How to do air travel with kids (and no stress)
Many parents dread the thought of flying with young children. But it doesn’t need to send shivers down your spine. With a bit of planning and preparation, everyone can enjoy a stress-free flight.
Flying is considered the fastest and most comfortable way to get to your holiday destination. And while we might not be able to reach those long-haul dream spots right now, a change of scenery, whether in your own country or abroad, can provide well-deserved R&R for the whole family.
But when it comes to planning a trip after you’ve started a family, many parents are hesitant to fly. They imagine the horror of screaming children, changing nappies in a tiny bathroom and irritating other passengers with their noisy tots’ feet kicking the back of the seat in front.
Not worth it, right? Well, that’s not necessarily true…
We’ve put together a list of the best tips for flying with kids, which will hopefully help you avoid the tuts and sighs (and the chaos that is popping ears upon landing) and instead leave you feeling ready to kick-off your holiday fun.
Note: Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, travel could be affected. Remember to check current travel restrictions before booking your trip. Take a look at our tips on travelling during a pandemic.
When packing for a plane trip with kids, you need to think smart and practical.
Kids that are past the baby stage can carry their own hand baggage. Many travel stores sell mini suitcases on wheels so little ones can hop on and happily scoot themselves to the boarding gate.
Make sure you pack a book or two, toys, their favourite stuffed animal and a few surprises for the journey. Bring things that can be used to make the time pass more quickly like games you can play together or a colouring book. Downloading a few films on a laptop, phone or tablet is also a great idea and will entertain restless kids for hours on end.
When it comes to babies, we recommend packing everything you’ll need during the flight so it can be accessed easily. In other words, nappies, wet wipes, a comfort toy, dummy, small blanket, extra set of clothes and saline nasal spray should be packed in your hand baggage, so you can get to them quickly. Bags with lots of different compartments are ideal.
An emergency change of clothes is always a good idea. Even children who have been potty trained for a while can have accidents, and at least you won’t have to worry if the seat belt light is on for longer than usual.
Don’t forget to make sure you have everything you need, too. The last thing you want is to remember to pack your toddler’s third favourite Lego figure but not your own passport.
Try to follow the usual evening and bedtime routines
This is especially important if the flight is over a few hours. Children tend to behave better and relax more if you don’t make too many changes to their habits and routines.
This is particularly true when it comes to sleeping and bedtime rituals. If you’re flying at nighttime, bring pyjamas for your child to change into when it’s time to sleep, and go to the lavatory to brush teeth and wash up for bed.
If your child is used to a bedtime story, consider bringing his or her favourite book in your hand baggage to read it on board as the familiarity will help them wind down.
Create space and comfort
Planes are cramped, but it’s advisable to do everything possible to create some extra space for your little ones. Once the seat belt sign is off, raise the armrest between your seats, creating a feeling of a bigger area for them.
Roomy clothes and a blanket are both good ideas for long haul flights. Tight clothes are impractical for a long flight, and if your kid is uncomfortable, you definitely will be too.
Keep calm and carry on
Parents who are stressed end up with stressed and irritable kids. Even though it’s easier said than done, make every possible effort not to panic if your child starts to shriek and won’t stop.
Just wait until it’s over and remember that the majority of your fellow passengers will be sympathetic to your situation. After all, we were all crying babies once!
Bring plastic bags
There’s always waste to be thrown away when travelling, so it’s a good idea to bring a few clean, empty plastic bags (such as Ziploc bags) in your hand baggage, especially when travelling with small children. You also make it lots easier for the cabin crew when collecting rubbish.
Go for a walk
When travelling by plane, it’s particularly important that small children get to move around every so often. Sitting still for long periods of time gets boring, and it isn’t healthy either.
Walk down the aisle with your child occasionally, but don’t let them walk alone out of consideration for other passengers who may be sleeping.
Choose the right seat
There’s an art to choosing a seat when it comes to flying with kids.
First of all, make sure you’re not assigned a seat at the emergency exits since children are not allowed to sit there.
Some bulkhead seats can accommodate a Moses basket, which gives a restless baby a safe place to move around. Keep in mind that this also means you won’t have a seat in front of you to place your bag under, so you’ll have to remove your bag from the overhead compartment when you need something.
Another good option when flying with children is the seats at the back of the plane which are handily located in front of the toilets and galley.
It’s not a good idea to have small children sit in an aisle seat since the trolleys can bump into them. Give your child the window seat instead. Airlines require at least one adult per row with children due to oxygen mask use.
No time for boredom
Bored children are difficult children. So, if you’re travelling with young kids, you might want to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Super blogger and mother of two Joanna Goddard (‘A Cup of Jo’) has a few perfect tips:
You’ll need a large handbag or backpack
Fill it with everything you know you’ll need – and think you might need. We’re talking wet wipes, nappies, snacks (flights are not the best time to be strict about treats!), small toys, crayons, a notebook (for scribbling in) and a surprise.
Bring a new book
Almost all children love to be read to. A new book is a wonderful gift and can keep them engaged for a long time. Older kids love activity books, which makes the time fly by.
If your child is a little older, bring a heavy-duty puzzle book. This will both hold their interest and keep their minds active when the flight starts to become a little tedious for them.
Bring finger food
Raisins, dry cereal in a lunch box, cut-up fruit… The sky’s the limit.
Plane trips are the perfect time to use a tablet to watch a new film – or a favourite for the 100th time. It’s almost impossible to imagine a world before tablets and smartphones when parents had to entertain children without them…
There are plenty of apps and games available for children of all ages and interests. An absolute ‘must’.
Here are a few tips and games to keep the magic of flying alive:
- If you’re allowed to board before the other passengers, ask if your child can see the cockpit.
- If the skies are clear, you can look for houses, rivers, lakes and more on the ground.
- Play ‘Kim’s Game’ by having your child study six objects on the tray in front of them. Have them close their eyes while you remove an object. See if your child can figure out which object has been removed. Now it’s your turn to guess.
- When the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign is switched off, you can give your child a few extra pillows to sit on for added height. This gives him or her a better view of the plane and everyone on board.
- Have a look at the map in the airline magazine and show your children which route you are flying.
Essential items to pack in your carry-on bag:
- Eye mask
- Chewing gum or chewy sweets (for un-popping clogged ears)
- Wet wipes (for spills, sticky fingers and everything else)
- Antibacterial gel
- Audiobook or music
- Small bottles of moisturiser and face mist (skin dries out easily on planes)
- Snacks like nuts, dried fruit and water
- Tablet or smartphone
- Stickers and crayons
- Pen (to fill out entry forms, do crosswords, etc.)
- Toothbrush and toothpaste for nighttime flights