Let’s not sugarcoat it — air travel with young kids is not fun. From the minute you walk out the door burdened with strollers, car seats and suitcases to the moment you arrive at your destination with screaming, overwrought kids, it’s a test of endurance for most parents.
While I am no expert, traveling on numerous long-haul flights with two kids under 5 has taught me a few valuable lessons. Together with a few parent colleagues, we’ve come up with a list of useful tips to get you through that flight.
Never board first.
I know it’s a big perk to get on the plane first when you’ve got young kids, but, trust me, it’s not worth it. You’re basically extending the amount of time you spend in that steel can. Instead of boarding first, board last. Keep the kids busy in all those wide-open spaces at the airport instead of trying to entertain them on a hot stuffy airplane while everyone else boards.
Label the kids.
Airports are frantic places, and it’s hard to keep track of everything — kids, passports, luggage, phones, etc. To avoid the unthinkable (lost child situation), have your kid wear a travel wristband with your contact details. A parent I know writes this info with a Sharpie on her kid’s arm — a perfect last-minute parent hack if you’re at the airport. Also, consider dressing the kids in bright clothing, such as fluorescent hoodies, so you can easily pick them out in a crowd.
Stock up on trinkets.
Before you travel, take a trip to the Dollar Store and buy the craziest small trinkets you can find. Try to avoid anything that makes a noise or anything too heavy. Simple things like mini Slinkies, matching card games or these tried-and-tested travel toys can keep them busy. Be sure to stash the toys away so your kid doesn’t see them until you're on the airplane. Surprise them with a different toy every hour for maximum enjoyment (and peace). Some parents travel with a small bag of fruit loops and string so the kids can make necklaces and have a snack at the same time.
Suspend your screen-time rules.
Life is too short. Give them the tablet and allow them to watch all those crazy cartoons. One mom recommends holding off on the screen time for as long as possible so that the kids will sit and watch for longer at the end of the journey (when you really, really need them to).
Dress for success.
Dress your kids in light layers — hoodies, T-shirts, etc. Temperatures fluctuate so much from planes to airports. Make sure your kids are wearing shoes with Velcro and jackets that open easily. Before the trip, familiarize them with how security checks work at the airport. You can make it into a game by having competitions at home to see who can take their shoes and coats off the quickest.
Bring a spare shirt.
Bring spare clothes or at least a clean shirt for you as well as the kids (I still remember the time I spent 8 hours on a plane with a vomit-soaked shirt).
Strategic seat selection.
If you are traveling with small babies on a long haul, call the airline and book a "bassinet row." It's a lifesaver, as it lets your baby stretch out and get a somewhat restful sleep. The bassinet row is usually at the bulkhead of the plane and a small baby bassinet can be attached to the wall. These seats are super popular, not only with families but with people looking for extra legroom, so be sure to call the airline to book early. Speaking of strategic seat selection, one parent I know likes to book two adjacent rows and select the aisle and window seat, in the hopes of getting an empty middle seat (this only works if the flight isn’t too full, but it's worth a try).
Bring a small pharmacy.
Take important medical supplies with you in your carry-on case. Make sure you have a pain reliever/fever reducer, Hydrocortisone, allergy meds, Band-Aids, Neosporin, lip balm, etc.
Keep it light.
If you do need a stroller, buy or borrow the lightest and smallest umbrella stroller there is. Make sure it has a shoulder strap or a carrying case. You're going to be lugging that thing around for most of the trip.
Try not to freak out about the germs. Your kids will probably lick the tray tables and eat off the airport floor. My advice to you is to just take a breath and move on.