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Flying with Children: Layover or Not?

When you’re traveling with children by plane (on a flight longer than 4 hours) do you take a direct flight or one that includes a layover? It’s a question that sparked a heated discussion at my daughter’s playgroup. I brought it up because I have a friend who is about to embark on a 12-hour flight with his 4-month old daughter. The playgroup moms had a lot to say on this issue. The following are some factors that were considered in our “discussion”:

Age of Child. My opinion: If you are traveling with an infant then it is a good idea to fly direct. I know when I took my then 7-month-old daughter on a 10-hour flight to Hawaii the last thing I wanted to do was to get her to sleep then have to switch planes and risk her waking up. Also, infants like to eat, sleep, be rocked and snuggled, all things that can be done just as easily on a plane as on the ground. On the flip side, one mom noted that with older children it is nice to have the layover so that they can get out, run around and grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants (especially critical now that many airlines offer little more than just an onboard snack).

Number of Children Flying. I defer to our resident expert… my friend with seven children. Her answer: “Why, after going through the trouble of getting loaded, seated, and settled, would I want to get off and do it all over again.” So, basically with a brood that large she prefers to get in and out as soon as possible. However, a mom of two school-age children and one toddler says she likes to use the layover to let her children explore the airport. Her son is fascinated with airplanes so they stroll around in search of unusual airplanes; they take pictures, eat, and try to have the kids burn off as much energy as possible so that they will sleep during the next leg of the trip.

Financial Considerations. If the bottom line is price, then you will probably be better off purchasing a ticket that includes a layover or two. Some parents despise the idea of layovers so much that they will pay any price to avoid them. Shop around, sometimes you can find a direct flight for just a few dollars more than one that includes a layover. You decide if the few extra dollars will be money well spent.

Length of layover. It was a general consensus among the moms that layovers are manageable as long as they do not exceed 2 hours. (Any more than that and you will be dealing with children who went from being restless on the plane to being restless on the ground.) After all, there is only so much you can do in an airport. However, you don’t want your layover to be too short. How short is too short? If you find yourself disembarking from one plane and having to make a mad dash to catch your connecting flight, then your layover is too short. Another consideration: luggage. If your layover is too short (under an hour) then you run the risk of your luggage not making it on your next flight.

These are just some factors to consider in deciding whether to book a non-stop flight or one with a layover. In the end, your family’s individual needs will be what ultimately shapes your travel plans.

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About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.