I have often said that I prefer childbirth to airline travel with my children. When you are flying with children, most people avoid you, some people hate you, sometimes you hate your kids and you rarely get to eat if you're trying to manage little mouths on the run. When you’re in labor, people want you to relax, they bring you food and everyone is willing to help you. After spending the last eight years of my life traveling the country with two to seven children in tow, sometimes twice a month, I have definitely learned how to make this experience easier on everyone in your family.
Here are my eight "Mommy Must Do's" when planning to fly with your kids....
1. Choose your airline carefully as many are definitely more family friendly than others. I can say with honestly that after traveling, monthly, with numerous children that JET BLUE and SOUTHWEST are easily the best with children. JET BLUE allows families with small children to board before everyone else, they have screens in the back of each seat programmed with children’s shows/movies and they have a great assortment of snacks beyond peanuts and pretzels. SOUTHWEST allows families to board between the A and B groups which means I never have to worry about checking in early. Since you can choose your own seat on Southwest, I know that I’ll never be separated from my children because the plane is half empty when you board between A and B. Your first bag flies free on Southwest and I also find them to be the most relaxed and humorous out of all the airlines.
2. Fly early! While I know this is a huge inconvenience for parents, the trade off is worth it. Early flights mean that you’re less likely to be delayed and that your children are more likely to sleep on the plane. I have my children sleep in their travel clothes so when I wake them up, we just load them and go. (Not pajamas but knit, comfortable clothing.) Even if they wake up a bit through security, their schedules are so off that they usually fall back asleep, and stay asleep, on early morning flights.
3. Pack an activity bag, SEPARATE from your diaper bag. Pack snacks and toys in a different bag so that you can have an arsenal of things to keep your child busy that you can pass to them or that they can access themselves. Anything that doesn’t involve my children going through my purse or constantly removing a bunch of diapers and wipes to access is worth the effort.
4. Bring new toys and activities. Anytime I fly, I always hit the Dollar Store or dollar bins at Target for new toys to keep my children engaged. I try to get three little toys for each child. Target has great activities in their bins for travel. I love their magnetic scenes in tins, art bags and mini games. The newness of a toy will keep a child engaged just a bit longer as the novelty of toys they already have often has worn off by the time you get on a plane. Also, download new movies and shows on their Ipads as this will also keep them engaged and stop them from getting bored.
5. Buy an engaging, shock proof ipad case. I'd like to say that I'm the mother who avoids screen time on flights by making origami owls, handcrafted jewelry or popsicle stick airplanes, but I'm not. Sometimes, Mommy has to tend to other children and sometimes, Mommy wants to do NOTHING! I love these Feitenn butterfly ipad cases because you can stand them up easily or lay them flat. Each one of my daughters has one in a different color. For boys, I like the Chinfai alien/monster cases.
As a side note, my favorite toddler apps are Knock Knock Family (personalize with family member photos,) Peek-a-Boo Barn, Sound Touch and Magic Fingers.
6. Get a TRUNKI if you have a toddler. These small, animal shaped suitcases on wheels are great for airports. Not only do they serve as transportation devices since the children can ride on them as you pull, they hold a decent amount of clothes and can be used as scooters while you’re waiting to board the plane. We have four Trunkis and although it looks like a cattle drive through the airport, it has really helped keep the kids entertained, especially with long layovers. My older ones have pulled my younger ones and even my six-year-old is still able to ride.
7. Goody bags for your neighbors. If you’re flying alone or have a long flight, take five minutes to make goody bags to pass out to fellow passengers if you’re nervous about the behavior of your children. This will help you not to worry and notify others that this may be difficult for you. Take a Ziploc bag and pack a pair of earplugs, a pack of gum, a granola bar and a little note like the one below. “Hi Stranger, We’re Emma, Jack and Mary and this is our first flight. We are going to try to be on our best behavior but my mom would like to apologize in advance in case our ears hurt, we lose our cool or need to get the silly bugs out. My parents packed you these treats and a set of earplugs in our serenade doesn’t quite strike your fancy. Have a great flight!
8. Cozy Phone Kids headphones are the best alternative EVER to earbuds. Although I bring headphones, my toddlers will NEVER wear them because they hate earbuds. Cozy Phone headphones have a volume controlled speaker inside of a headband that your child wears around their head. With so many different animals to choose from, including blue unicorns and crafty foxes, you're sure to find an animal worth of your child's interest.