Survival Tips for Flying with Children

Open SeatingIn Tips for Air Travel with Babies and Young Children, I shared some helpful tips & tricks for making it through the airport in one piece. But getting to your gate is only half the battle.

Once you board your flight & do a quick headcount, take a deep breath and give yourself a pat on the back. Next, take a deep breath and give yourself a pep talk. You’ve officially become your child’s in-flight entertainment for the duration of your flight.

Gone are the days of casually flipping through the airline magazine, drowning out other people’s annoying kids with your favorite iTunes, or catching a few z’s. You’ll be lucky to get a moment’s rest. If you do, rest assured you’ll have a drooling child sprawled across your lap, putting your arm & leg to sleep.

Prior to Take-off

Hopefully you took advantage of pre-boarding and got on the plane first. You’ll need every precious second to stow the mountain of crap gear you carried on.

Get Situated

Put anything you won’t need in the overhead bin, but keep your child’s favorite toy, animal, or blanket easily accessible. Otherwise you won’t be able to get it until the fasten seatbelt sign goes off.

You don’t want to be that parent whose precious child is screaming at the top of her lungs from taxi to cruising altitude. It’s also a good idea to keep your diaper bag under your seat so you can easily grab wipes, diapers, bottles, and snacks.


Last-Minute Potty Run

If you’re traveling with potty-trained toddlers or young children, make one last potty run. You don’t want to risk an accident or suffer the embarrassment of having your child loudly announce to the entire cabin, ‘If you don’t take me to the bathroom right now, I’m gonna pee my pants.’

(Side note: I actually did this to my parents, but we weren’t on a plane. It was much worse. We were in a jam-packed cathedral on Christmas Eve. Oops!)

Before take-off there’s even a slim chance the bathroom will be somewhat clean. By the way, give up any hope of making it out without your child touching something that triggers your gag reflex. Not gonna happen! Pack some hand sanitizer in your carry on and apply generously upon returning to your seat.

If you’re traveling with an infant, most larger planes have changing tables in the bathrooms, but it’s easier to lay your child across two seats for quick changes. If it’s a nasty diaper, spare your fellow passengers and head to the bathroom!

During Take-off

Once the cabin doors close, you’ll need to have your infant-in-arms passenger in your lap. Buckle your seat belt and settle her on top. Your child should not be buckled in with you.

LollipopIf you’re traveling with an infant, the best way to equalize pressure during take-off and landing is to give her something to suck on. Stick a boob or bottle in her mouth, and you probably won’t hear a peep.

The first time we flew with Bean, she was still nursing. I started feeding her during the lengthy taxi, and she promptly fell asleep and took a nap for the first hour of the flight. The combination of a full belly and jet engine white noise made for one sleepy baby!

For older children, a lollipop or piece of gum is an easy way to keep them occupied and relieve the pressure in their ears.

In-Flight Entertainment

Once the wheels are up, the real fun begins. You know how difficult it is to keep your child entertained in your house, where they can freely roam and play with any one of a billion toys? Keeping your child entertained on a long flight is a gazillion times harder.

It won’t be hard in the beginning. Your child will be mesmerized by the flight itself. Things like the seat pocket instruction card will be highly entertaining, and playing peek-a-boo with the cute grandparents behind you will keep them busy for at least 5 minutes. But if you’re on a cross-country or international flight, you’ve got time to kill.

The Answer: SNACKS! And lots of ‘em!

Pack provisions! When we flew to Hawaii, we made sure we packed a metric ton of snacks for the girls. It takes a while for the drink cart to make the rounds, so pack your own chow. However, don’t underestimate the power of stale airline peanuts & pretzels to make your child ridiculously happy!

If you’re traveling with a toddler, bring juice or milk, unless you’re ok with your child drinking CranApple, which is approximately 400% sugar and 0.0001% juice.

Doling out snacks over the duration of your flight is an easy and sure-fire way to keep your child occupied, and, more importantly, quiet. In between snacks, the following distractions also work:

  • If you’ve got a window seat, point out interesting topography. Seeing the stars above and lights below is a fascinating nighttime activity.
  • On longer flights, take advantage of the children’s games and puzzles on the in-seat screens. The flight map is also fun for little ones and an easy geography lesson.
  • Pack a few of your child’s favorite books for story time.
  • Travel-size magna doodle – best invention EVER!
  • Take a stroll up and down the aisles. Visit the flight attendant station in the back of the plane. You might even score some extra snacks!
  • Go to the bathroom. Again. When we went to Hawaii for the first time, Bean was potty training. We went to the bathroom at least 700 times on the flight from LA to Kona. Disgusting, yes. Entertaining, even more so!
  • When all else fails, pull out another snack. Food coma = in-flight nap!

Just remember, traveling with your children is worth all of the challenges en route. Once you reach your final destination, you’ll be rewarded for your herculean efforts with priceless memories.


Airplane seating photo By: Robert S. Donovan

32 thoughts on “Survival Tips for Flying with Children

    • I usually get an aisle seat so I can get up and move around, but when there’s an empty seat, I move over to the window. I love to watch the twinkling lights below on evening flights!

  1. Pingback: Come Fly the (Kid)Friendly Skies - One Trailing Spouse

    • Thanks Kris. Even with older kids, snacks are KEY! Don’t want those teenage boys to get antsy on the plane because they’ve eaten through the entire supply of peanuts & pretzels!

    • I’m sure Trailing Baby will behave beautifully for you! Traveling when babies are really young is great because they can sleep through just about anything! We took Bean on her first road trip at four weeks. We got a flat tire and had to pull off the road, unload the entire contents of the car to get the spare, change the tire, and then drive to a tire place. She slept the entire time! Wish I could say the same for the dog! We had to take him out of the car so we could unload the back, and he was totally freaked out by all of the semis zooming past. Once we got back into the car, he climbed over the back seat, past Bean’s car seat, and into the front seat. I rode to the tire store with a shaking, whimpering, 65-pound dog in my lap. And Bean still didn’t make a peep!

  2. You are brave to fly with those girls, however, I think it might be easier than a long car trip. Of course in a car you can always stop and let the little ones run off some energy. I am sure that you remember the time when your sister threw up in the car on the way to a wedding and we had to drive for miles with the stinch! Lovely!
    Yes, I will never forget the incident at the cathedral, especially since the only bathroom was in the front of the church which meant that everyone saw the little one that had made such a fuss about going to the bathroom.
    Hope your vacation flight is good this summer!

    • I don’t remember little sister puking in the car. Guess I blocked that memory out! I do remember a VERY long car ride to Buffalo, NY after we moved to GA. Three kids and the dog in the backseat makes for a long trip! I also remember trips in the old station wagon and looking out the back window at night. I think that would make me carsick now, but I remember loving it as a kid!

  3. Great points. Knowing your child’s personality helps, too and being open to the fact that it can change due to the environment is key, too.

    We love flying with Susanna, as she is usually a ticket to getting off of the plane faster. Why? She smiles at everyone around, becomes a point of cute conversation, and then people (so far) have let us exit before them. It all balances out when we’re collecting the stroller, but it’s a reminder of the graciousness of people too.
    Wendy @ New Moms Talk recently posted…We’re moving!My Profile

    • Overall we’ve found that other travelers are very tolerant and supportive of parents flying with young children. Perhaps they’ve been there, done that, but you’re absolutely right that people are gracious and kind. Love your advice to be flexible and understand your child’s mood can change quickly, depending on the environment/circumstances. So true!

  4. I concur with all of that! We took our kids to Australia when they were 5 and 9…I was pretty terrified, honestly, of that looong flight and how they’d do. Thankfully, neither has ever had a handheld device (DS, etc) so we borrowed some from friends and that helped immensely. They also watched movies, read, and slept. It was the one and only time I’ve given either of them Benadryl to help sleep, and even then it was my youngest b/c she was the one most concerned with!
    misszippy recently posted…MAF test #2–wow!My Profile

    • Wow, Australia. That is a LONG flight! Love that you limited your children’s exposure to handheld devices and saved them for the trip. I’m sure the novelty kept them captivated for longer than if they’d always had them. Our daughter, who turns 4 in September, has never watched a DVD in the car, despite regular 5+ hour car trips to see the grandparents. We want to hold off as long as possible, and right now she’s perfectly happy coloring, scribbling on her Magna Doodle, and ‘reading’ books. My biggest concern with Benadryl is that it would have the opposite effect on our youngest and make her even crazier than usual!

  5. Great tips! Made me laugh. Also enjoyed your other posts about air travel. We’re past this stage now, thank goodness, but flew cross country when our children were 4, 2, and 4 months old. We needed my in-laws to help with all of the extra stuff- strollers, car seats, etc. Whew. Glad those days are over!
    Julia Tomiak recently posted…Vocabulary to Inflame You: BallisticMy Profile

    • Isn’t it amazing how much extra stuff little ones require?! We’ve traveled a few times with Grandma and Grandpa and having the extra set of hands (and laps) is a huge help! When we’ve flown by ourselves, the flight attendants have been amazing! On our last trip, one of the flight attendants whisked away the baby for a few minutes, which was an awesome break for us!

    • That’s an awesome tip and great advice Ashley! When I travel for business, I always remind myself that no matter how worked up I get about flight delays, missed connections, or other issues, it won’t make a lick of difference. Best just to take a deep breath, treat EVERY airline employee with the utmost respect, and try to relax. Having said that, it’s infinitely harder when you’ve got an unhappy baby and toddler with you!

    • Yes, bringing along little surprises is a great idea and stickers are perfect because they don’t take up any space! When my SIL took our nephew (2 at the time) to Hawaii, she bought a bunch of little toys at the $1 store and wrapped them up like little presents. She doled them out over the course of the long flight to keep him occupied.

  6. loved this post! i love your last two sentences and that picture. my dad prefers to sit near the little kids / crying babies because (paraphrased) “we were once those parents, sweating it out and hoping our little kids behaved. . i know what the parents are going through and how nervous they are. i don’t mind at all and i’d rather it be me that sits near them then someone who might not understand.”
    Caitlyn @ City and the Cubicle recently posted…The Numbers GameMy Profile

    • Your dad totally ROCKS! And I love that picture of Bean too. There’s nothing more magical than watching your child on the beach. Make it a beach in Hawaii, and it’s downright heavenly!

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