Traveling with kids (part 1: air travel) 2

With vacation and trips coming up, I thought to gather some tricks, tips, and products that will help. As you may remember, I travel regularly with my 4 young kids, including many different countries and continents – this summer, we’re looking at at least 3 countries in addition to the one we live in (and a trip back to the US)! Air, train, car (well, van!), we’ve done it all. My longest and roughest trip was 50 hours with me, a 2 year old, a 4 year old, and a 7 month pregnant belly and included having my toe broken by a fellow passenger who slipped…but I digress. 😉

Let’s talk air travel first.

Airplane Flight Wing flying to Travel on Vacation

Airplane Flight Wing flying to Travel on Vacation (Photo credit:


First things first: time your travel right! If you have a choice of schedules, choose something that works for you. If you have a calm kid, maybe naptime or a red eye is good. On the other hand, you might be kept up all night by a very excited and overtired brood – that’s what happens to us! Maybe a morning flight is a good choice for you? And if you have a child interested in potty training, it might be better to wait to really go for it until after your trip. Go ahead, ask me how I learned that one…The point is  that YOU are the expert on your own family. Time it right if you can.

What if you don’t have a choice? Then manage as best you can. Put the kids to bed early (or late) before the flight, enforce early or late naptime, or do whatever you can to get well rested kids onto the flight. And be prepared for less than stellar behavior, especially if it’s a long flight or your have a long layover.

English: Bespoke red custom baggage - Tanner K...

Packing: Keep the things you bring with you on the flight as simple as possible.Since I have traveled cross continent alone with 4 kids, I can tell you how nerve-wracking it is to have to get the liquids and laptops out, the stroller folded, shoes off, etc…and then pack everything away again after you managed to get everyone through including a crying child who had to send a lovey through the x-ray machine and a toddler who tries to run off. It’s definitely a challenge! But now kids under 12 can keep their shoes on (at least that’s the rule in the US now!), which helps. Other tips on  getting through security:

  • If you’re traveling with two or more adults, assign one to manage the kids’ needs and one to get everything through.
  • Use one bag for everything that needs to come out: liquids, computers, tablets, dvd players, passports and tickets. Then don’t touch anything else except to put it on the conveyor.
  • Empty your stroller, pockets, and sweaters or coats into a bag. We’re minimizing the number of items you have to deal with at security.
  • Wear easy to remove shoes if you can, and no belt. If you have clips in your hair/tichel/sheital, be prepared for those to beep and to get a pat down on your head.
  • If your stroller can fit through the x-ray, they’ll want it to. So break it down. But open it first to reload everything on, including the littlest kiddos (and/or the most prone to running off.)

As far as what you pack for under the plane…well, that’s another post. Keeping it simple helps here, too, but everyone has their own definition of simple!

Cream cheese on a bagel.

Next, let’s talk food. Feed your kids before you get there, and plan to bring food for them on the flight. If there is a meal on your flight, you should also order ahead (at least 48 hours is what most airlines want for special orders – like kosher meals!) But my kids very rarely eat much if any of the meals! So bring snacks and food, keeping in mind the liquid and gel requirements. Some ideas:

  • cut up fruit and veggies (you can get Heinz hechshered OU ketchup from McDonalds if that’s a dip they’d like, but you can’t usually get dips through security.)
  • baggies of chips, crackers, dry cereal (you can get milk in the airport or maybe even on the flight if you don’t need chalav yisrael), fruit leathers, dried fruit
  • protein sources keep little tummies satisfied: hardboiled eggs, string cheese, american cheese, protein bars, pb sandwich, bagels with cream cheese (put the cream cheese on ahead of time and you should be fine through securtiy. Bring a little tub and it’s more questionable, but still, if it’s small enough it should be fine.)
  • drinks: for small kids they will let you bring sealed juice boxes and/or a reasonable amount of formula or breast milk. Depending on the size, though, you may need to prick it open for them to test. Otherwise, you can buy water, juice, or soda on the other side of security. Although your wallet will definitely feel the pain.
  • And don’t forget the treats! We bring a “surprise bag” with dums dums and few other special treats for take off and landing (young babies get their regular nursing – or formula, so pack ahead for that, too). The kosher store usually has fun things the kids like, such as sour spray, gummies, or light up lollypops. The kids each get to choose a treat as we are actually taxiing or descending so it will last long enough.
  • We also bring non-food treats, like a a set of colored pencils (markers will get messy!), an aquadoodle, or a new activity book for the kids which we save until sometime later in the flight. Here is a favorite series of books for our family:

Doodle series with prompts and fun activities – my kids love these!

Other carry-on packing tips:

  • Bring wipes. Yes, even if you don’t have kids in diapers, something will spill, you will have a yucky tray table, someone will color on the tray, someone will vomit (and you will catch it in your hand and have just used your last wipe, but it will be landing so the flight attendants can’t bring you anything and you can’t get up – or is that just me? Thank you tissue bearing woman two seats down!), etc. Wipes are amazing to have on hand, even when they’re not being used on tushies.
  • If circumstances might warrant it, think about extra clothes. A really long flight for me includes a shirt – see above for spills and vomit discussion. For the kids, you can guess if something will be needed. For a two hour flight, probably not, but for a 30 hour trip? Well, I just did that, and I changed several kids from head to toe because of a variety of issues.
  • Bring sippy cups (empty). It minimizes spills, which minimizes extra clothes, with minimizes their weight someone has to carry! Even my 8 year old will drink out of sippy cup on the plane – better than the half-full cup he would get otherwise. And you can keep a drink handy when someone is sleeping when the drink cart comes. Hey, a mom can hope, right?
  • Pack a few extra diapers or pull-ups, just in case.
  • Bring a new video, app, or something. At the end of the trip, when things are getting old, a new entertainment source is always appreciated. Maybe by the parents more than the kids! 😉
  • Think about what refreshes you personally for the long trips. Facewash? Mouthwash? Scented lotion? A clean shirt, undergarments, tichel? Be sure to plan to take care of yourself as well as your kids.

Car seats / safety on the plane

 If you have a young infant, bringing a car seat on the plane may be a hassle. Or it might allow your baby to sleep comfortably for much of the flight (you can only do this if your baby has their own seat.) If you do bring a car seat, put it in a bag with wheels and/or backpack straps to make it more portable. This will work for bigger kid car seats and booster seats, too. Here’s an example:

Baby car seat carrier with wheels and backpack strap

If you are traveling with a lap child, then a car seat or booster seat in the plane is not an option. Some airlines will give you a tiny version of a seat belt that attaches to yours to buckle them into, but it’s just a loop that goes around the baby’s belly. I don’t feel very safe at all with that! So here’s what we use with infants:

Baby flight vest

It also hooks to your seatbelt, but would distribute the force along the baby’s shoulder’s and chest (heaven forbid!) Here is another option that I’m intrigued by, but have never tried:

Baby airplane hammock

Doesn’t it look cool? The reviews are mixed, though, so we’ve never tried it. We just get the bulkhead seats and a bassinet for the tiny ones among us.

For the older kids, starting when they can sit in a seat more or less (the product says 22 pounds), we use this:

Airplane harness for kids

It wraps around the child’s seat, including going under the tray for the person behind them. You have to undo the tray to put it on, but after that, there is no problem opening or closing the tray, and no one has ever complained. But it gives the kids a 4-point restraint and keeps them in their seats (especially good for serious turbulence or our 3.5 year old – almost the same thing! 😉 Well, at least he stays seated for takeoff with this.) You can rent these on Ebay if you don’t want to buy them, but we just bought several over the course of the years. They make me feel like my kids are safer – and the FAA agrees (and approves this for air travel).

I’m sure there is more to add – any tips? What works for you?

If you missed it, here are the links for the traveling with kids series. Check out part 1 (airplane travel), part 2 (your in-vehicle bag), part 3 (packing), part 4 (while you’re gone and making unpacking easy), part 5 (safety), and part 6 (away for Shabbat).

About Amital

A die-hard listmaker and observant Jewish mommy of 5, managing the challenges of life bit by bit with the help of a Shalom Bayit book and lists. And chocolate, of course. Lots of chocolate.

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