Air travel comes with many logistical questions and challenges, especially when your destination is far away. Flying nonstop might feel like the most efficient choice, but maybe you prefer to break up the journey and save a little money by taking two connecting flights.
Adding a baby or toddler to the mix changes the whole calculus. Of course, every child is different, so what works best for one family might not be ideal for another. Still, there are general guidelines that can help parents make a good decision when drawing up travel plans.
Below, travel and parenting experts break down the factors to consider when you’re deciding whether to book nonstop or connecting flights with a baby or toddler.
What is your child’s temperament?
“The logistics are usually better with booking a long nonstop flight for kids, from boarding and getting through the airport to them falling asleep during the flight,” said Naveen Dittakavi, CEO and co-founder of Next Vacay.
He noted that taking a connecting flight can lead to more opportunities for snags, like long delays, which might make the overall experience even more uncomfortable for children.
“Of course, there are exceptions to this,” Dittakavi said. “If you have a fussy baby or toddler who is likely to need a lot of attention, they may be better off having a break as you wait for a connecting flight.”
Kristene Geering, director of content at Parent Lab, offered similar advice, emphasizing that some babies and toddlers might be OK on a plane for longer stretches of time than others.
“Thinking about your child’s or children’s temperament and needs, as well as your own, are vital factors,” she said. “If you know your kiddo is a good napper and will sleep for most of the flight, then maybe the nonstop is good for you. If you know they are going to go ballistic if they’re cooped up in their seat for long stretches of time, breaking up the trip might be a better idea.”
How long is the connection?
A one-hour layover is not going to offer much of a break between flights. Instead, you’ll want to have plenty of time to make your connection, as well as change your baby’s diaper, stretch your legs, have a bite to eat and so on. If the connecting flight options don’t provide that, the nonstop flight is probably the move.
“Make sure that the layover is long enough to make it worth it,” Geering said. “Trust me ― having done this with two toddlers by myself once, I learned the hard way that having a shorter layover was not helpful when the original flight was delayed.”
“I sounded like a horrible drill sergeant. ‘I know you’re poopy! We gotta move! Come on ― walk, walk, walk!’” she added. “We barely made the flight, me dripping sweat and one kiddo oozing in the other direction. Not the most fun I’ve had as a mother!”
What’s their sleep schedule?
“The time of the flight is a factor for choosing between nonstop or two connecting flights,” Dittakavi said. “If connecting flights are better timed to fit with your child’s sleep schedule, such as an overnight flight or one that coincides with regular nap times, this might be a better option.”
Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights, also recommended that you consider everyone’s sleep schedules when choosing flights.
“Try booking flights that depart around your child’s bedtime,” he said. “When we took a red-eye with my 13-month-old, we departed at 7:45 p.m., just around her bedtime. She was out before we hit 37,000 feet.”
What about feeding schedules?
In addition to sleep, consider when your child will need to eat during your travels. Booking a flight option with a layover can give you the opportunity to sit down and have a leisurely meal or nurse with more space between flights.
“We’re still living in a pandemic,” Orlando said. “If you are planning on booking a connecting flight, take a look at what’s going on in the airport where you’re connecting. Some places are still closed in airports. You don’t want to be stuck on a layover with a hungry toddler.”
Whatever option you choose, make sure to have ample snacks on hand to keep everyone fed and healthy.
What kind of support will you have?
“Consider what supports you have while you travel,” Geering advised. “Are you traveling alone, or do you have helpers? Do you need to take a lot of stuff? Babies tend to need a lot of stuff. If so, what’s the plan for that layover in terms of getting everything and everyone from one place to another?”
She recommended making sure you’re comfortable with the equipment you plan to bring, like baby carriers and strollers, before you book connecting flights.
“Borrowing equipment from others is a great way to save some money, but you want to make sure you’ve tested it out extensively before the trip, for you as much as for your kiddo, so everyone knows what to expect,” Geering said.
Does this make financial sense?
“The economics of the situation is also a factor,” Geering said. “For some families, they have the option of choosing. But not all families can do that. If you’re forced into one or the other, know that you can make it work.”
Travel inevitably comes with challenges and factors beyond your control. Even if your itinerary is less than ideal, try to breathe and know that the situation is temporary.
“As much as you can, strive for calm, because your little one is looking to you to know if things are OK,” Geering said. “And when you can’t achieve that calm, and turn into a drill sergeant? Once you’ve gotten everyone where they need to be ― or not, as happens sometimes ― take a few moments to collect yourself and connect and repair. For toddlers, use simple language like, ‘Boy, was Mommy stressed! Whew! Let’s have a cuddle now. I’m sorry I yelled,’ or something like that.”
If you feel like you’re struggling or being judged by your fellow travelers, try to let it go and just focus on what your family needs.
“Remember that ‘perfect’ parenting is never the goal,” Geering said, “because there is no such thing.”