We took our first roundtrip flight as a family of five a couple of weeks ago, and I’m happy to report that it went off without a hitch. Now that we’ve officially checked off flying with three children, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at how our process has evolved with each successive kid. Each new baby has changed how we fly just a little.
Whether it be our planning process, how to survive the flight, or how we deal with luggage, things have definitely changed (just like my views on points and miles have changed now that I have a family). And while theorycrafting travel as a family as five was one, nothing tops the real thing. So, let’s have some fun. How have things changed? Here’s a short summary.
Choice and date of first flight
We chose a short flight around when our daughter was 11 weeks old. Since we had to be in Washington, D.C. for a wedding, we figured it’d be a simple first flight. Only being parents for 11 weeks, we had a lot of hopes and fears about the flight, which are kind of silly to look back on.
Our son’s first flight was a solo trip with mom to Chicago, around when I took our daughter on our first solo trip together. Again, he went around three months, to Charlotte, so a slightly longer flight. But at that age he was pretty manageable, or so my wife told me.
Our third kid’s first flight didn’t come until much later – almost six months old! That’s not a function of the baby (she’s the easiest one yet), it just took that long for us to mobilize everyone!
Best age to take a first flight?
I’d go with anytime after three months. 3-6 months is a bit of a sweet spot, since the child mostly just sleeps and eats still at that point. Anything earlier is a bit too stressful for me (though probably quite doable). After 6 months you need to start worrying about stuff like bringing solids, but really, any age before 18 months is fairly manageable in my opinion.
Amount of preparation and planning
For our first child, I probably spent a week or two going over plans in my mind. I worried enough that I got an entire post’s worth of material out of it. With your first child, you sort of have no idea what to expect on the ground so I planned for things to go wrong in the air. But M taught us that it’s more stressful for parents than kids, and the kids feed off our energy.
For our second child, we had flown enough with the first baby that we sort of knew what to expect. I’d say we thought about what to bring for him maybe two days in advance, but we mostly just made sure to remember our travel boppy.
We packed extra diapers and a second set of clothes in our carry on and called it a day.
Amount of luggage
Like I’ve mentioned in the past, we like to pack light. Here’s how our amount of luggage grew as the family grew.
With only one kid, we still managed to stick with two carry ons and no checked bags. We’d gate check the stroller but still avoid having to check actual bags. As our daughter grew we started needing to check a car seat, but we packed diapers and extra clothes in there.
The biggest issue with the second kid was needing two strollers. We’d still gate check both, but at this point we had too much stuff to fit only in carry on. The other issue was we couldn’t carry on two bags anymore because we didn’t have enough hands.
I think we actually cut down the amount we packed with a third child. At this point, if possible we buy diapers and stuff wherever we are traveling. It’s too stressful to handle a lot of luggage at the airport, so it’s more important to pack light. We’re also much more liberal at this point about doing laundry on the road.
In flight seating
Choosing seats for the first child was fairly straightforward: choose aisle and row for parents, hope the middle seat doesn’t fill, if it does, just switch with the stranger. We never bought a seat for the infant, lap child only.
While we did buy a seat for our second one time (when my wife traveled alone with him), again, we mostly kept him as a lap infant. Seating for a family of four with a baby is pretty straightforward: go for a row of three!
Right now our third is a lap infant so our choices are interesting. Get one row of three plus one separate seat? That was my initial thought, but if you go with that configuration then one parent has to deal with all three kids on a regular basis, only the baby can be passed. What we found worked well was having two seats per row in rows back to back – meaning we could pass the baby over the seats. This also helped because our son can get kicky and we could put him behind one of us. I think that will be our preferred configuration overall.
In flight entertainment
We are fairly strict about screen time at home, but we do use screens and TV quite a bit to keep our kids entertained on the road. However, that’s definitely evolved as our family has grown. Here’s how.
Our first child, as usually is the case, is the most disciplined about screen time. She watched the least television before she was 2 and has the least stamina for watching screens (correlation IS causation perhaps?). We had a great routine with her when she was 18 months – 4 years old. She would color in her books until takeoff, watch two episodes of something after take off, eat, and then take a nap. Beautiful clockwork for about 5-6 straight flights. It was lovely.
We got much more liberal at home and on the road with our second child, so we have to distract him with food in pill boxes to get him to stop watching sometimes. He’s okay about it but he definitely wants to consume much more media on the plane.
Just planning to hook the TV straight into her retinas!
Overall stress level and Final Thoughts
Interestingly enough, our overall stress level has decreased with each successive child. Yes, things definitely get more difficult the more kids you have, but when we had our second we sort of knew what to expect. Though he’s pretty different from our first, we still were in the same general ballpark. And honestly? With the third, we were just too tired to stress out too much. There are a million things that can go wrong and we’ve learned it does us no good to stress too much about them. So, we prepare what we can but just play it where it lies.
How have your habits changed as your family has grown? I’d also love to hear how things change as the kids get older! Let me know in the comments.
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Great post, looking forward to reading more about your thought on travelling as your kids get old. Safe travels 🙂
Haha thanks Grant. Hopefully we keep going 🙂
Thank you for this post, great reflection on your travels! We enjoy traveling with our two children right now, and plan to keep on going with all three children, later this year. BTW, we started doing laundry on the road with our first baby, and we never looked back — best decision ever. Very timely post, I look forward to hearing more about your travels with your family.
Congrats Pedro! Thanks for reading
Agree with everything you mentioned. We mostly pay for everything now once we arrive, rather than lugging everything from home.
We used to be of the mindset of saving money in exchange for less convenience. So, for example, pack as many diapers as possible to avoid having to buy any, bring our own car seat so we don’t have to pay for the rental car seat, and pack a lot of clothes so we don’t have to do laundry (which meant lugging a larger suitcase, or lugging an additional carry-on).
Over the course of a few trips though, my wife and I agreed that we would’ve gladly paid any amount to NOT have to endure all of those things.
We still try to cheap out from time to time…and generally regret it
On our last trip, we ended up checking bags even though they were carry on sized. We were lugging a car seat too and just getting through the airport with kids+stuff is kind of a pain. If we didn’t have the car seat we would have kept bags with us but yah.
I get the 2×2 plan on a small plane with 2×2 or 2-3-2 seating but what do you do on a typical domestic flight that has 3×3 seats? Take back to back aisle/middles? I’m just worried about the strangers in the window seats – will the toddler harass them? what a pain in the ass will it be to move a car seat so they can use the lav? etc.
Yeah that’s a good point, though car seats can only go in the window seat so at least there is that. That means you’d have to be middle/window, which is okay if your kid doesn’t have to go to the bathroom every 5 min? Just theorycrafting
We just let a strange adult sit by one of the parents. Enjoy our row, stranger!
Employed Similar approach and it’s getting less stressful with our second child. I can say with confident that we have dealt with almost all situations when it comes to traveling with kids. I have two (3 and 6) and have been to all six continents and more than 30 countries in the past 5 yrs including some long ass 15 hrs flight (economy and biz). I am at this stage where long flights are not a problem except fitting (now 5 ) ppl in a hotel room. I always got two double or queen beds and survived even in Scandinavia countries. Now already planned a 3 week long trip to Chile, Brazil and Colombia later this yr with a new born(will be six months by the time we travel) so bit worry about hotel arrangement. Booked two different room for our first night in the same hotel and hoping to get one upgraded room. If not, I will be sleeping on the floor.
Oh and yes, we start buying children supplies at the destinations after our second child. Saves precious space in our lugggae.