First off, everyone’s definition of a short flight is different. I think it really depends on what your longest flight has been and you break it down from there. For me, under 4 hours is short, 4-9 hours is medium and 10+ hours is long. Yes, I have done a 14 hour flight with a toddler on my own multiple times. And that 14 hour flight included a 5 hour connection and then an additional 3 hour flight. And we were moving. And I had a cat. But this post is not about surviving that, it’s about the short flights.
We headed to Athens this weekend from Cairo for a 3 night getaway. The flight is only 1 hr 50 minutes and we had a 1:1 kid:adult ratio. We flew EgyptAir, which so far I’ve been enjoying for our short flights in country and now internationally. Generous international baggage allowance (2 bags per person!), no issues gate checking carseats or strollers or hiking baby carrier frames, and they serve food even on short flights. Plus this international flight they passed out head phones and had blankets and pillows available and played movies on individual screens (their kid selection was pretty decent).
But regardless of who we’re flying, I pack for short flights in a similar manner because you never know when the kids will hate the food, get cold, get bored, or get sick.
Carry On and Gate Checked Baggage
*Kid Wheelie Backpacks–Both kids have their own wheelie backpack. Prior to turning 2, DS’ things went into his big sister’s bag. He got one when he turned 2 as he’s now big enough in wheeling it himself and can also hold it when he’s in the stroller. On Sizing: They come in two sizes, but we got the large for both kids to fit more things. DD can wear hers, but DS just rolls his.
*Adult Backpacks–both DH and I use a backpack as our carry on to keep hands free.
*Stroller–we don’t bring this every trip, but we were using it in Greece, so we did. Having the ability to contain a kid or push a tired one is definitely useful.
*Hiking Baby Carrier Frame and Cover–ok, this one only comes along sometimes. If we’re doing a lot of walking we bring it and gate check it. I use a carseat bag to protect the straps and have not had any issues or questions on EgyptAir or United. Just make sure the gate check tag goes on the cover.
*Carseat and GoGoBabyz–we didn’t bring a carseat this time as our taxi in Athens provided them. But if we bring it, we use the GoGoBabyz to wheel it around and then both items go into the carseat cover and get gate checked. It is a very handy way to haul a toddler, though a bit of a pain going through security.
Note: We normally check 2 bags. Navigating to check in and then from baggage claim to the taxi or car involved this time:
DH–wearing carry-on backpack, checked bag slung across his body, wheeling second checked bag. One of the kids’ backpacks can slide over the wheelie bag handle if they’re too tired to wheel it.
Me–wearing carry-on backpack, pushing stroller, one kid backpack hung over one handle bar and hiking backpack bag slung over other.
DS2 in stroller, DD4 walking. At the start of the trip they normally wheel or carry their own, but then they wear out.
What to Bring On Board
Our carry-on bags include both what we need on the flight and what we don’t want to risk losing.
The Quick List:
DD’s Backpack–age 4.5–special blanket, 2 stuffed animals, 1 soft doll, headphones, bag with crayons and mini coloring books, Water Wow!, empty water bottle (fill up past security), 4 books, sweatshirt
DS’s Backpack–age 2–3 little cars, Water Wow!, head phones, CARES airplane harness, empty water bottle, bag with 3 diapers, wipes, and a change of pants, 3 board books, sweatshirt
My Backpack–Camera and camera equipment, bag with complete change of clothes for kids and me, bag with electronic items (chargers, adapters, etc), iPad, Kindle, extra diapers, quart sized bag of liquids, sweatshirt
Purse–bag of food, wallet, empty water bottle
Headphones–we loved DD’s earmuff style headphones on this flight and I plan to get another pair for DS. They don’t fall off, they’re comfortable, and a kid can easily fall asleep wearing them.
Coloring Bag–just a quart Ziploc with some triangle shaped crayons (so they don’t roll), and some small note pads and coloring books. Plus mini pencils.
WaterWow!–no mess water “painting” that come in a wide range of themes. We only use these when traveling to keep them fun.
Bag of Diapers–I use a gallon Ziploc and stick in 3 diapers, a small thing of wipes, and a change of pants for DS (the most commonly needed replacement item). This makes it easy to grab for diaper changes. Additional diapers (and sometimes wipes) and the rest of the change of clothes are in my bag down at the bottom.
CARES Airplane Harness–a great item for kids too old to need a carseat, but too young to stay put readily. We used it for DD from 18 months to 4 and now DS is using it. Adds a chest harness and provides safety for take off and landing especially. We do unhook it during the flight typically. As a note, DS hates it but I force the issue for safety. DD never minded it.
iPad–I download shows ahead of time from Netflix for watching on the plane before in-flight entertainment kicks on or if there are no movies on board. A splitter for your headphones is handy if you have 2 kids.
Bag of Liquids–in a quart sized bag I stick, kid tylenol and plastic syringe, hand sanitizer and/or hand sanitizing wipes, chapstick, small Neosporin and a few kid bandaids, 2 applesauce pouches (ours come in at 3.2 oz, but no one has questioned it when in the bag).
Food–low mess food that is either high in nutrients and/or takes a while to eat to make the fun last longer. Favorites include fruit pouches (you can normally declare baby food over 3 oz without a problem. They might make you open one at random and take a slurp), bag of peanuts, mini peanut butter to-go containers with spoon, bag of whole wheat crackers (to eat on own or with peanut butter), Larabars (contain dates, cashews and depending on flavor some other fruit or nuts), chewy granola bars, mini bags of DIY trail mix (ours had Cheerios, GoldFish and some mini chocolate chips), and a couple treats–candy canes and lollipops are great because they take a while to eat and can help with ears.
Other toy options–silly putty, painter’s tape (great for sticking on things and removing), and mini Playdoh are other good options.
Surviving the Airport
*Make sure everything you’ll need initially for check-in or security are easily accessible. Passports or ID, boarding passes (if checked in online), bag of liquids (I put it on the outer pouch of my backpack for easy grabbing), electronics (this will vary a lot by country-some want just laptops, some want iPads, some want everything out)
*Make sure you can go through security easily. I don’t wear belts when I travel and I keep my pockets empty (woo purse!). I prefer to wear shoes that go on and off easily. You don’t want to be putting back on belts, filling pockets and tying shoes when trying to container a toddler while waiting for your stroller to get through the scanner.
*Bring empty water bottles to fill up once through security. Keep kids (and yourself) hydrated!
*Bring fruit or veggies to supplement airport food. Even if flying internationally, and therefore most likely not being allowed to import fruit, you can still have fruit at your initial airport. Apples, clementines, carrot sticks, etc all travel well and can round out the pizza or burger you find at the airport!
*Let the kids move, run and burn off energy. Many airports have kid play areas, so google it ahead of time (name of airport + children normally brings it up) as they aren’t always easy to find.
*Airplane watching is always fun
I find boarding to be part of the most challenging part. It can take a while and in-flight entertainment hasn’t started. Some families prefer to wait until the very end of boarding to board which cuts down on waiting time. This works well if you don’t have to install a carseat or need overhead bin space.
We typically board at the beginning. Definitely have food ready or a video on the iPad and don’t fasten seatbelts until required. Pull out things you might need on the flight (food, water bottles, toys, iPad, headphones) and store in seat pockets.
With a family of four, many of our flights are 3 seats, aisle, 3 seats. We put DD at the window, DS in the middle seat, me on the aisle and then DH on the aisle across from me. If we were 2 and 2, we’d do DS on the window, me next to him, DD across the aisle from me and DH against the next window.
Next step is sanitizing everything. Kids touch everything and you want to cut down on germs. Use either sanitizing wipes or liquid hand sanitizer and baby wipes to wipe down tray table top and bottoms, arm rests, tv screen, remotes, window wall, etc. Pretty much anything you can wipe that is within kid reach.
Surviving the Flight
*Pace out food to last the whole flight.
*If your toddler likes movies, you are in luck. DS is 25 months and mostly enjoys watching films. By the time DD was 2.5 she could watch movies almost across the Atlantic.
*If your toddler is not into movies or needs some other entertainment, now is the time to break out the various toys. Coloring, stacking cups from drink service, decorating the seat with painter’s tape, using the Water Wow! and listening to books can all be good options.
*Walk up and down the aisle.
*Look at the in-flight magazines or safety cards
*Put things in and out of the trash/puke bag
*Sing songs quietly
*If ears start hurting, try massaging them or giving your little one something to suck or chew
*Don’t stress if your kid is screaming. It happens. DS screamed all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Sure, I got some dirty looks. But mostly I got sympathetic looks or people didn’t even seem to notice. And the nice thing on shorter flights is that most people aren’t trying to sleep.
*Depending on destination, prearranging airport pick up makes a huge difference, especially if the driver will meet you just past baggage claim or customs.