What We Learned About flying with a lap child

flying with a lap child
Flying with a 4 month old
Kairi about to board her first plane.

Flying with a lap child is a crap shoot. Having done it seven times before our daughter turned two, we can confirm it can be a pain that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy or a Christmas miracle that will fill you with joy. We even wrote a post about our Flying with a Four Month Old.

Unfortunately, you don’t know what experience you’re going to have until you board the plane. Good or bad you just going to have to power through it and remind yourself that a fantastic experience is waiting for you when the plane lands.

It’s Stressful

While our daughter does well on long flights, flying with a lap child will test your resolve. Gone are the days of growing excitement as your vacation nears. Now the days leading up to the flight are filled with worry.

During the flight you stress, and once you’ve landed your secretly worrying about the flight back. I’m not trying to scare you out of taking vacations; I want you to be aware of what you’re signing up for so you can plan accordingly.

Why fly at all with a lap child if it’s so bad?

Busy Holiday Break flying homeWe don’t agree with the general idea that your “travel” life is over once you have kids.  Naturally, we put those beliefs to the test and pulled the trigger on multiple trips to places like Copenhagen, Vietnam, and Portugal before she turned 2. All the flights clocked in over ten hours with Vietnam being over fifteen. During that time, Kairi was transitioning into a toddler, and we knew to have her on our lap was going to be rough.  So we had to think of ways to keep her entertained.

Our Experience

It’s honestly hit or miss. Kairi does well on the flights, only getting cranky enough to draw attention for a few short stretches. With take-off and landing usually being our daughters most uncomfortable moments.

Throughout the flight, the main issue we run into as parents are Kairi’s constant need for attention.  To combat this, we try switching between toys, books and tv shows quick enough that she doesn’t become aware she’s stuck in one place.  It’s tiring and can quickly get overwhelming.  So as a team we take turns watching her.  While one of us is on duty, the other is trying to get some rest.

From there we “rinse and repeat” until the plane starts its descent.

While the flight to the destinations were difficult the flights back seemed like Christmas miracles. With Kairi sleeping for a majority of the flights home.

Now that the trips are behind us we realized that we failed to account for a few things.

  1. The main one was passenger animosity. I wasn’t prepared for a small percentage of people on the flight to instantly hate you. Don’t worry about winning them over because you can’t. Most disgruntled fliers won’t start a confrontation with you, but they’ll say plenty of nasty things under their breath while you move past them.
  2. Another thing we failed to account for was a happy baby. Our daughter’s recently found her big girl voice. Which she usually puts it on full display when she’s excited about something. To our amazement, we were able to keep Kairi happy for significant portions of some flights. The drawback was that she was so excited she would scream in excitement.  As a result, Trang and I decided to spend most of the flight in the back of the plane. In the back, Kairi was able to walk around and squeal without disturbing the other fliers.
  3. No sleep.  We figured that Kairi was going to sleep for at least half the flight.  How dumb is that?!?  On both of the flights to Denmark and Vietnam Kairi slept an hour at most, during that hour our focus was to keep her asleep.
If only we could be this lucky all the time!

Tips for flying with a lap child

Although the flight tested our resolve, we did pick up on a few things that could help you if you’re considering long flights with a lap child.

  • Sit in the front or back of your section. If your baby gets fussy, you don’t have to walk past everyone in the cabin.
  • If the flight isn’t full and you see an empty row.  Ask the flight attendant if you can snag it after the flight takes off.  An extra seat makes all the difference!
  • If your baby is small enough sit in the first row of a cabin to take advantage of the baby bed!! (call your carrier to confirm this the bed’s availability, it’s sanity saver)
  • Get a couple of new toys your baby has never seen before for the flight.
  • Bring a lot of food and snacks to distract your baby from being miserable.
  • Give your baby a bottle or pacifier to suck on during the accent and decent to try to relieve any pressure in their ears
  • Bring an iPad full of games and movies to distract your baby. (we didn’t, but we should have)
  • Mentally prepare yourself for the most unpleasant flight of your life.
  • Stay calm and try not to stress

If you’re looking for tips we use to make a long flight more bearable check out our post on How to Survive a Long Flight.

Don’t Add To The Stress

I stress about Kairi bothering the people around us. The internal stress created by that can make a small cry sound like a full-blown meltdown. Thankfully there is a silver lining, and it’s not as bad as you perceive it.

After the flights, passengers would come up and tell us how great Kairi did. It’s a huge relief to hear this as a parent.  So yeah, a little preparation can go a long way to help you get through flying with a lap child.  Hope this helps!

Does more travel-oriented stuff with kids interest you?

If it does, please let us know in the comments below so we can look into creating more kid-centric travel content.  We’ll try to add that to the overwhelming amount of material we’re already bringing you.  Haha I kid, we can hardly post one thing a month!

Thanks for reading, and good luck on your flight!  Let me know how it goes or let me know if there are any important tips you think we can add!

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Really great tips. Being overly prepared then under is best when traveling with a young child is best.

Thanks for the advice and key learnings you write about in this post – it definitely helps with learning how to travel with kids. I’ll be an aunty soon so this definitely helps 🙂

I flew several times with my 2 school age child and 1 baby- lap rider. It’s so true that other passengers are hostile. I was so stressed about keeping all 3 of my kids happy, that I didn’t even pay too much attention to them though. 🙂

It has been a while since we have flown with our little one in our lap but I remember the struggle it could be sometimes especially when they start to move around more! Although it is a struggle at times it’s also nice to not pay for a separate ticket! Thanks for the tips!
xo – kam

We always traveled with our kids starting at just a few months old. I miss the days when they were in my lap.

OMG, I was less than 1 years old when my mom decided to fly me to Asia! It was a struggle for her, and I can’t believe how stressful it would be for new parents! I do think that where you are seated on the plane makes a difference!

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