I recently flew from Hawaii to Atlanta with a 2.5 year old and a 9 month old. Alone. I’m not going to lie, I dreaded the trip for months because I knew it would difficult. My kiddos are sweet and wonderful, but they are both challenging in their own right (as all children are). Jack is strong-willed and likes his freedom, and if he’s on foot he will bolt and won’t listen. Caroline had never flown before so I wasn’t sure how she would handle it, and she does not enjoy being put down. My prayers must have been heard because the flight turned out to be a painless experience and both children behaved beautifully. Here are some of the things that helped me or things I learned during the trip. I also shared some photos and tips on Instagram Stories and saved them to my Highlights (labeled “Kid Travel Tips”), so feel free to check that out too!
Book a Direct Flight when Possible. We initially booked a trip with a layover in LA because it saved us a few hundred dollars. I think the Lord had mercy on us and made the first flight so late that it was a guarantee that we would miss our connection. I woke up the day of our flight to a notification about the delay and was given the opportunity to change my flight to the direct flight at no charge. Not having to deal with loading and unloading twice immediately removed so much stress. If at all possible go with a direct flight, even if it’s going to be long!
Accept Help. I went into the trip knowing I needed to swallow my pride and accept all help when it was offered. Gate attendants held Jack’s hand while I folded up the stroller, a flight attendant held onto my suitcase while I got us situated in our seats, fellow passengers played with Jack, kept an eye on him when I went to the bathroom, held Caroline while I installed Jack’s carseat, helped me with my overhead luggage, another flight attendant held Caroline while I got our stuff ready after we landed in Hawaii, etc…I was all about accepting help because I knew I simply didn’t have the hands to do it all myself. People are often more willing to help than you’d expect, so don’t be afraid to ask a nice looking person for help or accept help when it’s offered.
Bring a Car Seat for your Toddler. I know many toddlers do great in an airplane seat, but Jack is the kind of child that needs to be restrained on a plane. I knew that I needed him to stay put while I went to the bathroom or if I had my hands full with Caroline, so I am a firm believer in bringing a car seat onto a plane. You have to make sure your car seat is FAA approved though, and there is often a small airplane logo on the car seat letting you know if it is or not. (This is the carseat we have.) Jack has always been great in the car seat when we’re in the car, so that familiarity helps out a lot on the plane. He was able to sleep about 3 hours in it too, which I know is often a complaint for people traveling with toddlers in regular airplane seats. I knew that I couldn’t carry one more thing so I strapped the car seat to a small carry-on roller bag using this strap (under $20 and it’s a total lifesaver!).
Bring a Simple Stroller that you can Push with One Hand. I debated long and hard about which stroller to bring: our beloved Uppababy Vista or the double BOB jogging stroller. The double BOB isn’t my stroller of choice at home (unless I’m running) because it’s bulky and a bit unwieldy when you try to fit it in a small sedan, but it was a lifesaver in the airport. It’s easy to maneuver through people with one hand (my other hand was pulling a suitcase with a carseat attached to it), and it’s all one piece which made folding it less of an ordeal. The Uppababy Vista is an amazing stroller, but it would have ended up in 3 pieces once folded and I knew that that would be difficult to manage while wearing a baby and trying to keep a toddler from escaping. I thought the double BOB would hard to get through security because it’s so wide, but it was a total breeze. It’s also much better on the beach now that we’re here at Fripp Island so I’m still really happy with the choice.
iPad. I’m so thankful we had the iPad because I wasn’t able to pull up the in-arm tv due to Jack’s carseat. I loaded it up with free Amazon Prime downloads that he had never seen before, as well as some of his favorite shows. With Prime Video you can download things to watch offline, and as soon as you start watching something you have 48 hours to watch it before it expires. Once you connect it back to the internet though the 48 hours resets, so it’s not like you have to download it all over again if you want to watch it offline once the time expires. It was super handy! I had Cars 3 (I purchased this because J loves the Cars series), Doctor MacWheelie (a little odd but great for a kid who loves vehicles), Peg + Cat and Super Truck of Car City. I think I’ll add Brain Candy TV to the next flight because he seems to really love that right now. This is the iPad case we have, and I love that it can stand up on a table and it also has 2 handles that are easy for a toddler to hold.
Bulkhead Seat and Airplane Bassinet. The tray tables and TV screens are different in bulkhead seats which made things more difficult, but the extra floor space was a lifesaver. I was able to put Caroline down on the floor in front of me when I needed to, and was able to let Jack stand up or sit on the floor as a quick break from his carseat. I also didn’t have to worry about Jack kicking the seat in front of him, since there wasn’t one. We had a big issue with him doing that while sitting in his carseat on the way to Hawaii, so it was a relief to eliminate that stresser. Not being able to put a bag under the seat in front of me also made things more difficult, and the seat pocket was tiny so it didn’t hold much either BUT this is the only seat that you can get the airplane bassinet, and that thing was a true God send. Caroline slept 5 hours in it which left my arms free to entertain Jack and sleep a bit more comfortably. From what I’ve gathered, many long haul/international flights wait to assign the bulkhead seats until right before the flight in order to accommodate for families that may need it. It’s always worth a shot to ask! I called the airline before the flight and they put the request in my reservation notes and then I mentioned it again to the ticketing agent when we were checking our bags, and then by the time I got to the gate the gate agent called my name and handed me tickets that were bulkhead seats. I was shocked it actually worked out. I had to ask the flight attendants for the bassinet and they set it up once we were in the air. Caroline was almost at the length and weight limits and it’s not ideal if the child knows how to pull up. But I was able to nurse her to sleep and then place her in it without any issues. The safety straps on the bassinet must always be latched when a child is in it and the cover was about half an inch from her face. (See photo below) Only wide-body aircraft (the ones with 2 aisles) have bassinets (and they don’t always have them), but if you can get one if you’re flying with an infant it will change your life. We flew Delta, by the way, and they call it a SkyCot. Not sure how it works on other airlines.
Snacks. Jack is super picky so I brought a bunch of snacks with me. Apple sauce is his favorite food so I packed a bunch in a plastic baggie (they’re smaller than 4 oz. so no trouble getting them through security, plus I believe TSA makes an exception for baby food). I know eating when you’re bored isn’t the best, but in order to survive a 9 hour flight with a toddler easy and healthy snacks are essential. I tried to choose things that weren’t very messy, so applesauce pouches, graham crackers, Goldfish, and raisins fit the bill. Although Jack did end up eating the brownie that came with my meal, so he inevitably ended up covered in chocolate anyway.
Keep Wipes Easily Accessible.I made the mistake of not taking wipes/diapers out of the diaper bag before I put it in the overhead storage bin. Digging for them overhead while wearing Caroline was pretty tough, and Jack got messy as soon as he ate his first snack so I wish I’d had wipes stashed under my seat.
Bring Your Quickest Baby Carrier. For me that is my Wildbird Ring Sling. (I have two of the solid linen slings and brought both of them with me.) I like it so much better than a structured carrier because I’m not dealing with velcro or clips and I can put it on in about 1 second. I like it better than anything that requires tying because I can keep the sling fully threaded and just tighten it a bit once I put Caroline in it. I wore her while boarding the plane, while walking around during the flight, when I went to the bathroom, etc…so there was a lot of on and off. You definitely need your carrier to be quick and I would hands down recommend a ring sling to every mom. Plus they fold up nice and small when they’re not in use and I was able to roll it up and use it as a pillow during the flight. (My pillow was used to cushion the bottom of the bassinet.)
Wear Comfy Pants with Pockets.Comfy, elastic waist, pull on linen pants with pockets saved my life on this trip. I always either had one or two children with me when I went to the restroom so being able to go quickly without much trouble was essential. Jeans are way too uncomfortable for a long flight, and yoga pants (which I normally love) don’t have pockets, so this cheap pair of pants from Old Navy was such a great impulse purchase (they come in lots of colors too which is nice). The pockets were really handy for stashing pacis, cars, plane tickets, or tissues and there is a good chance that these will be my new go-to travel pants. Also, wear comfy shoes that are easy to take on and off. These are my favorite white slip-on sneakers (although my exact pair with brown laces is old and no longer available).
Wear a Comfy Nursing Tank. I always recommend this nursing tank to every nursing mom. It’s more comfortable than a bra and hides your belly if you have to pull your top up when you nurse. I own three of these (two white and one gray) and they’re the absolute best! I wear it almost every day.
Bring Sweaters and Socks. Planes are often freezing so I brought all of us sweaters and socks to wear once we were settled in our seats. I also ALWAYS travel with my lululemon Vinyasa scarf. It can snap so it can be used as an infinity scarf/nursing cover, but you can also leave it unsnapped and it works great as an extra blanket. I love that it has a little stretch to it and it’s super soft. Mine is 7 years old and looks brand new.
Inflatable Split Ring Float in a Boppy Cover. I know most people bring Boppy pillows on long flights so that their babies have a place to sleep that is relatively comfortable. I thought about doing this but really didn’t want to lug one extra thing with me. I ended up buying this cheap inflatable split ring float and inflated it partially (not allowing air to go to the animal head on the float) and it fit PERFECTLY inside the Boppy cover. I ended up not having to use it since we had the bassinet, but I tried it out at home and it worked really well. I think this is a great way to avoid having to carry the full Boppy pillow, since it fits nicely inside the diaper bag when it’s deflated. If this is hard to picture check out the Kids Travel Tips I saved in my highlights on my Instagram Stories. I talked through what I did and showed what it looked like. I probably won’t be able to get the bassinet on our return flight so will definitely use this little trick on the plane.
CozyPhones. Aren’t these headphones genius? They’re way more comfortable than traditional headphones and provide less distraction for an inquisitive toddler. I’ll be honest, Jack ended up just watching the iPad in silence most of the time because he’s not crazy about anything on his head, but CozyPhones headphones work really well if your child if your child will actually wear them! One downside is that they are fleece so they’d probably be hot if you used them in the summer or not on a plane, but for a chilly plane they are perfect. I’m so glad an Instagram follower recommended them to me!
New Toys. I brought a set of small construction vehicles and surprised Jack with a new one whenever he would get antsy. He drove them up and down the sides of his carseat and loves those things. I also traveled with a new box of crayons and a blank notepad but he wasn’t able to really use it because the tray table could not open due to the height of his carseat. (Note to self, bring a clipboard next time.) Water Reveal Pads are also great and we swear by them, but sometimes the pens leak in your bag and they can easily roll under the seat if you’re not careful.
Pacifier Strap. I confess, Jack still uses a pacifier occasionally. It helps him chill out (he does not have a mellow bone in his body so I need this for my own sanity), and it also helped him handle the altitude changes on the flight. He hasn’t used a pacifier strap in about a year and a half but I decided to bring one for this trip anyway. I’m so glad I did. I knew I wouldn’t have a whole lot of mobility on the flight so I didn’t want to have to pick it up off the floor whenever he’d drop it. The strap saved me from bending over and searching for it under the seat. Even if your child is beyond needing a strap I’d definitely use one for a flight in order to save yourself some trouble. (And yes, we will wean him from it eventually but with his developmental delays he doesn’t fully comprehend what we say a lot of the time and he wouldn’t understand why it was suddenly taken away. Plus we have to get back home to Hawaii at the end of August and I’m not about to risk flying without it.)
If you have any travel related questions, ask away! I learned so much from this flight alone with the kids and am happy to share any tips that may help you on a future trip.
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I'm flying for the first time with baby Kenny (he'll be 6 1/2 mo) on a direct flight in a couple of weeks, so this post came at the perfect time! He'll be on my lap. You definitely changed my mind on the baby carrier piece; I was gonna go with my Ergo 360, but I'm definitely faster with my Wild Bird ring sling! Wondering if I should check my Ergo in my suitcase.
I think I'm going to check his carseat and pack 'n' play (I have family meeting us on the other side) and carry on our ring sling and Pockit stroller. I also heard I can have my husband get a gate pass to help us through the airport to/from… I am hoping that is the case!
Wow these tips are so amazing!! Thank you!!!
I'm sure it'll go well! It's definitely easier when they're younger and don't want to get down and be independent. Kenny is the perfect age for his first flight! I'd for sure go with the ring sling, it's so quick and easy and a multi-step carrier (I have the Ergo too) just adds unneeded stress and waiting, in my opinion. Good call on checking carseat and pack and play, it's nice to unload as much as possible early on. Hope you have a great trip!
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You're welcome, thank you so much for taking the time to read!