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Flying with Kids, Another Tiff Guest Post!

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Flying with Kids

Flying with KidsMy husband and I love to travel and we want to give our kids a love of traveling as well.  We both grew up traveling with our families when we were kids and always knew we’d want to do the same thing with our children.  With families being more spread out than in the past, flying to visit relatives is not unheard of in this day and age.  Add to that the dramatic changes that have occurred to flying over the past 10+ years with post 9-11 terrorism concerns, airlines cutting back on number of flights, baggage allotments, etc.; flying with children has become more logistically challenging than it’s ever been.  I have flown with our kids frequently, sometimes by myself, sometimes with my husband and/or other family members, and with each of them individually, so here are some pointers/advice I’d give parents who may be nervous about flying with their children for the first time.

Note:  The younger the person the larger the logistical footprint they have.

I would have not known that before I had kids; but one thing we learned is that the younger our kids are, the more stuff we have to bring anywhere we go.  This, of course, includes flying.  So here are my list of must-haves and what you can get away without for flying with kids:

Car Seats:  Obviously these are required by law if you plan on driving anywhere in the United States with your kids who are under a certain age/size.  You have the option to check them in as luggage (free of charge!) or to bring them with you and check them at the gate.  I always prefer to check them as luggage.  Usually with kids you are already carrying so much stuff the less you have to drag through security and on the plane the better.  I did run into a ticket agent one time who insisted we had to pay for it; I knew we didn’t, so I held my ground and insisted on speaking to his boss/manager.  What had happened was they had recently changed their stroller policy and the agent had gotten that mixed up with car seats.

Pack-n-Play:  For younger kids to sleep in, usually for two-year-olds and younger.  This Flying with Kidswas a necessity for us traveling when the kids were babies.  If your child can sleep in an unfamiliar bed I would suggest seeing if you can borrow one wherever you’re going or if you’re staying at a hotel see if they’re available and how much they cost per night.  Some hotels don’t charge for a crib/pack-n-play, but if your hotel does, find out if it would cost more or less than it would to check as a bag (both ways) on your flight.  If it costs the same I would recommend using the hotel’s so you have less stuff to lug around.  The airlines will charge/count this as a luggage item unless you’re flying someone like Southwest where the first two bags are free.

 

Stroller:  If your child is older and you can get away with an umbrella stroller I would Flying with Kidsrecommend taking that instead of a larger stroller.  An umbrella stroller you can check at the gate free of charge.  I know you used to be able to check bigger strollers at the gate as well as long as they could fit through the X-ray machine at security, but the last I heard that policy was being changed.  I don’t know if it was just a single airline’s policy or the airport’s, so it’s best to check what kind of stroller you can check at the gate before you go assuming you can gate check your larger stroller only to be told you have to check it as luggage.  If you have to check your stroller as luggage you will be charged for it the same as a normal suitcase.

 

Snacks:  If your child still requires breast milk (that I’m assuming you have already put in bottles :)), premade formula, or even sterile water to mix with formula you can bring more than three ounces worth of these liquids through security.  You will need to explain to the TSA agents that you have it for your child and they will bring you over to a special area where they do a litmus test to make sure the liquids are what you say they are.  Since airport food tends to be more expensive I do suggest bringing things you know your kids like that are easy to pack.  Baggies of cereal or crackers for younger kids and for older kids I’m a big fan of bringing trail mix, goldfish crackers, Uncrustables, and Lunchables.  Bring enough for the amount of time you expect to be traveling plus a couple extra hours in case of a delay.  Being stuck on a taxiway is bad enough; adding hungry, cranky kids to that scenario only makes it worse.

Necessities:  Extra clothes, diapers, wipes, etc.  Bring at least one change of clothes in case of spills or accidents (I prefer two if you have the room for it) and enough diapers and wipes you need to last you for one day.  Again, you want to make sure you have enough with you in case you get delayed a few hours; or worst-case scenario, overnight, but you also don’t want your bag to be too big or heavy.  I try to bring any overnight necessities in my carry-on that goes in the above bin.  Anything I think I might need during the flight I try to keep in a bag that I put in the seat in front of me.  You never know when you’re bag will be rows away from where you are and best to keep what you absolutely need during a flight as close to you and as easily accessible as possible.  I also try to put them in a clean diaper right before getting on the airplane so I have a better chance of not having to change them during the flight.  It took us a few flights to figure out our youngest gets extremely bad gas while flying.  There were several flights we were 100% positive he pooped; we’d get up to change him, and it wasn’t until we were in the bathroom that we realized it wasn’t necessary because he didn’t poop.

Entertainment:  For some kids the mere novelty of flying is enough to keep them occupied Flying with Kidsuntil take off… other kids, not so much.  One fun thing our kids like is to each have their own roller bag with cartoon characters on them to put in the seat in front of them.  If your flight isn’t very long each kid’s bag can carry their own change of clothes, snacks, and books, toys, crayons for the duration of the flight (and airport waiting time).  The downside to this is you now have to be responsible for two bags when one personal item of a larger size (like a regular backpack) could probably fit the same amount of items that two of those smaller bags can carry.  What works best for your family may be figured out by trial and error or may vary based on the ages of the kids and the length of the flight.  If you decide to bring a portable DVD player or use a laptop for the kids to watch movies make sure to have ear plugs for the player, and preferably a set that has two pairs if you have more than one child. (Editor’s note: Heels First has used this cheap splitter on flights while watching a movie on the same iPad together.  It is great  and only $2!) I personally don’t like lugging my laptop in my personal bag on shorter flights (three hours or less), but I know some people swear by them, so again, that’s a decision need to be made based on your family and what you can carry.

Seating:  Please remember when flying with kids that people under the age of 15 cannot sit in an exit row seat.  So unless you paid for first class you’re not going to have a chance for roomier seats if your kids are younger than 15.  The order your family sits in can make your flight more pleasant.  For instance, if I’m traveling with the kids by myself I let our older son have the window seat and put our younger son in the middle seat and I sit in the aisle seat.  The window seat tends to entertain my older son and having the younger one in the middle gives us a little more control over what he does.  Again this can vary from family to family, you know your kids best so you should know where makes more sense for them to sit.  I’m sure as they get older we’ll have to start trading off who gets the window seat, but for now, this works for us.  If the four of us are traveling together, often we aren’t in the same row because many domestic flights are rows of three and three.  If we have to sit two and two we figure out what child should sit next to which parent ahead of time and if we have the option whether we’d be in a row behind each other or next to each other.

Do I follow all these guidelines every time I fly?  No.  I’ve been known to forget our snacks, pack all our stuff in our overhead bag, forget to pack wipes in a carry-on, etc.  The fact that I’ve made most of these mistakes is why I’m writing this list of lessons learned in the hope that they’ll be useful to someone else in the future.  Happy traveling!  🙂

What are your tips for flying with kids?

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Tiff's first big vacation was a Caribbean cruise when she was six. She first started getting interested in deals when her husband showed her the tricks to getting bought off your flights back in the late 90s. She started flying nonrev when they got married; the first unusual nonrev she did was in '05 when her family flew through San Juan to get to Dallas from Philly. They have two boys, ages 11 and 7, who she usually drags along on their travels and hopes they will grow up to love traveling as much as she does.

3 Comments

  1. Tiff

    September 19, 2012 at 10:59 am

    One of my friends correctly pointed out another necessity; antibacterial wipes (or the equivalent) since kids love to touch everything! =)

  2. Syl

    July 15, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    You stated in a previous post that if one has kids flying with them advance seats do not have to be purchased in order to sit with oneanother? is this correct? thank you.

    • Tiff

      July 18, 2014 at 8:21 am

      Yes, that is correct. Every time I’ve flown with my kids I’ve been assigned seats with them even without purchasing seats ahead of time. We’re usually towards the back of the plane, but we’re always sitting together in the same row.

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