8 Tips for Flying with Children

My name is Jackie and I’m a real mom. I do the best I can. I occasionally attempt fancy Pinterest birthday parties, limit screen time, and educational weekends, but mostly, I’m just trying to keep it together the best I can.  

Today I want to tell you a little story about the first time I flew with my baby. Flying with children is a hot button issue these days with people asking whether airlines should offer child-free flights so non-parents aren’t disturbed or do more to help parents on the plane. Let me tell you, I don’t want to be on an airplane with my child any more than you want to be on a flight with my child.  

First, we woke up at the crack of dawn to drive the two hours to JFK airport in New York City. It was over the holidays so obviously there was no convenient parking and it was approximately 5 degrees. Once we did find parking we had a 20-minute walk with our 10-month-old, three suitcases, a stroller, a diaper bag, a carry on, snacks, bottles, treats, toys, an iPad, baby sunscreen, summer and winter clothes, and of course a book for myself, on the off chance I would have some time to read (spoiler alert: I did not).  

When we finally got into the warmth, we had to quickly remove the extra coats, mittens, and hats we had on our son…before realizing we had to take a shuttle train to the actual airport, ok then, coats, mittens, and hats back on.  

Long story short – an hour later, we finally burst into JFK…to find a long line waiting for us. Have you ever had to entertain a baby in an airport line? It’s almost impossible. He wanted to get out of the stroller and crawl around (obviously we didn’t let him, the floor is dirty and all those judgmental eyes – we didn’t dare). Next came security, which actually wasn’t awful, until I found myself desperately explaining why I had to be able to bring my breastmilk through the check point – totally not humiliating or anything.  

At this point, it was about 9am and we were in the terminal, sitting down for some breakfast. My husband and I, seeing as we were about to embark on our first vacation since finding out that we we’re going to become parents, decided to indulge in a single mimosa each…BIG MISTAKE. The side eye from the server wasn’t enough, every patron in the restaurant twisted their necks trying to see what horrible parents would dare to order a mimosa with a child present. So, we did what any responsible parents would do, got out of there as quick as humanly possible. How was it only 10am yet I had committed so many cardinal sins of momming?  

Fast forward to 10:30, boarding time. Fun fact, parents, with little kids who are crying, trying to keep track of all their belongings get to board the flight AFTER the frequent fliers, first class passengers, business class, and anyone with the right credit card apparently, but we did eventually get on the plane. Now, if you’ve never flown with a child, let me stop right here. You have two options, you can either buy a very expensive ticket for someone who will likely spend all of 15 minutes in their seat or you can fly with the baby on your lap. We chose the latter, meaning there was an additional person in our already cramped row. She was actually very nice, however she did feel the need to have us all get up so she could use the restroom the second my son FINALLY fell asleep, so that was fun.  

Trying to be considerate passengers, my husband and I had pre-researched every possible hack for flying with babies, including feeding during take-off and landing to help their ears. At this point I was still breastfeeding and unlike the peaceful moms on Instagram, I am not comfortable doing this around strangers. Trying to be discreet with a 10-month old however, not super easy, but just like that we were airborne and my husband and I both let out a sigh of relief, but that was just the beginning.  

You can forget relaxing, reading, enjoying the inflight entertainment, talking among ourselves, or even listening to music. Over the next 2 hours came a series of passing our son back and forth, trying to rock him, distracting him, feeding him, attempting to interest him in toys or snacks. A kind flight attendant gave us extra cookies to help out, which even as awful parents, we knew that much sugar in a 10-month old was unlikely to be helpful, to anyone.  

Eventually we made it and had a fantastic trip, but here are some ACTUAL tips that helped us fly with our baby:

  • Pack as light as possible and check as much as you can, but definitely keep the stroller with you.
  • If you can, have someone else drive you to the airport so you can get dropped off at the terminal as opposed to dealing with crowded, long-term parking.
  • Elmo – I know screen time isn’t great and I’m not a doctor, but when you’re stressed about tantrums and need some quick distractions, everyone’s favorite fuzzy friend probably does way more good than harm in this case.
  • Lollipops – again, not great for an all-the-time thing, but it takes a child a decent amount of time to eat a lollipop, during which they’ll sit still and be quiet. *helpful hint: YumEarth lollipops have the great taste without artificial dyes and high fructose corn syrup.
  • If you bring a breast pump, carry it on with you – on our way home our luggage got lost and let’s just say it was a painful two days before I got that baby back.
  • Dress EVERYONE in layers – airports, planes, and weather can be unpredictable and layers are so much easier than full outfit changes.
  • Mentally prepare – pre-baby, flying with my husband was always a fun adventure, we would relax, watch a movie, cuddle, and even have a drink – this is NOT the same.
  • Finally, instead of freaking out or worrying yourself over what might happen, try to enjoy the family time and remember they grow up so fast – I know #cliche but I’m a millennial.