How we survived flying across the country with three small kids

I’m pretty sure that flying with a baby and kids is a day every parent dreads.  My husband and I  just flew from the southern United States to the West Coast and back with a 5-month-old, 2.5 year old, and 4 year old.  And the month before that I flew the same trip one way when we moved.  This last trip was two full days of travel, four flights, no naps, and a ton of crap to carry, and a car rental.  I know we learned a thing or two for next time! I had this idea that maybe I’d find cheap tickets for me and the kids to fly home while Peter works…uh no way now that I know the logistics! Anyway, here is how we survived flying across the country with three small kids!


flying with kids at the airport
The pilot made some dreams come true here! What a nice man!

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What not to do:

Don’t pick the cheap seats through United Airlines.

Especially when flying across the country with three small kids.

They assigned our seats at every gate and did a terrible job.  We were separated on all flights (2 of us one place, 3 in another) except the last one because of a nice guy who traded us seats, not because of the airline helping families.  I’ve flown a lot with my babies now and other airlines have always moved people so that I can sit with all my little kids and have hubby help.  I’ve even seen airlines offer miles for volunteers to help us out! Not like United, who placed my four-year-old in a seat alone by a stranger because they didn’t find the need to put him by his parents, even after we pleaded.

Don’t schedule a layover less than one hour.

Since kids are slow, and there are tons of unpredictable things that happen, the last thing I want is anxiety about missing a flight, which I almost did once flying alone with Nigel.  They literally reopened the plane door for me as I was running from terminal to terminal.  With a stroller.  SO stressful.

This time around I had the option of choosing between two flights from the south to the west coast that were in my price range.  One layover was 45 minutes and the other was an hour and 15 min. I chose the longer layover even though it got us to Seattle at 1 am as it was waaay to0 likely that we would end up missing our layover with only 45 minutes.  Sometimes it can take 20 minutes just to get off the plane, and if the plane is late…yikes! Anxiety through the roof! Then wait for our stroller outside the plane, and possibly have to find another terminal… no way is 45 minutes enough with three kids.

Don’t bank on your husband’s TSA Pre.

I don’t have it, but somehow the kids and I usually end up on it since Peter has it. However, we didn’t check our ticket on the way home and Peter got it but not me…so I had to go back through regular security.  Since it was 4:30 AM, there wasn’t a big line. But that could have added an hour wait time through security coming the other direction when there was a huge line. So double check! I shouldn’t have assumed we would get TSA Pre.

I highly recommend getting TSA Pre approved if you can.  You get to go through a fast moving line at security.  They don’t make you take off shoes or go through the scanner (just a metal detector).

Related post: Minimalist checklist for road tripping with a baby

Don’t do what we did at baggage claim.

Which is have your hubby get the car and then try and pick you and the kids and all your car seats and luggage up at baggage claim.  He couldn’t leave the car empty to come in, and I couldn’t carry it all out, even with one of those rental carts.  For the visual, it was me with Desmond in the front carrier plus both my backpack and Nigel’s backpack on my back, a stroller full of blankets, a size H (humungous) suitcase, and three car seats with two small kids tagging along.  Everyone looked at me like “that poor girl, how is she going to do this”.  Thankfully some nice old man gave me a hand to the car with half our stuff and Peter got the rest.

Next time we will both wait at baggage claim, and all go get the parked car together.

What we packed

It felt like we had so much to transfer from the car to check-in but I don’t know how we could take any less. We had three car seats, three kids under 4, Peter and I had backpacks for the plane, and one large suitcase for all 5 of us. I’d say one of the biggest hurdles was just getting all this from the car to check in.

Don’t give up

I felt like hiding in a hole when my two-year-old was out of control about 10 pm screeching that she wants a banana.   We went to Starbucks in the terminal to buy one,  and she threw it on the floor saying she didn’t want a banana. So delirious I didnt even know what to do. All at like 10pm and the longest travel day ever.  This is NOT normal for her btw! We opted to throw her in the stroller and bring out the M&M’s.

Super helpful things to remember at the airport

  • I wish I had 20 hands at the airport, but I don’t, so I used a backpack and our Ergo which gave me at least two hands 🙂 We had a single stroller for Laila(2) and Nigel(4) walked.


  • We brought lots of treats.  Like LOTS.  Ok, this is the ONLY time we would give our kid’s M&M’s at 5:15 AM because we didn’t have time to stop and get food.  So glad I had those treats. Bribery all the way with delirious little kids.


  • The kids loved their fuzzy throw sized blankets.  They snuggled these the whole way and used them to stay warm on the plane and as pillows too. It’s definitely their comfort item.


  • I had this clear plastic folder in my backpack to carry passports and our airline tickets in. It was so easy to pull out at security and before entering the plane. Way better than past trips where I’m digging in a full backpack for them.


  • Last month when I flew across the country and carried baby Desmond in his car seat (which was heavy to carry through the airport).  But nice because he had a place to sleep and be set down.This trip we checked all three car seats and I put him in my Ergo. That way I had hands free.


  • We filled a milk bottle up for Laila since that can go through security fine. We love these glass ones.


  • I put the squirmiest kid by the window, kind of trapped in.


  • I asked the airline stewardess to put juice directly into Laila’s bottle, which avoided sure spills.

Reality check: No blending in

Traveling with small kids just means that people stare at you and hear everything you and your kids say.  Sometimes that’s so frustrating! Two funny things Nigel said on our trip I’m sure other listeners enjoyed:

  1. Nigel: “Mom, whats a cock?” Me: “You mean cock-pit?” Nigel: “Ya. What’s a pit?” Me: “It’s a hole.” Nigel: “O, well cherries have pits!” I was glad that conversation just ended there while everyone was listening on the plane!
  2. Nigel: “Where is dad going?” Me: “To the bathroom.” Nigel: “Is he going poop?” Me: “Nope, just potty.” Nigel: “O, well did they run out of toilet paper?”

It’s just one day

This is really hard for me to keep in mind! One task at a time made the day manageable.  Like getting bags from the car to check in. Then security and waiting at the gate. Then getting on the plane. It’s enough to make me want to nap for days when it’s all over 😉 If you have any tips or stories, please leave a comment below!


flying with kids and babies
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