Aug 5, 2015

Tips for Airline Travel with Children

Metro Detroit Mommy Guest Blogger: Arianne

I'm a voracious reader and researcher by nature. So in the advent of my child's first flight, I pored over countless mommy blogs, badgered seasoned mommy friends, and practically interrogated my daughter's pediatrician for any bit of information that would make the whole process go smoothly. That first flight went surprisingly well, with our then four month old sleeping most of the way.  

Since then, we've flown nearly a dozen more times in the past two years, with over half being solo flights. Some flights were just like that blissful first one, others were literally crappy. Nothing like changing a screaming, poo covered baby in a cramped lavatory as the pilot tersely announces that they're ready to take off as soon as everyone is seated.

Here are some of the things that I've learned that may be useful to other parents:
  • Read up on the airline's policies when it comes to traveling with kids. Do they allow families with young children early? Are there specific dimensions that a stroller or car seat must adhere to? What are the acceptable forms of age verification for a lap infant? Knowing the answers to questions like these beforehand can help you streamline your trip.
  • Consider using Skycap services to check in, especially if you have a lot of luggage. The wait is typically significantly shorter. I also find that Skycap attendants tend to work more efficiently to check you in quickly. Only drawback is that some airlines will charge a small fee. At the very least, the attendant helping you will most likely anticipate some form of monetary gratuity in return. The trade off is avoiding a possible long line and increasingly cranky little one.
  • If you're traveling alone with a small child, I'd suggest asking a friend or family member to accompany you to the gate. You can request a gate pass for this individual at the check in counter and emphasize that it's so he or she can help you get through security. I believe gate passes are issued at the discretion of the check in counter. We've never been denied one but we have been given grief when requesting one. The friend or family member that's getting the gate pass will be required to show some form of identification.
  • Baby wearing can be a godsend, especially if you're traveling alone. It'll keep your little one close to you and your hands free. I don't even bother with strollers at the airport anymore - just pop the toddler in the Ergo and go!
  • Keep in mind that you'll be asked to take off any carriers or wraps when going through security. Much to my two year old's chagrin, all stuffed animals and blankies must go on the conveyer belt and through the x-ray machine as well. Remember that large electronics like a laptop must be taken out of your bag before going through the x-ray. I'd say opt to bring an iPad instead if you're traveling solo and want something electronic to entertain the little one. iPads can stay in your bag. I find the less I have to do to get through security, the less stressful the whole situation is.
  • I feel like I move more slowly with a small child. I also hate being rushed when I have my toddler in tow. So I like to make a rough, mental schedule of our time based off of the boarding time and not the departure time itself. The boarding time is typically thirty minutes prior to the departure time. That way, in case we face some sort of mishap, we'll have plenty of wiggle room.
  • Allocating extra time before we depart also means I have extra time to let my energetic two year old walk as much as possible and tire herself out before we board. If I had to guess, I'd say moving walkways are high on her list of favorite things to do.
  • If you're planning on gate checking strollers or car seats, make sure you get tags for them from the ticket counter by the gate. They won't let you board without your stuff tagged. I also personally like to just put any car seats and strollers in bags even if they're gate checked, just so they stay clean. I've seen plenty without any bags though. Make sure you remember to collapse and fold up any gate checked strollers.
  • If you're traveling with another adult, consider having one person board first and get everything settled in while the other individual hangs back at the gate with the child. Then the individual with the child boards later. This way, you could possibly avoid the little one getting antsy or jostled as the bulk of the passengers board.

  • I like to make it a habit of asking the first flight attendant that greets me where the changing table is located (front of the plane versus the back lavatory). This way, you won't waste any time waiting for a bathroom that may not even have a changing table. Keep in mind that laws prohibit a line from forming at the bathroom near the cockpit. During one flight, the changing table was located in the front. It was constantly occupied before we could reach it so a helpful flight attendant offered to give me a trash bag that I could lay out on the floor and change my daughter in the back of the plane.  
  • Avoid seats that are four rows or closer to the back of the plane if you can. Those usually have less leg room. I've discovered that the last row usually doesn't allow you to recline your chair either.
  • Definitely get some sort of diaper wristlet or clutch if you don't have one already. Fill it up with everything you need for a typical diaper change. That way, if you have to do a diaper change on the plane, you can just grab the wristlet instead of hauling the entire diaper bag to the lavatory. My personal favorite is the Ju-Ju-Be Be Quick wristlet. To be courteous to other passengers, I always place stinky diapers in a plastic bag and ask attendants if I can throw it in the trashcan located outside of the bathroom.
  • I like packing small toys and trinkets that are novel to my daughter for flights to keep her entertained. I've found that reusable stickers work well on the windows. Three sided crayons are great because they won't roll around. These ones also wipe easily off of the trays. Another favorite is small figurines, whether it be animals or characters, that my daughter can hold easily and create multiple scenarios to play.
  • Remember that the cabin is pressurized. Therefore, pressure will build up in things like closed straw cups. Simply open then retighten any straw cups to release the built up pressure or else any liquid will just shoot out.
  • My daughter refused to nurse with a cover on, but I personally felt uncomfortable breastfeeding without one in such an enclosed space. Wearing a thin, spaghetti strap tank top underneath a loose top remedied this situation. I'd simply tug the tank top down and let the loose top drape above my breast. This way, I felt covered up without struggling with a nursing cover.  
  • I feel like things that you need on a daily basis and aren't easily replaced right away (e.g. prescription medicine) should have top priority in your carry on. Our luggage once missed our connecting flight (that we ourselves barely made). It was an awful feeling discovering that a majority of our things were still in Chicago when we landed in Detroit. We were coming home from visiting family so thankfully it wasn't like we were stranded; however, it was a definite eye opener.
Out of all our flights, we've only had one unpleasant encounter with a fellow passenger. He muttered some expletives under his breath when he discovered he'd have to sit next to us and opted to wedge himself in a middle seat somewhere else instead. Joke's on him because my daughter slept the whole time during that flight without so much as a peep. The other 99.9% of the adult population that we encountered while traveling were understanding when my little one did cry on the pane.

If I could say anything to my past self about flying with an infant, I'd want to simply tell her not to worry. Like all tantrums, every flight will eventually end. Nearly anything you may forget to pack can be replaced once you reach your destination. If you're lucky, you'll have an eventless flight. If not, at least you'll have an interesting story to share with friends and family later on.

Happy traveling!

Arianne is the better looking half of a fourth year medical student as well as a stay at home mother. While she's not in class or the hospital, she's taking care of their precocious two year old. She, along with her family, are Southern California natives. They packed up and moved to Michigan in the summer of 2014 with just six luggage a week before her significant other started his medical school rotations at a local Michigan hospital. She admittedly misses their relatives (the majority are located in California) and 70 degree winter days; however, she's fallen in love with exploring Michigan. She could definitely do without the mosquitos though! You can follow her and her family's travels on Instagram, handle @WithWaffles.

Metro Detroit Mommy Writer:


  1. Some good tips. I've actually never seen a bathroom with a changing table on an airplane, so that's interesting to know.

  2. nice post - safe travels! After our last trip with kids on a plane my wife has told me she prefers to drive and it wasn't based upon our children's behavior but rather how the other passengers and airlines dealt with us traveling as a family. Glad you've had some good experiences.

  3. Really great and helpful tips. Love all of it. For sure it will come in handy for us sooner or later.

  4. I took my girls when they were 3 and 6. My oldest was afraid so the three-year-old held her hand. Everything went really smooth. We had each kid take a backpack onboard and it worked well.