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The thought of flying with kids is enough to cancel all holiday plans and instead stay at home and play endless games of hide and seek.
It’s true, flying with kids can be disastrous, and that’s why we generally prefer to go on road trips with kids.
We all know how much people who fly without kids complain about those who fly with children, and those glaring eyes are just another reason why you’d be in two minds about taking that long awaited trip.
We get it, we’ve been there. As frequent flyers with kids, we’ve seen it all, and also learned a few tips and tricks to make the flight go smoothly, not just for the kids but for you and other passengers too.
If you’re finding yourself at the point of canceling a vacation of your dreams and you’re antagonizing over what a flight with kids will be like, then we’re here to help – here are our top tips for flying with kids.
Is flying with kids really worth the hassle?
But first, is flying with kids worth is? I say yes. Not only because if you don’t fly with kids, you’d never go anywhere and give up on those dreams for fears of glares of other people.
We don’t have a finite amount of time in this world, so is it really worth canceling a trip just because of some strangers opinion? I say no.
Likewise, in all my years of flying and traveling, I do not ever recall being disturbed by another child.
I’ve been irritated by a few adults, plenty of times, but not the children.
Both Kalyra and Savannah have been flying since they were babies, and we’ve only ever had one issue that lasted about 20 minutes.
Kalyra had just turned two. (flying with toddlers is possibly the worst of the ages to travel with kids but still manageable).
We were flying to Puerto Rico and caught a 6:30 am 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 screaming 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 we remained calm and composed.
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.
Tips for Flying with Kids
Now you know why you should book that trip anyway, here are the essential keys to helping your child have a good flight.
1. Preparation and planning when flying with children
From our experience, 99% of the time your child will be irritated, cranky or screaming because they are either:
If you prepare for these emotions, you will be on to a winning recipe to keep them happy.
Pack enough food, enough toys and provide the opportunity for them to rest on the plane in your carry-on luggage.
2. Teach them respect and patience
If you plan on flying with your kids often, then you may want to teach them some flying etiquette.
Ensuring the kids don’t bother others, comes down to teaching our children respect and good manners (and for childless flyers to have a smidgen of patience and tolerance, but that’s out of your control).
Flying is public, and it’s kind of expected children will be flying and some might lose the plot.
You can’t ask leave or move seats, 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 yourself and your child.
Teach your children to consider other flyers around them. Practice empathy, and tell them how they might not like it if someone kicked their seat for hours, or if they were trying to sleep and someone was screaming in their ear.
I know in the madness it’s not easy, when 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 entertainment system or tablet 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 bathroom for time out if you need to. That should silence anyone!
3. Communicate throughout the entire experience
Talk to your child before, during and after the flight, so they know exactly what to expect. If they know what’s coming, they are less likely to be upset about it.
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.
Ask them questions like “What do you think you can do if you start getting bored? What about if you are hungry?” and then have them come up with solutions for themselves.
They can choose some snacks they want to take, pick toys they want on the plane, and even plan what cartoons they can watch.
You should also try to get your child excited about flying and let them know it is a big adventure and a special way to travel. Practice flying with your kids at home. Watch cartoons or movies of planes flying if you can.
As you go through each procedure during the flight, talk to your child about what’s happening, so they are prepared and comfortable and know which step of the journey they are at:
“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 your child throughout the flight as to how they are feeling and what they might need.
4. Train your children to fly from an early age
The worst thing you can do is delay flying with a toddler 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 your children to fly as early as you can.
Our girls are such great flyers as they have been flying from birth. They know the flight 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.
5. Distract children from their flying fears
Despite being a frequent traveler, I have a fear of flying that I am learning to overcome.
I hold Kalyra’s hand during take off, and this helps take her mind off the fear and transfer that to having an important job of easing Mummy’s fears.
If your child is feeling anxious or fearful of flying, give them a toy or a teddy to distract them from that fear.
6. Book a bassinet for babies on the plane, or take one with you
This is a tip for those flying with an infant or baby, book a bassinet.
It 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.
You often need to pre-book a bassinet when you book your plane ticket, as are limited numbers.
7. Get organized for your flight with kids
As soon as you board the plane, get organized and settled in with everything you need.
Have travel essentials stored in the pockets and under the chair, take out all toys, snacks, pillows, blankets, everything before you strap yourselves in for take off.
This way you don’t have to climb over everyone or wait until the seat belt sign is off to get what your unhappy child wants.
8. Have a surprise bag of treats for your flight with kids
Every child loves surprises, so have an extra bag of surprises ready for that time when your child is having a meltdown. Call if the wild card if you wish.
Go to the $2 store and buy a bunch of cheap toys, wrap them and every couple of hours allow your child to unwrap one and play with it on the plane.
When you are flying with a toddler, this is such a great way to turn a boring plane flight into a treasure trove of fun.
9. Go for walks regularly on the plane with your child
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 from the other passengers.
This is essential when flying with a toddler. They do find it challenging to keep still.
If you’re traveling on a long-haul flight, this is especially important.
10. Have quiet cctivities to occupy your children on the plane
If you want to keep your kids quiet, prepare some quiet activities for them to do. You can’t go wrong with coloring books and pencils.
Pack a couple of their favorite story books for quiet reading. Kids will love these quiet activities on a plane.
11. Ask for help on the plane when flying with children
If you are struggling flying with your children and need a break, ask the cabin crew for help.
They are usually wonderful at helping parents with their kids and may even be able to give you a break. Some even have packs of coloring or activities for the kids to do.
This is so important when flying with an infant – who doesn’t want a cuddle of a baby?
12. Take snacks on board the plane
Every airline and flight is different now in regards to what food is supplied, so don’t leave it to chance and pack your child’s favorite snacks.
Take plenty of food and water with you on the plane, just in case. When flying with an infant you can take their formula, breast milk, puree pouches, water and any required food with you on the plane.
13. Entertain your kids on the plane with a movie marathon
Kalyra loves watching Disney movies on the plane and she does for most of the flight.
Usually, we try to limit the screen time, but on a plane the entertainment system is all they have – so go for it.
Allow your children to watch a lot of movies. It will get them excited about flying and they will associate the plane as the time they can watch cartoons for hours – it sure works for me!
If you have an iPad, have a few movies downloaded ready for in-flight entertainment. Remember to bring comfortable headphones.
14. Entertain your kids on the plane with games
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 with me and the kids. You can also do this if you have an iPad.
15. Help your toddler get settled to have a sleep
At some point on the flight, your kids are going to get tired from all the excitement and they will need to have nap times.
Let them lie on your lap, put the pillow down for them, and snuggle them up in the blanket.
You can also purchase one of these simple and effective inflatable foot rests on Amazon, which extends the seat and gives toddlers room to lie down on the seat.
Do whatever you can to help your kids sleep on the plane; trust me you will appreciate those couple hours of rest time yourself.
Keep to your infant and toddler’s regular bedtime routines as much as you can: dress them in their pajamas and have their favorite bear with them for snuggles.
16. Have your child sit in the middle on the plane
While your kids may want the window seat, try to get them to sit in the middle seat, even if it’s just after take off.
If you’ve ever seen Flight Plan the movie, then you’ll know why I am recommending you seat your child in the middle on the plane.
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 seat without you! It will also stop them from being knocked by people walking by.
17. Help their ears equalize on landing
Babies have not yet developed the ability to equalize their eardrums naturally, and so they need a little help with this.
If you have ever felt this pressure on your ears before then you’ll know why so many babies scream during landing.
A good way to do this is to either breastfeed/feed your baby or have them suck on a dummy.
For older children let them chow down on chewy food, gum, or suck on a sucky sweet. The constant swallowing will help them equalize and avoid the uncomfortable feeling.
18. Comfort your child on the plane
It’s easy to get stressed when your child is throwing tantrums, especially in a confined space like a plane.
A cuddle and a few calming words or hushed lullabies does wonders for comforting your child on the plane.
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.
19. Give them their own seat
Children under 2 don’t need to have their own seat, but if the price of the ticket isn’t too expensive, give them their own seat.
This also gives you a break from having them on your lap for hours, which let’s be honest, isn’t comfortable for you either.
Also, you need to have two adults flying to have a lap child, so you’ll have to take it in turns having the little one on your laps which can be unsettling for the child who has to keep moving.
20. Check their car seat is airline approved
When you’re packing baby carriers, umbrella strollers or car seats, you will need to check with the airline whether you can take them on the airplane.
Some airports offer travel strollers for getting around the airport, but you cannot take them on the plane.
The regulations for this are always different so it’s important you check.
21. Pack plenty of toiletries
Pack more diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need, as you may experience delays in the airport or queuing for passport control.
Remember there is still a restriction on liquids, 10 x 100ml bottles per person, so try to carry baby wipes over anything liquid. You will need those liquid allowances for formula and juices.
I also recommend you carry some plastic bags to throw your trash out, and bring a spare change of clothes just in case.
Oh an be sure to visit the restroom before you board the plane!
Video of Flying With Kids
Now for the reality of flying with a toddler! Here’s a video of our flight with the kids to Thailand with Air Asia X.
More tips for traveling with kids
Need more tips for traveling with kids? Here are some other helpful resources…
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What are your tips for flying with kids? Let us know in the comments!
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