Home » Kids In Italy » Flying from the USA to Italy with a 3-Year-Old – Tips & Advice from Many Trips
Boy in Spiderman costume walks down the jetway to get on an airplane, which is seen on left.

Flying from the USA to Italy with a 3-Year-Old – Tips & Advice from Many Trips

Ciao!  Are you heading to Italy with your little one and feeling a little anxious or nervous? 

I get it!  Flying with kids can be exhausting, overwhelming, and stressful.  I’m a mamma of three, based in Italy, and I fly trans-Atlantic with them at least twice per year.  I’ve flown with them as babies, toddlers, and elementary age kids. 

I haven’t written about our trips yet because I’ve usually got my hands full (literally) trying to get my boys and myself from the US to Italy.  But, I had the opportunity to fly recently to the US and back to Italy with just my 3-year-old and had a chance to take photos and notes.  So, I want to share some of my tips based on over 9 years of flying from the US to Italy with kids.

Keep in mind that this is my advice, but there are many ways to do things.  I hope you’ll find some tips that will help make your flight smooth (and fun?!).

So, let’s go!

You may also want to check out
Italy with a Baby or Toddler
Italy Packing List for a Baby or Toddler
Italy Packing List for Kids
Best Places to Visit in Italy with Kids
Fun & Memorable Things to Do in Italy with Kids
10 Day Family-Friendly Italy Itineraries

Double-Check Your Child’s Passport Expiration

Just a friendly reminder because kids’ passports expire sooner than ours do.

Have a Note if You’re Flying Without the Other Parent

If you’re flying between the US and Italy with your child and the other parent isn’t traveling with you, you’re supposed to have a document signed by both parents.  You can read about the US recommendations

I always fly without my husband and I’ve only been asked once for the document, but I know other moms here who’ve been asked at multiple airports in Europe (most often Frankfurt). 

Control What You Can – And Let the Rest Go

Boy in Spiderman costume sits in seat at gate and has hands on carry-on suitcase. Small red and grey backpacks are on the floor next to suitcase.
I make sure I only have one carry-on bag (that can also hold my son’s backpack) and a small backpack

Flight delays happen.  Your luggage may get lost.  You may sit next to a grumpy person.  You can’t control any of that. 

You can control many things on your trip, like:

  • What time you leave for the airport
  • How you pack your bags
  • How much luggage you’re carrying onto the plane
  • Food and drinks to bring on the plane

And know that your child feeds off of your energy.  So, if you start to get stressed, take a deep breath or two (or turn away from your child and silently say what you feel like yelling out loud).

Get Organized – And Stay Organized

This is my #1 tip for traveling with kids of all ages!  If you’re a nerdy organizer like me, this is your time to shine!

Organize your luggage and documents and keep them organized during your trip, even if it takes extra time. 

For example, keep your important documents (passports and boarding passes) in a dedicated pouch in a dedicated pocket in your backpack (or bag).  After you show your passport at passport control, walk through with your kids and move to the side to put your documents back in their special place.  Don’t just shove them back into your bag, where they may fall out when you open it back up on the plane.

Another example – keep a small bag under the seat with items you’ll need for the flight (diapers, snacks, contacts case and glasses, etc).  That way, you won’t need to get your bag down from the overhead compartment during the flight.

I can’t reiterate this one enough – don’t get disorganized when you’re flying with your kids.  You’ll lose things and get flustered and frustrated.

First time to Italy? 10th? Either way, you’ll want to check out our 200+ Essential Italy Travel Tips!

Find Shortcuts

If there’s a family line, use it!  If you can board early with your child, do it!

Look for less obvious shortcuts as well.  For example, we just flew out of Seattle International Airport (SEA) and it has a system (Spot Saver) to reserve a time to walk through security.  This free service saved me from the hour-long wait in the security line (with a 3-year-old) – amazing!

Ask for Help

This tip sounds silly, but as moms, we often feel like we need to do it all.  You don’t need to do it all on your flight with your child.

Ask the airport staff member if you can enter the security express lane with your child.

Ask another passenger to help you with your bag.

Ask the flight attendant if she’ll stand by your sleeping child so you can use the bathroom.

Yes, there are grumpy folks out traveling, but there are plenty of amazing, helpful people out there that will make your trip manageable!

Make it Fun for Your Little One

Boy in full Spiderman costume sits in front of window. In background are airplanes (at the airport).

A by-product of this tip is that it makes travel fun for me and other passengers as well.

For example, on our recent flights, my Spider Man obsessed son wore his Spider Man costume (mask included). 

More ideas on how to make your time at the airport and on your flight fun:

  • Find play areas in the airport
  • Stop to dance to music coming from shops
  • Have races up uncrowded ramps (and as a bonus, it tires your little one out for the flight!)

Dress Your Child in Comfortable Clothing and Shoes

This isn’t the time for Instagram-worthy outfits.  Instead, dress your little one in an outfit he/she likes, is comfortable in, and has worn before.  Same goes for shoes. 

You don’t want to be dealing with itchy tags or shoes that don’t feel good on the flight. 

Think sweats, layers, and clothing that’s easy to change into and out of (in case of spills or accidents).

Shoes should be easy to remove and put back on.

Bring a Familiar Book or Toy

I let my son pick out a book to bring on the flight (this time it was What the Ladybird Heard, by Julia Donaldson & Lydia Monks).  With all of the excitement of the flight, the other passengers, it’s nice to have something familiar to do at the beginning of the flight, before he sleeps, or while we’re waiting at the gate. 

You can also bring a familiar toy or object (like a blanket or stuffed toy).

Give in To Screen Time

Boy sits in airplane seat and eats from a ziploc bag.
Snacks and screens – for the win!

Long-haul flights are a moment to let go of the screen time rules (at least that’s how I feel!).  I let all of my kids watch the screens on the back of the seats or use a screen we bring (in this case, the iPad).

Be sure to download movies, games or shows onto your devices before the flight.  If you forget, you can usually hop onto the airport’s Wi-Fi before you board.

Helpful Tip:  Don’t let your kids have any screen time for a few days to a week before your flight.  That way, they’ll be extra excited to watch a movie on the plane. 

Good To Know:  You can look up the monthly entertainment (movies, shows, games) for your airline on the company’s website.

Pack Healthy Snacks and a Few Treats

My kids aren’t always big fans of airplane food (I get it), so I pack additional snacks for the trip.  We enjoy:

  • Fresh veggies (cut carrots, cut bell peppers, sugar snap peas)
  • Fresh fruit (blueberries, cut grapes, apple slices)
  • Fruit puree pouches
  • Mixed nuts
  • Raisins

This is also the moment to be the ‘cool mom’ and bust out some treats.  I bring some in my bag, but also put something in my child’s backpack:

  • Fruit-by-the-foot
  • Fruit snacks
  • Lollipops (always – for some reason, they’re a big hit on the plane)
  • Gummy candies (worms, bears, etc)

Helpful Tip:  Avoid bringing chocolate.  I can 99% guarantee it will end up melted on your clothing or your kids’ clothing.

Pack a Change of Clothes

Spills and accidents happen, and your child won’t have a nice flight if he/she’s soaked or has a shirt covered in pasta sauce. 

I pack a change of clothing (choosing non-bulky items) and put them in a Ziploc bag in my carry-on. 

I also pack a spare shirt for me, just in case.

Bring Diapers for Overnight Flights

Even if your child is out of diapers, you may want to pack a few for the overnight flight.  My 3-year-old is potty trained, but I didn’t want to worry about nighttime accidents.  So, we put on a diaper just before we get on the plane (to avoid trying to put one on in the tiny airplane bathrooms).

Bring a Stroller for Nighttime Layovers

Mother and three sons stand in front of a window at the airport gate. Airplane in the background. Stroller and backpacks next to the family.
On a transatlantic trip with my three boys. We have our stroller for our layover.

One of the trickiest moments of the long USA to Italy flight (or Italy to USA) if you land and your child is fast asleep and it’s the middle of the night for them.  You’ve got to get all of your luggage off the plane and get to your next flight, and that’s not easy with a sleeping child! 

If you’ve got a layover that takes place during the night, try to bring a stroller so you can get off the plane (if you need help carrying a bag, ask someone for help!) and get your child into the stroller immediately. 

Then, you can just wheel your child through the airport (passport control, picking up luggage, walking kilometers through Paris CDG, etc). 

If you absolutely can’t (or don’t want to) bring a stroller, check to see if the airport your layover is in has strollers available for use in the airport. 

Learn more about Strollers in Italy

Take Care of Mamma

This shouldn’t be the last on the list, because it’s very important – take care of yourself!  I’ve found that the most important things I can do for myself to help make our trip great are:

  • Be rested for the flight.  That means going to bed at a decent hour the night before, even if I feel the urge to double-check everything.
  • Wear compression socks.  They’re game changers, ladies!  My legs feel fresh and don’t look like sausages when we land.
  • Pack protein and snacks.  There’s nothing worse than being hungry on a long flight.  I usually pack sausage sticks and fresh veggies (snap peas and carrots are favorites, and my kids will snack on them too).
  • Bring entertainment for you.  You may not get to use it, but I like to read my Kindle or watch a movie if I have the chance.  Tip:  Make sure your headphones have the adapter for the plane screens (Bluetooth doesn’t work).

Flying to Italy with a 3-Year-Old – FAQ

Do you try to book night flights when you’re traveling with your 3-year-old? 

I look for the best prices for the shortest journeys (one layover max).  But, if it’s possible, I’ll choose a night flight. 

Do you have preferred airports for layovers?

Our airport in Italy is Florence (FLR), and the runway is too small/short for large planes.  So, we always have to have a layover in Europe.  I prefer Amsterdam Schipol because it’s easy to quickly get from one point to another, which is great if you’re traveling with kids.  The only thing is, if we go through Schipol, we’re usually flying KLM, which doesn’t allow pre-boarding for families with small children.  I usually try to avoid Paris (CDG) because getting from where you land to your next flight (and through security, passport control, etc) can be long (timing and distance), which is a big pain in the bum if you’re traveling with kids. 

Candice Criscione Avatar