Flying with kids is something that can strike fear into even the calmest, most experienced parent. Long hours in a confined space, limited leg room, turbulence, jetlag, and endless waits in crowded airports are hard enough for adults to cope with, let alone young kids.
Fortunately, there are ways you can make flying with your little ones a fun and enjoyable experience. Or, at the very least, one that won’t leave you, your family, and your fellow passengers traumatized.
These ten parenting tips give you great advice for reaching your vacation destination without feeling like you’ve survived an unpleasant ordeal.
#1. Tell Your Kids What To Expect Upfront
The unknown can be very scary, especially for children who are only a few years old. In the days or weeks leading up to your flight, talk to your kids about what they can expect. Tell them what the airport will be like, how they’ll go through the security screening process, what the inside of the plane will look like, and how it will feel. Tell them about the toilets, the seats, and why it’s important that they stay calm and quiet.
If they’re old enough to understand how the air pressure in the cabin can affect their ears and why it may hurt a bit, explain this too. Otherwise, just prepare them by telling them that their ears may feel a bit funny and that it’s totally normal.
It’s a great idea to show them pictures or YouTube videos of what they’ll be doing so that they understand what will happen. Don’t forget to tell them that it’s great fun and that at the other end awaits an exciting family vacation.
#2. Dress in Layers
Prepare yourself for multiple temperature changes while flying, and ensure that you dress your children in layers. Planes can get cold but can also be warm, and a bit stuffy, and children react quickly to changing temperatures.
Wherever possible, ensure each layer is easy to remove and doesn’t have too many zippers, fasteners, or buttons. A child that’s too hot can get antsy quickly, and it’s not always easy to undo fastenings if they’re squirming about unhappily.
Avoid shoes with laces for the same reason. Not only are they easy to remove in flight, but they also make security screening faster. Slip-ons or shoes with velcro straps are your best options.
You can follow the same advice for yourself. Dress in layers that are comfortable and not too bulky. You’ll need to have maximum ease of movement for carrying your luggage, children, and other paraphernalia, so you don’t want to wear anything that’s too restrictive when flying with kids.
#3. Pack Snacks
While many airlines have snack carts that make regular appearances, they may not have kid-friendly options or food that your children will eat. So to make sure that you don’t end up with hungry kids mid-air, pack a decent stash of snacks in your carry-on bag.
Puree pouches, small packets of crisps, and even a sandwich or two are always a winner. Plus, you can add a few treats to keep little ones happy. It’s a good idea to include a few age-appropriate sweets or lollipops that everyone can suck on to reduce the chances of sore or popping ears. These little details can make flying with kids less stressful.
#4. Opt For Early Boarding
Airlines know that flying with kids isn’t easy, so they try their best to make it a little less stressful. One of the ways they do this is by offering families the opportunity to board the plane before anyone else.
Early boarding is a great way to get everyone settled in before the plane fills up. It’s especially useful if you’re traveling alone and have to sort out a booster seat or other kid-friendly flying apparatus. Programs like TSA Cares can assist with early boarding requirements and speed up security checks if you contact them in advance.
With early boarding, the flight attendants can give you more attention, and you can ensure that you’re seated comfortably with your carry-on luggage safely stowed out the way before everyone else starts arriving.
#5. Stock up on Activities
Even flights to the most exciting family vacation destinations get boring. For little kids, the excitement fades quickly once in the air. Even if you have a window seat, there’s a limit to how much time they’ll want to spend looking out at the clouds going by.
Don’t be the parent that forgot to pack something for your kids to do. Before you set off, ensure that you have several different activities for them to enjoy. Depending on their age, you can pack toys or games they can play quietly. You may even want to buy them a new toy to make the travel experience more exciting and to capture their attention for longer.
A tablet, LeapPad, Nintendo DS, or any other mobile device on which they can play games and watch movies is an absolute lifesaver. It will offer hours of distraction, and you can pack headphones, so they can listen quietly without creating a disturbance. Just ensure that you’ve charged it fully and have a spare power bank, if possible when flying with kids.
#6. Book With Your Baby in Mind
Flying with a baby under a year old is particularly challenging. If you have an infant, book a row with a bassinet. Even if you spend the entire flight holding your child, you’ll have a little extra leg room that can make all the difference.
Flight attendants are used to helping parents out, so if you need your baby held while you go to the bathroom or grab a bite to eat, just ask. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you need help!
#7. Invest in a Travel Pram
Airports are huge, busy, and confusing, and if you have a child under the age of four, you may battle to hang on to them, your luggage, boarding passes, and everything else you need. The last thing you want to have to do is chase after your child or worry about them wandering off.
A travel pram you can fold up and take on your flight is the perfect solution to this dilemma. You can strap your child into the buggy and push them from place to place. They won’t get tired, and you know they are always safe.
#8. Have Everything You Need in Easy Reach
You should consider your carry-on bag your lifeline when flying with kids. You must pack absolutely everything you might need for the flight here—for you and your kids. And you need to pack smart so you can easily reach whatever you need. Hopefully, you won’t need to deal with additional screening at airport security before a long haul flight.
If there are two of you, one parent can be the designated snacks and entertainment carrier, while the other can carry the essentials like wet wipes, sanitizer, diapers, a change of clothes, and whatever else you anticipate needing.
If you’re on your own, you’ll have to consolidate everything in one bag, so pack the items you’re most likely to need on top and those that are maybe at the bottom. Using one carryon when traveling with small children will make air travel much more pleasant.
#9. Fly Early & Skip First Class
Early morning flights tend to be less full, and they have less chance of being delayed. They are also a good time for flying with kids as they’ll only recently have woken up and won’t feel tired or fractious. Overwhelmed and tired little ones often suffer from meltdowns, but if you embark on an early morning flight and avoid redeye flights, you will be in better shape.
While first class offers more space and better amenities, you run the risk of incurring the wrath of fellow passengers who have booked their seats to enjoy the peace and quiet and a more luxurious experience. So keep your upgrades for when you’re traveling alone or when your kids are a little older instead.
You’re likely to find more empathetic passengers in economy and a lot more support. It’s far more family-friendly, and a lively little one, unhappy baby, or tantrummy toddler won’t cause nearly as much upset or distraction.
#10. Look After Yourself Too
Flying with kids is potentially exhausting, emotional, and stressful. However, making sure that your needs are taken care of can help make the entire experience so much easier. The best way to do this is to prepare upfront.
If you’re short on time, use a telehealth service to deliver medication for migraines, stress, and anxiety so that you don’t have to go without. You should also ensure you’ve stocked up on anti-nausea, stomach upset, and general pain meds. Doing so will help keep you in the best possible shape for the flight ahead.
Aside from looking after your physical health, you can pack a few things to make the journey more comfortable for yourself. A neck pillow, soft jumper, book, or magazine are all great ways of making flying with kids a little more comfortable.
At the end of the day, if you’re headache and stress-free, comfortable, and relaxed, your little ones will pick up on this.
Final Thoughts on Flying With Kids
Flying with kids doesn’t have to be something that you dread. With a little bit of pre-flight planning, you can make the experience as enjoyable and comfortable as possible.
Your carry-on and flight attendants are all-important, so take maximum advantage of all their benefits and what they can do for you.
And remember, your flight is taking you to your vacation destination, so even if it’s not all fun and games, you’ll soon be on holiday!
Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and the co-owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more.
You can follow her travel adventures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.