How To (Barely) Survive Flying with Small Children

The Ribando Clan is packing up and heading to New Mexico for my niece’s 5th birthday. Flight leaves at 6am from Newark, connects in Chicago, and land in ABQ 6.5 hours later with a time change of two hours. I’m going give a brief pause here to let the magnitude of that sink in.

The perfect storm of disrupting sleep and a long day of air travel, it’s not a matter of “if” one or both kids lose their shit, it’s a matter of “when”. In preparation, I spent the last two nights putting together these gift bags for the other passengers on the plane to apologize for the inevitable fits:


JUST KIDDING. Not that you really fell for that anyway. But seriously, who decided that this is a f’ing thing? Pinterest, I love you but you’ve gone too far. In addition to packing our entire house into one large suitcase, coming up with enough in-flight entertainment to keep my toddler with a 5-minute attention span preoccupied for 6.5 hours, and packing the snacks without eating them, I have zero time or desire to take on a project of this magnitude.

I get that it’s annoying to be on a flight with a screaming kid but do you think the parents are living it up? No. They are in hell. A hell at 36,000 feet from which they cannot escape. A hell of their own making because they dared to dream and go outside the confines of their house. You know what I want to do? Buy a bunch of plastic poo and tie a note to it that says “There are kids on this plane. Tough shit.” 

However, that fake crap is more expensive than I thought and I literally cannot fit another thing inside of the diaper bag. Instead I put together a survival guide with helpful tips I’ve learned based on the handful of times I’ve flown with AJR (twice solo), which of course makes me an expert. If you do decide to take the plunge and fly, may this prove of some use to you on your journey.

PS: If you’re one of those families with the kids that sweetly pull their suitcases in an orderly fashion through the airport and sit quietly on the plane without demanding lollipops – I hate you. But I also want to be you. Teach me your ways. It’s sedatives, right?


  1. No eye contact with anyone other than those traveling in your party.  First off, if you’re traveling with multiple kids then you have plenty of shit to keep an eye on and shouldn’t be people watching in the first place. Second, the pitying looks can get annoying  and the looks of disgust/annoyance can propel you into a fit of rage or tears of frustration. Don’t judge me, random stranger leisurely purchasing a US Weekly in the Hudson News. You don’t know me, you don’t know my struggle. And you, shooting me the sympathetic look. Unless you’re sending a mimosa to my seat your pity does nothing for me.
    1. Exception to the rule: people who want to compliment my children. Yes, I look like a shiftless drifter but the kids’ travel outfits are quite cute, thank you for noticing.
  2. SNACKS. ALL THE SNACKS NOW. You know that crap that your kid begs for when he sees it in the store and you would never ever buy it because it’s made of the most delicious  awful ingredients on earth?(Ok, I buy those types of snacks all.the.time but how the hell am I supposed to survive a trip to Target with a toddler?) That is exactly the stuff that you should pack in every square inch of your carry-on. What else are you going to put in there – reading material for yourself? Bahahahaha.

    And I can bet that AJR will request the one thing I don't have

    And I can bet that AJR will request the one thing I don’t have

  3. Under no circumstances do not let your children out of the stroller. EVER. No matter how much they beg. Keep those turds restrained. Once you let them out there is no getting them back in. And should you even make a casual suggestion that they get back into the stroller be prepared for your kid to plank facedown on the moving walkway as he tantrums his way through the airport in protest.
  4. Don’t EVER be above bribery. I read an article the other day that said you shouldn’t bribe your kids and that it reinforces bad behavior. Sorry, article that I can’t be bothered to look up and quote accurately, but you are wrong. I’ve found that a menacing bribe whispered behind clenched teeth is actually quite effective at keeping your toddler in check.
  5. Don’t EVER be above threats. See #4.
  6. You get screen-time! And you get screen-time! Everyone get screen-time!!!! Except mommy. I’m sure the AAP would give me a disapproving look for this one but guess what? They don’t have to travel with my toddler.  Our iPad is loaded up with 17 hours of Paw Patrol and Mickey Mouse because you just never know which obscure episode is going to be requested and I need to be READY. And don’t forget the headphones! Because I sure as hell don’t want to listen to that crap even though I inevitably end up watching it anyway because I have nothing else to do during the flight than sit tensely, butt cheeks clenched as I await the next toddler crisis.

    Hit up the Dollar Store for some non-screen-time activities. Can't wait for all of this stuff to be discarded in 0.5 seconds as AJR goes right back to the iPad

    Hit up the Dollar Store for some non-screen-time activities. Can’t wait for all of this stuff to be discarded in 0.5 seconds as AJR goes right back to the iPad

  7. Dress in layers. The pressure of traveling with small children coupled with the fact that you’ll be acting as a pack mule means sweat is going to happen. A lot. On that note, make sure that those layers are dark colors so no one can see the various places where the sweat collects (i.e. lower back, armpits, under boob, etc.)
  8. Wrap that kid up in a nighttime diaper. I am not changing a pee diaper in the airplane bathroom changing table and nighttime diapers allow me to let that #1 ride for the duration of the flight. Have you ever seen an airplane changing table? It is laughably small. Olivia dropped a huge deuce on our last flight so I had to begrudgingly change her. Thanks, United Airlines. I’ve always wanted to change a stank, filled up Huggie on a slab of germs the size of a playing card.
  9. Lollipops. 2-hour delay? Here’s a lollipop. Your kid’s ears are popping? Lollipop. Sitting on the runway and you’re 127th in line? Lollipop. Toddler is getting restless and doesn’t want the iPad anymore? LOLLIPOP. LOLLIPOP. LOLLIPOP.
  10. Lastly, give ZERO f***s. Traveling with kids is one of those situations where it’s all about survival and if you have to act like a feral cat defending a kill then you do you, boo. Besides, you will never see these people again.

6 thoughts on “How To (Barely) Survive Flying with Small Children

  1. I have never taken my child on a plane because traveling with a toddler is my worst fear. I am beyond impressed that you have done this…and ALONE. You have balls, my friend.


  2. This!! All of it. I love it. Completely agree with the gifts for other passengers. And if you do the fake poo thing can I please be on that flight to see people’s reactions?! I love it!


  3. Pingback: Traveling with small children: a cautionary tale | The Almost Real Housewife

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