14 Survival Tips For Flying Alone With Kids

For all of you parents out there brave enough to travel solo with your little ones, this one’s for you.  Here are some super helpful tips for flying alone with kids, but a bit of background first…

Traveling with one…

Since my parents live in Wisconsin and we’re in NYC, we’ve booked A LOT of flight time visiting them.  My older daughter who’s now almost 6 has been flying a few times every year since she was 6 months old.  For most of those trips my husband and my vacation schedules didn’t match up, so it was just her and I hanging out on a plane.  All in all, I’ve been extremely blessed with some pretty non-eventful flights and a wonderful travel partner.

Child walking in airport with bags
And then there were two…

When her younger sister arrived a year ago November, I figured a flight to Wisconsin for Christmas was in order.  I know it may sound a bit crazy flying with a 1 month old, but, hey, it’s the holidays!  Besides, I figured I’ve done this flying thing with a little one before, so how bad could flying with two little ones be.  Truth be told, the flight there with my husband and kiddos was fine and the flight back with just me and the girls was mostly peaceful.  That flight back, however, was rescheduled 3 TIMES due to weather and then motherly intuition. We’ll get back to that motherly intuition piece in a bit.

Fast forward to my second solo trip with the girls, spring break in Wisconsin!  Due to crazy cold weather, our flight and all other direct flights were canceled.  Against my better judgement and gut feeling (remember that motherly intuition), we rebooked a flight with one stop.  There were more delays, countless hours stuck in the connecting airport, and one crazy, stressed momma practically doing backflips on the plane to keep everyone from melting down.  I should have listened to my gut, but since our trip was short due to spring break prices, I gambled.  It definitely didn’t pay off!

Here are a number of tips I use when I fly alone with my kids that will hopefully help you avoid flying nightmares like my spring break trip.

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Planning/Booking Travel

#1 Early In The Day

When booking your flight, look for something earlier in the day. You have a much better chance that the flight will be on time rather than delayed or even cancelled.  This minimizes the amount of time everyone has to spend in the airport.  Also, everyone should have a bit more energy and patience in the morning, assuming everybody got enough sleep the night before.

#2 Non-Stop

Besides booking an early flight, look for one with as few connections as possible.  I actually only fly nonstop with my little kiddos (except for Spring Break) and we drive 1.5 hours to our final destination.  I know it may sound crazy, but with plane delays and getting stuck in connecting airports, you lose a lot of control over your schedule. In a car, you can stop when anyone needs to eat, go to the bathroom, or even just to run around for a few minutes to burn off some energy. Also, if there are any tantrums, it’s in the convenience of a car, not the airport or airplane.

#3 PreCheck

PreCheck costs $85 for 5 years and allows you and any children traveling with you to avoid the long security line for a much shorter quicker line.  No shoes, belts or light jackets to take off and no laptops or liquid bags to take out.  Much less juggling!!  On our most recent trip to WI, we avoided a 1-1.5 hour security line in favor of no line at all!  Priceless!!

#4 Packing Bags

My 5 year old is the queen of packing, always has been.  She’s even started packing for this year’s Christmas trip and we’re a month and a half away!  I’ve always encouraged her to pack or, when younger, help pack a bag of things to do in the airport and on the plane.  She’s more likely to want to play with them if she feels that she gets a choice of what to bring.  It also helps take a bit of burden off you the parent for prepping everything (once they get big enough to do it themselves).

At The Airport

#5 Checked Bags

There is a lot of juggling that happens in the airport (babies, bags, bathroom breaks, changed gates….), so the less you have to drag along with you the better.  Unless you have an older child that can assist with bags, check at least one to free up hands for everything else going on.  If you are trying to avoid the extra fees, which is understandable, most airlines will now allow you to gate-check your bags to save overhead space for free.  While you will have to lug the bag around the airport initially, you can avoid lugging them through the airplane.

#6 Devices Charged

It usually goes without saying that devices (iPads, tablets, and phones) get plenty of use during trips. Having fully charged batteries is a must. We always charge everything up the night before, BUT just in case there are delays and batteries start running low, know where the chargers are. Keep them at the top of a bag, so you can quickly give something a boost.

#7 Let Them Run (Or Crawl)

Kids have boundless energy!  Let’s face it.  That’s just part of being a kid!  So getting them to sit in one place, one confined place quietly (on a plane) is hard enough.  Why push for two which is extremely unrealistic?  In the airport, little ones need to run around or crawl and get some of that energy out of their systems. It will come out no matter what, so better on the ground rather than in the air. Now I’m not suggesting your child run through aisles of seated people or scream at the top of their lungs.  What I am suggesting is getting full use out of the kids play area or empty spaces in the airport.  There are usually gates that aren’t being used until later in the day, even if they are a few gates away from yours. Yes, you may get a few looks from people and that’s fine! Let them look. Better on the ground than in the sky.

#8 No Naps

Ideally, we would love to keep our kids on their schedules, but the reality with air travel is that you (and your kids) are on someone else’s schedule.  You want your kids to run off their energy, so they are tired, but DON’T let them fall asleep!  Airplanes are perfect places for well timed naps and if they get that sleep in the airport you’ll be back to the boundless energy child.  This tip has probably been one of the most useful for me. I’ve had numerous flights with one or both kids asleep (and envious parents asking “How’d you do that?” and “I wish my kids would do that!”).

#9 Throw Money At It

I added this one after my lovely challenging spring break trip.  Generally speaking, when my daughter asks for new toys we add them to the Birthday or Christmas lists.  Occasionally, we give in (hey, nobody’s perfect and she is a really good kid). On the unplanned extended plane delay or added layover, however, all bets are off. After 8 hours into a crazy travel day, and assuming your child is acting as good as they can be given the circumstances, rewarding them with a small toy from the gift shop that doesn’t break the bank is definitely worth it. It puts, or keeps, a smile on their face and buys you a bit more good will until you get to your final destination.

#10 Breastfeeding Pods

This one is for the breastfeeding mamas out there.  In some airports (not all, though I wish it were so!) there are Mamava pods which are breastfeeding or pumping stations, fully enclosed with power outlets.  If your airport has one and you can check at this link, they are wonderful places to calmly, quietly, and most of all privately feed your little one.  It’s a great break from the busy, craziness of travel.  There’s enough space to bring your older child with you if you have one.  Definite bonus that it also has power outlets, so you can charge your devices while you nurse!

On The Plane

#11 Closed Cup

Once you’ve made it onto the airplane, now it’s just getting through the flight without any meltdowns or accidents. A pretty common tip these days is packing an extra set of clothes in case there’s a spill or accident.  Taking that one step further, I prefer to pack a sippy cup (empty) that I can easily fill with a drink from the flight attendant, either the Munchkin 360 Trainer and First Years Take and Toss.  It avoids the inevitable spill from the flimsy plastic airline cup while also allowing my little one a chance to feel big and select a drink from the cart (no meltdown). I also like that I can choose to bring or not bring a drink on the plane depending on how many things I’m juggling or how much time we have. Always have a solid Plan B.

#12 Snacks

All parents know that their little ones are more relaxed and well behaved when they’re well fed. Heck, adults are the exact same way.  With that in mind, I always try to have a few snacks on hand that won’t make a big mess.  For my little one who’s just 1, some teethers or puffs and a few food squeeze pouches do the trick.  For my 5 year old, some popcorn, pretzels, a Lunchables or applesauce pouch.  Whatever works for your kiddos, just keep it packed at the top of the bag or in a side pocket.  It keeps them within easy reach and prevents smooshing (no one likes smooshed snacks!).

#13 Little Toys

When the travel bag gets packed (#4), it’s important to note what toys are ideal to put in there.  I’ve learned this through trial and error over the years.  Anything that has small parts or is little in general is usually avoided or packed at the bottom at least, so it can be taken out once you reach your final destination.  You’d be surprised how well some of these little toys bounce under or, better yet, get stuck in the cracks of the airplane seats.  Not too fun for any adult to squeeze under the already tight seat to rescue a toy that your child cannot live without.  Doubly unfun if you also have an infant in arms (child under 2) on your lap.

#14 Paci, Bottle, Etc

Plane takeoffs and landings can be especially trying due to the change in pressure.  It can be extremely uncomfortable for little ones’ ears, especially because they don’t know what’s going on.  To help relieve the pressure always have a pacifier or bottle readily available.  If your child is young and you are breastfeeding, that works great too.  I cannot count how many flights I’ve breastfed on!  For older kids, gum, hard candy, or even a bottle of water work great.  Something to keep them swallowing.  I’d like to recommend something more healthy like a fruit/veggie pouch, but the goal here is to keep them sucking/swallowing through the entire ascent and descent.  Most foods will just get consumed too quickly.  One other key thing to keep in mind is to start using whatever you brought soon enough, BEFORE they feel pressure in their ears!  On a flight a while back, the parents in the row in front of us had an infant.  The poor thing was rubbing his/her ears and screaming inconsolably the entire descent.  By the time they tried a pacifier and a bottle, a few minutes into the crying, it was too late.  I felt really bad for them since there wasn’t much they could do at that point.  So net-net, have a plan for the pressure and implement it early!

I hope there were a few tips you can add to your already stocked “tool box” of parenting strategies.  Flying alone with kids is always an adventure, but it doesn’t need to be an extremely stressful one.

Here’s to saving a bit of sanity and safe travels on your next trip!!    Nikole

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