This summer, my husband and I flew to the East Coast and back with our two daughters (ages 11 months and 2.5 years). Twice. I learned a lot the second time around. And really, what you need to survive a plane ride with kids is to take better care of yourself.
Learning How to Survive a Plane Ride with Kids . . . the Hard Way
We’re a bi-coastal family. Our trip last June was brought about by a funeral, and our trip in August was a yearly vacation to the New Jersey shore with my parents. In both instances, the flying was worth it once we got to our destinations.
My 2.5-year-old, Addy, is a strong-willed, rambunctious, emotionally intelligent, articulate, curly-haired wonderer. Getting her to stay still for any amount of time is a challenge unless she’s sound asleep. My baby, Sage, had severe eczema from newborn to about 9 months of age, after which it became more moderate. She is very light-hearted and laughs a lot. But when she cries, she brings down the house and has a powerful voice that projects about a mile out.
So going into the flights, I knew my biggest obstacles would be:
- Helping Addy stay in her seat and remain engaged in fun activities; and
- Keeping Sage’s skin hydrated and the volume of her cries to a minimum.
Our Biggest Mistake
The biggest practical mistake we made was booking flights that left mid-morning.
I thought my kids would take their midday naps on the flight to New Jersey—but that didn’t happen. My kids were awake nearly the entire time.
This really set things off on the wrong foot as I struggled to make bottles and entertain our toddler. I started taking my frustrations out on my husband instead of taking responsibility for how I felt and taking action to calm myself down. That meant that instead of a team-oriented approach to parenting like usual, I was biting his head off, and he was disengaging.
Several poopy diaper blowouts and a sprint marathon up and down the aisle later, we had finally arrived. It was midnight. We were completely frazzled.
Whoops. I felt sorry I’d been rude. Perhaps not surprisingly, no one moved to help us.
But as with anything difficult, sometimes we learn from the experience and become better people—better travelers.
Tips for Preparing Yourself for a Plane Ride with Kids
Take Care of Yourself
The best advice I can give any mom is to take care of yourself before, during, and after the travel.
Yes, it’s possible:
- Call a few friends before flying. People you know will offer words of encouragement.
- Journal about some of your anxieties and hopes for the trip. Envision what a successful, positive flying experience will look and feel like.
- Try and exercise before the flight, or at least the day before.
- Carry a calming essential oil or hand lotion with you. Take it out for a relaxing scent break when needed.
- Stay grounded! If you’re religious, say a prayer. Or find a way to get in touch with your higher power to feel rooted in self-love.
Because I was feeling healthy, I was better able to provide for my family. I also recognized that so much of the trip was out of my control. I would do what I could, but I wouldn’t sweat the small stuff.
This time, I laughed when Addy ran over to the dog pee station in the airport and put her hands on the red fire hydrant. Then, of course, I disinfected her hands.
Practical Tips for a Plane Ride With Kids
1. Time it right.
Schedule your flight(s) for the evening hours. Our kids slept much better at night.
2. Pack strategically.
If you’re short on time, prioritize packing your carry-on bags over your suitcases. Finding things you might have forgotten at home is harder when in transit.
3. Back to basics.
Ensure your kids have their basics on board and easy to reach: food, drinks, clothes, diapers, favorite toy, or lovey.
4. Make them comfortable.
We found blankets and pillows to help our toddler sleep on the airplane. Dress your kid in comfy clothes or pajamas.
5. Lean into entertainment.
A children’s iPad uploaded with storybooks and TV shows was essential to keeping our toddler occupied during the flights.
6. Avoid bringing your car seats.
If possible, rent them or arrange for family, friends, or car service to have some ready in their vehicle. We struggled greatly with lugging car seats around the airport. And then they got lost in transit anyway. We were held up in the airport (after hours of flying), attempting to track them down. (With no immediate success.) Eventually, the airline delivered them to my parent’s house several days later.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Most flight attendants are glad to help. And most were very kind and supportive of us as we made in-flight requests.
8. Give yourself some grace!
Lean into your faith, higher power, or supportive friends. Remembering that I wasn’t alone gave me the clarity that I didn’t need to figure it all out myself. Nor did I need to lean entirely on my husband for support. There was a happy middle ground in the midst of it all.