Traveling with kids – Plane Rides

November 21, 2022, Tiffany Newman

With the holidays coming up quickly, I know many people will be traveling to visit family or even for vacations, so this might be helpful for some people. Over the Halloween weekend, my family and I took our very first family vacation traveling via airplane. I was so nervous the in weeks before our trip. My husband and I started researching the best things to keep our kids occupied and comfortable during a long flight and hopefully get them to sleep. Our trip took us to Florida to visit friends and spend Halloween with them. The longest portion of the flight was approximately 5 hours, and we had one layover that was only about 1.5 hours long. It did not give us much time to get from one flight to the other or allow the kids to stretch their legs much.

Carson and his dad on a plane looking out the windowOur flight to Florida left very early in the morning, so we had to get up and get to the airport from our house around 1 am. We decided that we would book a hotel near the airport to allow us all to get a bit more rest before our adventure. We headed up to Portland the night before, got to the hotel room shortly before the kids needed to go to bed, and made sure we were ready for the following day. We left the hotel at around 3:00 am the next morning, the kids awake and ready to go. We loaded all our belonging into the car, drove to the parking area, and waited for the bus to take us to the terminal. We forgot how much time we needed to get through security and to our gate because we hadn’t taken a flight in a very long time. First, the bus took forever and was fully loaded but stopped at every bus stop along the way. Then once we finally got to the airport, we needed to check our bags, which did not take too long since no one was in line. After checking our bags in, we had to hoof it all the way to the other side of the airport to get through security. The security line was so long that it took us at least an hour to get through. Once all the way through, we had very little time to get to our gate. Carson and his dad walking through the airportCarson was taking his sweet toddler time and then broke down and sat on the floor. Because we needed to rush, I grabbed him under my arm while my husband had Caleb (and no shoes on) and started running to the gate. By the time we got there, the doors were closed, and we were out of breath. The attendants at the gate said that we had just missed the gate closing, and we were devastated. Luckily a few seconds later, they said if we hurried, we could get on the plane. So, we hurried our stroller down with kids in our arms and made it before they completely shut the plane for takeoff. It was a close call, and we know now that we must give ourselves at least four hours before the plane is supposed to leave.

Caleb asleep on the planeOn the way back, it was much smoother getting to our gate. We gave ourselves plenty of time. The flight back was at night, and so thankfully, the kids mainly slept. Caleb, in fact, hardly woke up through multiple landings and takeoffs. Carson slept for about half the trip, and they were both asleep the entire drive from Portland to Albany. It was very nice, but my husband and I were exhausted by the time we got home.

Here are some of the most important things we found to bring for our kids on the flights that may be helpful for others.

  1. I don’t like to have our kids watch a lot of TV. They usually only get cartoons in the morning or if we need to do something around the house to keep them entertained. However, when traveling, we always let them watch cartoons. We purchased a used iPad mini a few years back that serves as Carson’s iPad for cartoons and kid’s games only. When we know we will be traveling (whether in the car or an airplane), we always download several movies and tv shows. You can do this through Netflix and Disney+ (possibly some other apps too), which you can then watch without Wi-Fi or cell service. This is our number one go-to when we need to entertain our 3-year-old and make sure he stays in one place for a little while.
  2. Coloring book, crayons, etc. I found a few coloring books with activities and stickers in them so that Carson could draw and be artistic if he wanted to. This would keep him busy for short periods of time.
  3. Snacks! Lots and lots of snacks. This was probably the most important one (besides the iPad) we brought. Because you can’t take food through security, we packed two-gallon Ziplock bags full of snacks for the kids. Each one contained food that we knew each boy would enjoy. Though we all want our kids to eat healthy snacks, sometimes those are not exactly what kids want, and I would suggest letting them splurge a little bit during a flight and have snacks they may not get on a regular basis.
  4. Small busy toys. We brought some suction cup spinner toys that Caleb got for his birthday that kept him entertained for a while. For Carson, we brought a couple of hot wheel cars and some little dinosaurs that he could fidget with.
  5. Blankets, pillows, and their favorite plush toy. This can help kids stay warm and comfortable during flights. It also may help them feel a little safer if they are scared. We definitely used these throughout the flights, especially when it was bedtime for them and they needed some shut-eye.

Most of these items we purchased ahead of time or kept somewhere for the boys to get once they were on the plane. This allowed them to have “new” toys and activities that they had not had at home, making the plane ride much more special and fun. We tried to have them play or fidget with one item for at least 30 minutes to an hour before putting it away and getting something different. This kept their interest and kept them from getting bored or upset. Also, whenever they started getting cranky, we would bust out the snacks and allow them to choose something. Food is always a win in our family.