One of the most common questions I get from new parents looking to travel with babies or toddlers is whether they should take a non-stop or a connecting flight. For those of us who are based on one coast with family on another or for anyone traveling overseas, the question is a very good one. When non-stop flights are 5 or 6 (or many more!) hours long, it makes sense to question whether to break it up.
Of course, depending on where you are going, you may not have the option of a non-stop flight. But when you do, I strongly believe that (most of the time) non-stop flights are the better option when traveling with kids.
Why Non-Stop Flights with Kids are Usually Preferable
With non-stops, the logistics are so much easier. All those things that take time and effort with kids are done once — get through an airport once, board once, install the car seat once, unpack your carry-on distractions once, deal with ear pressure issues once, etc. Sure, the flight is longer, but if the wheels come off with your tyke, at least you have the peace of mind of knowing you will be done with the trip as soon as you land. Your trip is quicker overall, and there is a reduced chance for delays and lost baggage on non-stops.
When To Consider Connecting Flights with Kids
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. When might a connecting flight make more sense?
1. When you have toddlers
Some kids, roughly between the ages of 1-2 1/2, are simply too active to be able to survive a long-haul flight. When they feel cooped up, tantrums can really escalate at this age. If you break what might be a 5 hour journey into roughly equal parts, you can often use the layover to let your toddler run around and burn off that excess steam. Of course, I think this really requires that you know your child. Our daughter was mostly okay during this age window, but we did have one terrible flight at 17 months with her where a connection would have been a life saver.
2. When connecting flights leave/arrive at much better times
If your non-stop choices leave at times that really mess with your child’s sleep schedule and connecting options are at more humane hours, then it is time to spring for the connecting flight. It is really hard to get a toddler on a fairly set sleep schedule to an airport for a 6:00 am departure. Similarly, a redeye can be a nightmare if you have a kid who can’t stay up much past bedtime without melting down or who won’t sleep on airplanes (my daughter didn’t after she was a small infant until the age of 3+). I think that mid-morning flights and/or flights that are timed right around regular nap times work best.
3. When you can take a connecting flight into/out of a better airport
In some instances, it might make sense to opt for connecting flights if you can make the logistics of your trip easier by using more convenient departing and/or arriving airport. For example, we live just 12 minutes from the Oakland airport, but over 45 minutes away from SFO. There are many times when we’d rather fly out of Oakland where parking is easy and security lines are short instead of risking traffic nightmares going into San Francisco, even if it means taking a connection. When we go to visit family in southern Connecticut, the choice is doubly easy — OAK to Hartford on connecting flights beats a non-stop flight from SFO to JFK any day! If any of your flights are into or out of major metropolitan areas with multiple airports, evaluate the choices carefully.
4. When the connecting flight is a whole lot cheaper
I’ll pay a premium for a non-stop flights to save time and stress, but sometimes that premium is just too much. When you are buying tickets for 3, 4, or more people as families do, those little price differences add up. Sometimes you just have to go with the cheaper option, so find where you can and can’t tolerate that!
Do you usually book non-stops or connections when traveling with your kids? Leave your thoughts below in the comments.
Last Updated: January 16, 2017