17 Tips for Flying with Kids

17 Tips for Flying with Kids

It’s enough to make parents stay at home and play endless games of hide and seek in the house instead of venturing to a new city or country for a family holiday.

Flying with kids can be disastrous. We all know how much people who fly without kids complain about those who fly with children. The thought of their glaring eyes has you crumbling at the knees.

If something goes wrong, you are a long way from help. What if they get sick? What if they don’t stop screaming? What if there isn’t enough food? What happens if they won’t fall asleep? What if they just want to run up and down the aisles screaming?

Is it really worth the hassle?

I say yes. In all my years of flying and travelling, I do not ever recall being disturbed by another child.

I’ve been irritated by a few adults plenty of times though.

Kalyra and Savannah have been flying since they were only a few weeks old. We’ve only ever had one issue that lasted about 20 minutes.

Kalyra had just turned two. We were flying to Puerto Rico and caught a 6:30am flight from our home at the time Raleigh, North Carolina to Atlanta. There were plenty of men and women in suits preparing for their morning meeting or trying to get a few extra hours of shut eye before trying to broker big deals.

Kalyra had just hit independence age and when it was time to put on her seat belt for take off she was having none of it. The high pitched screeming started. Craig and I crumbled in terror, thinking only of the annoyed flyers around us (to be honest I don’t even think they were).

We had an arsenal of strategies we tried, none of them worked, yet through it we remained calm and composed so she knew it was alright. The crying eventually died down and soon enough she could take the belt off and she was back to being an angel frequent flyer.

Flying with children isn’t really that bad. You can easily put systems and strategies in place to help your child cope and to train them to be good flyers.

Respect and Patience

It comes down to teaching our children respect and good manners and for childless flyers to have a smidgen of patience and tolerance.

Flying is public so you have to expect children may be present and might lose the plot. You can’t ask them to leave, and while I understand that this can be frustrating, especially since you have paid for a ticket, the best way for you to get through the flight is to manage your self.

You usually cannot control what others are doing, you can however control how you react. I think the Dalia Lama says it best, whenever he is put through a challenging experience, he sees it as an opportunity for him to practice the art of patience and compassion.

Mediate and say, “Thank you for this opportunity for me to learn patience and compassion. “

Trust me. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll end up enjoying your flight regardless.

But Parents,

You have got to teach your children manners and respect. They have learn to consider those around them.

I know you’re pulling your hair out and you just want to give up because they haven’t listened after the 100th time, but you can’t. You can’t sit on your entrainment system and ipad while your kids are kicking the seat in front of them and screaming down the aisle. A stern word and a few consequences almost always work. Take them into the toilet for time out if you need to. That should shut anyone up!

17 Tips for Flying with Kids

There are three essential keys to helping your children have a good flight.

1. Preparation and Planning

99% of the time your child will be irritated, cranky or screaming because they are either:

  1. Tired
  2. Bored
  3. Hungry

Pack enough food, enough toys and provide opportunity for them to rest on the plane.

2. Communication

You must talk to your child before, during and after the flight, so they know exactly what to expect.

Describe the experience of flying from checking in, to boarding, to seat space, meals, entertainment, sleeping arrangements, playing, and then disembarking. Depending on your child’s age you can also talk through potential problems and solutions. What do you think you can do if you start getting bored? What about if you are hungry?

Get them really excited about it, let them know it is a big adventure. Practice at home. Watch cartoons or movies if you can.

As you go through each procedure during the flight, talk to your child so they are prepared and comfortable:

We’re just checking in now and the lady is going to take our bags. We have to line up here for boarding, we must be patient as we wait our turn. Oh yippee, look the hostess is coming with food!

Check in with them throughout the flight as to how they are feeling and what they might need.

3. Training from an Early Age

flying with kids

The worst thing you can do is delay flying with kids because you are frightened of it. It will only be worse when it is time to take the plunge as they won’t know what to do. Train them as early as you can.

Our girls are such great flyers as they have been doing it from birth. They know the procedure, what to expect and how to manage themselves.

Just take a look at how Savannah, who was 17 months at the time of recording this, boards a plane. She gets it at an age when some children aren’t even walking yet.

More handy tips for flying with kids

 4. Distract Them from Their Fears

I have a fear of flying that I am learning to overcome. I hold Kalyra’s hand during take off. This helps take her mind off the fear and transfer that to having an important job of easing Mummy’s fears.

5. Book a Bassinet for Babies

This was so helpful flying to the States when Kalyra was only nine months old. She loved having her own bed and would sit up and give the royal wave to the passengers. Pre-book this when you book your plane ticket, as are limited numbers.

6. Get Organized

As soon as you board the plane, get organized and settled in with every thing you need. Have essentials stored in the pockets and under the chair. Now you don’t have to climb over everyone or wait until the seat belt sign is off to get what your unhappy child wants.

7. Have a Surprise Bag of Treats

Go to the $2 store and buy a bunch of toys, wrap them and every couple of hours allow your child to unwrap one and play with it on the plane. This is such a great way to turn a boring plane flight into a treasure trove of fun.

8. Go for Walks

Every hour take your child for a walk up and down the plane. Not only is it essential for your health and sanity to stretch your legs, but your child will love all the attention they get form the other passengers.

9. Have Quiet Activities to Occupy Your Children

Flying with kids
Trying to keep her entertained on the plane

You can’t go wrong with colouring books and pencils. Pack a couple of their favourite story books for quiet reading.

 10. Ask for Help

If you are struggling ask the air hostesses for help. They are usually wonderful at helping parents with their children and may even be able to give you a break.

11. Take Snacks on Board

Every airline and flight is different now in regards to what food is supplied. Take plenty of food and water with you on the plane, just in case.

12. Have a Movie Marathon

Kalyra loves watching movies on the plane and she does for most of the flight. Flying to LA with her is a breeze. Allow your children to watch a lot of movies. It will get them excited about flying – it sure does for me! If you have an ipad, have a few movies ready for in-flight entertainment.

13. Play Entertainment Games with Them

Kalyra loves it when we sit and play the memory game and Pacman with her on the in-flight entertainment system. It’s quiet bonding time. You can also do this if you have an ipad.

14. Help Them Get Settled to Have a Sleep

tips for flying with kids
At least she could sleep!

Let them lie on your lap, put the pillow down for them, and snuggle them up in the blanket. Do whatever you can to help them sleep; trust me you will appreciate those couple hours of rest time yourself.

Keep to their regular bedtime routines as much as you can: dress them in their pyjamas and have their favourite bear with them for snuggles.

15. Have Them Sit in the Middle

Have you seen the movie Flight Plan? Then you’ll know why I am recommending this one. For safety keep them sitting between you and your partner in the middle seats. This way you know if they are trying to get out into the aisle without you!

16. Help Their Ears on Landing

Babies have not yet developed the ability to equalize their eardrums naturally. If you have ever felt this pressure on your ears before then you’ll know why so many babies scream during landing. Breastfeed/feed your baby or have them suck on a dummy.

For older children let them chow down on chewy food.

17. Comfort Them

A cuddle and a few calming words or hushed lullabies does wonders for comforting our children. Flying is such a new experience they might feel a little anxious. Help them to feel safe and secure. It’s the best way to settle them down.

Now for the reality! Here’s a video of our recent flight with the kids to Thailand with Air Asia X.

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Caz Makepeace is the co-founder of y Travel Blog and has been traveling the world since 1997, first solo, then with her husband, and now with her two daughters. Get her free email series on the 4 best ways to reduce travel costs. Follow her on Google+

52 Comments on “17 Tips for Flying with Kids”

  1. Great post Caz! We might be planning a trip to the US (from Australia) later this year, with a very young baby. While I’m hoping they’ll be too young to offer any big challenges, I’m keeping this post bookmarked for the years ahead.

    I really like your tip of talking kids through the process. I recently sat in front of a little one who had no real idea what was going on. Once the seat belts were on and the plane started moving, he was terrified! He settled down once we were in the air but it goes to show how important a bit of explanation can be.


    • Hey Belinda!
      You’re having a baby!! Cool. Best time to travel is with a bub. They are so easy. The hardest is toddler age.
      I think the communication part of it is the most important! It helps them feel safe and excited. You want your kids to be excited more than anything about their upcoming trips. They feel they own it then and will get more out of it, which usually means you’ll have a much better time.
      Good luck with it all. When are you due? No Problogger this year then?

      • Yep *grin* Just about 6months now so due towards the end of August… ish. I’m still considering coming along to this year’s Problogger, recalling you and Craig two years ago. I’ve seen it done now!

  2. Loved this blog post.
    We’ve been travelling a lot with our son since he was 6 months old – flights, trains, buses… And with every journey, we’ve learned a new tip to make it a fun experience with a kid. I think you have listed all of them :)).

  3. Great post Caz, I think we follow similar steps, Kaitlin (4) and Ben (2) are very comfortable flying and to date we have had no major dramas!!

    • The only thing I would add which you touched on with PJ’s is comfortable clothing, its not ideal trying to get awkward jumpers or shoes off a wiggling todder in a tight space.

  4. Another great article with some fabulous tips. As someone who doesn’t have children I am very tolerant of children on flights. After all they are children and people need to remember that.

    Like you I become more annoyed by ignorant, rude or selfish adult travellers.
    The Guy recently posted..Why This Is My Greatest Journey
    The Guy recently posted..Why This Is My Greatest Journey

    • Thanks Guy! And great point. Yep, some kids actually behave better than grown adults.

  5. Great !
    thank you, you gave me the idea to post an article about “traveling by car with childreen”
    I think it would be very helpful for my costumers !
    julie recently posted..Une place du poker pour le moins insolite …
    julie recently posted..Une place du poker pour le moins insolite …

  6. For me, sleep is the biggest one. That’s the one that drives me nuts. When a child is tired but doesn’t know how to go to sleep? I can’t handle that. Screw the patience and compassion. It goes against everything I am because it just isn’t logical. It still drives me nuts even at home. I refused to do the flying thing any more until kids no longer need a nap. Now that’s over, I will fly again with them.
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..A walk through Pittsburgh (photo essay)
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  7. Great post, and I especially love the addition of the video because it really shows the reality of traveling with a young toddler (which is our reality right now).

    We had a pretty rough go on our way home from Kauai–with a near 45 minute scream session. I tried to stay calm, and just hone in on taking care of his needs, and did my best to ignore the stares & groans. Our little guy finally passed out for about an hour only to wake up and start again–then I was able to distract him with my old-timey phone with actual buttons (rather than a touch screen) :-)

    • Hey Kate,

      Yeah those moments are never easy, and you did the right thing. People have to realize that as long as you are trying to calm the situation, what else is a parent to do??

  8. Thanks so much for writing this! We are expecting our first child in August, and ,my mind has been wandering a lot to how having a child will affect our travels.

    We are frequent fliers now, and I don’t want that to change once the baby comes. I have always felt like when children fly a lot, they get used to it, just like getting in the car or on a bus.

    We plan on flying with the baby as soon as we have the opportunity, and frequently from then on, and I will file your tips away for when that time comes!

    • Congrats Shanna. We wish you all the best with that.

      And you are correct, the earlier you start the better. Kids have an amazing way of adjusting to things pretty quickly!

  9. My best tip is, if possible, take the child’s car seat on the plane. We’re frequent fliers, and also frequently take long drives (8-12 hours). My kids know that if they’re in the car seats they’re expected to stay there and be quiet. They’re comfortable enough to sleep, they’re somewhere familiar and they’re safe. It’s kind of a pain to lug them around the airport, but the behavior on the plane makes it well worth it. I don’t know if I’d bother if we were going someplace we wouldn’t have a car, but as we usually do we’re taking them anyhow!

    • Hi Kim,

      Great point. We have never actually taken a car seat but have seen others do it. Makes perfect sense as far as familiarity goes.

    • This works if you have a child that’s content to be in their car seat. Our son hated his car seat and would scream through 10 minute car rides to the grocery store. Part of the problem was his refusal to sleep in it. We often flew to avoid the car seat for any significant length of time. He was and still is wonderful on an airplane. There’s just something about being able to wiggle around and snuggle close to mom.

  10. This is a very useful article. We took our 1 year old on a short flight (2 hours) last month and it went a lot more smoothly than we had feared. She seemed to know exactly what was happening and this really helped calm her

    • Awesome to hear Jenny. I think talking with kids and setting expectations really helps a lot.

  11. This is great advice! I have to agree about the movies. I don’t typically like my child to stare at screens for long periods of time but when in a crunch, like stuck in the air for hours, taking along the portable DVD player or handheld game like a DS, with a headset can be a lifesaver.

    • Oh the flight is the perfect time for them to indulge!! Whatever works. We don’t like them to watch the screen too much either but on planes they have permission to watch it 9 hours straight :)

  12. [...] those who travel as a family, learn some tips from experts on how to fly with kids [...]

  13. Love the time out in the toilet idea :)
    Re your ipad suggestion. I have the seen a family with three young boys sitting across the aisle from me where each child had an IPod. When they first got them out I thought it was overkill – one each and they were so young! Worth.their.weight.in.gold. This was a long haul flight and there was not one peep out of them – only laughter and no-one in their right mind complains about that. (not that I am a complainer, more of a sympathiser). Talking to their parents, they assured me they were not always so well behaved. :)
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  14. My first flight was when I was 19 years old, I was so much terrified, but that was mostly because we messed up the seats, so the first hour from Copenhagen in Denmark to Hamburg in Germany, we sat different places. Though, the person who sat beside saw I was nervous and we spoke the whole time from takeoff to landing.

    When I get kids, I will teach them how fantastic travelling can be. And as Jennifer comments above me, kids as well as me as an adult really loss the knowledge of time when staring into a monitor at a plane. And I wish more parent would think about how they can entertain their children during long periods of flight, without them bringing toys that they are suppose to smash or something that’s noisy. :b

  15. I love the “Surprise Bag of Treats” idea. Not just a bag of treats – but a series of surprise treats that kids have never seen or played with before so there’s always something new. Brilliant.
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  16. Love this post Caz and Craig! On the plane I relax my rules around how much tv and technology the kids have – we all need to be able to amuse ourselves quietly! I also do a fair bit of pre-prep too. Talking about time differences, how long the flight is, the flight route – I give them print out if I can too. I am inspired by how much you guys travel! x

  17. Great post! I love your tip about buying $2 toys and wrapping them up! Will do that in June when we are flying to Europe (from AUS).

    We also play “airport” game at home: going through security check then boarding and finally finding our seats on the plane. Helps him practice for the trip and understand what happens before take off.

  18. Absolutely love your tips. Always amazes me how many friends and family call us “brave” because we love to travel with our kids. But you have pointed out just how easy it can be, with a bit of preparation and a lot of involvement with the kids. Thank you so much!

    One tip we were given by our GP was a special treat of Snakes on a Plane. Allens lollies are preferred by our boys, but any long lolly that they can suck on during take-off and landing is great.

    Happy travels!

  19. Love these tips. Fantastic videos. I think the most important idea is to stay calm, teach your children respect and manners and remember that you can’t control how other people will react.
    Toys, food and activities are so important. I wrote our tips about travelling with toddlers last year. http://familyfoodandtravel.com/2012/04/tips-for-travelling-with-toddlers-twins-in-our-case.html

    Thank you for linking up to Travel Tuesday!
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    • No problem! Thanks for sharing your tips Kerrie and for commenting. You will always be your child’s best role model so definitely teach them how to be calm and manage any problems that arise.

  20. I love the tips! Thanks for sharing. With our first, we flew with him for the first time when he was 6 months old. We flew from Toronto to Hawaii which was def. a haul. He’s probably flown over 20 times since then (he’s 2 and a half now). With our second, we started early – 7 weeks early. I even flew a 4 hour flight with the two of them SOLO! And survived to tell people about it… lol
    I love how you wrote “$2 store” – which is so true. Are there really any $1 stores left?
    My tip would be, for infants who are lap children during the flight, bring a pillow with you so when they sleep, it’s comfortable for both of you (you hold the pillow on your lap, and they sleep on it).

    • Oh yes that is a great tip Maya! I always found myself wishing for one when flying with my babies and they fell asleep. It can get very uncomfortable. Thanks for sharing

  21. Belinda

    Excellent article. I fly regularly (about 5 times per year, so about 10 flights) with my 3 children, who are 3, 4 and 6.
    While I thank the heavens for i-devices, there are some other tips I have learnt for this age.
    1. Let your child carry their own
    ‘wheelie’ bag.
    2. Inside the bag, put their snacks, one or two spare changes of clothes separately packed into snap lock bags – a necessity for spills which can easily occur in the confines of a plane.
    3. Inside the bag, also put their ‘entertainment bag’, (I use a cloth shopping bag for this) which should be removed and carried on to the plane separately. In the bag, place their colouring pens, a small notebook, their favourite teddy, a book etc. This can then easily be placed in the pocket or under the seat, without the need to return to the big bag unnecessarily.
    4. In terms of pens for colouring in – my best suggestion is Faber-Castell brand windable crayons. They don’t easily mark clothing, or the cloth on the seat in front of you. But best of all, they click together, and don’t roll off the tray table – the number of houdini tricks I had to perform to find runaway pens before I found these!
    5. This allows your own carry-in luggage to be reduced in size – I carry 2 x wet face washers in separate zip-lock bags, for spills, or cooling down (perfect if your little one gets motion sickness like one of mine), tissues, also some anaesthetic based sting cream, which is excellent to soothe almost anything until we get off the flight.
    I also carry all said i-devices, and pretty much let them go nuts with their favourite game, or movies.
    6. If you have a child who suffers from motion sickness, I have discovered from experience that children are worse when they have little control over their situation. For my son, he gains comfort from knowing how far we have to go, how long that will take etc. I also carry a collapsible bucket (from a marine store) made of canvas with a plastic bottom. I take a roll of plastic bags with me and double line the bucket in case of any vomit-events. Again, for kids, if they know if they are sick, they won’t be sitting in a putrid stinky mess for the rest of the flight, this helps. I just pull out the plastic bags, double knot them and get the hostie to dispose of them. They are usually super happy they you haven’t left it for them to scrub out of the seats(!)
    Anyway, I hope you find some of these helpful.

    • Fantastic tips Belinda! Thank you so much for sharing. I definitely agree out letting them have their own wheelie bag. Our girls love this. Love the runaway pen idea as that drives me crazy!

  22. Jasmine Heyward

    I’m actually the oldest kid (teenager), but I saw this on Pinterest and thought I’d check it out since I have a younger sibling and flying with him…yikes. If I could say one thing, parents, fly with your kids when they’re young! I have been flying since I was too young to remember, so I’ve never been afraid of it, same with my brother, and it just makes life so much easier. I flew alone for the first time when I was ten, and flew international for the first time (NOT alone) the next week! My first flight that was more than ten hours was last summer, eighteen hours to South Africa, and I was fourteen. Now I’ve gotten to fly with my school several times, and I’m always shocked by the kids who don’t even know how to go through security: or who have never flown at all! Fly with your kids, I know it really helped me out, and I now I plan to move to Europe after college.

    • Great story Jasmine! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with flying as a young un! What a fantastic life you’ve had so far. I love hearing how much you have travelled. What amazing adventures you have ahead of you.

  23. This is one of my fears as my children are not used to flying. I am apprehensive that the kind of drama my 3-year old plays in shopping malls (such as screaming out while crying) will be the same headache when we fly. Will try these tips :) Thank you for sharing this article.
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  24. 27 years ago I flew with a 20 month old child to New Zealand from the US. We flew New Zealand Air and they had a seat belt for a child like the seatbelt they demonstrate with about a foot long with the female and male end on each end of the strap. You looped the seatbelt through your seat belt and then around the child. Never saw this on any other airlines so I made one and took it with us on many long trips we took with our children.

  25. Thanks for posting!! I’ve just booked a flight from uk to NZ with my 3yr old tonight and am petrified!!!! He has many anxieties and sensory issues so really might have a challenge on our hands! Thanks for the inspiration. Hopefully we can use some of the ideas!

    • Glad it could help Sarah! Good luck. It’s a long journey but I’m sure your son will be fine. Just have lots of his favourite, calming toys and take lots of walks

  26. […] that they have titles on them, and they all lead back to blog posts. For example 43 Travel Tips, 17 Tips for Flying with Kids,How to Save Money on Travel – 52 […]

  27. I have been flying internationally since I was an infant. I had my son 4 years ago, and i just booked his first flight. It’s only a 3 hour flight from Toronto to Florida, but boy am I nervous! These are great tips!

  28. […] Tips for Flying With Kids from YTravelBlog  […]

  29. […] Tips for Flying With Kids from YTravelBlog […]

  30. […] on whether it was worth it to travel to family vacations where flying was required. Check out their 17 tips for  flying and let us know if you think it’s worth it. Don’t forget your Go Anywhere Travel […]

  31. Hello, i love your site… it´s very inspiring for me.

    And i,ve got a tip flying with kids…


    we travel a fair bit with our kids (9, 6 and 4 y.o. now) and it´s ver hady when they need a break: on the plane, or in the car, or at the show… or it´s noisi and one needs to rest… We have only one, and they share it.

    Adults usually use earplugs.
    You can find it in kids size, so it takes less room.

    Hasta luego!!

  32. […] will definitely refer to next time we take a trip. Caz shares 17 Tips for Flying With Kids over on her blog, and I really liked her idea of a bag of goodies – perfect for trips longer than a three hour […]

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