With all of the ridiculous articles and shares floating around the interwebs about families who preemptively hand out goody bags to other passengers on a plane lest the other adults not act like adults if their children might act like children, it’s no wonder that the idea of flying with small kids is enough to strike fear into the hearts of parents far and wide. But I’m here to tell you that you can rest easy. We have been flying since my oldest was 11 weeks old and, not only have we never had a terrible experience with other passengers, we’ve become pretty excellent at making the whole process pretty seamless. Here’s the lowdown on how we travel:
First off, buy yourself a lightweight car seat for travel. Your baby should have his or her own seat for maximum safety and the car seat will also provide an excellent, familiar place to nap.
Luggage checking or even gate checking a car seat can cause serious, invisible damage to the integrity of your seat and endanger your child in a crash. If your baby is still in the infant car seat (by the way, my favorite is the Cybex Aton), read up on your manual before leaving so you know how to safely install it without the base. You heard that right: you do NOT need the base for your infant car seat – leave that heavy sucker at home! If your baby is out of the infant seat or your child is up to age 5, pick up an Evenflo Sureride DLX for under $100 and one of these travel backpacks so that you can haul this lightweight seat through the airport on your back. You will look ridiculous, but your life will be easy. (Besides, when we became parents, we started accepting we would not always look cool, yes?) Alternatively, you can grab a GoGo Kidz to wheel your car seat (and baby if safely buckled in) through the airport. I’ve used both setups and personally prefer the backpack, but ymmv.
Next, choose a lightweight stroller that is suitable to your destination. This means if you are going somewhere with cobblestone streets, poor sidewalks, or other rough terrain, do not bring your umbrella stroller. For these destinations you will want air tires or air tire equivalents. My very favorite stroller for tackling European streets is the Micralite Fastfold Super-lite. It isn’t available in the US, but if you plan ahead and stalk Craigslist, chances are you’ll find one. If you need a double, you can take one of the Micralites that is rebranded as the Joovy Toofold with the second seat. The Toofold is what I used on our most recent trip to Italy.
If your destination doesn’t need beefy tires, go with one of the smallest, lightest strollers on the market, the Mountain Buggy Nano. This stroller fits into an overhead bin on the plane, is easy to carry up and down stairs at train stations without lifts, reclines well for comfy naps, has a decent canopy, and has a shockingly large basket. This is what I took to Denmark, Sweden, and Germany with great success.
Another excellent travel option is the Babyzen YOYO. This small, light weight stroller also folds compactly enough to carry on-board and store in the overhead bin (I really can’t stress how fantastic this is – especially on international flights where gate checked strollers do not reappear at connection gates or for arrivals where the jetway will be unbearably hot or cold while you’re waiting for your stroller to be carried up). The YOYO is a sexy, nimble stroller that packs an excellent suspension, an adjustable recline and leg rest, and an ample basket into its 13lb self. It is also compatible with car seat adapters. The YOYO also functions just as nicely as an everyday stroller that won’t take up your whole trunk.
Now that you have your gear and are on your way, you need to keep the little people entertained. This is easier than you think. If you have a young toddler, simple tasks work well. Bring a pack of kleenex and show your baby how to shred them up. This task alone is lots of fun! Once the shredding is losing its luster, take the shreds and demonstrate stuffing them into a TP roll (easy to pack in your purse) or a flat tissue box. You will be amazed by how much time can be spent packing and unpacking the roll or box. And this game isn’t just fun for little ones! My 6 year old still enjoys shredding tissue/paper towels/paper and packing them into something; she now calls this process making nests.
My kids have always had a lot of fun searching through the seatback magazines for pictures of babies, mommies, daddies, pets, etc. It’s novel for them and a freebie in case you find yourself without an activity (or access to one during takeoff or landing).
Lots of people suggest bringing stickers for kids to play with. Let me just warn you that removing 4,000 stickers from every nook and cranny of an airplane is not a job you want to be doing. Instead, do like the Danish carrier SAS does and provide a cling sticker activity set. With these, your kid can arrange and rearrange stickers to their heart’s content on big scenes and then take their set with them on your actual trip to provide further entertainment.
Another obvious activity is coloring. But a collection of crayons that constantly roll off the tray table and disappear down the aisle is not a relaxing time. Instead, bring a set of triangular crayons that refuse to roll away. And rather than a coloring book, do a google image search for coloring pages in a variety of your kid’s favorite themes to print out. This way, you will also have blank pages on the back of each image to get creative. If you have a child age 3+, another great activity is to print out letter and number tracing pages, which are perfect for the bright colors of crayons.
Pretend play is another easy go-to on a plane with a set of mini figurines. Your child’s little friends will have a wonderful time exploring the airplane, playing with one another, visiting the coloring pages, hiding in the kleenex, etc. They’re also an easy thing to toss in your purse for peaceful meals out.
If you’ve exhausted your various distractions, it’s time to pull out the big guns: the phone or tablet loaded with movies, tv shows, and apps that don’t necessarily need sound to be fun. Did you know that you can download Prime eligible movies and tv shows to watch offline? This is the perfect option to keep media content costs down while keeping the novelty factor high (I reload our tablets with brand new stuff before any long travel day)! Here are some of the apps that we’ve found to be particularly valuable over the years: Elmo ABC’s (not available for iphone, just ipad and totally worth the purchase price), Tozzle (puzzles that animate once completed – another app worth every penny), PlayHome, Color Dots by Ellie’s Games (this one is great for even very young toddlers), Toddler Alphabet Game and Toddler Counting both by iTot, Toca Tailor Fairy Tales by Toca Boca, Paint My Wings by Toca Boca, Hooked on Phones Learn to Read (an outstanding app for your new reader), Sprout’s Good Night Star, Kids Doodle by Bejoy Mobile, ZOOLA Animals by INBAL Tal, Sight Words by CFC s.r.o., Dogs*** / Wolf** / Cats** / Cat!! / Dogs** / Horse! / etc all by Namaste Power Store, My Zoo Animals by wonderkind GmbH, The Stories of Bertie by The Story Mouse, Animal Fun by Brian Pfeil, Millie Was Here by Megapops, Twinkle Little Star by Tiger Stripes LLC, and the classic favorite Angry Birds.
Between your little arsenal of activities, media/app content, naps/sleeping, meals, and staring out the window, your flight will go by in a flash! (and PS: remember to feed/nurse/give a pacifier to kids too young to yawn automatically during takeoff/landing to keep their ears from hurting)