How to Survive Long-Distance Plane Travel with a 1 Year old (or small child)

As somewhat of an initial disclaimer:  I truthfully wasn’t even sure if I should write this blog post.  I’ve flown with my son twice now.  Once TO our vacation spot, and once FROM our vacation spot.  And although we did fly quite a distance for the first plane trip, and we did cross three different time zones (for a total of 6 hours gained… and lost), I still cannot be considered any sort of an expert in this field.

On top of all that obviousness, these types of “How To’s” are totally circumstantial.  I mean, think about it:  the age of your child and how their personality type is absolutely factors into the question of how your baby will do on a big metal tube in the sky:

Is your child colicky?  Guarantee that’s going to be something that factors in, and usually not something anyone else writing posts like this tends to consider.

Does your kid hate being stationary for more than 20 minutes at a time like mine? They’re going to be in for quite a surprise when you get aboard your flight.

Is your flight early in the morning?  Is it at nap time or bedtime?

These are all important thoughts to consider. 

Ask yourself this:

Did your mother-in-law feed your son an entire bag of cheese days before leaving to come home on a 14 hour travel day (three flights, two of which were over 4 hours, one of which was a red eye, traveling to the land of losing 6 hours…), thus leaving your poor child with his first bout of constipation, while also traveling on the shittiest  red eye airplane with the most turbulence you as an adult have ever experienced for over 4 hours and the tiniest three person row leaving hardly any space between your husband and yourself (and your lap-sitting child who is trying to sleep), all while being sat in the row in FRONT of the emergency exit row, thus omitting your opportunity to recline your seat in attempts to get comfortable?  Did I mention the faulty touch screen tv system located in the head rest of the seat in front of you that completely lacked the ability to turn the volume up or down… or touch any of the right side of the screen?  … Let’s just pretend that’s all hypothetical.  But it is all completely CIRCUMSTANTIAL.

Any of these things can affect your first (or 40th) trip with your one year old, thus making any of the following tips moot – but, given that we had a fairly smooth trip to our vacation location and all of these things lent a helping hand… I can’t not give my advice on the matter.  But remember- take all advice with the mommy knowledge you have in knowing your child and how they tend to behave, plus factor in other possible things that may occur with any small child in a tiny space in the sky… and with several agitated, potentially sleeping, close-quartered neighbors.

So let me set the stage for everyone before we get into this:  We traveled from northeastern Florida alllllll the way to Kahului, Hawaii – Maui – a place so FAR west in the United States of America that we completely cross over the border of the continental states, cross an ocean, and arrive somewhere almost in a different land than that of which we left (simply put: it’s far).  Our original flight left at 5:30 AM eastern time and, although we chose a travel day with the shortest duration (about 13 hours), we were gaining 6 hours – so we arrived in Hawaii at 1:30 PM Hawaii time.  My son turned one exactly one week before we took off on this grand adventure, so he still needs a lot of things to get through any day, so traveling on three airplanes was absolutely no easy task.

All this means is that I needed to be prepared.  And if you are anxious about your first flight with your small child, don’t worry, you are not alone. I totally was, also.  But here are the things that helped keep my little guy at ease during this entire flight/travel experience (and mommy, too):

  1. Headphones – I used the Kidz Gear headphones for Kaden, and they are not only adorable and available in multiple colors (not to mention under $20), they work wonders if your flight has music or a television screen (most longer flights do), so that your child can focus more on those things than the loud noises of the airplane and surrounding people.  These particular headphones also came with a parental volume control, which really helped so that I knew the headphones were never too loud for my baby’s sensitive ears.  You may be wondering – “Hey, my child is lap-sitting – what about MY headphones?”.  That’s where item number 2 comes in handy:
  2. Belkin Rockstar Multi Headphone Splitter – Um, this thing is amazing.  Also available in multiple colors (we opted for blue for all our items.  What can I say?  I gravitate towards societal gender roles, I guess.  I also really like the color blue… don’t judge), this little gadget came in super handy so that both myself and my son could watch the tv screen and listen to the sound simultaneously.  Most airlines (as a matter of fact, ALL airlines) only have one headphone plug per seat – that’s how they make their money; charging each seat to watch certain movies or television shows on the screen imbedded into the headrest in front of you.  The headphone splitter allowed us to plug in more than one headphone so that we both could enjoy the Disney Bundle package we purchased on one of our 5 hour flights across the country (it allows for up to FIVE different people to tap into that one movie you’ve spent your hard earned money on).  My husband even benefited from this on the flight back when we bought a movie to watch while Kaden slept on our laps.  Purchase movie on one seat – listen and watch movie from both seats.  Trickyyyyy :).
  3. Soft Cooler – This may just take the cake for all tips I can offer.  BRING YOUR OWN FOOD FOR YOUR KID.  Didn’t know you were allowed?  As long as you have no liquids or gels in excess of 3.4 fluid ounces, you can pretty much bring whatever you want (unless you are flying OUT of Hawaii back to the mainland where you have to pass through agricultural inspection – don’t try.  They will confiscate your fruits and veggies.  That’s your warning).  Snacks, sandwiches, dinner items – I brought it all, and it distracted and amused my 1 year old more than any other thing could have.  Look for a cooler with multiple side pockets to store your dry snacks.  Our cooler also had a built in pocket at the top that allowed you to simply stick your hand in to get what you needed without having to unzip the entire bag – very convenient when you are in close quarters with people you don’t know and need to get something out fast.
  4. Snacks and Food –  Obviously this coincides with tip #3.  I originally wanted to bring all of our own food for Kaden because I knew there wouldn’t be many organic options when flying or in the airports, especially since we would basically be flying the entire length of time he is usually awake throughout the day, but it worked out having so much extra food just to keep him calm and happy regardless of its organic nature.  Anything extra that didn’t get eaten on the flights were served as snacks and food options for the first few days we were in Hawaii which helped out with fewer grocery trips while vacationing.  Here’s what I brought when flying out of Florida:
    1. Gogo Squeeze Applesauce – these are under 3.4 oz. so I just stuck them in a plastic baggie (I brought 2).
    2. YoKids Organic Yogurt Smoothies – Kaden is absolutely OBSESSED with these things.  I asked for a coffee straw on the airplane so he could drink them without making a mess – huge success (also under 3.4 ounces, but, again, I put them in a plastic bag for inspection through security).
    3. Horizon Cracker Sandwiches, Cheese and Peanut Butter – snack-size plastic bags are perfect for these.
    4. Nature’s Path Organic Alphabet Cookies – because extra snacks, especially those with a hint of sugar, can always make your kid smile, right?
    5. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich & Hummus Sandwich – I double bagged both sandwiches so that no water got into the bags when I added ice into the cooler.
    6. Bag full of cut and washed organic strawberries – the sugar comes out towards the end of a 13 hour travel day, and may look like a red, brainy mess, but they are still okay to eat.  These were a favorite for all of us.
    7. 2 Avocados – Airplanes have plastic knives and spoons, and as long as your avocados are semi-ripe, you will be fine to cut these up 38,000 feet in the air.  We asked for a plastic cup (beverage cup) to hold the cut up pieces for Kaden, and he did just fine with it.
    8. 1 cup dry organic oats – I brought this for a breakfast meal for Kaden.  A plastic cup from the flight attendant and a bit of hot water they use to make tea… and you’ve got an easy breakfast for your child.
    9. Organic Bananas – these doubled as yummy snacks for all three of us.
    10. Stretch Island Fruit Co. All Natural Fruit Strips – just a delicious treat for your kiddo.  I recommend the cherry ones… raspberry is good, too.
    11. AppleGate Organic Turkey Breast – yes, we brought the entire, unopened package.  It was convenient to have for a more substantial meal, AND it lasted a few days into our trip.  Win, win.
    12. Also, remember to bring extra pint-sized plastic bags for ice – you cannot bring ice through security, so bring extra bags and ask for a couple cups of ice at a deli or store in the airport to fill your bags to keep your items cool throughout your trip.  Our first flight was so early, no store was open – not even Starbucks – so we asked the flight attendants for two cups of ice while in the air, and that held us over until we arrived at our first stop.
  5. Multiple Sippy Cups/Bottles – Again, you can’t pre-fill any of these, but once you pass through security, be sure to fill your child’s cup with water to ensure that they stay hydrated throughout the day.  We all know how flying can easily dehydrate even us adults, so keep your little babes’ fluid intake at a maximum to be certain they stay comfortable.  These cups also help when taking off and landing to adjust the pressure change in their tiny ears.  Breastfeeding is just as key, but sucking on a lollipop can also be beneficial if your little one isn’t in the mood to drink or nurse during these times – it’ll save them a lot of ear ache, and mom and dad a lot of headache.
  6.  Books – Obviously, do not try to pack the heaviest set of books you own, but little soft-covered pop up books or one favorite story can distract your little guy or girl for a while.
  7. Small Toys with No Noise – The “no noise” suggestion is only if you care about those people surrounding you and your family who don’t care to hear your V-tech airplane constantly singing for 3+ hours.  If your kid is a thrower, like mine happens to be, small toys may be more of a headache when you are trying to track them down under the seat of an adjacent passenger.
  8. Lightweight Blanket for Naps
  9. Extra Diapers and Wipes – You really cannot be certain how the pressure change is going to affect your little one’s tummy, so pack like you normally would for the travel time allotted… and then pack double.  No one wants to be out of sorts when it comes to blow outs or spilt drinks/food when turbulence hits.
  10. Baby Ibuprofen/Tylenol/etc. – I brought medicine just in case my son wasn’t feeling well.  He actually had a fever a couple days before our trip, and if he were uncomfortable, I wanted to be prepared.
  11. Changing Pad + 1 Extra – Airplanes are pretty gross.  Then again, so are public bathrooms.
  12.  2 Changes of Clothes + Change of Pajamas – I brought pajamas to set the mood for naps on the airplane, even though we brought him to the airport in his pajamas since we left the house at 3:30 in the morning.  I also brought two changes of clothes in case there were any blow outs, and also so I could change him upon arrival.  Having extra of both was such a God-send, because the suitcase which contained both my husband’s and son’s clothes – ALL OF THEIR CLOTHES – did not show up until the day after we arrived, so having extra was of benefit so that we didn’t have to buy him extra clothing while waiting for our missing suitcase to show up (you think the stress of travel is over, and then your bag winds up missing from the carousel – try that one on for size).  Also, eating in small spaces like that of one in a tiny seat of an airplane with a 1 year old… clothes are bound to get messy.  So, make sure you are prepared.
  13. Any security toy or blanket – Kaden doesn’t really have one of these, but I did bring him a little bunny he got for Easter that kept him company for, oh, I don’t know, all of 5 minutes.  If your child does have a favorite stuffed animal, though, I’m sure it’ll do you more good than my random bunny attempt did.

And of course – bring all other necessary documents and such that you need.  Just think positively, put on your over-protective mom-cap, and everything will go smoothly.  Remember: the more you prepare in this case, the better.  You seriously never know what can happen when you are traveling, especially such long distances, with a toddler.  Also, walking the aisles and bringing your kid to the bathroom with you – entertainment for days (or moments in this case – the seatbelt sign isn’t always off).

Vacation is on the horizon – just keep reminding yourself that!  Happy and Safe traveling!  Here are a few photos from our trip 🙂

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beth

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