacation. -Jodi from Milford, OH
14. Two disastrous experiences have turned me into a staunch advocate of buying travel insurance. Once, our cruise ship was diverted due to stormy weather and we had to spend hundreds of dollars to get home. Another time, our return flight from a ski trip was cancelled due to a blizzard and we were forced to stay additional nights in a hotel. I have come to love a very handy site called QuoteWright, which compares insurance quotes from all the major travel insurance companies, including Travel Guard, Access America, TravelSafe, CSA Travel Protection, and Travelex. You select your travel dates, estimated travel costs, and the kind of insurance you need, and it shows you a chart with payout limits and prices for dozens of policies. You can even purchase the best deal online. -Gerilynn from San Mateo, CA
15. Airline passengers can bring a limited quantity of liquid and gel toiletries in their luggage. For guidance on how to comply with the latest airport screening procedures, see this info sheet from the Transportation Security Administration. -MiniTime
16. Take a tip from a flight attendant and mom of two: If you want to avoid long periods of waiting in the airport, fly as early in the day as possible. Afternoon and evening flights are always more likely to be delayed due to back-ups at the airport. -Laura from San Francisco, CA
Babies and Toddlers
1. Breastfeed! You don't have to pack bottles, it helps the baby keep his eustacian tubes open through the pressure changes, and soothes him out of crying jags. -Katie from New Haven, CT
2. We took our son to Paris when he was 9 months old. We gate-checked the car seat and stroller. We requested bulkhead seats with a bassinet when we booked the tickets, and we called the hotel to request a crib and an upper floor to minimize street noise. We used powdered formula, pre-portioned for the travel time, and bought water in the terminal. Be cautious of early-morning flights, as the businesses selling water might not be open yet. If so, take some liquid formula in smaller sealed cans or jars. We also used the Playtex bottles with disposable liners. I was able to double up the liners in each bottle to minimize cleanup in-flight and shorten refill times. I packed extra nipples, pacifiers, spoons, and such in a Ziploc bag for reloading. Ziplocs are your friends. Bring layers of clothing and more diapers than you think you'll need during your travel time. Buy the rest when you get there. We checked online and found most brands are available in Europe. -Danielle from Columbia, MD
3. I was planning for a trip to a nice resort in Arizona and considered doing some grocery shopping when I arrived. I discovered that Safeway has an online site which will deliver. I went online to order basics like diapers, fruit and baby food. I also added some wine for me. -Jayme from Arvada, CO
4. After a disastrous international trip, I now pack one diaper for every hour I plan to be in transit, door to door. So for a three-hour flight (arriving at airport one hour early) plus a one-hour drive to the airport = 6 diapers minimum in the diaper bag. Also I pack an entire container of wipes, two complete baby outfits, and a blanket for the plane. I haven't had a problem since! -Stephanie from Astoria, NY
5. Some planes don't have changing tables in the bathroom. Since you'll be either changing a diaper on the toliet lid or at your seat, bring a larger changing pad with a waterproof side, like the ones used under crib sheets. The bigger pads allow for the child's entire body to be on the pad so you don't have to worry about cross-contamination. Also these pads can be laid on the carseat to stop any leaking on the seat, since washing it on vacation is not always possible or practical. For the potty trainer who is afraid of new toliets, there are a couple of potty chairs that are portable and easy to bring with for use anywhere. I've used the smaller version by Baby Bjorn, with plastic bags as a liner and a little TP to soak up liquid for easy cleaning at times like this. While the seat is in a carry-on bag, I keep a change of clothes and extra pull-ups in it so everything doesn't take up as much space as you might think. Of course pull-ups also act as a line of defense, too. -Maryann from Tampa, FL
6. On a recent flight, my baby had a crying jag that went on for quite some time. The passengers sitting around me were very understanding, probably because they could see that I was trying my best to quiet her down. In my experience, your fellow passengers just want to see that you're taking charge of your child. Eventually, she fell asleep and all was quiet. At the end of the flight, I apologized and handed out a few Starbuck's gift certificates ($5). I didn't feel like I owed them that, but I just wanted to make a nice gesture. I'm going to bring gift certificates with me every time I travel from now on. -Janet from Northbrook, IL
7. When my baby was really tiny and blowing through a dozen diapers a day, we used to get very creative about where we stowed extra diapers in our carry-on bags. They were small, easy to tuck into spare spaces, and cushiony. My husband would use diapers as an extra layer of padding in his laptop case. We used them as extra protection for our electronic gear. For example, I would wrap our digital camera in one diaper and our video camera in another. -Becca from Providence, RI
8. If you're going to check your child's carseat, know that (a) it will usually be counted as an extra bag and (b) the baggage-handling machines at airports can really rough them up. We used to pack ours in its fabric case until we misplaced it; now we use a duffel bag. As a bonus, we can store an extra supply of baby gear-diapers, wipes, etc.-on the seat in transit. -Miriam from Glendale, AZ
9. There's been a lot of hoopla about the limited amounts of liquids and gels that passengers are allowed to pack in their carry-on luggage, and this can be worrisome for parents traveling with babies and toddlers. But don't forget that once you pass through security, you can purchase bottled water and beverages and bring them on the plane. The last time I flew with my 8-month-old, I brought mainly powdered formula and baby food for the flight. I asked the flight attendants for hot water while we were inflight, and I was prepared to make do with room-temperature water in the airport in a pinch. -Carly from Topeka, KS
10. We have always put our 3-year-old in his car seat on the plane. It solves the need for a seat at our destination and, more importantly, he feels secure in it, it's familiar, he's safer, and he's confined. For him, it's just like being in the car. We started that the first time we flew with him and he's never given us a problem since. -Erica from Maumee, OH
Takeoff!! (Flickr: dchousegrooves)
11. Whenever we fly, my almost-2-year-old always experiences terrible ear pain when the plane starts its descent before landing. We've tried ear plugs, lollipop-sucking, and drinking water-with mixed results. I saw this tip on Cheapflights.com's family page: "Ask the flight attendant to soak a couple of paper napkins in very, very hot water. Wring the napkins out and stick them in the bottom of plastic drink cups. Put the cups over your kids' ears. It creates a vacuum, and reduces the pressure fast." We gave it a try, and it worked like a charm! -Jean from Beaverton, OR
12. About 10 days before we flew to Florida, I shipped a box of diapers, wipes, and baby toiletries to myself at our hotel. First, I called our hotel in advance to see if it was okay. When I addressed the box, I wrote my name and then "(Guest, Arriving March 9)" so the hotel staff would know to hold it for me. This worked out great! I was able to travel ultralight with just a minimum of supplies in my hand luggage, and I had all my baby supplies waiting for me when we arrived. -Noelle from Morrison, NJ
13. Keeping your hands free is handy anytime you have a little kid in tow-but especially in a busy airport. Before my last trip, I bought a pack of inexpensive carabiners (D-ring snap-on clips), which are available in most grocery and big box stores. I snapped a couple of carabiners on to my carry-on bag (and to my 5-year-old son's backpack) and I was able to tote extra items of clothing, small toys, and sippy cups while still keeping my hands free. Best yet, everything stayed within easy reach. When we arrived at our destination, I transferred the carabiners to my daypack. -Eileen from Gilbert, AZ
14. I always feel uncomfortable having my baby daughter sit on my lap while everyone else on the plane is strapped in. I recently found out about the Baby B'Air Flight Vest, a harness-style restraint that fastens to the parent's seat belt and is FAA-approved. I tried it out on our last three-hour flight and it worked great. -Linda from Denver, CO (Editor's Note: This vest is approved for in-flight only, not for take-offs and landings.)
15. Most airlines allow a child under 2 years of age to fly for free as a "lap baby" if sharing the seat of a parent. Because our son is a tall 20-month-old, we've been asked on several occasions at the check-in counter to provide proof of his age. My advice: If your baby is going to travel this way, be sure to bring a birth certificate. It can make the difference between a fast, streamlined check-in and being forced to purchase a seat for your child. -Margot from Ann Arbor, MI
16. On long flights, I keep my 13-month-old son busy with small, inexpensive toys that I've bought at the dollar store or borrowed from friends. I keep them all hidden in my carry-on bag, then produce them, one at a time, in 20 or 30 minute intervals. A new item keeps him happily occupied and quiet longer than one he already has seen. We also go for short walks on the plane once the "fasten your seatbelt" sign goes off. -Gwen from Chatham, NY
17. I always keep my hands free in the airport. When my daughter was an infant, I used to tote her in a baby carrier or a sling. When she got too heavy for the sling, I would wheel her right to the plane door in the lightest umbrella stroller I could find. I'd ask the crew to stow it, and I'd collect it when the plane landed. -Lindsay from Walla Walla, WA
18. I've learned the hard way that it's important to prepare for delays. To calculate how many diapers, baby wipes, meals, and beverages to bring, I compute the length of our door-to-door journey and add six hours. -Barbara from Atlanta, GA
19. I do what I can to get my baby to sleep during the flight. Ideally, I choose a flight that coincides with his naptime, and I bring his favorite sleep-inducers: storybooks, his beloved blankie, and his comfiest jammies. -Janette from Fort Meyers, FL
20. Ziploc bags are an essential in-flight accessory. Pack a complete change of baby clothes in a two-gallon Ziploc bag. In case of an accident, you'll not only have clean replacement duds but a place to put the dirties. Give yourself 10 bonus points for packing a clean tee-shirt for yourself. Also, pack your toddler's full sippy cups (even the "no spill" kind) in large Ziplocs, since changes in cabin pressure can turn them into bubbling fountains. -Carmen from Asheville, NC
21. Check in early to gets the best seats. If I think that my baby will sleep for most of the flight, I ask for bulkhead seats and reserve a portable bassinet. Bulkhead rows have extra legroom, but there are two big drawbacks. First, you have to store your diaper bag overhead. Second, since the tray pops out of the armrest, it's hard to use it with a baby on your lap. -Sheila from Manhattan Beach, CA
22. My 9-month-old baby sometimes refuses to take a bottle or a pacifier if he doesn't want one, so I was worried about the ear pressure bothering him and not being able to help him. I put a clean, dry washcloth in a Ziploc bag and once we got through security, I got some water and poured some on the washcloth. Once we were in the air I gave it to him and he sucked on that and was happy as can be. I'm not sure if it actually helped his ears pop, but he was very happy! -Joelle from Freedom, NY
23. Have your child chew, drink, or suck something prior to and during take-offs and landings so pressure changes won't hurt her ears. For older babies (12 months and up), child-size EarPlanes can work wonders. These silicone ear plugs regulate air pressure inside the ear's Eustachian tube, relieving the pressure that cause pain. They're sold at Wal-Mart, Target, and major drug store chains. -Sylvia from Wilmington, DE
1. Like almost everybody, we've been looking for ways to cut back a dollar here, and a dollar there. Before we take any family vacation, I usually rent a bunch of DVDs that my kids can watch in the car or plane on their DVD player. Before our last trip, however, I hit our local library for DVDs and found a huge selection of audio books for kids as well. It was such an easy way to save a few bucks, and every little bit helps. -Stephanie from Redding, CA
2. We recently took a cross-country flight with my two preschoolers (ages 3 and 5). Before we left, my mother gave each of them a present to open on the plane: Colorforms play sets with reusable vinyl stickers. They turned out to be a total life saver. The Colorforms occupied my kids for HOURS on the plane. They used their imaginations and made up stories with the characters. These sets are very portable and they would be great for car trips, too. I plan to buy my kids new Colorforms sets before every trip! -Kayleen from Boulder, CO
3. Before our last vacation, my sister, a flight attendant, suggested that I prepare my 3-year-old son for the airport security line. So while we were waiting, I told him that he would have to put his backpack, his stuffed monkey, and his Buzz Lightyear and Woody action figures in a box so that the airport police could take a picture of them. Then he would have to walk through a special magic doorway and he would get everything back right away. Talking about it beforehand really helped to ward off a meltdown when it was time to let go of his most beloved stuff! So my tip is to prepare your kids in advance for what could otherwise be a very unsettling experience. -Caroline from Dayton, OH
4. One of our favorite bring-alongs is those small bottles of bubbles that come in packs (the kind that kids get in goodie bags at birthday parties). Whenever we're waiting in a long line, I blow bubbles for the kids to pop. All of the parents around us always think it's such a great idea because it keeps everyone entertained. Their kids always call me "the bubble lady." -Jennifer from Owassa, OK
5. We recently took our 4-year-old to China, which involved several connections through some of the busiest airports in the world. We laminated a printout of our flight numbers and contact information (in both English and Chinese) and put it our our child's pocket. For shorter trips, we have written our flight numbers and cell phone numbers on hospital bracelets that my kids were wearing. -Chris from Grand Rapids, MI
6. As a professional speaker, I spend many hours in airports. It amazes me how many parents insist that their toddler or preschooler sit in a stroller or a chair waiting for the flight. Since everyone will be constricted on the plane, it's better to keep active in the airport. My daughter and I like to play the "one sip" game. We walk through the airport from drinking fountain to drinking fountain, taking only one sip at each. The idea is to walk as far as possible with your child. We also always board at the very last moment. Why get on the plane early and have to wait an extra 20 minutes while everyone else boards? -Silvana from Nashville, TN
7. Once my child was about 2, I started packing a small, kid-size backpack for him to carry on his own. Inside, I put his favorite stuffed toy and small Ziploc bags containing various "activity sets": Perhaps five crayons and a small pad of paper; two little pots of Play-Doh and two shape cutters; and inexpensive action or animal figures; a travel-size Etch-A-Sketch or magnetic sketcher. My son loved having his own bag. As he got older, he learned to pack his own travel bag with things to keep himself occupied. -Lori from Sugar Land, TX
Let your child fingerpaint and use markers on the plane. (Flickr: BarbaraLN)
8. Let your child fingerpaint and use markers on the plane. Crayola's Color Wonder marker and fingerpaint sets (no water needed) work only on special Color Wonder paper and won't paint on skin or clothing. Mess-free and magic. -Editor
9. I flew alone with my three children (12, 9 and 4) for the first time. Before the trip, I purchased two individual DVD players and took my laptop. On the way to the airport, each child got to choose a new movie (from the $5 bin at Walmart). This occupied them for most of the trip. Also, as my two oldest have ADHD and my 12-year-old has Aspberger's Syndrome, we practiced going through "security" at home several times. This included being very quiet, taking off shoes, and putting all required items in bins. We even practiced going through in a certain order so the 4-year-old wouldn't "disappear" while I was going through security. Then we practiced putting everything back together. If we were able to reach our goal of not leaving anything behind and packing back up quickly and quietly, everyone got a small treat. At the actual airport, we also let several single travelers go ahead of us in the one security lane that was open. I got compliments on how well my children did in security and on the plane. I was very proud of us! -Karen from Federal Way, WA
1. Like all kids, my children (ages 5 and 7) can get antsy being cooped up during a long flight. I've found they behave much better if they get some exercise before the flight. While my wife waits in the departure lounge with our carry-ons, I look for an empty place and have my kids jump rope (an easy thing to pack). Or we climb a few flights of stairs. Or we "race" passengers on the moving walkways by running alongside it. My kids love this and it tuckers them out. Afterward, they find it much easier to sit quietly on the plane. -Ted from Marblehead, MA
2. My son just loves doing word search puzzles. Before we go on a family vacation, I make up customized word search puzzles for him to do in the car or on the plane, using words about our trip and destination. DiscoverySchool.com's Puzzlemaker makes this simple and fast. You just type in words that you want included, and the program generates a word search puzzle that can be printed out. Easy and fun! -Kirsten from Eau Claire, WI
3. We sometimes let our 12-year-old daughter invite a friend along on our vacation. We always get a letter of permission from her parents that notes our travel dates and general itinerary. The letter also gives us permission to get the child treated in an emergency and lists any important medical information (such as food allergies). We've learned the hard way that it's also a good idea to have the name and number of the child's pediatrician and a copy of the family's health insurance card. -Paula from Meribel, WI