Air travel: how to survive flying with kids – Part One

We’ll be making our first flight with Heidi for Easter weekend, so I’ve been trying to remember all my tips and tricks for flying with babies!  Claire has flown dozens of times, and through trial and error over the years, we’ve learned lots of different ways to keep her (more or less) happy when flying.  Here are some of our best tips for flying with babies and kids!

Watermarked Photo travel cover

Navigating the airport

Before you can fly with your kids, you have to get through the airport with your kids. My best advice is to leave the stroller at home (or check it upon arrival at the airport). Strollers are big and bulky, and they are a major pain to get through security. I don’t need the hassle. I always wore Claire through the airport, in my trusted ring sling. My sling has acrylic rings that won’t set off metal detectors, though I think the current TSA rules allow for babies to be worn through security anyway, no matter what style carrier you use. Once you pass through the metal detector, the TSA agent will ask you to step to the side so she can swab your hands to check for explosives. Done and done – way faster than trying to fold up the stroller, get it up on the conveyor belt, and carry a wriggly, tired baby through the line. Now that we have two kids, I wonder if I would revisit my anti-stroller stance. I don’t think so – Claire will probably walk while I wear Heidi. Jesse might grab the Ergo in case of emergency. I’ll report back after our first flight as a family of four.

Watermarked Photo Travel 02

Though we have used a luggage trolley as a stroller!

Takeoff and landing

Once you’re through the airport, you can focus on the flight. When we flew with Claire as an infant, my best weapon was to breastfeed, breastfeed, breastfeed. During takeoff and landing, it helped her to regulate the pressure in her ears, and during the rest of the flight it just kept her calm and happy. If you’re not breastfeeding, then you can always bottle feed during takeoff and landing. For older kids, you can try chewing gum or lollipops – anything to get their jaw moving to release pressure in the ears.

In-flight seating

There are different schools on seating in the airplane. Personally, I liked getting the bassinet in the bulkhead row when Claire was small. Although she never really slept much in the bassinet, I loved having someplace to stash diapers, onesies, toys and other baby stuff without clogging up the floor. When she was big enough to sit, I would let her play in the bassinet, which allowed me a few precious minutes without a baby in my lap. On our last flight, just before Claire turned 2, we were lucky enough to have an empty seat next to us. And, as luck would have it, Claire slept like an angel for most of the flight!

Watermarked Photo Travel 03

Toys and distractions

For us, toys and other distractions are a must to get through our flights. While the iPad may be the obvious choice, we also like to stock up on non-electronic forms of entertainment. The good thing about old-fashioned books and toys is that they can be used during takeoff and landing – unlike an iPad, which needs to be turned off. I have had several experiences where Claire threw a massive tantrum during landing because we had to turn off the iPad. While many of Claire’s travel photos show her holding an old iPod touch, I do believe in sticking with non-electronic stuff as much as possible, just to avoid the “time to turn it off” tantrum.

Window clings and stickers - best airplane toys EVER...

Window clings and stickers – best airplane toys EVER…

My absolute favorite in-flight toys are those gel window clings you find in the dollar store. Seriously. It doesn’t matter if they’re Thanksgiving-themed and we’re flying in July – Claire doesn’t care. All she cares about is repeatedly decorating the window, bulkhead wall, or tray table with brightly colored sticky things. And best of all, these particular sticky things don’t stick permanently. Your flight attendant will thank you. Another amazing in-flight distraction is the old-fashioned sticker book. These things provide hours and hours of entertainment. Claire can busy herself with a sticker book for ages.

Window clings!

Window clings!

Another trick in my non-electronic distraction arsenal are these amazing little reusable water-paint books. They are cheap as dirt (and I’ve even found them at Text Book Center before!), and you can use them over and over. It’s the same idea as an Aquadoodle, but these things are way more interesting to the kiddos, with their bright colors and surprise backgrounds.

Watermarked Photo Travel 06 Watermarked Photo Travel 08


Another good thing to have in your arsenal is snacks. Especially snacks that are normally forbidden. We like to pack lollipops, because they take a long time to eat, and frankly, Claire is crazy about them. Another handy item to have, also for younger babies, are those squeeze pouches with pureed fruit, veggies and yoghurt inside. We love Happy Baby / Happy Tot, but there are loads of brands, and they’re all really good. (We stock up on these when visiting the US, though you can sometimes find them at Healthy U.) When it comes to flying, these things go down much better with an older kid who can squeeze it right into their own mouth. With younger babies, you’ll need to spoon feed them. There’s no need to worry about bringing these through security, as long as you have them with the rest of your liquids in a ziplock bag. Parents traveling with kids get extra liquid allowance!

squeezy pouch

Another great item for snacks are those snack catcher cups. We have the Munchkin brand, which was actually available here in Nairobi for a while there. These are great for letting your kids self-feed snacks, but the snacks have to be the right size. Cheerios will spill out, as will most tiny snacks. We love putting grapes inside!

snack catcher

These are just some of our best tips and tricks for flying with little ones. Stay tuned for Part Two before we fly to the coast this weekend! We’re heading back to Sand Island Cottages at Tiwi Beach, and we can’t wait! Jesse will be playing in the annual Frisbee East Africa Sand Tournament (FEAST, for short), and I will be chilling out with Claire, Heidi, and lots of good friends…

What are your best tips for family travel?

Happy Easter, everyone…

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7 Responses to Air travel: how to survive flying with kids – Part One

  1. Pingback: Air travel: how to survive flying with kids – Part Two | Mama Mgeni

  2. Those of us with kids immediately relate to this article. Thanks for sharing this valuable resource.

    In this day and age, with almost everything running on batteries, we’ve also made it a habit to check and make sure all the kids’ devices (e-readers, ipods, ect) are charged before leaving. There may be a charging port available, but who wants to go through the hassle of charging everything at the same time (and it’s happened, believe me!), and not everyone has an air power adapter.

    Thanks again for this great post.

    • MamaMgeni says:

      Thanks! The absolute last thing I think of before every trip us charging the electronics and loading them with Sesame Street episodes and kids’ apps. I usually wind up doing it at about 11:30 PM the night before a trip… 🙂 I need to get better at that!

  3. Pingback: We survived 31 hours of travel! | Mama Mgeni

  4. Kate says:

    Thanks Tara for the good info
    Indeed travelling with our little ones can be both fun and
    a nightmare. Thank you for the practical tips.
    Safe travels and enjoy time with your family.
    God bless

  5. Amy says:

    Hi Tara! I need your advice! My husband, our son Nyles and I will be traveling from Ohio to Tanzania in August. Nyles will be 20 months old so we technically don’t NEED a seat/ticket for him. I’m all about saving my sanity and getting him his own seat but $1500?! What’s your experience? Have either of your girls lapped it the entire trip? I’m considering not getting him a seat and crossing our fingers for an open seat near us. The last leg typically isn’t full anyways… Right?!

    • Mama Mgeni says:

      Hi Amy! Haha, both of our kids flew in my lap up until the bitter end! Long haul flights with a kid in your lap get harder the bigger they get, mainly because it’s really hard for the parent to sleep (or eat!). We did occasionally get empty seats next to us, which helped a lot, but you’re never guaranteed. My trick was to reserve the middle section of seats like this: XX_X (where X is a member of my family, and _ is an empty seat). My rationale was that the seat would likely stay empty, or any poor soul who had to sit in that seat would beg to be moved… It worked great for us! Good luck!!

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