When I used to watch the Rick Steve’s travel videos, the first thing he said during his Tips for Traveling with Kids video was, “Tip number 1: Leave the kids at home with Grandma and Grandpa.” I agree with this. It’s easier to travel without kids and during a pandemic, it’s a little scary to some parents. However, for those of us who can’t leave the kids at home and need to travel, hopefully these tips will help you feel a little more at ease when you are flying during a pandemic.
What to Bring (Some Things to Consider)
I brought some activity/coloring pages, stickers, crayons, and downloaded some games and movies on my phone. I recommend the PBS Kids games, which can be downloaded and used without Wi-Fi on the plane. I also recommend bringing lots of snacks. Sometimes your toddler will pick this day to only want the fruit snacks and not the veggie straws so I would bring a bit of everything.
Usually airlines consider the diaper bag as a “baby item” and so this is not counted among checked baggage or carry-on luggage. For the sake of not bringing a million things, I used my carry-on backpack as the diaper bag and mainly packed kid-related items (snacks, diapers, wipes, extra baby clothes) and a bit of my own stuff (laptop). Depending on how long of a day of flying you’ll have, you might want to bring extra clothes for the kids in case of diaper blowouts.
Some people bring a light-weight stroller (more on that later) and this might be a good option for you.
We rented a car at our destination and decided to bring our car seats with us. Everyone has a different opinion on how to handle this issue so I will explain our reasoning for our particular choices. The safest option is to bring your car seats from home, purchase tickets for your children individually, and bring those car seats on the plane. This way, if there’s any turbulence, your kids are not going to fall, you won’t drop a baby, etc. Then the car seats are protected from damage because you carried them with you and you know where they’ve been.
I’d recommend getting a cheaper, less heavy seat if you can at all rather than trying to lug a huge, expensive seat around the airport. I’m not aware of any airlines that charge to check a car seat but that is something you can look into to be sure.
It’s an option to check the car seat immediately when you check in for the flight. I think this is a bad idea because your car seat will probably sustain lots of damage even if it has a fancy carrying bag. We decided to gate check the car seat and we did that right before getting onto the plane so it was on top of the other luggage. It could have still gotten smashed but the odds were better that it’d come out relatively unscathed.
If you purchase a ticket for your child, you can bring the car seat on the plane so the child will be strapped into it and that’s also a good option. Lap babies aren’t technically allowed to have a car seat with them. Some people ask at the gate and check-in if they didn’t purchase a ticket for an infant whether they can put a car seat in an empty seat on an airplane and sometimes the airline obliges. In our case, we were told to just gate check the seat and hold the infant on a parent’s lap. It’s always a risk that you as the parent assume if you decide not to bring the car seat on the plane or if you decide to have your young child on your lap during the flight. Car seats won’t save the kiddos during a crash but it’s much more likely that you’ll encounter turbulence and the car seat provides some security in that instance.
My dad suggested renting the car seat from the car rental company. Some companies offer this. However, you don’t know where those car seats came from, if they’ll really end up working for your child, or if they’ve been in an accident or not. This might be convenient but as with all things in parenting, you assume some risk with this option.
If you have the ability to do the TSA Pre-Check (military or if you are a member), definitely do it. If you have a DOD ID number, put it in the KTN field (Known Traveler Number) when you purchase your ticket or go to the Service Desk when you check in to fly and ask them to help you. For the rest of us, here’s some of what you can expect.
Put all snacks, wipes, and liquids together in a bag. You’ll be asked to take them out so they can be checked so it’s helpful if those items are in the same place. All the baby gear will get checked (car seat, stroller). I held my infant and went through the scanner while my husband guided the toddler through after he went through it. The lines were very short to non-existent, which was great because it took a while to unload all the baby gear and then get things back together again.
Traveling Around the Airport with Kids
My husband and I divided and conquered, with him mainly holding a car seat and walking the toddler and I held the infant and a car seat. We checked one bag when we got to the airport and had a backpack each as a carry-on item. Strollers can be brought onto the plane if they’re small enough to be stowed in the overhead bin. It might be a good idea to bring a lightweight, smaller stroller to put the kiddo in if possible. We only have a huge double stroller now so we decided to just walk around with the kids. It was exhausting and took a while to get from Point A to Point B, so consider that when travel planning. The kiddos will probably also want to eat a meal if there’s a layover so plan for that as well. A cranky, hungry kiddo is not a good flight accessory.
In all the airports that we visited, children ages 2 and up all had to wear a mask on the plane and in the airport. I’d suggest having the kiddos practice ahead of time. Mine decided to have a fit about it even though she normally thought masks were cool but that day, of course they were not cool. We told her that if she didn’t wear the mask, she couldn’t get on the plane and this helped because she loves planes. You might have to incentivize a child that is otherwise not interested in wearing a mask. I had read some articles about various airlines not allowing families to travel because a young child did not wear a mask consistently during the flight.
We ended up flying with Delta (I am not a paid spokesperson and did not receive compensation for saying this) because their policies on tiny children wearing masks are a little less stringent. They encourage mask wearing and were so supportive in telling my child how great she was for wearing the mask. However, they are not going to kick you off of the plane if the child has a serious problem with wearing a mask. They say on their website that they make exceptions for medical reasons and persons incapable of wearing a mask, which sometimes includes 2 year olds with a serious attitude. We found that it helped to pull back my daughter’s long hair so the mask fit better. We also had to clip the ear loops a bit.
You might consider having the kiddo in a pull-up or diaper as applicable. I think it was helpful to me that my kids were still not totally potty trained because then we didn’t have to also be rushing to the potty throughout the trip. There are plenty of bathrooms in the airports though. If your kid is a potty person, maybe bring some extra clothes just in case there’s an accident since the child is in an unfamiliar setting and might feel anxious because of that.
I also noticed that the cleanliness standards of the airports was very high. Hand sanitizer and wipes were available everywhere. Staff members constantly vacuumed and wiped down surfaces. One got upset (I think) when my child dropped all of the snacks on the ground and I didn’t have time to pick them up. Since the disgruntled worker was wearing a mask, I couldn’t understand what he said so I guess that’s one perk of wearing a mask.
On the Plane
We had a five hour flight for one of the legs of the trip and for that flight, we got as many snacks as we wanted, which included pre-packaged snack bags with water in them. They included some generic items like cheese crackers, granola bars, or almonds. I’m not aware of flights offering meals during this time (unless you are flying in first class).
To put your mind at ease, check out the precautions being taken by your airline of choice. Each airline describes in detail their cleanliness standards, sterilization of the plane, and air purification while flying. Upon entering each plane, we were given multiple sanitizing wipes to wipe down surfaces even though the crew had also wiped all the surfaces, sprayed everything with disinfectant, and ran air purifiers continually. I felt very safe. I have never seen cleaner airplanes in my life. My children dropped copious amounts of snacks everywhere so I’m sure it was a big job for someone to clean up after we got off but before we got on, it was spotless.
One good option would be to strap the kiddo into their car seat to ensure that they’re not moving around too much. I ended up giving my child my phone to play educational games and watch movies. On the longer flights, we did have some screens to check out with movies but sometimes they were glitchy. The ear buds didn’t fit my child’s ears so that is not something to rely on as a form of entertainment.
If you are flying with an infant who is nursing, that can be helpful during the flight. I held off feeding just a bit so my infant was still relatively hungry (not screaming or super hungry) and he nursed during takeoff. Generally he slept most of the trip. If he was awake, I had him play with my water bottle or whatever was around. I think nursing helped his ears not hurt since there’s a change in air pressure when setting off or landing. For formula or bottle-fed babies, the security agents will check out your formula or milk but you can bring it with you to feed the baby on the plane if needed. We had the toddler drink some water or eat snacks in order to help pop her ears.
We tried our best throughout the experience to get over-excited about everything so the children would also be more excited and thus not as anxious or upset. We’ve flown before so it was old hat to us but we pointed out things such as getting on a shuttle bus, looking at things at the airport, explaining about the airplanes, watching the airplanes take off from the airport, etc.
Flying with kids during a pandemic may not be as bad as you think. In a worst-case scenario, your kiddos scream the whole time but in a few hours, it’s over and no one is scarred for life. In a best-case scenario, everyone enjoys the trip and your child asks continually for the next six months, “When are we going on the plane again?”