Travel

How to fly with a baby, toddler, and 4 year old across the country

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 almost 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 had this idea that maybe I’d find cheap tickets for me and the kids to fly home while my husband works…uh no way now that I know the logistics! Anyway, here is how to fly with a baby, toddler, and 4 year old across the country!

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 have been under a ton of scrutiny lately and it’s obvious why. They just suck at making bad situations better.

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.

That almost happened to me once when my oldest was one and I was flying alone with him.  They literally reopened the plane door for me as I was running from terminal to terminal.  With a stroller.  SO stressful. My layover was 45 minutes, our plane was 20 minutes behind schedule, and I was stuck in the back so it took 20 minutes to get off the plane. That left me with 5 minutes to pray and run with my baby like a freak through the airport. Now I refuse to buy a flight with a smaller layover than one hour.

45 minute layover is cutting it too close with 3 kids

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 (as in not double or triple the lowest price per ticket).  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.  Even if the plane is on time, you still have to wait at the plane door for them to bring you your stroller. And it’s always an unknown if you will have to find another terminal… no way is 45 minutes enough with three kids. Did I even mention potty stops. O man.

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 with the baby while he took the older two.  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 in Atlanta. So double check! I shouldn’t have assumed we would get TSA Pre.

How is TSA PRE better?

I highly recommend getting TSA Pre approved if you can.  It’s like $60 bucks or something.

  • 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).
  • You will always be able to show up and make it through security without the anxiety of missing a flight because of an extra long line you didn’t expect.
  • Overall they just treat you way nicer which is so appreciated. Cause I know you all just love how TSA treats you sometimes. Insert sarcasm.

Related post: Minimalist checklist for road tripping with a baby and toddler

Don’t do what we did at baggage claim if you are picking up a car.

We decided my hubby would get the car and then try and pick me and the kids and all our 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 a baby 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 it”.  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 all wait at baggage claim, and all go get the parked car together.

The luggage scenario with kids

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. Sometimes airports don’t have curb side check in, and you just gotta deal. Here’s what we had:

  • One medium size suitcase for all 5 of our clothes/diapers.
  • 3 car seats (yikes)
  • My diaper bag backpack + my husbands back pack
  • Umbrella stroller
  • Kid’s blankets for the plane

Ya, the volume is unavoidable if you have kids. Car seats alone are so bulky. We had to find a way to physically get three car seats and our one checked bag (for all of us), to the check-in. I pushed an umbrella stroller and carried our baby on the front and a backpack. That left Peter to get the suitcase and 3 car seats! We needed  car seat straps like the one below that hooks your car seat to your luggage.

Even just for this short time getting from the car to check in. With one of these, Peter coud strap one on, balance a second on the suitcase bar, and carry a third. We could also try having my two year old walk so we could put the third car seat in the stroller, but…sometimes she needs to be contained for my peace of mind in an airport. 

That to me is one of the hardest parts. We usually just buy a cart carrier for $5 at the parking garage. Once we lucked out because our airline was checking items outside by the drop off!

What I took to the airport when flying with a baby, toddler, and 4 year old


  • I like to carry printed versions of our tickets and we get those from check in since we have to check our car seats and a bag anyway. Peter also adds the tickets to our Wallet app on our iphones. But this plastic folder is what I used to put our tickets, passports, and our baby’s birth certificate in and it totally organized my backpack. I hate scrambling to find our documents at security and this took that stress away!  
  • We bought three fuzzy throw sized blankets exactly like the one below, one for each kid. They snuggled these the whole way and used them to stay warm on the plane and as pillows too. Trying to get a kid to sleep or at best relaxed is so hard, especially on a plane. Maybe you don’t need this, but you need some kind of comfort item and at least a coat for the cold plane.We hung them on the umbrella stroller, put them in a bin through security, and carried them onto the plane after folding our stroller up each time before hopping on the plane. Just worth it and I wonder how it would have gone wihout them.

Tips to make the airport smoother before the flight

  • We filled a milk bottle up for Laila since that can go through security fine. We love these glass ones.
  • Last month I flew across the country with just my husband our 2 month old. We carried him in his car seat all the way to the plane where they checked it under the plane and brought it back when we got off. It was heavy for Peter to carry the carseat through the airport.  But nice because our baby had a place to sleep and be set down. So that’s another option.
  • I try to nurse the baby as soon as we take off so that his ears will pop from the swallowing. If you have older kids that’s also a great time to give them a stick of gum.

How we survived the airplane (x4 there and back)

  • I put the squirmiest kid by the window, kind of trapped in.
  • I asked the airline stewardess to put juice directly into my toddler’s bottle, which avoided sure spills.
  • We brought lots of treats and snacks.  Like LOTS.  Ok, this is the ONLY time we would give our kid’s M&M’s at 5:15 AM, because #desperate and #exhausted.  So glad I had those treats. Bribery all the way with delirious little kids.
  • Pack your bag carefully by putting what you will need to grab closest to the top. I found it super hard to unzip my bag with one hand and dig to the bottom of a stuffed carry on bag. That’s the reality of holding a baby on your lap the whole time and dishing out kid snacks constantly.

Snack ideas for your all day flight:

  • fruitsnacks
  • nuts
  • snap peas
  • chocolate covered granola bars
  • M&M’s/mini candy packs to hand to kids on flight
  • Cheetos
  • beef jerkey
  • peanut butter crackers
  • apple slices/cutie oranges
  • lunchmeat
  • suckers…because they last SO long!

Reality check: You will be in the spotlight

Flying with a baby, toddler, and 4 year old means that people stare at you and hear everything you and your kids say.  Sometimes that’s so frustrating! Two funny things my son said on our trip I’m sure other listeners enjoyed:

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

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 didn’t 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. Which did help!

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 a baby, toddler, and 4 year old is a task no mother wishes to take on without some preparation! Here are my best tips for flying with 3 kids under 4. What to pack, how to organize your carry on with kids, and how to make going through security a little easier. #baby #toddler # flyingwithkids #travelingwithkids #blueandhazel

 

 

 

 

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