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Airplane Travel with Children: A Survival Guide

baby on airplane
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re feeling freaked out about flying with your children. We get it. Airplane travel with kids can be challenging—but following just a few steps can make even the longest trip fly by!

We’ve put together a parent’s guide for flying with kids that will get you and your brood to your final destination with a little more ease. Buckle up and let’s go!

1. Before you go
• Schedule around sleep
If possible, schedule your flight itinerary around your children's eating and sleeping schedules. Bring favorite sleeping accessories (blanket, pacifier, stuffed animal) to make kids more comfortable on the plane. If your itinerary includes more than one stop, find out how to survive a layover with kids

• Give yourself extra time
Think two hours is too much? Don’t forget, you'll likely have to check a car seat or stroller, trudge through security, find your gate, plan a bathroom break, fill water bottles, release toddler energy, and deal with unforeseen issues. Traveling with kids takes patience, so leave yourself enough time to offer it. 

• Feed the bears 
Airports are notorious for low-quality food, and airplanes have limited options for little ones. To avoid a hangry meltdown, plan ahead for healthy snacking on the go (and pack family favorites, too). Fresh fruit slices, cut veggies, cheese sticks, hard boiled eggs, and a few of your child’s favorite sandwiches are great in-flight fuel. Don’t forget an empty spill-proof cup or water bottle that you can fill once you’re through security! 

• Bring extra clothes 
Poop, puke, spills, sweat … it all happens on the plane. Stuff an extra change of clothes for kids in a gallon-size sealable bag (which you can use later for trash collection) and dress yourself in layers. If you are changing weather zones or arriving at bedtime, pack appropriate clothes to be comfortable when you arrive or pjs to make the transition to sleep a cinch.

• Win the travel gear game
Here are a few essentials we love, and think are worth the investment if you travel by airplane a fair amount: 

-GoGo Babyz car seat converter that turns your shockingly heavy car seat into a very useful stroller! 
-CARES harness  that packs small, turns the airplane seat into a 5-point-harness system, and is the only airplane buckle for kids that is certified by the FAA. If your baby hates the car seat but is big enough to sit forward-facing, this buckle is for you!
-Go Happy Kids travel tray, because it’s no bigger than a laptop, can be used for art or food (and more), and was invented by an actual mom! 
-Pacifier clips that can attach to clothing or the seat belt to prevent the “binkie” from dropping on the germ-infested floor (gross).

2. In the airport
• You can do it, put your back into it 
Traveling with kids is physically demanding, so take care of your body while lugging gear around. A backpack is comfortable and keeps your hands free for holding little ones or holding hands. It should be large enough to hold diapers, wipes, snacks, activities, change of clothes, and water bottles.

• Use the family lanes
Many (but sadly not all) security checkpoints have a family lane that will allow you to pass long lines or take extra time without worrying about holding up other passengers. When you check in, ask the attendant if this is available in your airport! 

• Ask for help
Any parent traveling solo with children deserves a hand (or four)! If you’re having trouble corralling the kids and your luggage through security, ask TSA for help—it’s their job to assist you!

• Find the play areas
Once you’re through security, see if your airport has play areas for kids to run around and burn off some energy before the flight starts.

3. On the plane
• Be a neat freak 
And by that we mean: sanitize everything! Antibacterial wipes are your best friend for cleaning germy surfaces, including: the seatback tray and locking toggle, touchscreen, air vent and personal lighting button, seatbelt buckle, armrests and recline buttons, restroom surfaces, and the windowsill and window shade. When you get off the plane, find a restroom and wash everyone’s hands thoroughly!

• Pace the fun
Entertaining children is one of the biggest challenges of family airplane travel. This is why a fun kit is essential. Be smart about what goes in and what comes out! A couple of books, crayons, markers, pencils, paper, activity books, electronic devices with headphones, and small, age-appropriate toys will keep your child occupied at 30,000 feet. Use a rimmed travel tray or lidded cups to keep crayons and small toys off the floor. Save high-value or new toys for emergency behavior moments only. You don’t want them to lose their luster too early!

• Relieve the pressure
To help kids who get ear pressure pain during the flight, make sure babies can nurse, feed from a bottle, or suck on a pacifier to help “pop” their ears during takeoff and landing. Older kids can try candy or gum.

4. TSA requirements for kids: 
• According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), federal rules allow children under the age of 12 to leave their shoes on, so you don’t need to worry about scrambling toddler toes in and out of their boots.

• If you’re flying within the United States, a child under 18 traveling with an adult usually doesn’t need more identification than a boarding pass. Some carriers, like Southwest Airlines, will require a birth certificate for kids securing a reduced-price rate. Call your airline in advance to see which documents you’ll need to have handy. 

• If your trip is international, little ones will need a passport—even newborns! Children’s passports must be renewed every five years until they turn 16.

• If your child is traveling internationally with only one parent, you must bring a notarized letter from the other parent proving consent to travel.

• Medically necessary liquids like baby formula, baby food, juice, and breast milk are not subject to the 3.4-ounce limit: Just be sure to tell the TSA agent you have these liquids in your carry-on bag. You don’t need to have a prescription for these, but make sure you’re carrying enough for the flight, and put any excess liquids and foods you’ll be needing later in your trip in your checked baggage.

Now sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight!

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