The thought of flying with kids can be exhausting and worrisome, but it doesn’t have to be! This post will cover the Top 16 practical tips for flying with kids that will lead to less stressful air travel for the entire family.
Discover the preparation needed to gear up for air travel with kids, as well as ultimate strategies that will help kids stay calm and happy when flying.
By investing time into these planning techniques your flight will go smoother and you’ll be off to a fantastic start (and finish) to your family travels!
Before Your Flight
1. Choose flight times and seats that reduce inconveniences
Successful air travel with kids begins before you even book the flight. Begin by making sure that your chosen flight times somewhat align with your child’s schedule.
Scheduling a flight during nap time is a better idea that expecting them to sit quietly during a time when they are typically more energetic.
(Speaking of naps, here’s a list of the coziest and best kids
If planning a morning flight, ensure that you help set your child up for success by them getting a good night’s sleep ahead of time.
If considering a red-eye flight, contemplate how well your child can fall asleep in a new and unusual sleeping environment.
The last thing you want is hyperactive or crying children when other passengers are trying to rest.
When it comes to reserving seats, be sure that you are seated with your children.
Most airlines allow you the opportunity to choose your seats ahead of time which guarantees that grown-ups and kids can sit together as a family. If this option is not offered, you may have to pay extra for this necessary attribute.
Additional Planning tips: Sitting at the back of the plane puts you closer to the bathrooms and the flight attendants for convenience’s sake.
If possible, seat kids away from the aisle as it can actually be quite dangerous.
Toes can easily get run over or tiny hands get caught as the food and beverage cart passes by. Hot liquids are also at risk of being spilled from the cart.
Finally, remember that not all airlines are created equal when it comes to flying with kids.
It is important to review which airlines are best when flying with kids, as well as to know their individual child and infant flying policies.
2. Review airport security procedures
It is important that kids know what to expect about airport procedures and security checks before arriving at the airport.
Taking the time to review these processes beforehand will lead to less fear of the unknown, as well as
- Explain the check-in process and the importance of having patience while waiting in potentially long lines.
- Emphasize that the security checkpoint is an important step of flying. Likewise, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers are there to help keep everyone safe in the air.
- Review with each child what ‘their job’ will be when going through airport security.
- Encourage children to be responsible for their own carry-on item.
- Explain the process of going through the metal detectors, taking off jackets and shoes (kids over 12), and putting their belongings onto the moving belt.
- Remind kids that their electronics and snacks need to be sent through security separately.
- Last, make sure the kids have not forgotten to ditch any bottled water or juice that they may have been sipping on.
Planning tip: Find a detailed TSA travel checklist to review here.
3. Allow each child to have their own carry-on
For successful airplane travel, equip each child with their own carry-on backpack.
I suggest choosing a backpack versus a rolling suitcase because backpacks can be stowed at a child’s feet making them easily accessible during a flight.
Backpacks also allow the kids to have both hands free when maneuvering throughout the airport.
Allow kids to help choose the items, activities, and snacks that they pack in their carry-on. This should include their blanky and a stuffed animal or other comfort toy.
Next, have your kids determine if the weight of their carry-on will allow them to comfortably walk around the airport.
If they determine it is too heavy, they must reconsider their choices and take things out as needed. (This prevents Mom or Dad from having to end up carrying it for them.)
*Click the image to get your FREE family vacation packing list that is both customizable and printable!
4. Do layers, skip laces
Be ready for drastically changing temperatures when flying.
For this reason, dress your kids in comfortable layers, preferably without buttons, zippers, or anything that could prevent them from getting to the bathroom in time.
The same principle applies to shoes. Avoid laces if possible as it eases the amount of time and hassle of taking shoes on and off during security checks and rest time.
In fact, when it comes to how to vacation with young children, dressing in layers and avoiding the hassle of shoelaces is always a good idea!
At the Airport
5. Arrive early
One of the best tips for flying with kids is to get off to a good start by arriving at the airport early.
Crowds, lines and wait times fluctuate constantly so this is one of those instances where I suggest to always play it safe by being early, versus on-time.
Check your flight status before leaving for the airport and follow the recommended airport arrival times.
In most instances it is recommended to arrive at the airport 2 hours prior to domestic flights, and 3 hours prior to international flights.
Remember, you’re on kid time, so don’t forget to allow for unexpected bathroom trips and other detours.
6. Remember where you park
If you are driving to the airport via your personal vehicle, decide if you are going to park onsite or offsite at a shuttle lot.
Another option is spending the night before departure at a hotel with a park-n-fly option.
Make this decision by comparing costs and convenience.
Personally, we choose to utilize an offsite shuttle in the same lot every time that we fly. We have come to trust the frequent shuttle times, friendly staff, and good security.
Once you become comfortable with a particular parking option, make that your go-to option every time for convenience and stress-free travel.
Finally, write down the level and space that you parked in and become familiar with the steps that you need to take to arrange for airport pick-up when returning home.
7. Have travel documentation organized and accessible
Another tip for flying with kids is to pick a designated adult (Mom or Dad) to be in charge of the entire family’s travel identification and reservations.
Have your entire family’s travel documentation easily accessible and organized by keeping them stored together in a passport holder.
For example: As I am providing the airline agent with our 5 passports, my husband is responsible for getting the checked luggage onto the scale and making sure that it is tagged appropriately. We follow this routine every single time at the airport.
Explain to the kids ahead of time that this is a time to simply wait quietly until the end of the check-in process.
8. Discuss who’s sitting where before getting on the airplane
Who’s sitting by who? Who gets the window seat?
There is nothing like getting onto an airplane and having the kids begin debating these questions in the middle of the airplane aisle.
It sounds obvious, but discuss which seat each person will sit in ahead of time to avoid squabbles and to help everyone remain calm.
Further, it is important that everyone quickly take their seats and keeps the flow of boarding passengers moving. (The same goes for the return flight home.)
9. Beware of germs
Wipe down ‘your area’ and your ‘kids’ area’ once you get to your seats. This can be done by bringing along a travel size package of Clorox disinfecting wipes in your carry-on that you keep easily accessible.
Have each person in your family wipe down the armrests, headrest, tray table, and seat belt buckle.
Though we can’t travel in a sterile bubble, I’m up for taking any precaution against contracting
10. Prepare for air pressure
Yet another tip for flying with kids is to discuss with them how the changes in air pressure may make their ears feel “like they’re plugged or popping”.
As soon as you get through security, purchase bottled water to have the kids sip on during both the ascent and descent of the airplane. These are the most bothersome times for ear discomfort.
Chewing gum, sucking on candy, or yawning are also ways to encourage the swallowing that will ease the pain or discomfort of ear pressure.
Additional planning tip: If you know ahead of time that your child is prone to ear pain when flying, given them acetaminophen or ibuprofen 30 minutes before takeoffs and landings. The same goes for motion sickness medicine.
In the Air
11. Use good flying etiquette
Though it is not your job to please everyone in the cabin, we do have certain responsibilities as parents when flying with little ones.
Common courtesies of not letting children kick the seats in front of them, pull hair, play in the aisles, or purposely display bad manners are very important.
Likewise, as parents, we are ultimately responsible for supervising young ones, making sure they’re not intruding on someone else’s private space or causing inconvenience.
By staying alert to their needs, not only will children stay happy and calm mid-flight, but fellow passengers will too.
12. Pack ‘just enough’
I urge you to pack ‘just enough’ for onboard the flight, making sure that you include basic essentials.
Packing too much creates stress in keeping everything together and organized, as well as creates additional hassle in having to transport and store a bulky carry-on.
Suggested onboard packing list:
- 1 Comfort
itemfor each child. If it’s a pacifier, be sure to bring more than one in the case that the original gets dirty or lost.
- Sanitizer, wipes, Pull-ups, and diapers. If your child is potty-training or not fully potty-trained, consider having them wear Pull-Ups on the flight, as well as bring a change of clothes just in case of an accident. One diaper per hour of travel is recommended.
- Smartphones and tablets loaded with your kids’ favorite games, movies, and shows.
- Kid-size headphones
- Art supplies: Crayons and blank paper.
- Water: purchased once through security.
- Low-sugar, mess-free snacks: Pretzels, crackers, string cheese, apple slices, carrots, and granola bars are good options.
- Medications: Prescriptions, motion sickness medicine, antacids, pain reliever, fever reducers.
- Plastic bag, napkins, and a change of clothes if your children are prone to motion sickness.
13. Bring your own snacks
This tip for flying with kids is so important that I had to repeat it again! In my opinion, snacks are the No. 1 way to keep kids happy and calm during a flight.
Bringing snacks from home is also a great way to help cut costs associated with buying food in the airport or onboard.
Additional planning tip: Don’t forget to pack a selection of snacks for the return trip home! I like to pack two different Ziplock baggies of snacks; one for the trip ‘there’, and one for the trip ‘home’.
14. Never fly without an Ipad or tablet
Most parents have good intentions when it comes to their kids and limiting their screen time. Let flying with your kids be an exception to this rule, however.
Load up your child’s I pad or tablet with games, songs, TV shows, and movies to help keep them entertained for as long as possible.
This is a great in-flight activity as it holds kids’ attention for long spans of time.
Be sure to pack them kid-size headphones so other passengers aren’t disturbed.
15. Bring s
Despite all of your best intentions, the kids will eventually get restless.
The perfect solution to keep boredom at bay when flying with your kids is to give them a few surprises along the way (that you have carefully thought about ahead of time).
Gift dollar-store toys, special treats, a new game, or special trinkets in well-executed intervals when the “Are we there yet?” questions are looming.
Don’t shower them with every surprise at once, however, and be sure to save some extras for the return trip home.
Additional planning tip: Read my entire post on making activity bags to help keep kids excited and entertained during your next flight.
Though these were originally designed for a road trip, they can be easily adapted if flying with kids instead. 18 Amazing “Are We There Yet? Road Trip Activity Bags.
16. Keep your composure
Set realistic expectations for air travel with kids. In addition, get into the habit of celebrating simple successes along the way.
Though they may be on your very last nerve, always keep your composure when flying with kids.
Consider befriending other parents around you to ease the struggles that you may be experiencing.
This will also help make light of any sticky situations.
Bonus: Want to encourage your child to sleep on the plane?
- Tire them out before getting on the plane.
- Pick evening flights.
- Sit in the middle seat so that your child doesn’t have to sit by a stranger.
- Create a dark space by forming a canopy with blankets.
- Purchase an inflatable foot pillow so that they are able to lay down flat.
Now, on to planning the next family adventure!
What is your best tip for flying with kids? Is there anything you recommend NOT doing when flying with kids?Jen
*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*
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