Before I became a traveling dad, I was willing to take all sorts of flights to get to my destination. Redeyes, multiple destinations, overnights, you name it. But everything changed when I had my daughter, and even more changed after I had my son. After 36 flights for my almost 4 year old daughter and 13 for my toddler son, I’ve come up with my favorite times to fly.
When traveling with babies and toddlers, I’ve found it really important to choose the right flights and fly at the right time of the day for my kids. Obviously everyone’s kids are different, but I think we all can still ask similar questions. Here are some ideas about what to think about when you’re choosing when to fly with the little ones.
Early Morning (8-10 AM)
Let’s face it – most babies and toddlers wake up early. They also tend to get progressively crankier throughout the day. With that in mind, my favorite time to fly with kids is early in the morning.
With a 9 AM flight, we can wake up at the kids normal time (630 AM), eat breakfast at home, and then get to the airport with over an hour to spare. Of course, I have the luxury of living 15 minutes from my home airport!
Still, I find flying right after breakfast to work very well. If the baby is still nursing, they can nurse on takeoff and hopefully transition straight into their morning nap. Toddlers can be given their mid morning snack during take off and transition straight to whatever activities you’ve brought for them on the plane.
Morning flights of course have one more added benefit: if anything goes wrong operationally for your flights you have the entire day to get a new one!
I do like to avoid SUPER early morning flights though: I find it not worth the money saved to wake my kids up at 4 AM.
Early Afternoon (1-3 PM)
My second favorite time to fly is the early afternoon. Like babies and morning naps, early afternoon flights work great to help my kids take their afternoon naps. If you’re not sure whether your kids will sleep on the plane or not, I find a good marker is how they sleep in cars. While different, if you get products like the CARES harness or bring your carseat on the plane, they should have similar success napping.
Just like the morning flights, flying in the early afternoon carries the benefit of your kids being full from lunch. Minimize crankiness!
Late Afternoon (4-6 PM)
If I can’t fly early in the morning or afternoon, my third favorite time to fly is late afternoon. The reality of my family is that if we fly in the late afternoon our kids will likely miss their naps. I thus cling to the hope that they will be tired enough to fall asleep on the flight.
For my preschooler, she handles this without problems. My son, who is moving into the toddler age, can be a little trickier, especially because he gets finicky about his nap situation in general. Still, I find late afternoon to be a good time to fly with the kids: make sure you bring some food for dinner.
I think most people feel the WORST time to fly involves redeyes. Since I have quite a bit experience with medium and long haul flights, I’m not sure I buy into that theory. Sure, when the kids can’t sleep it’s awful, but if you have a good method of getting your child to sleep on you a redeye should be okay.
One of the nice things about redeyes is the dark cabin – this can really help some kids sleep. Of course, if a redeye goes badly, it gets pretty brutal for your fellow passengers. But I don’t dismiss redeyes out of hand.
Times to avoid
I’d say super early morning (6 AM flight) probably is one of the worst times to fly. Kids don’t do well with waking up at 3:30 AM, so I avoid flights that early whenever possible. Of course, we have a flight to Hong Kong scheduled next year that leaves at 1:45 AM – that will definitely be an adventure!
I’d also posit that any mealtime has the potential to be a bad time to fly. If you are relying on eating on the plane, make sure you have stocked a ton of snacks just in case. Hunger and exhaustion are your enemies when it comes to traveling with kids.
Obviously, my kids are different from your kids. But these are the times that have worked best for us, and it makes sense! For most kids, making sure they are fed and rested will go the longest way to success. What about everyone else, what have you found is the best time to fly with your little ones?