Top Tips for Flying with Children: Essential Advice for Stress-Free Travel

Key takeaways

  • Flying with kids can be stressful – but there are plenty of things you can do to help you have an easier, more comfortable flight.
  • Book flights that coincide with your kids’ naptimes, and choose a child-friendly airline for a smoother journey.
  • When it comes to navigating the airport, leave yourself plenty of time, and explain to your kids in advance about security procedures.
  • Pack wisely, putting all of your essentials in your hand luggage. That includes plenty of snacks and games, toys and books to keep your little ones entertained.
  • Sucking or chewing can help to relieve the painful pressure on take off and landing, as can wearing earplugs
  • Whatever happens, try not to stress out too much. You’ve got this!

Whether it’s your first family holiday or you’ve taken to the skies several times, flying with kids always has its challenges. From sore ears to crying babies, it can be a stressful time for both you and your little ones.

But, luckily, there are ways to make it easier. Whether you’re taking a short or long haul flight, our tips for flying with children should help to make it an easier, more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Pre-flight preparation

Proper planning is the secret sauce when it comes to stress-free flying. It’s not a case of simply turning up at the airport and hoping for the best. No, for the best chance of success when flying with kids, you’ll want to plan early and book flights strategically.

Fly direct if you can

It all depends on where you’re flying to and from. Direct flights might not be an option for you. But if they are – seize the opportunity! This is one of our top tips for traveling with infants as the more you can minimize faff, the better. 

Direct flights are usually more expensive, but they do mean there’s less stress about delayed flights and making your connection. Trying to arrange new flights with little ones in tow is stress you could do without.

Choose your flight times wisely

Again, you don’t always have a choice about this one. But if you do have the luxury of several flight times to choose from, opt for one that falls over your kids’ nap times. 

It will be much easier for them to get to sleep – and stay asleep. And the longer your little one sleeps on the flight, the better the experience will be for everyone!

Reserve your seats in advance

Depending on your airline, you may be automatically assigned seats together, or you may have to pay extra to book seats – or run the risk of being randomly assigned seats at opposite ends of the plane.

It’s best if you’re sitting together as a family, so it’s always a good idea to reserve seats in advance. Otherwise, you’re relying on the kindness of strangers to swap seats with you. You might have to pay a little extra, but it’ll be worth it. 

The bulkhead seats tend to be a good option for families. It’s at the front of the plane and usually offers a little more legroom than other rows, meaning you can all stretch out more. There’s also no seats in front of you, so you don’t need to worry about the kids annoying the passengers in front.

However, it’s worth checking the rules for your specific airline, as some don’t allow hand luggage to be stored at your feet in the bulkhead seats. That means you’d have to put all bags in the overhead locker, which isn’t so convenient when someone wants a snack every ten minutes. 

Seats near the toilets might also be a good idea, to save any emergency dashes down the aisle in the middle of your flight.

Choose child-friendly airlines

Some airlines are better when it comes to flying with children than others. Unfortunately, the ones that are the best are (unsurprisingly) the more expensive airlines. Research by online retailer Play Like Mum looked into the world’s biggest airlines and ranked them against the following factors:

  • Free seat reservations
  • Free checked luggage
  • Pre-boarding for families
  • No lap fees
  • Kids’ meals
  • Free kids’ entertainment
  • On-board bassinet or carrycot
  • Taking a pushchair for free

Of the twenty airlines surveyed, they found that British Airways and Emirates came out on top, while budget airlines didn’t offer as many child-friendly features. 

It’s worth thinking about what’s most important to you when flying with kids, whether it’s the cost, or the convenience of added extras. Then, once you’ve got a shortlist, book with an airline that meets your needs.

Pack wisely

Take your time when it comes to packing, to make sure that you have all the right things, in all the right bags.

Essential items to pack

Hopefully you’ve already got your checked luggage sorted out with enough clothes, shoes and toiletries for your trips. But don’t forget about your hand luggage, as this is where all your on-flight essentials will be. 

There are a few things you’ll want to pop in your backpack or carry-on case for the flight, including:

1. Games and activities

From crayons and coloring books to a tablet loaded up with movies, choose tried-and-tested favorites, as well as a couple of surprise items that are likely to keep your little ones entertained (for a little while, at least). Cuddly toys, card games and sticker books are all firm favorites that don’t take up too much space.

2. Clothing

Airplanes are never quite the right temperature, so bring lots of layers for your kids. It’s also a good idea to bring a spare set of clothes, especially if you’re traveling with babies – you never know when accidents might happen!

3. Snacks

Forget to bring snacks at your peril! A steady supply of your kids’ favorite snacks will help to keep them happy. Plus, chewing and sucking can help to relieve ear pain when taking off and landing, so make sure to pack some gummy sweets, chewing gum, boiled sweets or lollipops.

4. Blankets

If your little one has a favorite blanket that they like for nap times, bring it on board! Anything that helps to make a strange environment more familiar is a bonus.

5. Prescription medication

This one’s self-explanatory, but make sure to put any medication in your carry-on rather than checked luggage in case your luggage gets lost.

6. Baby essentials

If your child is in diapers, you’ll need to pack all of your changing kit, including diapers, changing mat and wipes. Always pack more diapers than you think you’ll need – just in case! And you’ll also need to bring your other baby and toddler essentials on board too, like food and formula.

7. Antibacterial wipes

From sticky hands to dirty tray tables, antibacterial wipes have multiple uses and don’t take up much space in your bag.

8. Earplugs

There’s a lot happening on planes, and if your little one experiences sensory overload, they might find it overwhelming. 

Plan ahead and pack some earplugs to help them block out some of the buzz that’s happening all around them. They can also be useful to relieve the pressure they’ll feel in their ears when taking off and landing.

9. Water bottle

It’s important to stay hydrated, and even more so on a flight. Don’t forget to bring reusable water bottles to fill up after you pass through security. It’ll save you a fortune as you won’t need to buy plastic bottles of water from the overpriced airport shops.

Pack efficiently

That’s a lot of stuff to pack, so you’re going to have to be smart about it.

Make two lists: one for things to pack in your checked luggage and one for your hand luggage, and make sure you tick the items off as you put them into your bags.

If you have older kids, you can let them take responsibility for carrying their own bag, and they can even help with packing, too. Letting them choose which toys to take along, for example, will get them excited for the flight, and they’ll love helping out.

If you’re traveling with a baby or toddler, you’ll need to put their items in your hand luggage – so it’s important to stay organized. Important documents can go into a plastic wallet to keep everything together, and you can get luggage cubes to keep everything else organized. Try putting all of your clothing in one section, snacks in another and so on, so it’s easy to find whatever you need.

Make getting through the airport a breeze

Sometimes, it’s not being on the plane that’s the most stressful part of flying with kids, but navigating the airport. 

1. Get to the airport early

If you’re traveling alone, you might rock up to the airport with minimal time to spare, and breeze through security. But things take a lot longer when you’ve got kids in tow. 

So, it’s best to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so you can check in your luggage, get through security, and have multiple bathroom breaks without any stress.

2. Prepare for security screening

Find out in advance what will happen during airport security, so you can be prepared. You’ll need to remove your liquids, so pack them all at the top of your hand luggage in a transparent plastic bag so you don’t need to go digging around in your bag to find them. You can take enough baby food, formula and milk for your journey (check the limits for your country before traveling), but you will need to remove them from your bag as well, so again, make sure that they’re not packed at the very bottom of your bag.

There are usually family lanes for airport security, meaning there’s more space for strollers and pushchairs. You’ll need to remove everything from the stroller so it can be checked by the security officers. Then, you’ll need to carry your little one through the metal detector, or if they’re able, they can walk through themselves.

It can all be a bit of a juggle if you’re traveling alone with kids, and this is where giving yourself plenty of time comes in handy. Don’t panic, take your time, and take a deep breath – you’ve got this!

3. Prepare your kids in advance

If you have toddlers or older kids, explain what happens at the airport in advance, so they know what to expect when going through security. Any toys or blankets will need to go in the tray to be scanned so it’s better to let them know about this ahead of time, rather than risking a tantrum in the line when their favorite blanket gets taken away from them.

4. Take advantage of early boarding

Usually, families get called up to board the plane first and it’s worth taking advantage of this. It means you can put your bags into the overhead lockers and get settled in your seats before other passengers board the plane.

Flying with kids: tips for a smooth flight

Once you’re on the plane, the aim of the game is keeping your children comfortable and entertained during the flight, however long it is.

This is where your bag packed full of snacks and entertainment comes into its own. Hopefully, you’ve packed enough to keep them occupied for the duration of the flight. Smartphones and tablets are a great way to keep your kids occupied, as you can download films and their favorite TV shows to watch offline, not to mention the huge number of games they can play.

However, it’s easy to get fatigued by too much screen time, so make sure you also have a supply of other entertainment sources, too, whether it’s sticker books, cuddly toys, card games or good old books.

Don’t forget to take a book or movie for you to watch, too. Your kids will fall asleep at some point (hopefully!), and you’ll get the opportunity for some sweet downtime. Either catch some shut-eye yourself, or enjoy the peace and quiet with a good book while you can.

Finally, remember to prepare for painful ears. The pressure when taking off and landing affects everyone differently, but if your little ones have never flown before, it’s best to be prepared for the worst. 

If you’re traveling with a baby, a bottle of milk or breastfeeding during take off and landing can help to alleviate the pressure, thanks to the sucking motion. For older kids, sucking on a boiled sweet, munching on a snack, or chewing gum can help.

1. Tantrums

Tantrums and kids. They go hand in hand – and they always seem to crop up at the worst times. So, if your little ones have a meltdown on the flight, don’t worry. You won’t be the first parent it’s happened to.

Firstly, don’t stress out. Flight attendants have seen it all before, and they’re here to help. So let them help you out – sometimes, we all need an extra pair of hands when it comes to kids. And don’t worry about dirty looks from other passengers. Focus on your child and their needs. You can always apologize to the other passengers later, if you think it’s needed.

Secondly, communicate openly with your kids to try to understand their needs. Remember, this is all new to them and they might be scared, anxious or upset. Letting them know what’s happening and what’s coming next may help to relieve their anxiety. 

Hopefully you’ll have a bag full of snacks and toys to help distract them. And if their usual toys don’t work, it can be a good idea to have a surprise new toy to divert their attention away from whatever’s causing the tantrum.

2. Motion sickness

Motion sickness can be more common in children aged 2-12 than in adults. If your little one gets sick in cars or on train journeys, then there’s a chance they might also get motion sickness during the flight.

Choosing seats over the wings can help to alleviate motion sickness, as they’ll feel fewer effects of turbulence there. You could also speak to your healthcare provider about medication for motion sickness if you anticipate it being a problem.

3. Restless behavior

It’s totally normal for kids to feel restless while flying, especially on long-haul flights. It can be boring as an adult, so why should it be any different for kids?

The trick here is to keep them engaged with interactive activities. Bring coloring books, puzzles and games to help keep them occupied. If your flight is during the daytime, then encourage short walks up and down the aisle. Burning some energy may help them to feel calmer, and they might even fall asleep for a while.

How to fly with kids, sorted

With proper planning and a positive mindset, flying with children doesn’t need to be such a chore. Sure, challenges might crop up, but maintaining the right attitude and seeking support when needed is sure to improve the experience – for both you and your kids.

There’s no need to stress about flying with kids. With a bagful of snacks and games, a little preparation to make your airport experience smoother, and a PMA, flying with kids can even be a rewarding experience.

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