Summertime often brings air travel, but unfortunately, the simple passage of the seasons doesn’t help a parent grow the undaunted courage it takes to get on a plane with a baby or a toddler; no matter how long you’ve been at this parenting game, it’s still a gamble to pack up your littles and voluntarily confine them in a tiny space for hours on end where the judgment of others throbs all around you. It can be rough. But, with some extra planning and careful maneuvering of the air travel system, you can stack the deck in your favor! Really!
Schedule your flights with care. Life on a plane is easier when your kid is asleep, that much is known, so schedule a flight that will maximize the length of time a peaceful, serene little one is passed out next to you (as opposed to the wiggling psycho version). Nap time is the perfect time to be on a plane.
Bring extra clothes for you AND baby. Because there’s nothing worse than being covered in vomit or pee or spit-up or whatever varietal kid mess you’ve got on your hands.
Harness the power of snacks. The best airplane snacks are those that take time and care to eat, like string cheese or crackers with a dipping sauce or spread, or a fruit roll-up. Extra credit for having new snacks (exciting food will buy you time!), and for packaging things creatively in plastic eggs or little wrapped packages. Make sure to bring twice the amount you think you’ll need, because food comas are quiet time.
Baby wear through security. You’ll thank yourself when TSA waves your family through the metal detector without delay.
Dress for the occasion. Don’t wear thick sweaters, turtlenecks, jeans, or anything that has the potential to restrict movement or become burdensome when you’ve got a kid on your lap. And don’t forget about hair; for me, there is no more surefire way to make a stressful situation worse than by having my hot, heavy hair in my face or in graspable range of my toddler, so you’ll never find me without a hair tie. Also, never ever wear snow boots on a plane with your kids. You. Will. Hate. It.
Suspend the rules of screen time … Go ahead, let your kids watch entire movies or binge Daniel Tiger episodes Don’t feel the least bit guilty about it.
… But bring other activities too. Stackable cups. Water books. Animal figures. Little cars. Anything to keep those hands busy after they’ve had enough TV.
Divide and conquer, then board early. Unless you are traveling by yourself, your adult flying companion can take a big strain off your shoulders by running the kids around the airport while you get settled on the plane. It’ll take a few minutes to get your things in order, and it’s much easier to do when the littles are otherwise occupied.
Fly Southwest. Their open seating policy gives you an opportunity to nab an empty seat for your kid, without paying for it! The gate staff is usually very accommodating to families with small children, and unless the flight is completely booked (another reason to fly at nap time, not peak hours), a friendly and respectful inquiry at the front desk will often yield amazing results. Imagine it: putting that sweaty bundle of energy down in their own seat, off of your lap, where they can spread out a bit and enjoy some freedom, without having to buy a whole extra seat? Oh, heaven! And even though it’s not a guarantee, parents I know report having better than a 50% success rate on Southwest, certainly more than airlines with assigned seating.
Give yourself some grace. You know what they say about the best-laid plans, and flying is no different; even if you prepare, things sometimes fall apart and you find yourself in a fresh hell of your own making, with a bored toddler throwing tantrums or an infant crying and pulling on their sore ears. And you know what? It’ll pass. On planes as well as in life, it helps to remind yourself that children feel exactly the same emotions that you do—stagnation, frustration, impatience, annoyance at the person in front of you who simply must recline their seat—except they have no mechanisms for coping. So ignore any sneers you get from other passengers (you’re allowed to take up space in the world, even if you have kids!), breathe, and remember that the joys of travel and memory-making with your family will be worth it. Happy flying!
Shelley DeWees is a three-time Willow client who spends her days chasing her toddler son and daughter around her home in South St Paul. Her third baby, another boy, is due any day now! Shelley also loves going to workout classes (when she’s not enormously pregnant) and is an avid reader.