Hey friends! I just returned from a trip from PA to NC with my three young children (ages 5, 3, and 1) and while the trip is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share our methods with you all. I scoured the internet for many hours as I prepared for our flight (and found much less helpful info. than I would have liked). I hope my experiences can bring you some peace as you prepare for your own travels!
Kids need lots of stuff and require lots of planning. It's just a fact of life. Car seats, strollers, cribs, etc. Naps, entertainment, food, etc. Here are a few basics of air travel:
You can check a stroller for no extra cost when you fly with children. Now I've heard from several people that sometimes, if the weight of the stroller is more than 20 lbs, you have to check it before you go through security. What does this mean? Well, in short, if you were planning on using the stroller in the airport to push your child, to store belongings, etc. you're basically screwed. I personally have never had this be an issue and I have flown three times with a stroller that I gate checked right before boarding the plane BUT the first time was with a lightweight umbrella stroller, and the second and third times I was using an infant car seat on an UPPAbaby stroller frame. The car seat flew on the plane with my child in it so basically it was just the frame being checked and they don't weigh over 20 lbs. My sister was forced to check her UPPAbaby Vista with the rest of her baggage pre-security when she flew in the summer of 2017 and I have heard of this happening to others recently, specifically with the same stroller. So my advice is to look up the weight of the stroller you plan to bring and get in touch with the airline you are flying with just so you aren't caught off guard. If possible use chat or email so you have something to print out and bring with you or pull up on your smart phone for proof if need be. Maybe plan to bring a baby carrier, for a worst case scenario, just so your child isn't running wild in security and you can free your arms up when your child gets too tired to walk.
Note: I did invest in the UPPAbaby stroller protector for my most recent trip, which requires the removal of the wheels to use. It was not difficult, slightly inconvenient but worth the protection the bag offers (if your stroller is still under warranty and gets damaged in the bag, UPPAbaby will fix it).
You can check car seats for no extra cost when you fly with children. Now the SAFEST thing for the child and for the car seat is to just use it on the plane. This requires that you buy your child a plane ticket, or if you get super lucky there may be extra seats on the plane that you can ask about right before boarding and bring your car seat aboard for free, but the second option is not a guarantee and only once have a flown and seen a bunch of extra seats. More often than not flights are booked to the max, it seems. If you DO need to check a car seat, you should try to gate check it, or bring it through security and then have it put on the plane right before you board. This isn't always possible but it's worth a shot. I recently flew with my son's booster seat (a Clek Oobr in a Clek Weelee, because booster seats can't be used on planes) and that thing is HUGE and HEAVY and was considered oversized luggage and needed to be checked before we went through security. I didn't panic, because I really didn't have another option. Some families were checking their car seats without a cover or anything, which poses a serious risk of the seat getting broken and dirty (but broken or compromised with unseen damage is the main concern). I've read that checking car seats in a cardboard box is the best way to protect them but that wasn't a realistic option for us. The Weelee seemed to do a good job protecting our Clek Foonf and Oobr from any damage. Bottom line: use the car seat on the plane to keep the child and car seat safe, but if you have to check it, always take care to package in a way that will protect the seat from damage (I've also heard of people buying big plastic storage containers and then using blankets and such as padding). Gate checking is preferable, but it's not always an option. If you're bringing your car seat on board, check out the GO-GO BABYZ TRAVELMATE so that you can wheel the car seat through the airport instead of having to carry it! If you're looking for a compact and lightweight alternative to a car seat, check out the CARES Harness. For all things air travel + car seats, check out CSFTL. Oh, and just want to add that I advise against renting a car seat from a car rental company. Trust me. Just don't do it. Buy a cheap, lightweight seat just for travel if you need to, or maybe borrow one from a friend. I've seen people renting expired, broken car seats with their rental cars and it makes me cringe. Uber Car Seat is a good option where available (they offer forward-facing seats only) but outside that, just don't do it!
A note about infant seats: many can be installed without the base. Make sure you practice your installation at home, but you can bring the seat without the base to minimize your gear. Also note that you don’t use infant seat bases on planes. This is what I've done with our UPPAbaby Mesa for two trips.
A note about backless boosters: backless boosters cannot be used on planes but they may fit the criteria for a carry on. It really depends on the airline. We recently flew with Frontier and we did not purchase any carry ons, plus my son uses a highback booster, so this wasn't an option for us. But it may be a great option for you and your family!
Kids under the age of 2 fly free as lap infants for domestic flights and discounted for international flights. Now whether or not you should take advantage of this is another topic, but it's worth noting. Food for thought: flight attendants go up and down the aisles before takeoff and landing to make sure every passenger has their seatbelt buckled and every purse and laptop and suitcase is stowed. Guess who is exempt from this safety check? LAP INFANTS. Thankfully air travel is much safer than driving, but lap infants aren't protected under some magic spell. They rely on nothing going wrong to survive any kind of severe turbulence or even moderately severe impact, because physics prove that human arms simply cannot hold onto a lap infant after a certain amount of force. I won't get into the science but the FAA, the AAP, and every reputable safety authority advises that children ride in an approved car seat on a plane. Note the word approved: the car seat labels and manual will tell you whether it's approved for airplane use. Most are.
Kids do not need identification to get through airport security beyond their boarding pass. I ALWAYS double check this with the airline we are traveling with, because I'm a worrier, but I've gotten the same answer every time: ID for children is not required. You can bring a copy of a birth certificate if you want to be on the safe side, but I've never been asked to show it.
I went to Target and got a bunch of stuff from the "dollar" section. My older kids (ages 3 and 5) both wore a small backpack filled with magic markers, coloring books, non-messy playdough and such. It was all new so it kept them occupied. I also had them bring their tablets with some preloaded movies and headphones. Think of what you kids will like and treat them!
Food and Drink
So I learned a few years ago that if you travel with a baby you can get away with a lot. For instance, I bring bottles of water for everyone and before I go through security, I say, "I have liquids for the baby." They usually have to take it and examine it by hand, but then I don't have to buy water in the airport! If you need to travel with infant formula or breastmilk, the same applies. I've heard of horror stories, I would check with the airline if you know you need to travel with breastmilk just to confirm quantities. I also bring chewing gum for my older kids and something for the baby to suck while we are in flight to help them equalize the pressure in their ears.
My baby just woke up from nap so that's all I have time for right now, but please leave a comment below with any questions and I'll be sure to get back to you! I try to respond right away, if it's urgent just say so and I'll get back to you as soon as I see you've commented. Happy and safe travels to you all! xoxo