Our first flight as a family of five: lessons learned


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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.

You can’t see her, but the baby is there!
Choice and date of first flight

First child

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.

Second child

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.

Third child

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.

It definitely helps when they can walk
Amount of preparation and planning

First child

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.

Second child

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.

Third child

We packed extra diapers and a second set of clothes in our carry on and called it a day.

We still try to pack as light as possible, even with three kids
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.

First child

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.

Second child

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.

Third child

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.

We found being in back to back rows to work quite well
In flight seating

First child

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.

Second child

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!

Third child

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.

We use screens to entertain on flights, though we still haven’t purchased an iPad…
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.

First child

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.

Second child

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.

Third child

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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