Airplane Travel Tips with Small Children

By November 3, 2009Travel
Sophia's First Plane Trip - 8 Weeks

Sophia's First Plane Trip - 8 Weeks

First, Are you Crazy?

Are you sure you want to get on a plane with your little ones? This might be one of the top 10 times as a parent you will reconsider having kids in the first place.  I love to travel and decided to just push through and bring the kids so I have seen a lot of families fly and I have experienced the woes of airline travel many a time.  Before you plan your trip, make it easier by using some or all of these tips to keep mom and kids happy travelers!

This is a long post and obviously if you don’t have small children you will not want to be bothered.  Please feel free to browse the rest of my Mommy Words for something more up your alley.  For those of you in the same place as me with your kids….here is the scoop!

Choosing a Destination

This applies to vacation planning rather than the mandatory Thanksgiving, Christmas, Baptism or Bat Mitzvah travels in your future.  Remember when planning your trip while your kiddos are sleeping that you are now planning a family trip and that those lovely snoozing kids will be awake for a good part of it. 

For me, once I do this it usually involves me realizing that for a family trip to a tropical beach, an East Coast island would work better than Hawaii – no connecting flights, no time changes and short!  This same thought process should go through your head before you book that incredible resort vacation only to figure out on the way there that 1. kids don’t do well on 12 hour travel days with a layover in Chicago and 2.  kids prefer some things for kids to do at their destination. You will be happier in the long run knowing that you can handle getting to your destination and that you have some things planned for your angels!

I have a future post on recommended destinations and activities!

Planning the Trip

Figure out which airline you are using and see if they have special fares for children and what all of their policies are.  Check on airport regulations to ensure as few hiccups as possible.  You will want to make sure that you are not trying to bring anything through security that is not allowed to avoid delays and the confiscation of your things.


Infants / Toddlers in lap: While this is not recommended, it is free and most airlines will allow a parent to bring a child under 2 years old on their lap.  Be aware that usually you can only have one lap child per row due to the number of oxygen masks and plan accordingly.  Even if you have booked your ticket online it is always a good idea to call the airline and confirm that you are traveling with an infant and make sure they have his name.  You want to make sure they have this in the system.

Infants / Toddlers in a Seat:  This makes a huge difference.  If you can afford it or a less full flight makes it doable at the last minute I would say hands down to go for it.  You can buckle your baby in to his own car seat and have the chance for a relaxing flight.  If you are flying alone with your baby as I often did, this seat made the difference between a day of terror and a slightly difficult travel time.  Particularly as babies turn into toddlers, sharing a seat becomes a dicey proposition.  I actually crouched on the floor for a good part of one flight to save the other passengers from Sophia’s temper fit to sit by herself.  We will not fly that way again!  In addition, safety wise it is best that even babies have their own seat so that if there is a crash, they are buckled in as they would be in a car and as you are.  The seat will also have the extra padding to protect their little bodies.

Bassinet Option: If you are traveling internationally you will want to call and see if the airline has infant bassinets and reserve one as early as possible.  This will make those long overnight flights infinitely easier on the while family and the rest of the plane!

Pre-School / Booster Seat Age:  If your child is still in a car seat and it is FAA approved with a back then bring it if you can and you will need a car seat at your destination.  If you do not have the ability to bring a car or booster seat on the plane or you do not want to lug a car seat through the  airport you should definitely look into the CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System) meant for children between 22 and 40 pounds.  It is the only FAA approved restraint system and from the looks of it – this product rocks and weighs only 1 pound!


Note:  You will not be allowed to use just the booster portion of any chair as airplanes only have lap belts and boosters are meant for raising a child to be at the right position for a shoulder belt.    You should check your booster seats along with your luggage.   Most airlines will allow you to check car seats / booster seats with no extra baggage penalty.

Seating Assignments:  Reserve your seats in advance whenever possible to ensure the family is sitting together or that you have seats closest to a bathroom or whatever your preferred seating is. Then, get to the airport with plenty of time so that you are checked in before all the other people the airlines overbooked on the flight.  You can see the seating configurations of most planes online.  This is important as a lot of people are not willing to change seats, as sad as that is, for families to sit together.  I have seen many people ask and be turned down.

Sleeping Plan 

Know in advance where your kids will sleep and plan accordingly.  Many hotels have cribs or pack n plays for guests to rent and after lugging a pack n play on a trip before realizing this I can tell you it is more than worth it!  If you are visiting friends or family check if they know someone who can lend you a pack n’ play for your stay.  Most families with young children have one and this is free!  If you are traveling with your child’s pack n play, consider using a tent for infants and toddlers.  We have a toddler tent and all the kids have loved it.  We even use it to play in at home and it provides hours of entertainment, which makes it a great buy.  Ours fits inside the large suitcase as will most so we do not have an extra item to check or carry.  Let me tell you, travelling with a pack n play or small travel bed is not fun.  With new airline restrictions on the number of checked bags it may also get expensive.  I would find a way to have sleeping arrangements at your destination if you don’t go the tent route whether through a rental company, a friend or hotel.

Health Plan

In addition to checking a whole bag of little medical stuff (see below) I always find the name of a pediatrician or clinic near where we will be staying as well as the closest and best hospital or children’s hospital.  It would be great to find a pharmacy as well and make sure you have your pharmacy benefits information.  I like to have these numbers handy and yes, I have been to many urgent care clinics with sick kids in a few different states.  When my kids get sick, it is on vacation!  Make sure you have your insurance cards with you!

What to Check

You will want to bring, if possible, car seats or booster seats for your kids.  From experience I can tell you that those available through car rental agencies are not that great.  You will also need to check your pack n play or other large baby items.  Car seats should not count as baggage and if you get one of those car seat bags let me tell you you can fit a LOT of stuff in them.  We fit all diapers and baby stuff for a 2 week trip in Sophia’s car seat bag when she was little!

I always bring a little medicine bag with children’s and infants Tylenol or Motrin as well as some little tummies and nasal spray, bandaids, diaper cream, aspirator, thermometer and and any other health goodies.  You do not want to be looking through a yellow pages for a late night pharmacy when your child gets sick on vacation.

While when travelling alone I check as little as possible with kids I do the opposite – check what you do not need in the airport or on the plane.  The less stuff you are lugging through the airport in addition to your bindles of joy – the better!

If you do not want to bring any large baby items there are agencies around many big cities that will rent them.  You can find them easily on google.

Packing for the Plane Trip

Think essentials: 

1.  Change of Clothes: 1 shirt for you and 2 outfits for each child in diapers, 1 outfit for fully potty trained kids

I have needed both changes of clothes more than once and I love having an extra shirt for me.  Whether its poop or throw up or I am just covered in sweat, something is always making me feel disgusting! Let me tell you, when a baby goes on a plane it always seems to be #2 and it always seems like a bad one!

2.  Feeding Items:  Bottles, formula, spoons, small bowls or snack traps etc.  Pay attention to what snacks or drinks are allowed through security.  The rest you will have to pick up for a million dollars on the other side.  This million is worth it to have snacks!  Mothers are allowed to bring breast milk or formula through to feed babies but not water.  This will hold you up big time if you take the wrong stuff so edit bags before the security line!  Don’t forget your bottles and sippy cups.  Spills are not fun on a plane.  Even if your 2 year old is on a regular cup at home, consider taking out a sippy cup for the plane.

3.  Diapers and Wipes and Sanitzer: More than you ever thought possible – triple it.   For wipes – especially in this flu season – use them on everything and bring sanitizer too!

4.  Toys / Books / Comfort Items:  50% of your job is to keep your child entertained and as happy as possible for the flight.  Making a list in advance of favorites is a good idea!  The other 50% of your job is as follows – 25% make sure you do not lose them and they arrive in one piece and 25% manage bathroom emergencies.

If your child loves his pacifier or blankie or little bunny rabbit – plane trips are not the time to yank these comfort items or forget them.  Believe me – you will wish you hadn’t when you get stuck on the runway.  Even if you have recently weaned your child off his or her lovie – BRING IT!

Travel Dress

This is it – simple and layered.  I have learned the hard way that onesies and planes do not a match make. Anything that does not have to come off over the head is great if you have a poopie accident!  Get some elastic pants or snap up pants for baby and use a t-shirt or button up shirt and then add additional layers.  The temperature on planes can vary wildly – think anywhere from a desert to the arctic and you want to be prepared without you or your baby being stuck inside your garments.

Make sure it is easy to take off your shoes and your child’s for security and that both you and your husband / travel partner if you have one discuss who will do what when going through security.

In the Airport

Transportation:  Bring a stroller or a sling to carry those little ones around.  Airports are busy and fast paced and whether you have a tiny baby or a darling 3 year old the airport is not the place to test grown up skills and get them to keep up.  If your child wants to walk then you can use the stroller to carry stuff so you can keep a better eye on Miss Independent. If your child is not cooperating with you, strap her in and have a chance at making your flight.  Strollers are usually checkable at the gate so you can have this godsend right until you board and right when you get off.

You may want to check out the Tote a Tot  or something similar if you want to really streamline your stuff in the airport.  It attaches your car seat to your roller suitcase so you have no stroller to check and no toddler running around the airport.  Ah – I love new inventions!

We finally got a car seat carrier when we advanced to the Britax and tried lugging it through the airport.  We have one that is like a backpack and love it.  There are also over the shoulder strap models and roller models but I always find free hands to be a big plus so a backpack was the best option.

On the Plane

Diaper Duty:  Call the airline or go online to check out your plane to see whether there are changing tables on the plane.  Many smaller planes do not have this luxury so seating arrangements will be important – especially if you are traveling with an infant in your lap.  If there is no table you will either have to use the closed toilet seat in the bathroom or use your seat.  If you have #2 you really need to do the dirty work in the bathroom unless you have the whole row to your family.  Sometimes a wonderful flight attendant will offer the large floor area in the back or the use of the flip down seat – but in my experience this is rare.

Breast Feeding:  Your baby has to eat and breastfeeding is perfectly okay on planes.  In fact, you should nurse on takeoff and landing to ease any ear discomfort your child might have.  If your child is in a seat you may use a pacifier for this or, if like my baby, yours will not take a pacifier, you can put your clean finger in his mouth and this usually works.  Nursing on a plane is one of the only times I might recommend a nursing shirt and / or a nursing cover.  If you don’t have one, a shirt that pulls down from your breasts and not up over your whole torso is best so that you will have as much coverage as possible.  A nursing cover is great on planes too.  My favorites are the Bebe au Lait and the Hooter Hider.  Both will double as blankets in an emergency too!  Mine once even doubled as my extra bottom when 2 pairs of pants were soiled!

Bottle Feeding:  Airlines will allow milk through security for babies and they will allow you to bring through pumped milk if you are travelling alone and need to bring back that liquid gold!  However, I would recommend mixing the formula for the take off bottle before you get on the plane as the only water they will have is steaming hot or bottled water.  If you mix it on the plane with bottled water this is fine too – just don’t mix it with the hot water.  This is the boiling hot water that will take 30 minutes to cool off.  Ask for a cup of it to place your bottle in to warm it to the temperature you want.  Check that caps are securely back in place after feeding to avoid a really messy spill in your travel bag!  Most bottles have caps that can be placed over the bottle instead of the cap over the nipple to avoid leaks.  This is what these were made for.

Activities:  Bring some special toys for your kids on the plane.  You can wrap up a few little things and let your child have a great time opening her treats every half hour or hour.  Making them harder to open with lots of bows will take extra time and the decorations work as toys as well!  Favorite books are a must as well as coloring books and washable crayons for those old enough to draw.  Try to avoid loud musical toys as they will quickly annoy other passengers and they will sound 10 times louder than you thought they would!  If you are okay with it, a travel DVD player is great.  A movie and a show and then you land…perfect!  Basically just try to bring things that are easy to pack and fun for the kids without being a pain to other passengers.


Enjoy your Trip!  Happy Flying!

Have your own tips and tricks for the air?  We’d love to hear them.  Please leave comments for all the other jet setting mommies like you!

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Join the discussion 28 Comments

  • Eve says:

    This post is exactly what I needed.

    We are making our first trip home in April next year and “home” involves a 10 hour flight from the UK to California. I’m not looking forward to it, especially since Son seems to never sit still as it is!

    We are considering doing a stop over at New York so taking two 5 hour flights rather than one 10 hour flight… Do you think that would be easier or should I just get it all done in one go?
    .-= Eve´s last blog ..The Demise of Super Mum =-.

    • Brittany says:

      Eve I have asked this question to my friend Zandi who has done tons of international travel with her little boy. I would always say get it all done at once. You never know what can happen with plane changes…but I asked her for you what she thought!

  • Charlene says:

    This is such a GREAT post! My kids are a little older (4 and 9) but a lot of this applies. Also, I travel more often without my kids but still always carry a small pack of crayons and a pad of paper in my bag to give to some poor mom with a bored child on the plane (and in restaurants and dr’s waiting rooms.)
    .-= Charlene ´s last blog ..Law of Attraction =-.

  • Caroline says:

    VERY HELPFUL post. Thanks for the advice!
    .-= Caroline´s last blog ..No Kidding =-.

  • Zandi says:

    Excellent stuff!! I loved the tip on getting a ped and pharmacy number etc. Have never planned that in advance ( and thankfully haven’t needed them) but will do so in the future! I have flown to Scotland and back ( 18hrs inc 3 layovers) with my 8 month old single handedly and then South Africa and back ( 27hrs 2 layovers) with my 13 month old – had Hubby on the way there but flew back after him with baby alone. I could not have survived without my boobs and a hooter hider!!! I try to tell people its all survivable , it IS possible to take a baby into the airplane toilet with you, and do your bizniz while holding said baby over your head and then pulling up pants etc with one hand , or eat your meal with baby on lap and passenger next to you has scalding hot coffee within reach. Just stay calm, realize its temporary, be sensible and apologize in advance to those around you… even though your baby will behave better than them most of the time anyway.
    Thanks again and keep em coming!

    • Brittany says:

      Zandi – my friend Eve has a question…I thought you would be best to answer!

      Here it is…10 hour trip from UK to california. We are considering doing a stop over at New York so taking two 5 hour flights rather than one 10 hour flight… Do you think that would be easier or should I just get it all done in one go?

      My view is get it in one go but I thought I would ask you!

      • Zandi says:

        If it were me: ABSOLUTELY ONE GO. Don’t drag that sucker out and make yourselves do extra baggage and security nonsense. Not worth it. 10hrs won’t be bad and it takes like 5 hrs to get settled, eat, and to sleep ( if you are lucky enough for the kid to sleep) so you’d be just getting into it when you’d have to wake/ stir kid up for landing.
        and Good Luck.
        .-= Zandi´s last blog ..We’re home from home. =-.

  • EcoMeg says:

    Great post! I might add that in addition to all of the snacks, drinks, fun toys, books and activities I stuff into his little backpack, my iPod Touch comes in handy when traveling with my 5 year old. I just buy a few episodes of his favorite shows from the iStore, load them onto the iPod and he is content.

  • amie says:

    Great post. I am so less fearless. We’ve only flown once and it was easy because she nursed and slept the whole way.

  • I’m (thankfully) past this stage of traveling, but I remember how tough it is. I used to travel later in the day, like early evening because he’d always falls asleep. During the day he was just too fidgety.

    Awesome advice, wish I had some of it way back then!
    .-=´s last blog ..Lock Down =-.

  • Raquwl says:

    Great post! Another option to lugging the pack n play or even car seats is to use a baby equipment rental company. Many offer sleeping, strolling, traveling, safety and play items that are appropriate for infants to about 5 years. Check out the website for a list of baby equipment rental companies nationwide- the companies listed here all agree to adhere to sanitation and safety guidelines!

    • Brittany says:

      Thanks for the link! I have that suggestion but no link! I will add it with cred to you. Last night my hyperlink thing stopped working and I was lucky to even be able to hit post! Thanks so much!

      • Raquwl says:

        Thanks- I also forgot to mention that some of the companies even rent the CARES harness you mentioned- they ship it directly to your home with a pre-paid return envelope for easy return after your flight! Happy traveling everyone!
        .-= Raquwl´s last blog ..Welcome to Baby Travel Pros =-.

  • Christine says:

    yep I did this once a 36 hour trip with a 5, 3 and 1 year old. you should have seen the looks on passangers faces when I sat down
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Mourning, Grief and Emotional Support =-.

  • Tess says:

    I had to take my first born on a plane when she was three months old, with colic and wanted to be attached to my boob. I never did that ever again! lol
    .-= Tess´s last blog ..Sunchowder’s Emporia Review =-.

  • Travel Tips » Blog Archive » Airplane Travel Tips with Small Children says:

    […] here to see the original: Airplane Travel Tips with Small Children Share This […]

  • […] au Lait and Hooter Hiders nursing covers for breastfeeding mothers. To read the post, head over to Mommy Words!  Print This Post Media: Websites […]

  • Great post! I firmly believe in major PLANNING for air travel with children. That is the only thing that made our trip from HELL this summer to PA even remotely bearable (what should have taken us 6 hours to get there ended up being 24 hours – I’m not joking). My kids were so awesome that I might have agreed to buy them a pony when we eventually got there, should they have asked. I’m a HUGE proponent of portable DVD players and portable video game systems (with earphones, please) on airplanes – just remember to pack extra batteries! LOL.
    .-= existentialwaitress´s last blog ..So what’s the word on the street? =-.

  • Kelley Doiron says:

    Hey Brittany! I love your blog. It has been very fun to see pictures of your cute family and your DIY project is very inspiring. Congratulations on baby #3!!

  • shraddha says:

    great article!!

    its a publishable article!!!

    i could have used these i have travelled with twins twice to 9 months and at 2 and half years..
    .-= shraddha´s last blog ..Picking Berries =-.

  • Theta Mom says:

    For us, a dvd player and some goldfish…and we were golden!
    .-= Theta Mom´s last blog ..Until We Meet Again =-.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Loved this post! Wish I’d read it a year ago, before I traveled to Texas with a six week old! I did nurse on the plane, much to the embarassment of my husband, and the thrill of the over-interested 10 year old boy across the aisle…


  • Loukia says:

    What a great, informative and thorough post! I have travelled quite a bit with my boys, and my oldest son is a great airplane traveller – my baby was great at 6 months old and at 12 months old on the plane, but recently, a couple of months ago (20 months old) he did not sit still… it was really tough!
    .-= Loukia´s last blog ..Interview with a 4 year old =-.

  • […] are more Tips for Airplane Travel with Small Children at Mother […]

  • […] Airplane Travel Tips with Small Children - Mommy Words : First, Are you Crazy? Are you sure you want to get on a plane with your little ones? This might be one of the top 10 times as a parent you will reconsider having kids ... […]

  • Jeanne Taylor says:

    Put all electronics in a plastic bag. Spills on airplanes are inevitable. Having the precious I-POD in a ziplock could save the day. I found this one out the hard way!

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