We’ve all read the typical articles with tips for plane travel with kids. By now you likely know you need to pack snacks, iPad/DVD player, headphones, coloring/activity books, crayons/markers/pencils, new little surprises to break out along the way, extra diapers and wipes, a change of clothes (in case someone loses their lunch or a diaper malfunctions, but which you hopefully won’t need). You know to book your seats in advance when possible. You know to fly direct when available.
We have some additional suggestions that aren’t on the usual lists.
1. Use a small rolling suitcase as your carry-on.
By putting items in a suitcase, you’ll be better organized and able to find things more easily. Plus, it’s easier to pull heavy bags along rather than have them hanging off your shoulders.
I’ve done this the last several trips and it worked wonders. I was able to lay the suitcase on my seat, open it and quickly find what I was looking for (e.g., diapers, wipes, extra stickers). It was so much easier than trying to search blindly through an overstuffed backpack or tote.
You can also use this bag to carry things you hopefully won’t need in-flight (e.g., a change of clothes) or that you might need upon arrival but won’t want to dig out of your checked luggage (e.g., pajamas for everyone if you’re arriving super late).
2. Book your seats with an open seat in between.
If two of you are traveling, book the aisle and window in a row of three, leaving the middle seat open. If you are a family of 4, either do the same by reserving two seats in one row and two seats in the row behind, or book a row of 5, leaving the middle seat open.
The reason for this is those single middle seats are always the last to be booked by passengers and the last to be assigned by the airlines. If you’re lucky, the one you’re flanking will go unfilled. And, if it does fill then you can just swap with the person who has that seat. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t gladly give up a middle seat.
Additionally, if you have a kicker, book yourselves in 2 rows so that you can place your little offender behind either mom or dad. No, it won’t be fun for the parent having their seat kicked the entire flight. But, it’s a lot less stressful for everyone than trying to keep those legs down for hours on end.
For more guidance on booking seats, here’s a good post from Walking on Travels.
3. Use your carry-on with wheels to tote small kids.
If you don’t need to travel with a stroller you’re better off when navigating the airport. Babies and toddlers can be schlepped along in baby carriers and kids a little bit older can walk.
When little legs get tired, your roll-aboard (i.e., carry-on suitcase with wheels) can double as a kid cart. Just make sure you have a strong and durable bag or you could end up with a broken suitcase and a kid face-down on the floor!
4. Let your kids tote their own stuff.
Our daughter is now old enough to carry her own backpack, which we pack with items she’ll want during taxi and take-off. Typically, it contains stickers, colored pencils and sharpener, a deck of cards (the current favorite is go-fish), snacks and a stuffed animal. The rest of the items (e.g., more stickers, a travel game, extra snacks) are packed into our rolling carry-on to take some of the weight out of her pack.
5. Raisins are great for equalizing ears during take-off and landing.
Gum is the universal ear equalizing treat for kids. My daughter loves that she gets to chomp away (mouth closed, please) as soon as we get on the plane.
For kids who are too young for gum, raisins and dried cranberries have the same effect without the worry. Because they’re sticky, kids have to really chew to get them down, which should help with ear adjustment. Gummy candies also work but then you have a kid on a sugar high to deal with.
6. Keep sugar to a minimum.
Speaking of sugar… Treats not usually on offer at home are a great thing to keep kids happy for a short spell during a flight. And, they work as great bribery!
But, too much sugar can have a very unpleasant effect on a kid pent up in a flying tin can where the extra energy can’t be burned off. So, offer the treats but try to curtail the amount of sugar. Ours, for one, would be just as psyched to get her own personal bag of tortilla chips or goldfish crackers as she would a huge chocolate chip cookie or candy.
7. Board last.
If you have bags that you need to get into the overhead, send one parent ahead with those while the other keeps the kids active and off the plane until the last possible minute. This applies for short flights as well. You never know when 15 minutes on the tarmac will turn into 2 hours (it’s happened to you or someone you know, for sure). The less time the kids spend on the plane, the better.
Do you have any unique tips of your own? We’d love to hear them!