There are plenty of air travel hacks you can use to make your flight less stressful, but flying with kids is a whole different ball game.
If you’re traveling with kids, a perfectly smooth flight is probably just a pipe dream. But these tips for flying on a plane with kids, babies, and toddlers will help you stay sane, avoid disasters, and minimize your travel stress load:
1. Book your flight around your kids’ schedules.
If your little ones usually take a nap after lunch, schedule your flight for 1 or 2 pm so they can sleep on the plane.
If you can’t book a flight during nap time, try tiring the kids out with fun activities before your flight. Some airports have activity centers and playgrounds. If you can’t find one, try bringing the kids to an empty gate in your terminal and let them run around for a bit.
2. Fly with a family-friendly airline.
Not all airlines make flying with kids easy. Try to book your flight with an airline that has kid-friendly features like pre-boarding with strollers, discounted child fares, meals for kids and babies, WiFi, nursing accommodations, and changing tables onboard.
These airlines tend to have the most kid-friendly features:
- Alaska Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- United Airlines
- American Airlines
3. If you’re worried about motion sickness, sit toward the front of the plane.
If it’s your first time flying with kids, it’s hard to predict how your kids will react to it. One of the most important things to know is that the ride is bumpier in the back of the plane.
If you’re worried your kids might get motion sickness, try to book seats toward the front of the plane. You’ll give yourself an extra layer of protection against crying, spit-ups, and other messes motion sickness may cause.
4. Plan your packing list well in advance.
Being fully prepared is the key to flying with kids — and that doesn’t mean scrambling around the night before to gather all the life-saving items you’ll need. I tend to wait until the last minute to pack my suitcase and carry-on, which has never done me any good (not even once)!
Write up a packing list at least one week before you take off. This way you can use your checklist to ensure everything is packed and ready to go the night before, rather than frantically searching for the items you need at the last minute.
Here’s a basic list of what to pack before a flight with kids:
- A Comfort item. Pack something that brings your kids a sense of security, like a pacifier, blankey, or stuffed animal.
- Hand sanitizer, wipes, diapers, and pull-ups. Packing one diaper per hour of travel is the best way to make sure you don’t run out.
- Smartphones & Tablets. Make sure your devices are fully charged and loaded with your kids’ favorite movies or TV shows.
- Kid-Size Headphones. You don’t need to spend a ton on AirPods. You can find cheap headphones and earbuds for kids at the dollar store.
- Art Supplies. Pack crayons, paper, or coloring books for easy entertainment.
- Plastic Bags: You’ll have plenty of trash by the end of your flight (trust me).
- Empty Sippy Cups. Fill them up with water or juice once you get past security.
- Face Masks: Don’t forget to pack adult and child-size masks. Right now, all airports require kids ages two and older to wear masks. Look for masks that fit snugly but can be adjusted around the ear loops. Old Navy has a great variety 5-pack of triple-layer kids’ face masks for just $12.50.
- Protein-packed snacks: Cheerios, pretzels, crackers, nuts, string cheese, and granola bars are great options. Avoid overly-greasy snacks that cause indigestion. Instead, go for energy-packed and protein-rich snacks.
5. Book a seat for toddlers and babies.
Lots of parents choose to fly with their baby or toddler on their lap, but pilots and flight attendants say it’s more dangerous than people think.
If there’s unexpected turbulence or the plane suddenly decelerates, there’s a good chance you’ll lose grasp of your child. This can cause serious injury, especially for babies who aren’t fully developed yet.
The best way to travel with toddlers or babies is to book them their own seat and bring an FAA-approved car seat on board with you. It might not be the cheapest option, but it’s certainly the safest.
See all the best car seat deals.
6. Fill a binder with printable games, coloring pages, and other activities for kids to do on the plane.
There are thousands of kid-friendly printables you can get off Pinterest, mommy blogs, or other sites for free. Grab a binder at the drugstore and fill it with pages of printable word searches, learning games, and black-and-white images for coloring.
TotSchooling.net has 100+ free printables for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners.
These will keep kids busy for the entire flight and more!
7. Pack a change of clothes for yourself.
Everyone remembers to pack extra clothes for the baby. But when there’s a spill, diaper, or spit-up accident, there’s no guessing where the mess will go. The last thing you want is to spend the rest of your flight covered in smelly, stained clothing.
Keep an extra pair of clothes in your carry-on or diaper bag so you can easily access them if disaster calls.
8. Bring copies of birth certificates to the airport.
If your kids are still young, chances are they don’t have a valid driver’s license, because well, why would they?
But as security measures get stricter, TSA agents may ask you to show some form of identification for your kids. This won’t always be the case, but it HAS happened to people before. So bring their birth certificates to cover your bases and prevent major delays at the airport.
9. Save snacks and games until after the plane takes off.
Most parents try to distract their kids with movies, snacks, and games before the plane even leaves the gate. But flying on a plane (especially for the first time) can be a super cool experience for kids.
Let them feel the excitement of taking off before you aim to entertain. Once you’re in the air and there’s not much left to see, whip out the fun stuff for the rest of your flight.
10. Relieve ear pressure on the plane with lollipops.
I remember how awful it was the first time my ears popped on a plane. I was five and thoroughly displeased with the new uncomfortable experience.
The act of sucking on hard candy or lollipops helps relieve some of that pressure in your little ones’ ears. This will be especially helpful during takeoff and landing (when your ears pop the most due to changing elevation and air pressure).
For babies and toddlers, a pacifier works just as well to ease the in-flight ear pressure.
11. Surprise kids with a new toy once you’re airborne.
It’s safe to say kids love surprises — and the overall experience of unwrapping presents. Plus, new toys are WAY more appealing than toys they’ve had for a while.
Wait until your flight is in full swing before announcing the surprise. They’ll be shocked, enthused, and totally rid of boredom for quite some time.
12. Keep your kids occupied on the plane with gel window clings.
If your kids are sitting in a window seat, bring a pack of these squishy, stick-on shapes for them to play with. You can buy window clings at the dollar store for close to nothing.
13. Pack an inflatable beach ball to make layovers fun for kids.
Layovers aren’t usually described as “fun,” but if a connecting flight is necessary, why not make the most of it?
Pack a deflated beach ball in your bag and blow it up for longer wait times. You’ll want to avoid crowded areas at the airport, so taking the kids to an empty gate in your terminal is the best way to have undisturbed fun (without disturbing anyone else).
14. Dress kids in pajamas as a cue for bedtime.
Your kids probably have some sort of nighttime routine that involves brushing teeth, storytime, and changing into their jammies.
Since kids associate these things with bedtime, dressing them in pajamas may make it easier for them to fall asleep on the plane.
15. Bring glow sticks for light that won’t wake the kids (or anyone else around you).
When your kids finally fall asleep on the plane, you’ll do anything to keep them that way.
Glow sticks are a great way to avoid fumbling around in your bag without turning on the much-too-bright light overhead. Grab a pack of glow sticks at the dollar store and crack them before your flight. Then, throw one in each bag you carry onboard.
You’ll have just enough light to see inside your bags without disturbing the peace and quiet around you.