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Non-Stop vs. Connecting Flights With Kids

NonStop vs. Connecting Flights with Kids - Airport Flight Arrivals

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

NonStop vs. Connecting Flights with Kids - iPad on Plane

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

NonStop vs. Connecting Flights with Kids - Layover 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

NonStop vs. Connecting Flights with Kids - Hong Kong Selfie

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.

Is a non-stop or connecting flight better with kids? Factors you need to consider when booking air travel with babies, toddlers, and young kids for your next family vacation.

Last Updated: January 16, 2017

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eileen g

Tuesday 17th of January 2017

With little kids I can't imagine every choosing a connecting flight if I didn't have to. I might luck and have them fall asleep and then why move them? With older kids -- 7 or 8 and up-- on a very long flight I'd be happy with a layover that allowed us to do something -- have a decent meal, find a play area, maybe even leave the airport, But a layover that is just about connecting planes I can always do without!

Why I Blog: The Goals & Purposes of Trips With Tykes | Trips with Tykes

Monday 14th of July 2014

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Friday 2nd of May 2014

I agree. I like non-stop flights better. Thank goodness for the Dreamliner coming out. It is going to change how we fly. Traveling in Australia and outside to anywhere the flights are always so long. When I go back to US and have to fly only 4 or 6 hours; I don't even know myself. These are know considered, shockingly, short flights for me. @Andrea The Dreamliner is coming out in October. Hopefully, this will help when you go to the UK. My UK friends here travel back home all of the time and fly emirates/ethiad airlines. Did you know that they are know offering a many service.


Friday 2nd of May 2014

You really do travel a super-long haul between US & Australia. I'm about to experience the pain myself in a little more than a week -- taking the 5 year old on her first transpacific flight to HKG. 13 hours - yikes!

It's funny how your own "normal" totally changes your perspective.... when I have friends stressing about a 1 1/2 to 2 hour flight along the East Coast corridor, I always think "how easy" because I'm always taking 6 hour cross-country journeys. You must feel the same way about those of us taking those cross-country flights -- they are a breeze compared to TPACs! ;-)


Thursday 1st of May 2014

We do both, unfortunately when we travel to my in laws in the UK we have to make a connection, so we do it! Non stop is definitely better, but I do like giving them a chance to run around between flights!


Thursday 1st of May 2014

Sometimes having to take a connecting flight is a welcome way to break things up in your travel routine, I suppose! We usually have to connect to get home to my family in Alabama (unless we opt to fly to Atlanta and drive the 2 1/2 hours). Going there later in the summer, so we shall see what flight routing we choose!