My older son took his first flight at just seven weeks old, and we've traveled extensively with him and his brother since, both by car and airplane.
That means we have had it all happen: From diaper explosions to crying for hours on a flight to having a 20-something male TSA agent inspect 60 ounces of my frozen breast milk.
Flying with young kids can be fun – on occasion! I loved, for instance, the time we sat in the same row as a grandma flying across the country to see her own grandchildren. She talked to the kids and played with them the entire flight. My kids love their collection of pilot wings, and always consider it a treat to choose a snack offered by a flight attendant.
Because of our frequent travels, I am more efficient at going through security than most people. I am absolutely bragging about this because it's a skill I've worked hard on! I also know that by being efficient and prepared I'll be less stressed – which means less stress for my kids and our fellow passengers. Once, when we were at the head of a security line – me with an infant strapped to my chest, a toddler at my feet, a stroller, and a carry-on bag –a very impatient guy behind us said, “Can I please go ahead of you? I know how long this can take.”
I gave him my best, "are you kidding me" look, and said, “Sure go ahead, but I bet I’m still faster than you.” And you know what? I was. He forgot about his belt, the change in his pocket, and that pesky laptop computer that needs to come out of the bag.
Here are 10 tips for flying with young kids:
1. Don’t overpack your carry-on
This is hard. You want to be prepared, but lugging too much stuff through the airport can be exhausting. My rule of thumb is always one extra outfit per kid and an extra shirt for mom/dad. Then I calculate the travel time and pack for one diaper per hour. I also bring several extra pacifiers – because once those things fall under an airplane seat, you definitely don’t want to stick it back in your baby’s mouth. And of course don't forget snacks, bottles/formula, and any necessary medicine and comfort items.
2. Conquer security like a boss
Seriously, don’t get to the head of the security line frazzled and unprepared. Wear as little extra clothing as possible because scarves, sweaters, sunglasses, and belts all have to come off. My travel attire is always leggings, shirt, tennis shoes. Always. Before you get in line, pull out your laptop, tablets, and any other mobile devices. Do not stand in line and do this. Many airports are now making you take out food in addition to liquids. The best thing to do is store everything in a plastic zip-top bag so you can pull it out and make it easy for TSA agents to see.
3. Keep your hands free
You can babywear through security and you can gate-check your stroller for free. Either way, you’ll go through the metal detector, then a TSA Agent will swab your hands. If your stroller is small enough to fit on the conveyor belt, it has to go through it. If not, it’ll go through the metal detector and then will be manually screened. Know how to fold up your stroller ahead of time.
4. Potty break and diaper change
Allow yourself extra time to get through security and hit the bathroom before you get on the plane. It's a nightmare to try to change a baby in a tiny airplane bathroom.
5. The multi-bag system
I rarely let my kids, now ages 6 and 4, carry their own bag – because inevitably I end up carrying it for them. Instead, I carry one decent-sized backpack with everyone’s stuff. Then when we get on the plane I pull out cheap reusable grocery bags and put each kids' stuff in it. This allows you to keep things separate – especially if the baby can’t have a big sibling’s snack. And it allows the kids to feel like they have some control over their items.
6. Bring your toddler's favorites
My toddler loved milk. We learned the hard way that they don’t always have milk on planes. Buy some after you get through security to take on the plane if it will keep your child calm.
7. Bring kid-sized headphones
Many airlines have little TVs in the seat backs and will give you free earbuds. While this is really nice, the earbuds are big and will constantly fall out of your kid's ears. Bring some kid-sized headphones to use with either the airplane TV or their own electronic device (which you made sure was fully charged before getting on the plane, right?). This will help kids hear their show without having Mickey Mouse at max volume disturbing nearby passengers.
8. Car seats on airplanes
Double check that your car seat is TSA approved – it will be on the little sticker in the back or on the side. If it is, it is legal for you to bring this car seat on the plane. You will get eye rolls from some flight attendants and definitely other passengers, but you do you, momma. We use the rolling car seat carts and treat them like strollers. This allows us to strap each kid into his car seat and push him through the airport. Keep in mind: If you are planning on using a car seat for a child under 2, you will have to purchase the seat. (Most airlines let kids under 2 fly free as long as they are "lap-held").
9. Proof of ID – for the kids too
Once, when my child was flying free because he was under 2, an airline employee asked for proof of his age. After that, I always carried a copy of my kids' birth certificates in case the issue came up again.
10. Be prepared for some dirty looks ...
... but don’t sweat it! Kids and babies have a right to fly! If you have an older kid, talk to them about the process and “rules” of the airplane. For younger kids, try to be as calm as possible to keep them calm as well. If all else fails, be prepared with some bribes – candy and iPads work wonders in our family – and remember that rather than being annoyed, many people on the flight are actually feeling empathy for you.