This post may contain affiliate links.
Paul was in the Air Force when we were first married so we flew quite a bit. Flying sans children was easy. It required almost no planning. My carry on bag held a magazine and a diet coke. That was it.
A few years later Hannah was born and we still lived away from family.
Flying became much more complicated.
When Hannah 18 months old, I ran into a huge snafu while flying. We had been in Virginia celebrating my dad’s birthday and planned to fly from Virginia to Colorado, with a layover in TX. Unfortunately, a blizzard hit Colorado while we were on our first flight. The last leg of the flight was cancelled and I couldn’t get tickets on another flight for 5 days. 5 days!
I had no car seat, only a handful of diapers, and a baby getting over an ear infection.
It was not a good day.
Our luggage was originally lost and didn’t show up for hours. We narrowly avoided sleeping at the airport because my quick thinking dad reserved a room in the hotel connected to the airport as soon as our flight was cancelled.
Thankfully, I have an amazing friend who drove three hours each way from Louisiana to Texas to pick us up and let us stay with her family. Her son was the same age as Hannah so she had a car seat, a pack n play, and all of the baby necessities. I really don’t know what we would have done without her.
That travel delay was a huge hassle because I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t anticipate the things that could go wrong.
That stressful flight helped me develop my organizational strategy to flying with children. My carry on bag is now full of items that have a purpose.
Staying organized while flying with children makes the task of flying so much easier. There is something comforting about knowing that you are prepared to handle anything.
Staying Organized While Flying With Children
Hannah and Ben are older now, but we still fly across the country a few times each year. These are the steps I take to ensure I do everything I can to have a stress-free flight.
Take care of paperwork at home
Many airlines now allow you to check in for your flights online 24 hours before your departure time. I highly recommend checking in as early as you can.
When you check in at home you print out your boarding passes and bring them to the airport with you. This allows you to bypass the long check-in lines. You can also pay any baggage fees and print luggage tags at home. If you are checking baggage you will need to drop it off at the baggage counter, but in my experience this line is usually pretty short and moves quickly.
Put all of your boarding passes together and keep them in a safe location.
I keep our boarding passes in the front pocket of my ‘personal item’ tote bag.
Baggies are important
I love using sandwich and snack baggies for organizing all of our carry-on essentials.
I place a baggy with various chargers (kindle, computer, phone, etc.), a baggy with earbuds, a baggy with ear plugs, and a baggy with a headphone jack splitter in Hannah and Ben’s back packs and my tote bag.
Airport food is expensive and sometimes gross so I always bring more food than we could possibly need onboard. Many times when we fly from WA to VA we are in the airport or air over breakfast and lunch. I fill a gallon size bag with lots of options.
Airplane friendly food:
- applesauce pouches (these will need to go in your liquids bag)
- snap peas
- apple slices
- Lara bar (make sure it is nut-free)
- crackers and cheese
See my other favorite travel snacks.
I avoid bringing nut products when I fly. My children are not allergic to nuts, but many are, and a reaction up in the sky would be scary.
I have been on flights where the flight crew has asked people to not open anything containing nuts. I would have had cranky and hungry children if I couldn’t let them open their food! We just avoid the situation completely by saving those snacks for home.
The amount of food you need to pack is relative to the length of the flight. Washington to Virginia is a 5 hour direct flight so I pack enough for a full meal and a few snacks. There is usually food leftover when we land, but I would rather bring a bit too much than too little.
Keep security items within easy reach
When you go through security you will need to remove your 3-1-1 bag and computer to be scanned separately. Having these items within easy reach will keep the line moving (which will keep frustration at bay). Don’t be the person digging through a messy bag trying to find their liquids bag.
I put our 3-1-1 bags right inside the zipper of our personal item bags.
I highly recommend inspecting your children’s bags before going to the airport. Ben once packed a Magic 8 ball in his carryon bag. Security was not amused at finding a hard liquid filled ball. He was allowed to bring it on the plane, but only after they spent some extra time examining and testing it.
Technically, TSA is not supposed to ask children under the age of 13 to remove their shoes, but it does occasionally happen. I don’t argue. My goal at the security check point is to get through as fast as possible, so we comply with the request. Dressing everyone in easy to remove shoes helps get you through quickly.
Everyone needs their own ‘personal item’
Personal items are things like purses, back packs, or laptop bags. Hannah and Ben always use their back pack as their personal item. My Vera Bradley co-op tote doubles as my flight personal item. I like that it has interior and exterior pockets and a zipper on top. The pockets keep my bag organized and the zipper makes sure that nothing falls out.
The kids fill their bag with entertainment items – kindles, books, small toys, etc. They also put their food in their own bag so they can easily reach it. This is important in case our seats get split up and we don’t sit together. That hasn’t been a problem yet, but I plan for it just in case.
My medicine bag contains any prescriptions, kids and adult Motrin, Benadryl, and Band Aids. I usually stick a few essential oils in my personal item bag too. Just make sure it is with the other liquids. The one I use most while traveling is peppermint oil. It has come in very handy when Ben felt sick after eating airport food.
Inhaling peppermint oil helped me avoid a puking child. No one wants that on a plane.
Bring a personal item bag with all of the things you will need on your flight even if you plan to bring carry on luggage. Flights seem to be flying full these days and it is not unusual for carry on bags to end up gate checked. If that happens you will not have access to it until you land.
Pack a change of clothes
Another ‘must-have’ to pack in everyone’s personal item bag is a change of clothes. When my children were babies I brought an entire extra outfit for everyone. That way the baby and I could change clothes in the event of a leaky diaper or spit up. Now that my kids are 9 and 12, I just pack an extra shirt.
In the event of a spill, there is a clean shirt available. On our most recent trip, I spilled my coffee before we even got on the plane. It was early in the morning and I was tired and clumsy. I was very thankful that I had a clean shirt and didn’t need to spend the rest of the day with a gigantic coffee stain.
We also always bring sweaters or sweatshirts in our bags. Airplanes are rarely a comfortable temperature. They always seem either too hot or too cold. Wearing layers and having a sweater available will help everyone stay comfortable.
I love our suitcases and try to carry them on the plane whenever possible, but my tote bag has the extra clothes, just in case I have to check our bags.
Flights can be long and boring so entertainment is a must. Some airlines have tv screens built into the seat backs, but don’t count on it. That is not standard across all airlines, and plane changes can happen at the last minute.
My kids usually pack a book, a small toy or two, and their Kindle Fire. I use our Amazon Prime membership to download movies onto their Kindles the night before every flight. I love that I can download the movies and shows to their Kindles so we don’t need to use the plane WiFi.
The selection changes all the time so there is always something they want to watch.
I recommend a headphone splitter in case the kids want to watch the same movie. They just put the Kindle between them and each plug in their headphones. My kids frequently watch Harry Potter together when flying. It isn’t a prime movie, but we bought the digital copy on Amazon so we can download it to our devices.
Our screen time limits are relaxed when we are traveling. Sometimes it just makes everything a little easier.
Books and a Kindle Fire are in my bag too. I never make it through an entire movie without needing to pause it and help (ahem, correct) a chid, but over the course of our flight get to watch it all.
Bring more than you think you will need
Bring multiples of just about everything. You will be less stressed if you assume that the flight will leave late and spend more time in the air than expected. Running out of things in the air is a recipe for disaster.
This is especially true for baby stuff. Airports do not sell baby items.
I once searched an entire airport looking for a baby bottle or sippy cup for Hannah. We left the house before dawn and I forgot to grab it off the kitchen counter. I finally found one baby bottle in a little airport news stand.
That cheaply made generic bottle was almost $20! I bought it because I really had no choice.
Save yourself the time and expense and bring multiple of everything you will need.
Need 4 diapers for the trip? Bring 8. Need 2 bottles of formula? Bring 4.
Avoid getting on the plane too early
Some airlines allow parents with children under the age of 2 to pre-board the plane. I hear Alaska Airlines make this announcement before every flight. It sounds like a nice perk, but isn’t always a good idea. Only do this if you have a carseat that you need to secure AND are traveling without another adult.
If there is another adult in your party, have them take the carseat on and get it situated while you and your little one get out as much energy as possible.
Stay right by the gate, but get as many wiggles out as possible. There isn’t much room to move around once on the plane. Jumping jacks are a great way to get out a quick burst of energy.
Above all else, pack your patience
Traveling with children can be exhausting. They are out of their routine and familiar surroundings. Time changes ruin sleep and eating schedules. Rules get relaxed on vacation…which means that all of the rules might be tested. If you remind yourself ahead of time that these things are going to happen, you will respond with more grace.
Pack your patience and have a wonderful trip making new memories.
Know someone traveling with kids? Share this post!
Have any travel tips? Help other parents and share them in the comments!