Flying with kids can be daunting at the best of times, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
We’ve teamed up with 18 parents and travel experts to share their top tips for flying with kids.
Amanda Andrews, family travel expert at Travel Happy with the Andrews, on having a smooth and painless takeoff:
My #1 tip on flying with kids is to have them chew on a piece of gum during takeoff and landing when the pressure change can cause pain in their inner ears.
I have even used a piece of chewy candy with younger children (like Starburst). Having a smooth and painless takeoff sets a better tone for the whole plane ride and makes the experience enjoyable for the whole family.
Jason Leung, daddy blogger at The Rockstar Dad and constant international traveler, on treating your flight as a fun adventure:
In general, you should try to plan and organize the trip as best as possible before you travel. Be prepared with food, entertainment, and any issues that could possibly come up. And make sure your luggage is manageable and not overwhelming. Travel light.
You should also treat it as a fun adventure with your kids. Your attitude will likely affect how they behave during the trip, so it’s much better to be relaxed and positive instead of hectic and stressed out.
If you are travelling with a baby, my best advice would be to pick flight times that match up well with their sleep and nap times. Choose longer layovers if it works better with this schedule. If you can, choose an airline that provides a bassinet for them to sleep in (British Airways offers this). The airplane acts like a white noise and your baby will sleep peacefully, which will make your travel much easier.
Ali Van Straten, blogger at Champagne and Coffee Stains, on taking a carry-on filled with snacks:
My biggest tip is to bring a carry-on for kids that’s packed with individually packed snacks (Goldfish, Teddy Grahams and Granola Bars are our favorites), a water bottle, and a mix of new and old toys. If your kids are older, they love to also help with packing (but do save some of the new toys as a surprise for on the flight – makes it a little more fun!).
Also, plan to bring an extra fully charged tablet loaded with kid’s favorite movies and shows and headphones for kids just in case the plane doesn’t have screens in the chairs or have kid-friendly entertainment.
Shannon Yates, Elite Country Specialist at Audley Travel, avid traveler, and mother of three, on stopping your infant crying during take-off:
If your infant starts to cry on take-off or landing, try blowing lightly in their face. Their natural reaction is to open their mouth wide, which helps clear the air pressure in their ears, which could be the source of their discomfort.
Stephanie Rytting, travel blogger at The Unknown Enthusiast, on setting the right expectations before flying:
My top tips for flying with kids are:
1. Check as much baggage as possible and carry-on as little as possible. You want your hands as free as possible so you can help your kids if and when they need assistance. Plus, kids get tired, and you don’t want to end up schlepping a bunch of their stuff around too. Carry-on as little as possible.
2. Lower expectations. If you expect flying with kids to be like flying by yourself, you’ll be disappointed. It is more effort and work, and flying can be tiring for children. Lowering expectations means that when someone has a tiredness-induced meltdown, you look at it as something you’d expect to need to deal with, and not your entire vacation being ruined.
3. If you are flying with a baby or toddler, walking up and down the length of the plane is a great way to keep them happy and quiet. I’ve traveled many times with a child under 1 and that was my #1 strategy for helping them stay content and quiet.
Sarah McDonald, family travel blogger at Tiny Trailblazers, on entertaining young kids on a flight:
My kids have flown all over the world and this is the best tip I have for keeping them entertained on board. It’s very simple: take paper and pens and ask them to draw a picture to give to the captain.
Having someone important to give the drawing to motivates my kids to take more time than they might on a regular picture and it is a nice way to show gratitude. On our last flight to Costa Rica, the flight attendant handed the drawings over to the pilots, who were delighted and thanked them personally (once we were safely on the ground of course). Next time I am going to ask them to draw pictures for the whole crew!
Katie Restrepo, family travel blogger at Family Travel Folio, on pre-planning for your kid’s expected in-flight behaviour
The biggest question I see on flying with kids is how to fly with them. What do I do if they fuss or cry or won’t sit still?
Know their personality and pre-plan for whatever behavior you are worried about.
If your kid loves sleeping in your arms, book a flight during nap time or overnight to avoid fussiness from wanting to move around when they’re more awake.
Many people say never to fly a red eye with small kids, but if your kid loves sleeping in your arms it’s the perfect time.
For the opposite when they don’t sleep well in your arms or in the car, then expect a similar response while on a plane and be ready to interact. Let them walk around the airport before boarding and pre-plan engaging activities that fit their personality.
Take what distracts your kid at home for stretches at a time and duplicate it on the go: book, sock puppets, imaginary games, describing what you see, drawing tablet, etc. Even a 5 minute activity you can repeat every hour will help. Distract, engage, and give them your undivided attention- guilt free from work, housework, etc.
So much is a fear of the unknown, but if we stop and listen the answer isn’t as far out there as we originally thought it would be.
Karen Villano, gate agent of 36 years and travel blogger at IFlyRight, on top tips for easier flights with kids:
If you take a stroller to the gate, it cannot be over 20lbs. I would suggest you purchase a collapsible umbrella stroller. I would not suggest you take your expensive stroller, it will get broken, and the airlines will not cover any damage.
If you want to take a car seat on the flight, the infant must have a purchased ticket and you will need to make sure you have seats together; car seats must be on the window seat on a narrow-body aircraft.
If you are leaving the USA, you must have a passport for the infant. Every international destination is different, but all flights departing the USA require a ticket for the baby. Some countries require a percentage of the adult ticket, some just taxes. But ALL countries require a ticket prior to the flight departure.
If you would like to have the bassinet on an international flight, you MUST be in the bulkhead seat. I strongly recommend that you contact the airline of travel as all are different and those seats must be purchased in advance. Please note, this is a separate purchase from your airfare. On the day of departure, most likely, those seats will be sold already. The baby cannot weight over 20lbs.
Be sure to bring enough provisions (diapers, formula, etc.) Delays can and do happen, you need to be prepared. Airlines do not stock infant items.
If traveling with older children, let them walk and take a bag of things so that they can occupy themselves. Make sure they have your phone number, if they do not have a cell phone, in case they get separated from you. Bring snacks, pillows, blankets ensure they to have a comfortable flight.
Pre-reserve your seats. Airlines sell you a seat but DO NOT have to keep you together. Seats cost money now (part of airline travel, unfortunately). We try, some of the agents do, but on full flights, you may not be with your 10-year-old and are left begging on board for others to trade with you, who probably paid to have that aisle seat. A daily problem.
Less is better to travel with. I see customers with huge strollers, car seats, everything, running through the airport. Crazy!
Enjoy the journey!
Kim DeLauro, Founder of Ready Aim Travel, on tip tops for flying with kids who have never flown before:
If your kids have never flown before, take some time in the days leading up to your trip to sit down and explain to them what they can expect.
This will vary by the age of the child, but you should explain each major step. From getting your ticket, to going through airport security, to what it will be like on the plane.
If they know up front that the airport will be busy, and that security guards will check everyone to make sure they are safe and ready for their flight, and that they will need to be sitting down and buckled up while on the plane – then they will be less likely to get overwhelmed or anxious.
Having confident and prepared kids is the truly the key to having a smooth travel experience.
Corinne McDermott, founder of Have Baby Will Travel, on the four main considerations of flying with children:
The four main considerations for flying with babies and young children are Eating, Sleeping, Playing, and Getting Around.
- Get baby used to room temperature food and bottles. This saves you the hassle of heating while you’re en route.
- A box or two of instant baby cereal doesn’t take up much room in either your checked luggage or carry-on, and ensures a nutritious meal wherever you are.
- Are you concerned about food safety at your destination? Follow the old Peace Corps adage: if you can’t peel it or heat it, don’t eat it.
- For travel days, try to have at least two more meals on hand than you’ll think you need. A flight delay+hungry baby=no fun for anyone.
- If you’re flying, try to limit sweet treats and juice to just before landing. A toddler with a sugar rush+cramped plane=no fun for anyone.
- To save baby’s outfits and cut down on laundry, don’t forget a good wipeable bib or two. The best for travel are large ones with a pocket to collect the mess!
- If you or your baby is fussy about particular brands of food or formula, it may be best to lug yours along just in case it’s not available where you’re going, or if the formulation is different.
- Never underestimate the power of a snack as a distraction.
- Always stash a handful of zippered baggies in your bag. Great for carrying along leftovers to eat later as snacks, to collect used eating utensils, or stash soiled bibs or shirts.
- Ginger can help settle upset tummies. Ginger snap cookies or a few sips of flat ginger ale can help ease nausea for little toddler travelers.
- Make up baby’s travel crib with sheets and bedding from home. The familiar scent and feel will help encourage sleep.
- Don’t begrudge the baby’s naps. A rest is good for all of you, so plan around them.
- Room upgrades are worth the splurge – there is more space for baby’s gear and a nice view for you during naps and for early bedtimes.
- Going on a short trip but there is still a time change? Consider staying on home time instead of switching to local.
- Thinking of sedating your baby or toddler with Benadryl or Gravol before travel? Consult with your doctor. Some medications can have the opposite effect – making kids hyper instead of sleepy.
- If your tots sleep the majority of a road trip, be prepared for them to be awake A LOT when you get there. Consider hanging out in the back seat to help keep them company and stay awake.
- For early morning flights, put baby to bed in their travel outfit, that way you can put them right in their car seat when you’re ready to leave for the airport.
- For night flights, pack baby’s pyjamas. Get ready for sleep on the plane by following your bedtime routine at home as closely as you can – story, cuddle, etc.
- For early morning flights, consider spending the night before at an airport hotel. A few extra hours of sleep are priceless, plus most usually offer free parking and airport shuttle included in their overnight rate.
- With big time changes and jet lag, try to stick to your usual routines and times. You will endure a sleepy and cranky day or two but soon you’ll be on track..
- Hide a few toys and books before your trip. Your baby or toddler will be happy to see old favourites while en route.
- Wrap the toys you’re bringing along. This means extra fun for baby and extra time with each toy.
- Bring along a large sheet or blanket if headed to the beach. You can spread in the shade for sand-free play or a nap.
- Traveling may be the time to bust out the smartphone or fancy watch and let baby finally play with it – supervise closely!
- New toys for the trip needn’t be expensive. Dollar stores are great for small trinkets and it’s no tragedy if the toys are lost or broken.
- If there’s a dearth of play areas in the airport, the movator can be your best friend.
- Learn about your destination and connect with the culture by chatting with local parents at a playground. Thanks to Google Maps and free wifi – you can easily find a park near you, wherever you are!
- Consider your child’s temperament before boarding the plane. Hard to calm down? Stick to quiet activities at gate.
- Put crayons in a clear make-up bag for travel. You can see all the colours easily and there’s no awkward cramming back in box.
- Whatever you do, don’t forget the charger. (Or spare batteries)
- Use a baby travel packing list, and one for carry-ons as well. Forgetting things you need is no fun!
- Dress baby in clothes with built-in feet. You’re ensured of warm toes and no worry of a lost baby shoe. Or two.
- Separate all of baby’s things throughout your luggage. If a bag gets lost, it’s not THAT one.
- Book flights for when you think baby will be sleepy.. If sleep isn’t likely, aim for the most cheerful time of day.
- You can never have too many wipes. You can never have too many wipes.
- A stroller is not just a stroller. It’s also a high chair, a bed, and in a pinch, a luggage cart. Also, a baby jail.
- Bring along one diaper per hour of your travel day. You don’t want to risk running out!
- By sticking to public transportation, you’re free from the bringing the car seat dilemma plus you’re being good to the environment!
- Visit local parenting websites before your trip for information on parks, family-friendly restaurants, etc. These sites often also have coupons or discount codes you can take advantage of . Try Googling “your destination + parents”
- See if your destination requires any vaccinations or medications. Some may not be suitable for infants or toddlers.
- Even if you plan on buying supplies when you arrive, have enough on hand so you’re not rushing out the minute you arrive.
- Be sure baby is eating or drinking during take-off and landing to ease pressure on the ears – swallowing is what you want to be happening. A pacifier also works if your baby takes one.
- Renting equipment at your destination may be easier, but check your airline baggage fees to see if it’s cost effective.
- To pre-board or not? If your airline still offers this try having one of you pre-board and get organized while your partner tires out the kids until the last minute.
- Get wristbands with your information and/or cel phone number on them when visiting crowded places. Mabel’s Labels 411 Wristbands are good ones.
- Keep baby’s food and toiletries together in your carry-on. It’s much easier to stay organized when going through security.
- Try dressing yourself and baby in patterned clothes. Patterns tend to not show spots and spills as much.
- The most important thing to pack when traveling with babies and little kids is your patience.
- Don’t overschedule your days. A looser itinerary means no one will be disappointed.
- Scan your passports and travel documents and email them to yourself. You can now access them anywhere with Internet access.
- Count your bags and carry-ons and remember the number. Don’t ask me why I’m suggesting this.
Julie Callas, founder of Hammock Hideaways Travel, on how to travel with kids without taking 5 Advil:
Here’s how to travel with kids without taking 5 Advil:
- Always, always pack extra snacks. Food is a great neutralizer (and you can always sneak a few bites for yourself).
- Extra clothes in your carry-on bag are a MUST. You never know when an accident can happen, or the potential to lose your luggage. No one is comfortable in clothes that are soiled, so having an extra pair is lifesaving.
- Bring age-appropriate toys that are not too loud and bring an extra surprise toy! A new toy is always exciting and can keep children occupied for hours.
Lisa Manderino, travel blogger at Planning Away, on packing:
We have a family of six including four kids ranging from 6-14.
Once my kids turned five years old I purchased a piece of carry-on luggage with wheels for them (with kid pattern or characters)
We never check bags!!!
We fit everything into our carry-on bags and bring them on the plane with us. We never have to wait for baggage claim, we know we will not lose any luggage, and it helps our kids be responsible for packing and transporting their own belongings.
We absolutely love it.
Brittany and JJ, travel bloggers at The Minivan Bucket List, on going through security with kids:
One of the most stressful parts of flying with kids is having to go through security and if there happens to be a long line, worrying whether or not you’re going to make it to your gate on time.
So here are my tips for making that experience less stressful and more enjoyable:
1. Invest in TSA Pre-Check for both parents. It’s $85 per person but if both parents have it, it automatically applies to the kids, too. This can save you a ton of time because you don’t have to remove everyone’s shoes, take out everyone’s electronics from their bags, and generally the line is much much quicker than the regular security line. And if you sign up for the Capital One Venture Card, not only do you get $500 worth of points to use towards your trip, but you also get the fee waived for TSA Pre Check.
2. Show up to the airport much earlier than you would if you were flying solo. The fear of missing your flight and trying to rush all the kids through the airport is what can be most stressful about the experience of flying. Instead, show up early. Breeze through security with your TSA Pre-Check. Then treat your kids to something at the airport like a McDonald’s ice cream cone or a Cinnabon. We’ve learned the trick to keeping kids happy while traveling (and with life in general) is keeping them well fed! So start the flight off right by showing up early enough to grab a bite to eat before your flight.
Emily Hines, travel blogger at Em’s on the Road, on the importance of staying patient:
The most important thing is to be patient.
Traveling with a child is something outside of their ordinary routine and having patience helps keep everyone calm.
- Bring a carrier – When you fly with a lap infant it can be exhausting trying to get your baby to sleep on you. When my daughter and I flew to Maui, this Ergobaby 360 carrier saved me. When she became restless, I put her in the carrier and walked around the plane until she fell asleep. We visited the rear galley and befriended the flight attendants and enjoyed the extra space.
- Tummy Time during layovers: Lay a blanket or coat out in the airport so the baby can stretch out and play while you’re waiting for your next flight.
Nicole Hunter, mother of four and travel blogger at Go Far Grow Close, on why you should break everyday rules when flying:
My number rule for flying successfully with children is to break rules.
My children always knew that if they behaved well, our day to day rules would not be enforced on our travel day.
We would eat McDonald’s at the airport; I would bring candy and chips on the airplane; and they would be entitled to play as many video games or watch as many movies or TV shows as they wanted.
In exchange, I expected well behaved and polite children who kept their voices down in the airport and planes, and did not kick the front seat.
Critical to this, is knowing your kids.
So, if they get hyperactive if they eat candy, then this would not be the best rule to break. However, I am sure that there are other relevant family rules that you could find to help you out.
Matthew Meier, Founder of MaxTour, on letting your kids help plan your vacation:
When I fly with my kids (6, 3), I let them join in the planning process.
When we book flights, the kids and I sit and go through the options, looking at what kind of plane we will fly in, what airports we will visit, and what airlines to try.
I also let the kids pick the seats we will have on the plane.
This creates buy-in from my kids, so on the day of the trip, they are excited to see all that we planned. It keeps them engaged and focused, we have lots to talk about and look forward to.
They are generally well behaved and easy going on our flights, and I recommend other parents work together with their kids to book flights for your next trip.
Alexandra Fung, Co-Founder of Upparent, on preparation being the key to a smooth flight:
When flying with kids, the key to making the experience go as smoothly as possible is preparation. In particular, having a carry on bag with readily-accessible snacks, entertainment, a couple of extra plastic bags and a change of clothes will make your life so much easier.
You know your kids best, so you know the types of snacks, toys, books and games that will work best, but some favorite travel toys (aside from electronics, which are great!) include boogie boards, water coloring books or tablets, window clings and Wikki Stix.
Alisha Molen, editor at Picture the Magic, on breaking up a flight with timed surprises:
Everyone loves gifts! Especially kids 🙂
I did a cross country flight with my three young children (Seattle > LA > Orlando) and I created “gifts” or “surprises” for each to open at different points along the way, spread out by 30 minutes or so.
It doesn’t have to be fancy stuff.
Kids just love the anticipation of the surprises. Since our trip was to Disney World, most of the gifts were Disney-themed:
- A coloring book
- A word search
- A surprise Disney movie on the iPad
- Some healthy snacks combined with a treat
I gift-wrapped the items or put them in manila envelopes with tags that said “Do not open until 11am.”
More about our TFVG Author
A seasoned traveller, Dad, and avid sports tourist, James foundered The Family Vacation Guide to share his expert vacation experiences- especially when it comes to being a travelling family man.
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