Last summer, I took my two children by myself on a cross country airplane trip to visit my sister. She lives on the east coast and I live on the west. At the time, both of my kids were under age 5. While I have traveled with my kids many times, this was the first time I did it without the help of another adult. Even though I was really prepared, there were still problems I could not have foreseen like my son throwing up on the plane from motion sickness. It was a real learning experience and now I think I am truly prepared for any situation that might occur when traveling with children. Follow these 10 tips to make flying alone with kids easier on you and them.
1. Pack Extra Clothes in Your Carry On Luggage
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I used to travel all the time when I worked for a cruise line. One time I arrived at my destination way before my luggage and had to sleep in the clothes I had worn all day. Ever since then I always pack an extra shirt, clean underwear and pajamas in my carry on luggage.
When children are babies most parents think to bring extra clothes along on all trips, but when they get older it may not seem as necessary. Trust me it is. When I travel with my children I always pack a complete change of clothes for them, clean underwear and pajamas. You can not imagine how glad I was to have a complete change of clothes for my son on our trip after he threw up everywhere as our plane was landing.
2. Bring Baby Wipes
Even if your child is no longer in diapers I suggest having baby wipes on hand when you travel. I brought some on our trip to handle dirty hands and faces. So you can imagine how glad I was to have them to clean my son up after he vomited on the airplane.
3. Pack a plastic garbage bag or shopping bag
When your child throws up on an airplane it is an awful and helpless feeling. My son got sick so fast that I didn’t have time to grab an airsick bag. Thankfully, airlines are prepared for air sick passengers. The Southwest flight attendant on the plane the day that my son threw up was amazing. She was so attentive and helpful. It made a horrible situation slightly more bearable. (Just on a side note, not only does Southwest thoroughly clean the seats when someone is sick, they also change out the seatbelts!)
The flight attendant gave me plastic garbage bags to put my son’s soiled items in after he got sick. This included his clothes, favorite blanket and favorite stuffed animal. I knew we would be at my sister’s house in a few hours and would have access to laundry. Thank goodness, because while I could have thrown out my son’s clothes, the blanket and stuffed animal would have been a much bigger loss. I would have no chance of saving them if it were not for those plastic garbage bags that allowed me to carry our items with us without the smell!
4. Sit in The Middle of the Plane
This was the biggest lesson I learned the day of our big trip. If you have children, sit in the middle of the plane. The middle of the plane has the least amount of turbulence and your child is less likely to get sick.
I had chosen a seat in the back for the first leg of our trip because I was worried about leaving one child alone to take the other to the bathroom. I figured I wouldn’t be too far from the one while I helped the other.
After my son got sick, I realized that he got sick because he ate before we landed at our transfer city and there was turbulence. Turbulence is always worse in the back of the plane. His little stomach just couldn’t take it.
5. Have Plenty of Snacks and Water
You never know when hunger will strike on a long trip and it can be a long wait for the flight attendants to come by with the first snack. You never want to be stuck on a trip with hungry children and no access to food due to circumstances out of your control like flight delays. I always make sure we are well stocked with snacks for our trips. Here is a list of great airplane snacks for kids.
I love our insulated water bottles. We bring them empty to the airport and then fill them up with water and ice once we get to the airport. These bottles stay cold all day!
6. Pack Blankets and Hoodies
Airplanes get so cold and children’s little bodies get cold even faster. Even if we are going from a warm destination to a warm destination like we were last summer, I always pack a small blanket and a lightweight hoodie jacket for my kids. We always use them and I lucked out that my son’s blanket was in his lap when he started getting motion sick on the plane. I was able to use his blanket to keep his sickness from making an even bigger mess than it already was.
7. Make Your Kids Use the Restroom
This is common sense right? Of course it is. What this should say is make your kids use the restroom as closely to takeoff and landing as you can. The younger they are, the more important this is. This was another difficult lesson I learned. My daughter had used the bathroom about an hour before we landed on our flight home. I asked her if she had to go as we got closer to landing. She told me she didn’t and I didn’t push the issue, but I should have.
Big Mistake. About 5 minutes before we landed, she started dancing around in the seat telling me how badly she had to go. I knew we would get yelled at if we got up during the descent. To make matters worse, my son was asleep. When the plane landed, we had to leave our stuff and race to the front of the plane so she could use the bathroom. As soon as those no seatbelt signs went off, I ran from row 9 with my daughter and my sleeping son to the front bathroom. Next, I had to swim upstream against all the people getting off the plane to get our stuff so we could make our transfer. Talk about stressful!
8. Pack Plenty of Entertainment
My husband and I do not let our children consume more than 1 hour of television each day. However, on airplane trips we do make exceptions. We always pack an iPad or tablet with hours of shows and headphones. We bring a split headphone jack so more than one kid can listen to the same tablet. We also pack crayons, coloring books, books to read and plenty of airplane friendly small toys. When you are traveling by yourself with kids it is even more important to have options.
9. Bring Favorite Stuffed Animals
I always allow my children to bring their favorite stuffed animal on the plane. It gives them a traveling buddy and a source of comfort. It can also be a pillow when they are sleepy. The key is to make sure they always have it before you leave the gate, get off the plane or exit a shuttle or taxi. All moms know how hard it is to track down lost stuffed animals or favorite blankets.
10. Allow For Plenty of Time Between Transfers
There are two schools of thought when flying with kids. One is to fly non stop with no stops no matter what and the other is that it is good to take a break between long flights. My personal philosophy is to take non-stop flights if the flight is two hours or less. I try to have a stopover or transfer if the flight is longer than two hours. On some routes a transfer is unavoidable.
I learned that if you are traveling alone with kids, make sure there is enough time between the flights. The day my daughter had her restroom emergency we had to trek to the other side of the airport. We had limited time to make our next flight because of delays. Unfortunately, my son was woken up and he was cranky so he screamed and cried the whole way to the next plane. Not fun! So be sure you give yourself plenty of time between flights. That way you have time to use the bathroom, get a snack and calm upset children. It will help save your sanity.
Travel with children is never perfect, but it can be made so much better with a little preparation!