The Dad’s Guide to Flying with Children

  by Chris Horst

Hike Everest or take a flight with a toddler?

Many new dads might think twice about that choice. We’ve all witnessed exacerbated parents attempting all methods short of tranquilizers to calm their screaming babies. And, there’s reason for a healthy dose of fear. Small children need space to roam and explore, a virtual impossibility in a flying metal tube.

But there is reason for comfort. If your child does have a complete breakdown, you’ll likely never see the passengers you frustrate ever again. Also, if tantrums and tears are unbearable, Bose and Beats make hundreds of models of noise-canceling headphones available for those folks to purchase. It’s not your fault if they neglect to buy them.

Gritting and bearing it is not the only option, however. I’ve actually found flying with my two young sons to be entirely tolerable in most instances and wildly fun most of the time.

Over the past five years, my oldest son has taken dozens of flights. About half of the time it’s just the two of us traveling together (he joins me on business trips so that he can visit his grandparents). Here are a few guiding principles on how we’ve survived:

  1. First, an airplane is not the place to forge your child’s character. My goal is to make the flight as awesome as possible. So, that means unlimited iPad time, as many apple juice refills as he wants, and bottomless snacks. My long game is for them to love to fly. So while we’re in the air, I let my parenting ideals and rules take a little sabbatical.
  2. Make the terminal your gymnasium. Every second till we queue up to get on the plane, we’re running, climbing and exploring all corners of the terminal: The moving walkways, the escalators, and the “tunnels” underneath chairs at empty gates. My goal is to give him a day’s worth of stretching and moving in those minutes before we board. This also means I aim to get to the airport a little bit earlier than if I am traveling alone. When we crash in our plane’s seats, we are both ready to relax.
  3. Fly Southwest. Unlimited free juice is only the start. I’ve found their flight attendants to be the friendliest toward kids. Their boarding process allows parents to scoop up empty seats for their kids under the age of two. And, they don’t charge for (up to two per passenger) checked car seats, strollers and suitcases, allowing you to navigate the terminal without looking like a pack mule.
  4. Remember who is going home with you. More than likely, the only passengers you’ll ever see again are those you’re related to. Prioritize their feelings and opinions about you far above your potentially irritated flight neighbors.
  5. Loosen up. Kids feed off of your energy. If you’re traveling on eggshells, they will be too. Make it fun. Ignore fellow travelers who act like they were never children (they’re our future, bro). Laugh at your toddler when he hides in the carry-on-suitcase-measuring-device (it will happen). And celebrate your little adventurers along the way.


Postscript: Check out Patton Dodd’s reflections on traveling with children.