Are you planning a family trip and looking for tips for flying with toddlers and young kids? First, let me put you at ease: flying is fun and kids love it! It may not always be the case for the parents or fellow passengers though. Just kidding!
Flying with toddlers and young children is really nothing to worry about. But it sure helps to prepare a bit in advance. Find out!
Flying with Kids – Our Experience
As traveling parents of three boys (twins and their 2 years older brother), we have quite some experience when it comes to flying with infants, toddlers, and older kids. We always travel with all our children together and they have been flying with us ever since they were born.
We’ve taken the kids on so many flights that it’s inevitable that sometimes things went differently than expected. We had to deal with delays or canceled flights, endless taxiing at the airport, etc.
Just like you, we were also anxious about flying with young kids. Especially the first time we flew to South Africa with all three of our children together (they were just 2, 2, and 4 years old at that time), or when we traveled to Australia and had 3 connecting flights with over 28 hours of total travel time…
We learned a lot…
We also found that flying with toddlers is by far the most challenging period. Flying with a baby or a school-going child is really much easier. So in this article, we will mostly focus on tips for flying with toddlers.
Needless to say, most of these air travel tips will apply for kids of any age. Further below, you can find our no-nonsense advice and simple tips for flying with kids. But first – some observations based on our personal experience when flying with kids.
Is Flying with Toddlers That Bad?
To tell you the truth, we never actually had a very bad experience when flying with toddlers. Yes, there were moments when they cried, and yes, there were moments when they wanted to go for a walk when the seatbelt sign was on… But there is always a way to deal with it.
In fact, we find flying with kids the easy part of the trip. For example, driving with toddlers in a car can be much more stressful.
First of all, when flying with kids, you don’t have to drive, keep your eyes on the road, or stay alert the whole time. So you can devote all your attention to your children and keep them entertained. And you should definitely do that!
Kids need attention and will usually behave perfectly well if they get enough positive attention. Don’t board the plane expecting to watch two movies, read a book, or to sleep. If you are lucky, you might find the time for all of the above, but it will be much less frustrating if you keep your expectations low.
If there is one thing that I learned during the years, is that you have to learn to go with the flow and adapt to the situation. You can never be prepared for everything, so you just have to make the best of whatever situation you find yourself in.
Having said all that, good preparation is essential when flying with kids! I hope that our tips below will help you have a smooth flight with your children. Take a look!
1. Book Direct Flights & Minimize Stopovers
Preparation for smooth flying with kids starts before you book a flight. The most important tip I can give you when flying with toddlers is to book direct flights whenever possible.
Some people will advise you to book stopovers for long-haul flights so that the kids can move at the airport, but I would never agree with that. When it comes to flying with kids, less is more.
One long flight means that you and your kids get a good chance to sleep. And before you know it it’s over. When flying with kids, spare yourself the nightmare of layovers, delays, lost luggage, multiple takeoffs, and landings. You will be grateful you did!
2. Fly at Night or in the Middle of the Day
For long-haul flights with toddlers or kids of any age for that matter, I would advise to always fly at night. Chances are high that your kids will sleep during pretty much the entire flight, or at least half of it. Alternatively, just try to imagine having to entertain a toddler on a 10-hour flight during the day…
Getting some sleep on a flight and arriving at your destination well-rested will help you deal with jetlag easier as well.
For shorter flights, try to book a flight in the middle of the day. That way you don’t have to wake up too early and will arrive at your destination before kids’ bedtime.
We always try to avoid flights that leave early in the morning or arrive late in the evening. Not only the children will be tired, but you yourself will be exhausted as well. The disadvantage of flying in the middle of the day, however, is that you lose a day of your vacation. But it sure is easier to fly with kids when they are not exhausted.
3. Reserve Your Seats in Advance
When flying with toddlers, try to always reserve your seats in advance if possible. That way you not only make sure that the whole family sits together, but also have more choice as to where you sit.
TIP: If you are flying with one child, you could risk reserving a window seat and an aisle seat, leaving the middle seat empty. If the plane isn’t full, it’s very likely that the seat in the middle will remain empty, giving you more space. And if somebody will have the middle seat assigned, you can be certain that they’ll gladly swap it with you anyway.
4. Reserve Kids’ Meals in Advance
Kids’ meals on the plane aren’t always a big success with our kids. Yet there is one big advantage in reserving kids’ meals, especially when flying with toddlers who need your help when eating. It’s because special meals are always served in advance, before the regular meals.
Reserving kids’ meals in advance means that your kids will get their food long before you do. So you can easily help them eat and then enjoy your own meal afterwards.
TIP: You can reserve kids’ meals on the website of your airline. In most cases, you’ll need your booking number and family name in order to access your booking. If you can’t find it online, you can always call an airline.
5. Explain to Your Children What to Expect at the Airport and during the Flight
You can’t explain much to a baby, but toddlers are old enough to understand a few basic rules about flying. So talk to them! Prepare them for the flight in advance by explaining what they can expect during the trip.
Tell them how to behave at the airport, at the security check, during takeoff and landing. They may not remember everything, but it’s easier to remind them of something you talked about than having to explain it when you find yourself in a difficult situation.
Some procedures may seem obvious to you, but kids will obey the rules better if they know what those rules are.
6. Tire the Kids before Boarding the Plane
This tip is essential when flying with toddlers. They just have so much energy, don’t they?!
If you want your children to be quiet on a plane, tire them out. Give them a chance to get rid of their energy before you board. Airport play areas are perfect for this, so find one and stay there as long as you can.
Don’t despair if the airport is less child-friendly; there are plenty of other opportunities to move around before you board. Just don’t try to keep the kids quiet in a chair at the gate or board the plane as soon as the gate opens. On the contrary – encourage the kids to move around until the very last boarding call.
7. Don’t Forget the Bathroom Stops
Kids always need to go to the bathroom at the most inconvenient moments. When flying, it’s often simply not possible. Just think of long lines at the airport security check, takeoff or landing…
So be proactive when it comes to using a bathroom and make sure that your kids use the bathroom before you go to the security before you board the plane and 20-30 minutes before landing. That way you don’t have to deal with ‘I really need to go NOW’ during takeoff or landing.
When flying with toddlers, it’s probably a good idea to let them wear diapers on the plane, just in case.
8. Pack the Essentials
When flying with babies or toddlers, you really have to make sure that you pack the essentials. Here are the things that I find the most important not to forget when flying with toddlers: diapers (even if they don’t use them at home anymore), wet napkins, formula or any special food they require, pacifier (if they still use it), 1 favorite toy, and a set of extra clothes.
TIP: Foresee enough diapers and formula to get you through at least two-three times the duration of the planned flight (think delays, little accidents).
When flying with a baby or a toddler that you’re still nursing, remember that the best time to nurse is during takeoff or landing. Sucking will help them deal with the changing pressure and will keep them quiet in their seats.
9. Travel Light
One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make when flying with toddlers and young children is packing too much.
First, don’t take too much hand luggage and keep your hands free. You’ll need them to hold your kids’ hands or push the stroller. A backpack is probably the best hand luggage when flying with toddlers.
A stroller is just indispensable when flying with a toddler. Make sure to pick one that is sturdy, compact, and easy to fold. From our personal experience, I can highly recommend Maclaren strollers.
We hardly ever take any toys with us on a plane. Usually we only pack one teddy per child (the one they sleep with). In our experience, children quickly get bored with familiar toys. On top of that, it’s very easy to lose a toy on a plane and you will often need your best athletic skills trying to find it back. Your child will be upset, you will get frustrated, and your friendly co-passengers will get irritated after having to pick up the same toy for the third time in five minutes.
Consider this: An infant will be more interested in a paper cup or a spoon than in a teddy bear which takes half of your carry-on luggage space. Toddlers or preschoolers can keep themselves busy for hours with just a sheet of paper and a pen. Older children can read a book, watch a movie, or listen to music.
Most airlines also foresee some freebies for the children, so be sure to ask for those. No matter how trivial a ‘present’ might be, kids usually love anything that’s new.
If you are still not convinced and feel that you just have to take some toys for your peace of mind, go ahead and pack some. Just be considerate to others and leave all the musical and noise-making toys at home.
10. Pack the Right Things
There are four things that I consider a must to pack when flying with toddlers: paper & activity books, twistable crayons, thick socks, and a digital tablet.
Drawing has proven to be the best way to keep our kids busy and quiet not only at the airport or on a plane but also at the restaurants or in a hotel room. Twistable crayons are practically indestructible and toddlers love them. Age-appropriate activity books for kids are also a great investment when flying with children.
Make sure to also pack thick socks for your kids (and yourself) to wear on the plane. That way you can take off your shoes and forget about them for the rest of the flight. It will be so much more comfortable for your toddler – their feet will be warm, they can walk around without getting the good socks dirty, and it won’t hurt that much when they kick someone or something by accident.
When everything else fails, screen always does wonders with kids. On longer flights, you will have inflight entertainment, also for toddlers. But the magic of a tablet will save you not only on a plane but on many other occasions as well (e.g. at the airport or at a restaurant). Don’t use a tablet from the start or it will use its appeal. But keep it charged and in your hand luggage for emergencies. It can help you keep your sanity when flying with toddlers.
TIP: For more tips for packing when flying with kids, please read our complete guide on what to pack for kids on the plane.
11. Snacks & Lollipops
Snacks make for great bribes and rewards to get the kids through the most difficult phases of the trip. For example, they can eat an apple after the airport security check, or maybe get some candy when the plane takes off.
We often promise our kids a lollipop as a reward for good behavior towards the end of the flight. Lollipops have several advantages. First, it’s a good incentive for the kids to look forward to. Second, they are small to pack and hard, so they won’t get crushed in your baggage. And finally, sucking will help to minimize the effects of the changing air pressure on kids’ ears during landing.
TIP: Don’t be too strict on what kids may or may not eat or drink on a plane. You can deal with that at home. When flying with young children, you just need to get through the flight. So loosen up and your kids will do too.
No matter how long or short the flight is, always pack medication when flying with kids. As a minimum, we pack painkillers and nasal spray.
Nose drops can be used to reduce the pressure on the ears and a painkiller will help to deal with a sudden fever.
If traveling through multiple time zones to the other side of the world, consider melatonin pills. Not only for yourself but for the children as well. We used those on our flight to Australia and it did wonders. As far as I know, it’s the most efficient way to quickly adjust to a new time zone, and ideally, you start with it on a plane when it’s nighttime at your destination. As always, check with your doctor first.
13. Relax & Enjoy The Flight
When thinking of flying with kids, be considerate to other people, but mostly to your children. There will always be people who won’t be happy with kids on the plane, no matter what. Remember, smart people will understand.
Instead of worrying about other passengers, direct all your attention to your children. Play with your kids when they ask for it, leave them alone if they don’t need your attention, try to sleep when they sleep.
Before you know it, the flight will be over and forgotten and you will have a blast of a time at your destination.
Relax and have a good trip!
More tips for traveling with kids:
- Why travel with kids: 8 Benefits of Family Travel (That You Never Thought Of)
- Travel tips: Tips for Traveling with Kids
- Travel gear: Best Travel Gear for Kids
- Car seats: Best Travel Booster Seats
- Luggage: Best Travel Bags for Kids
- Shoes: Best Travel Shoes for Kids
- Books: Best Travel Books for Kids
- Gifts: Travel Gifts for Kids (That They Will Actually Use)
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