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Tips for Flying with Kids This Holiday Season

Author, Sarah Conroy, and son, Logan, sit on a lake pier mimicking an airplane with their arms.Author, Sarah Conroy, and son, Logan, sit on a lake pier mimicking an airplane with their arms.
Sarah Conroy's professional headshot

From keeping your toddler entertained and potty training on the plane to traveling during COVID-19, flying with kids during the holiday season is no easy feat.

I should know. My son, Logan, and I have been on a lot of trips together since he was born. He was on 19 flights before the age of one and about 20 more before he turned two.

Author, Sarah Conroy, holds her son, Logan, in the boarding queue as he expresses much enthusiasm for their upcoming flight.
This trip, and photo, was taken pre-COVID.

He’s four now and we’ve kept up our love of traveling together. From road trips and flying to heading home for the holidays and even going on cruises, we’ve figured out some things that have worked and some things that definitely haven’t.

So, after our most recent trip in October, I wanted to share some of our experiences and key tips and tricks to help your next flight with the kids.

I hope my tips, experiences and recommendations are helpful to you and your family as you start prepping for holiday travels and Thanksgiving or Christmas break flights.

The terminal at MCO airport is decked out for the holiday season with a giant Christmas tree.

Tips for Flying with a Baby

How you travel with your child changes as rapidly as they grow. Logan’s first flight was right at three months old. We brought some toys, but he mostly slept, thankfully.

Author, Sarah Conroy, holds her son, Logan, as an infant near the window seat of the aircraft.
This trip, and photo, was taken pre-COVID.

As he got older, snacks became really important. I would bring puffs or Cheerios and put them in my hand to have him work on fine motor skills and get a snack at the same time. It definitely helped pass some of the time.

The key to flying with kids at this stage is variety, just like at home. It helps to bring a lot of different things to keep them entertained.

I traveled with Logan by myself several times during the “baby” stage, and I learned a lot from it. One of the major lessons is that if someone offers to help—take it!

No one is going to think less of you as a parent. Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept help, but if you’re holding a baby and someone offers to help put your carry-on up, let them. (This is, of course, up to your own comfort level during COVID-19 though.)

For take-off and landing, give your baby a bottle or pacifier, or start feeding them. These things help tremendously with the pressure in their ears.

And don’t forget a light blanket to cover them up! It can get quite chilly on those planes.

Sarah's son, Logan, as an infant holds a pink teething toy in the aircraft.
This trip, and photo, was taken pre-COVID.

When you’re deciding where and how to seat your baby on the flight, the safest place is a car seat. It’s bulkier, but we brought a travel car seat with us, carried it through the airport and then checked it at the gate.

Buying a car seat travel bag helps keep it protected and clean during travel, too.

Pro tip: If you’re trying to take advantage of the “free under two” policy of most airlines, it’s definitely worth asking if there are any seats open on the plane.

If the plane wasn’t sold out, the airline would usually allow me to bring it on and give him his own seat. It never hurts to ask.

This is one of the main reasons we racked up so many flights with him before he was two! Just keep in mind if you are able to bring the car seat on, it’ll always have to go on the window seat.

Sarah's son, Logan, sits bundled in his car seat as they await to board the airplane.
This trip, and photo, was taken pre-COVID.

On Southwest, you have the option to pick where you sit when you get on the plane. So whenever possible, I also try to pick my own row instead of “invading” someone else’s row.

My thought process is that if someone sits next to us, they know what they’re getting themselves into (with this airline, at least). If you don’t have that option, just get the row and own it. Be pleasant and friendly, and you’ll find that most people are really understanding.

Tips for Flying with a Toddler

Now that we’re in Logan’s toddler years, we’ve still continued to fly quite a bit, but the way we prepare has changed, of course. (And not just with new COVID-19 safety measures for flying and airports.)

Nowadays, his bag is packed with snacks, a cuddly friend, books, coloring sheets, a tablet and a change of clothes.

Sarah's son, Logan, pulls his suitcase wearing a mask they walk through the terminal.

When it comes to snacks, try to make them substantial and filling. (Especially if you’re flying during COVID-19, as snack and beverage services remain limited on flights nowadays.)

I’ll generally do a small handheld cooler with yogurt, fruit and all the healthy stuff we both like to eat. It also helps keep costs down, since airport food can get really expensive.

In addition, I typically bring fruit snacks and popcorn and try to remember to bring an empty water bottle to fill up after security.

A tablet will be your best friend when flying with kids, especially a toddler. Download shows, movies and apps beforehand, and be sure to test the tablet in airplane mode before you get on the plane.

This will save some stress and headache if/when your plane doesn’t offer WiFi. Keep the chargers with you in a carry-on in case there are any delays.

Sarah's son, Logan, sits on the airplane with his mask and entertainment on the tray.

Pro tip: Bring something new and exciting! This can be a toy, coloring book or movie. I’ve found that a mix of both comfort toys and something fresh really helps to hold Logan’s attention on longer flights.

For flying with kids during the holiday season, in particular, a new book or toy that’s tied to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah or New Year’s could be a fun learning opportunity, too.

One last thing on tips for flying with a toddler: I would highly suggest bringing your own sanitizer wipes and wiping down every surface. (I always did this even pre-COVID-19.)

Author, Sarah, and son, Logan, sit near the window seat on their airplane wearing masks for safety.

Don’t forget the inside of the tray tables, windows, seatbelts and all of the armrests. Children touch way more than you’d ever think possible, so it’s best to just clean and take care of it right away.

Potty Training & Flying: Can it Be Done?

Even when Logan was a baby, I always brought an extra set (or two) of clothes. You just never know what’s going to happen. There were a number of times we had to change clothes last minute, and it was a really good thing we had them.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give for parents who are potty training while traveling is to bring a few more extra “just-in-case” outfits. We started doing this as soon as Logan started potty training.

For our first few trips shortly after he was potty trained, I did put him back in a diaper just for peace of mind. That worked for us and we didn’t have any regressions, but you’ll find what works best for you, too.

Author, Sarah, stands wearing a mask and holding several bags and suitcases containing the necessities for a safe flight.

With that in mind, here are a few more things that have worked for us when flying with a newly potty-trained toddler:

  1. First and foremost—and this is a big one—limit drinks before and during the flight. This will help a lot!
  2. Go to the bathroom right before boarding.
  3. We usually sit in the middle and window seat, so if there’s someone sitting in the aisle seat, the first thing I try to do is lighten the mood and set the expectation that he’s newly potty trained, so we may be up frequently.

Pro tip: You know those seatbelt signs? The ones that tell you to stay in your seat? Yeah … three-year-olds don’t know what those are. Ha!

And while I am an advocate for rule-following, if it’s the difference between an accident and going to the bathroom—we’re going to the bathroom (with safety and discretion, of course).

Author, Sarah, and son, Logan, sit near the window seat on their airplane pre-COVID.
This trip, and photo, was taken pre-COVID.

There have been a few times that we’ve had to get up when the seatbelt sign has been on and it’s been completely fine. Use your discretion, be safe and, even better, try to get your child to go BEFORE that gets put back on.

But in the case of an emergency—just do it.

Travel During COVID-19

For the most part, flying during COVID-19 didn’t change much for us. We’ve been wearing our masks regularly outside of traveling, so Logan adapted well to wearing it on the plane.

Sarah's son, Logan, sits on the bench of Orlando Airports terminal monorail.

We brought more snacks than usual because the snack service was limited. And just as we did pre-COVID-19, we sanitized EVERY surface.

The flight attendants and gate staff made it very easy and comfortable to travel and at least in my experiences, other travelers were cooperating with masks and social distancing measures.

These are just some travel tips and tricks for flying with kids that have worked for us, and I hope they’ll help you be better prepared for when you’re flying with kids during the holiday season.

If you’re headed to the airport with little ones sometime soon, I wish you Safe Travels and happy holidays!

All information is subject to change. This article is a curated guide and is neither sponsored nor considered an official endorsement. Please be sure to check information directly with any/all tours, guides or companies for the most up-to-date and direct details. While this blog includes personal advice and recommendations, please be sure to follow all current airport and airline safety messages and directives when traveling.

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Sarah Conroy's professional headshot