Tomorrow, the boys and I are flying to Florida to spend a week visiting with my family. I can’t even count now how many times the boys have flown, and usually with only me. The more trips we take, the easier it seems to be. By this point, I have my routine down pretty well. Yes, it’s definitely much easier when there is someone else with us. But even by myself, we have made it through many many flights together.
I fly Spirit most of the time since they have such cheap flights, and that could be another post in itself. Over the course of a year, I fly to Florida and back at least 5 times. Here are my tips and tricks for flying with toddlers and what works well for us.
Know TSA rules for kids
When flying with children under age 12, there are some things that you can “get away” with when it comes to security. Children usually do not have to remove any jackets or shoes, but you will still have to. If your child cannot walk on their own through screening, you can carry them through. The only difference is they will then just check your hands afterward. Children who can walk are supposed to walk through the metal detectors on their own. Any children’s items you are carrying on, including car seats and strollers, even stuffed animals, have to go through the x-ray machine. The first time we flew, when we moved to Texas, Tyler was very upset when he had to put his stuffed puppy on the security belt. It’s best to warn children about this before you get there.
Check out https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children for the latest information.
Know the airline and restrictions
In addition to the TSA guidelines, different airlines have restrictions for those traveling with children. Make sure you check with the airline you will be flying so you aren’t surprised with anything when you get there. Being prepared is the best way to make any trip go smoothly for everyone. For example, we often fly Spirit because of their prices, but we know what we are doing with them. I am allowed an extra carry-on for Ryan when he is a lap-child, though I don’t know if all airlines allow that. Last time we flew, we carried the boy’s car seats on with us, but I checked and they were too large for the seats on the plane so we gate checked the seats. Don’t forget, you may have different airlines for different legs of the trip, so look into all of them.
Bring birth certificates
Just like you need a photo id to get on the plane, you need to bring a birth certificate for your children. I have only been asked a couple times for these, but I always have them just in case. The airlines seem to only ask for a child who is a lap-child because they want to verify the child is under age 2. But I have been asked for one for Tyler before as well. Again, this may vary based on the airline as well. They don’t take up much space, and I always make sure I have them. I bring a folder in my backpack with our boarding passes, their birth certificates, and anything else I need like that.
Snacks and cups for water
There is no restriction on food that you can bring through security, except what you want to carry. I bring a variety of snacks for the boys (and me), all stuff that they can eat without me having to do much for them. The snacks are also ones that don’t make much of a mess besides some crumbs. I don’t want to have to do a wardrobe change on the plane because of the snacks I brought. Security prohibits you from bringing water and drinks through, so I bring the boys cups with me and fill them at a water fountain before we board the plane. This way I have some water for them without having to buy it, and it is in their leakproof cups.
The only exception for bringing water through security is if you need it for infant formula. When Ryan was still on formula, I would bring two sealed water bottles through and tell the agents as soon as we got to the checkpoint and they would take them aside and check them over. According to the TSA website, you can bring juice for toddlers through, but I’ve never tried it. I also always brought sealed water bottles because I figure it looks less suspicious if they haven’t been opened.
Gate check vs desk check car seats
Most airlines allow one stroller and one car seat per child to be gate checked. I have gate checked a stroller many times, both my big double stroller and the small umbrella stroller. So far we have only brought the car seats with us one time and we gate checked the seats. I personally will never trust checking the car seats at the desk where you would check a bag. The car seats are so important for keeping your children safe, and I just don’t trust the airlines to get it there without problems. I look at how many times a checked bag has gotten broken or lost… I can’t have that happen to the car seats.
When they are gate checked, they are taken straight down to the plane storage and brought up afterward. They aren’t put through all the conveyor belts and thrown around like the rest of the luggage. We bought a couple of bags for gate checking car seats. The bags had handles to make it easier to carry through the airport and kept all the buckles and straps inside so those couldn’t get destroyed. Luckily, our seats just barely fit through the x-ray machines so they didn’t have to be taken aside for extra screening.
Make sure you bring some entertainment for the kids on board. This will vary depending on what they like to do. Tyler always brings his kindle fire on and plays on that or watches one of the movies he has downloaded. For Ryan, we bring a few small toys, a coloring book and a few crayons, a sticker book, and things like that. I learned the hard way that most airlines don’t allow listening to a device if you don’t have headphones.
Prepare for messes
In our carry-on bags, I always bring a change of clothes for the boys. Usually, I throw in some pjs because they are thinner and take up less space than regular clothes would. And they are comfortable as well. I put those clothes in a large ziplock so if the outfit they have on gets dirty, I have the ziplock to put it in so it doesn’t get anything else dirty. If we get food somewhere in the terminal, I also try to remember to grab a few extra napkins, and always have a package of wipes in the bag.
Obviously, a direct flight is always easiest for everyone involved. But sometimes that isn’t always an option. When you have to have a layover, I find about an hour to an hour and a half is the best amount of time. You don’t want one that’s too short and has you rushing with a toddler in tow. Especially if you have something that you gate check, it tends to take a while for them to get those up, so even if you are one of the first off the plane it’s likely you’ll be one of the last up the catwalk because of waiting for those items. But you also don’t want too much time that you have to try to find something for your kids to do. An hour to hour and a half is enough time to wait for your gate-checked stroller, go to the restroom, have your toddler use the restroom, diaper changes, maybe grab a snack, and find your next gate.
Even though Tyler is potty-trained, I still make him wear a pull up when we travel. Sure enough, last time we flew, while we were taxiing out to the runway Tyler needed to go potty. When possible, we try our hardest to get him to a bathroom rather than using the pull-up. But there are so many times when you can’t get to the bathroom, or sometimes the lines are too long, and he just can’t make it in time. Our younger son, Ryan, wears an overnight diaper when we are traveling because they hold more than a regular diaper.
Only carry-on the essentials. You are going to have a lot to worry about with having toddlers with you, don’t overload yourself. My carryon usually has my laptop and a few of my things, as well as diapers, wipes, the change of clothes, snacks, and entertainment. The only things I have with me are the things I know I will need on the flight. Everything else goes into my packed bag that I check in.
Get there early
Security can be a hassle sometimes, especially when trying to juggle your carryon and children. I try to get to the airport about two hours early. This gives enough time to get checked in, go through security, find the gate, and make sure we are all ready to board when it’s time. Every airport is different with the way their security works. I know our airport here well, and the security line is never very long, so I don’t need as much time. When we leave Florida, I know the Tampa airport has longer lines so I need a little more time there.
Don’t board early
Most airlines give the option for those traveling with children to board early. Don’t do it. Once you get on the plane, your children are confined to one small area and will be for a couple hours. When you are in the gate area, they can at least move around a little bit. I try to board about halfway through the boarding process.
The pressure changes are not easy on anyone’s ears. For children, they don’t understand what is going on and why their ears are hurting. Depending on the age, there are a few things you can do to help. If they still use a pacifier or a bottle, both of those will usually soothe the ears. Older toddlers and children can drink from a straw cup to help, or munch on some snacks. The suction on the pacifier, bottle, or straw cup with usually help their ears “pop” so they don’t hurt.
What other tips do you have for flying with babies and toddlers? What works for you and your family?
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