Patrick Joyce

February 20, 2017

Flying With Kids

Aidan's First Flight at 9 Weeks Old Aidan's First Flight at 9 Weeks Old

I write this on the plane as we’re flying to Hawaii for vacation.

Between moving to the Bay Area when our entire family lives in Maryland and taking two trips to Korea to see Royela’s extended family we’ve flown a lot with the kids these last 4 years1.

Flying with little kids is undeniably stressful and there is no single trick that makes it easy, but we’ve learned some things that help.

In-Flight Car Seats

This was the single biggest lesson we learned. Our kids will sleep in comfortably in their car seats. And you generally need a car seat wherever you’re going. So, instead of checking your car seats, install them in the seats on the flight.

An important note: not all car seats are FAA approved, so make sure yours are. Our main car seats were too big, so we ended up getting new ones before our trip to Korea in 2015. Completely worth it.

This Cosco model is inexpensive and has worked for JoJo since she was a baby (and still works now that she is a 38lb, almost 3-year-old)

We got the Graco Tranzitions for Aidan when he outgrew the Cosco.

Lugging the carseats through the airport can be a bit rough, but it makes a world of difference during the flight. Just make sure to tighten and buckle all the straps. It helps.

To prove my point, here our are kids sleeping as I type this:

Kids Sleeping on Plane

Royela also points out that the car seats have two other major benefits:

  1. Sitting in the car seats in the terminal is a better napping set up than anything else that is available.
  2. Because the kids are strapped in solidly, you can get up and go to the bathroom by yourself.

TSA Pre-Check

Best money I ever spent.

Security is always a pain, but waiting in a long security line while carrying all the kid stuff and trying to wrangle toddlers is a special circle of hell.

Apart from the shorter lines Pre-Check also buys you more civilized security. You don’t have to remove laptops or you liquids from your bags. You don’t have to take off your shoes. And you almost always go through metal detectors instead of the porno-scanners.

Children under 12 traveling with a Pre Check member automatically go through Pre Check.

Pre-check costs $85 and lasts for 5 years. If you’re planning on flying more than once a year I’d highly recommend it.

Snacks and Reusable Water Bottles

Seems obvious, but a hungry toddler is often a whiny toddler. Make sure you have snacks.

Our kids got Contigo Autospout Striker Stainless Steel Water Bottles for school this year and they are clutch on planes. They don’t leak and help with making ears pop during takeoff and landing.

Sour patch kids (“sour guys” as our kids say) also help normalize pressure like gum for kids who can’t be trusted not to swallow gum2.


Cross country (or trans-pacific) flights are not the time to be proud. We load up our iPads with as many episodes of the kids favorite shows as will fit. iTunes had been our go-to. Now that Netflix has offline sync for most children’s shows it is the go-to.

Pro-Tip for iTunes purchases: even if you bought the HD version of something, you can download the SD version to your iPad. This makes a big difference in conserving space when the iPad you’re using is 5 years old and only has 16GB of storage.

If you use plex, you should consider buying a monthyly Plex Pass so that you can sync any other media you may have.

Kids Headphones

You can’t watch videos without sound. Kid specific headphones are worth it because they fit comfortably on their tiny heads and don’t fall off constantly.

This pair is our favorite. They fold down nicely, the ear cups are very soft, and they have a built in splitter which lets you run a second pair off of them so that both kids can watch the same movie.

Surprise Toys

This makes me feel somewhat conflicted as I do worry about spoiling my kids, but $10-20 at Amazon on some new toys (something small like 4 matchbox cars or a duplo set) can go a long way to happy and distracted little ones.

Play Mat / Bag

Kids with Play Mat at SFO

Layovers are tough, kids like to crawl around on the ground, and airport floors are gross.

For a trip back east last Memorial Day Royela bought this Funfield City Travel Size Drawstring Play Mat that doubles as a toy bag.

Airlines, Layovers, Etc

Domestically, Southwest is pretty awesome. They let families with kids board after the “A” group so you can get seats together and get the car seats installed before the plane is too crowded. Also, free checked bags.

Internationally, Asiana and Korean Air have been great. In general, Korean culture is very kid-friendly3. and that carries over to the airlines. 10 hours into a 14 hour flight an Asiana flight attendant played with Aidan for 15 minutes when he was on the verge of a meltdown and we were reaching exhaustion. Those flights also had a lot of families traveling with kids so I felt a certain espirit-de-corps as we all tried to make it through in one piece.

Layovers are a mixed bag. Direct flights are great because you don’t have to worry about missed connections (which is how we ended up spending a night in Ottowa with 6-month old Aidan). That said, a chance for the kids to get out of their seats and run around the terminal for a little can make for an overall more pleasant travel experience.

Texting on the Plane

Royela and I often need to split up on the plane (each with one child)

Shouting across the aisle can be a pain, and not every flight has wifi. We use Air Chat to text over bluetooth even with our phones in airplane mode and no wifi.

Good Luck

If you’re flying with kids, there will be some turbulence4, but you shouldn’t let that stop you.

A little planning, a little patience, a little luck, and you’ll make it through.

  1. In fact, this is Aidan’s 26th (!) flight. 

  2. Or, I suppose, certain White House Press Secretaries who also can’t be trusted not to swallow gum. 

  3. Korea has a low birthrate, and it seems they’re making a concerted effort to encourage people to have kids. They have the most luxurious public changing / nursing rooms I’ve ever seen. 

  4. Dad joke! Because I’m a dad. 

More Articles on Software & Product Development

Agile With a Lowercase “a”
”Agile“ is an adjective. It is not a noun. It isn’t something you do, it is something you are.
How Do You End Up With A Great Product A Year From Now?
Nail the next two weeks. 26 times in a row.
Build it Twice
Resist the urge to abstract until you've learned what is general to a class of problems and what is specific to each problem.