It’s funny because I remember preparing for our first flight last year. I was (almost) terrified. 5 hours in one seat! Lexi had NEVER been able to sit still. Long car trips could be a nightmare, but at least you can stop. I had no idea what to expect. I was hoping she’d sleep, but that usually lasts an hour. We could read books for an hour. Then maybe iPad/iPhone for an hour. But then what on earth could you do in an airplane cabin for another 2 hours?
In reality, it’s really not that big of a deal.
So anyone freaking out right now about their first flight with a child, stop!
After that first trip thinking about making the same trip next year for the ABC expo, I was not in the least worried. Granted it partially had to do with how much she’s grown, but also with things like that I think it’s just the fear of unknown. So we flew again: Miami-Las Vegas– LA-Miami. And then again Miami- Mexico and then again Miami- LA and on and on. We have at least 2 international and 2 domestic trips planned for this summer. And I am more than excited at the prospect of flying with Lexi.
A few people asked for whatever tips I learned from my first experience and I am going to oblige! 🙂 I am by no means an expert, so these are just our expereinces.
This might be a no-brainer but get a business class seat. If you can’t afford a business class seat, try flying Spirit. We had to fly Spirit because at the time of booking that was the only airline with a direct flight that wasn’t all booked. And I read some negative reviews about the airline (Oh man, people love to bitch! WTF!), but we kind of didn’t have a choice. The tickets themselves are super cheap, but then you have to pay for bags and can choose to upgrade to a big front seat (equivalent of business class). So after all that, you end up in the same fare level as an economy class on another standard airline. Oh My God, it is worth every penny to upgrade. Like, there is no question we will always book a big front seat if we ever fly Spirit again. 70-99 bucks per seat are SO worth it!
Don’t bring toys! For kids under two, a toy or two don’t really mean a lot of playtime. At least it never did for Lexi. Full pretend play isn’t 100% yet, so they can’t sit there and imagine things while playing. They will get bored and you will have lugged a bunch of useless things. I thought it was a great idea to bring an airplane toy- I mean she would be fascinated, right? As much as I want to say that I was right… I was wrong. Couldn’t care less after 2 minutes of play and I ended up lugging it in my purse the whole trip.
Instead load up on airplane and airport related books and leave the airplane at home to do some talking about it when you arrive.
Things that DID work:
B toys drawing pad – at 1.5 this really worked great! She would doodle on it for a long time for such a small kid without making a mess.
Pinhole story books – Love these! I made a book about our Disney trip and we read it throughout the flight and then she spent a decent time looking through the photos.
Snacks – Some of our favorite snacks to take on the plane are Gimme Seaweed snacks ( kids LOVE these), Ginnybakes bars, Sweetie pie snacks, berries from home and Olives to Go ( because she is obsessed with olives)
Scotchi games – These are actually perfect for the planes if you’re not afraid to lose pieces. These are velcro based games that Lexi just adores.
2 years old+
Since that first experience, Lexi has taken a few more flights. Definitely not as many as some kids, but she handles flights really well at this point. Flying with her at 3 is really kind of fun.
Here is how our normal flight experience goes at 3 years old.
The biggest issue, most of the time, becomes having to get up really early to make the flight. This is the ONLY time we ever wake Lexi up from her sleep. While we always hope that she would go back to sleep in the car (since we often fly out of an airport 2 hours away from us due to MUCH cheaper flights), but she never does. She perks up and is up for the day. If we are traveling somewhere far, that usually translates into a cranky kid towards the end of the trip and always in the custom’s line.
So we wake up, we get to the airport and she is JUST ABSOLUTELY excited to travel. I remember the second time she flew she developed some fears of being in the airport (noise, commotion, unknown atmosphere) and would not let me put her down. Having a stroller with me really helped that issue. But on the next trip, she seemed perfectly fine, so at this point we don’t bring the stroller and just walk through the airport and the lines. However, I definitely recommend taking a stroller for kids who aren’t as excited about traveling since it gives them a sort of safe familiar space to hang out in and lets you keep them restrained and your hands free.
She is very aware of everything that is going on around her, so we made sure to explain to her about the “X-ray machine” (security check) that she was already obsessed with from her Cat in the Hat Learning Library books (Inside Your Outside). So she was very excited to go through an “X-ray machine”, while the flight before it scared her enough that she didn’t want to come down. Also, remember you can walk through holding your kid if your child is scared. They don’t need to go on their own even if the TSA agent tries to make you.
If you travel often, whether it’s oversees or domestically, go get your GlobalEntry or TSA Pre-check application done. There is NOTHING better than not having to be hassled with taking your shoes off, and your computers out of your carry-ons. You JUST WALK THROUGH. It is beautiful! Global Entry also lets you get back into US without having to go through Customs, you just scan your passport and you’re done. Global Entry also automatically gives you TSA Pre-check rights.
Once we are done through security, waiting for the plane, even with a long layover is never an issue. She is just excited and busy running around, watching planes take off and land, looking for snacks, eating, drinking and talking to numerous old ladies who love starting a conversation with her.
Really at this age what works are little figurines to play with on the plane. I tend to buy a new set for every flight ( princesses, or calico critters, or any of the Disney characters) and she plays with them for a bit.
Taking Powerclix with us has been really amazing too. These two types of toys really serve well on the plane and in the hotel since she often combines them to build houses for her little figures.
Can’t do without it. Big fan of the iPad on the plane. I find and load some new educational apps she hasn’t seen and/or some shows in Russian and she is all set. However, I’ve been noticing that she is more interested in watching the in-flight TV channels, which combined with toys, snacks, iPad and a nap (since flying usually means an early wake up time) can easily take up anyways between 5 and 9 hours.
We have ALWAYS used Kids Fly safe Cares Harness and it works really fabulously. I really hate to have to deal with car seats on the plane especially when flying solo and checking one is pretty much as bad as getting into an accident and can void the warranty. For the destination, I usually purchase a cheap car seat for the rental car and then sell it as used to recoup some of the cost. However, I’ve never flown with Lexi in a car seat in the plane. This harness system work up to 40 pounds, super easy to put on and keep your child safe.
When the flight is over, I always wait for everyone to leave to take get my stuff and get going. It’s much better than trying to get the carry-on, pack everything up all while paying attention to Lexi and dodging rushing people around you..
Going through long customs lines when arriving at a foreign destination is challenging, but doable. I try to engage her in what’s going on around her. We fill out customs forms together, we count steps, I explain to her what a customs agent is and what he is going to ask, she gets to ride on the luggage cart through the line. So it works.
This is what my last carry on looked like:
Gimme Seaweed snacks, Ginnybakes bars, Sweetie pie snacks, Olives to Go
My laptop ( I usually get lots of work done on flights)
Change of clothing including undies ( new addition after she spilled a drink on herself and screamed to get out of wet clothes lol)
Wait, can you please elaborate on how you purchase a car seat for the destination? I’ve been strugglung with the car seat decision for a long time, and still dont have a good solution…
So do you order one online and have delivered to… where? Or do you buy one when you get to your destination? Do they sell them at the airport?
You can order online for pick up ( walmart does it) have a friend pick it up at walmart and bring to the airport if that’s an option. Or have it shipped to the hotel. Or you could always rent one for a day from the car rental company and go get the new one. I guess it all depends on where you’re flying, whether you’re flying alone with the kid or how long you’re staying. But there are ways…
Renting a car seat can be just as bad as buying a used one or checking your own. It is not recommended.
Absolutely. Whose to say it hasn’t been damaged or in a wreck? Only way to know if it’s a safe seat is after a wreck (that is, if it didn’t fail due to previous damage). Not a risk worth taking. Always have children ride in a trusted, correctly installed, car seat.
How do you get from the airport to the hotel without a car seat if you get it shipped there?
You can have the hotel pick you up or depending on the hotel you can actually make arrangements with the conceirge to deliver the seat or the rental car.If you’re not travelling alone and the hotel isn’t too far, you could have your SO go pick it up. There are ways…
Thanks! We’ve flown with our 2.5 year old several times (living on an island means lots of plane rides!) but I’m making my first solo flight with him this week and so nervous. Perfect timing!
I actually found a solo flight almost easier, because your u can focus solely on your child the whole time and they love that extra attention. I make it my special mommy/Lexi time.
Agree with pretty much this entire post! Little L flew 24 times in the first 2.5 years of her life (with 4 of those flights being to/from Hawaii, so technically international) and I would say my biggest recommendations are a stroller, a baby carrier, her own seat for longer flights, breastfeeding and snacks!
Now that she is 3, we haven’t flown anywhere yet but doing CA at Christmas and a domestic flight next month. I’m curious to see how things will be different. I won’t be NIP for take-off/landing, so I hope her ears don’t pop and lead to panic!
Two questions: 1) how were Lexi’s headphones for volume? We used the children’s volume-limiting kind and my girl complained bitterly that she couldn’t hear her iPad over the flight noise, even though we had volumes jacked and she does have perfect hearing (we checked with an audiologist).
2) are PowerClix allowed on flights? They are pretty strong (and heavy) magnets when they are stacked together. Just not sure if an entire set would be allowed or practical from the weight aspect.
Lexi didn’t have any ear issues at all. I haven’t NIP’ed for take off since she was 1.5/
Headphones: Usually I check for volume and make sure it’s set to where i can JUST hear it, so I figured that would be safe enough. She has not complained at all. Maybe select a seat away from the engines- that would help
Powerclix- we didn’t have any issues bringing them on and carry-ons are weighed. Also Powerclix are really light.
Hi Elena! Long time reader here. I fly a ton with both of my kids (age 1.5 and 3.5) and agree with most all of your recommendations! I think people get much too worried about traveling with children – it’s rarely going to be “easy” (especially when you’re like me and have layovers everywhere you go because of where you live), but it doesn’t have to be hard. My children have been on a combined 50 flights if I remember right between the ages of 3 months and 3.5 years!
That being said, I wholeheartedly do not agree that checking a car seat is “pretty much as bad as getting into an accident and can void the warranty.” Not true. I am very conscientious about car seats and my kids RF in Diono Radian RXTs (very safe, steel frame, very tall and great for extended RFing)… but I do check my car seats from time to time when I don’t have one available to me on the other end (no way in hell am I dragging them through layovers with me when I fly alone with the kids a lot!), and of the dozens of times I’ve checked car seats, we have never seen a scratch on either of our seats.
Here is the most recent statement issued by the Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passenger Safety for CPS Technicians/Instructors on the subject – http://www.saferidenews.com/srndnn/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=zNnkSQCE0ks%3D&tabid=352
To note – “Car Seats Gate-Checked or Checked as Luggage
Car seats are designed to withstand most motor vehicle crash forces. In general, the MACPS does not consider a gate-checked car seat or a car seat that is checked as luggage to be one that has experienced forces equivalent to a motor vehicle crash. Once the destination is reached, it is recommended to inspect the car seat to make sure no visual damage has occurred and all aspects of the car seat function properly.”
I’m totally not trying to be a troll, but I just worry that a statement like yours will unnecessarily freak parents out who have no option but to check the seat. I agree that it’s best to have one available to you on the other end of your travels if possible (just because why check one more item if you don’t have to!) but I don’t believe it is such a safety hazard for the seat that it should preclude parents from traveling if their only option is to check a seat.
Okay, off my soap box now 🙂 I’m truly not trying to be disrespectful – I’ve just done a ton of research on this and feel strongly about it obviously!
Ok, good point! This was more of a personal assessment and hear-say, definitely not researched. So thanks for the link and quote above!:)
Checking car seats is highly discouraged. i definitely would not want to use or trust a car seat that has been handled like I’ve seen many suitcases handled by airlines employees. Car Seats for the Littles has an article on flying with children and they also do not recommend checking your car seat. Children should always have their own seat for their safety and the safety of everyone else on the plane.
Parenting choices are all about analyzing the risks and options and choosing the best options for ourselves and our families. We could not afford to buy an extra seat for our kids when they were under 2, and the alternative was to drive 40 hours every time we wanted to see family. For me and my husband, we were comfortable flying with a lap child and checking her car seat, because in reality, that is much safer than driving 2500 miles on the road every time we wanted her to see her aunts, uncles, and grandparents. To each their own. She is more likely to get bit by a stray dog or break her arm on the playground than get injured as a lap child on a plane. I so dislike when everything about parenting choices turns into shaming and judgment and Mommy wars (which, for the record, is the most ridiculous term ever!).
We also have a radian RXT for our 2 1/2 year old and I just want Ed to comment to say that checking your car seat is very very dangerous and should never be done. Just pull up a YouTube video on baggage handlers throwing luggage. They do so very carelessly. You may not “notice a scratch” but you are supposed to replace the seat after ANY accident. I’m pretty sure throwing the seat on top of other luggage would cause more damage, most likely not visible, than a minor fender bender.
“there is a risk to checking a car seat. If you must check a car seat, put it in its original packaging with padding in the box. Or maybe another box with padding. And then gate check it (it’s far more convenient to use the seat on board than to drag a big box to the gate). All too often I see parents check their car seats at the ticket counter, wrapped in nothing but a plastic bag to keep the cover clean. The cover being clean at the other end is the least of the concerns. The worst thing that can happen is that a car seat arrives at the other end with damage that cannot be seen. The only way to find out that there’s damage is during or after a crash when the seat has failed.”
Written by a car seat safety technican. Read the full write up about traveling SAFELY with children on airplanes here: http://csftl.org/leaving-on-a-jet-plane-the-csftl-guide-to-safe-air-travel-with-children/
I’m a CPST and I agree with Elena on the issue of car seat checking. The problem with checking a seat is that you don’t know what happened while you were away from the seat. Your seat now has an unknown history. Did the person putting it on the belt drop it? Did it go through the sorter that essentially uses a giant metal ramming board to push it through? Did it fall off the conveyer belt (I actually saw that happen once, the guy then picked it up and tossed it on the plane). There’s no way to know. And in the process, did the seat sustain microscopic cracks around the harness holes so that in a crash the harness will pull through? Did the belt path crack and now your seat will be ejected in a crash? Did your steel frame get bent just enough that it no longer contains your child in a side impact collision? You just don’t know and more to the point, it’s not worth the risk.
If you’re going to bring a car seat, you should use it on a plane. It’s a HUGE pain I agree (been there, done that, it was awful), but it is safer than a lap belt on a child, no question. Lap belts mostly just help contain you in turbulence, they are not going to protect your child the way a car seat harness will in a crash landing.
Also, I would strongly, strongly encourage all children, whether over or under 2 years of age, to have their own seats, with car seats, every time. There are 2 major issues with lap children: turbulence/taxiing and crash landings. In turbulence, you have little warning and the physics of the situation make it impossible for you to hold onto your child if there is a significant event. Try riding in the backseat of the car holding a 10 pound bag of flour, have the driver go 5mph and then stop immediately without warning. Once you clean the flour up in your car, you’ll realize that it’s not possible. The same is true in taxiing collisions. In crash landings, lap children are both a danger to themselves and to others. The flight attendants will have you put the babies in blankets and lay them on the floor and hold them there. This is so that they’re protected from a fire (the blanket) and so that they don’t become projectiles in a crash, which can kill them and injure other passengers. Wearing kids in carriers just makes them your personal airbag.
I’m not saying this to be rude and I hope it doesn’t come across this way. I think we assume that because children can fly as lap babies that it’s safe, and it’s really not. I don’t judge any parent who does this (airplane seats are crazy expensive) because I did it before I knew better too, and thankfully, like most people, my child is okay. But to me, it’s not worth the risk. CARES is good as long as you get a good fit, but most kids don’t fit in it very well until they’re on the higher end of the weight limit, just as a heads up.
I hope that is somewhat helpful without coming across rudely. I really don’t want to shame anyone, just give information I learned when my son was little. I never would’ve known if someone hadn’t told me.
I travel cross country with my son at least twice a year. We have tried several different options – originally bringing the car seat on board. Thought this was a waste of space and would have much rather had an empty seat than one with a car seat that he didn’t want to sit in. We also have gate checked our car seat. We have a rather expensive (not to mention heavy) convertible car seat and the thought of lugging that was enough to make me never want to fly with my son. However, we had a consultation with a local “car seat lady” who is a CPST, and she talked about this very subject. Her advice was to purchase the Cosco Scenera ($40 from Walmart). It meets all safety standards and is super light weight. It comes in a thick plastic zipper case as packaging. If you check it in original packaging and its damaged, the airline will have to replace it. All that being said, it’s a $40 car seat so if it was damaged, you’re not out $350 you spent on your Clek or Diono. We also purchased a go go kids travel mate (consignment shop for $20) and strapped the car seat to it. We used it as a stroller through the airport and during layovers which was perfect. And we checked our regular stroller (a Bob jogger) when checking in. In my opinion gate checking (leaving it at end of jetway before getting on plane) a stroller or car seat is the most ideal as handlers are usually a bit more gentler with items gate checked.
Great post. I get scared with the idea of traveling with my little one. Not sure how he is going to behave. Thanks for making this post. I feel a little more confidence when the time comes to travel with him to grandmas.
This is great! I’ll be flying by myself with my 3 year old and have been super nervous about it. Reading this eases my mind a bit.
It’s really fun! Don’t be worried.