Saturday, June 23, 2012

Traveling by airplane with kids - tips and tricks!

I awkwardly pulled my iPad out from under the airplane seat in front of me while trying not to spill the little plastic cup of water and bag of snacks precariously balanced on my tiny tray table. My son across the aisle from me whined, “Mommy, I’m hungry!”  My other son chimed in with, “I need to go to the bathroom!”  (and of course, the fasten seat belt sign was on - so getting up to go was not an option).
Meanwhile, my two youngest children sitting next to me were impatiently waiting to use the iPad.  I had already spent the last 40 minutes trying to explain to them that we had to wait until the airline staff said it was okay to use electronics.  They had already blown through the coloring books and playdough that I brought to entertain them during taxi and takeoff.  This generation is so electronics dependent for entertainment... someone seriously needs to come up with technology can be used at any time on an airplane!
At the same time, my husband had his eyes closed, resolutely ignoring the clamor and noise.  How does he do that?

Thank goodness it was only a three hour flight.  We were on our way to our summer vacation in the sun and would have a wonderful time there.  However, the travel part always seems to be a day-long adventure.

Flying with kids can be a challenge or it can be smooth-sailing.  Very much it depends on the age of your child, the length of your flight, and the time of day of your flight. 

Packing is the first challenge.  I remember taking my oldest on a flight when he was five-months old.  He was a tiny baby, and he had an entire full-size suitcase dedicated to him and his STUFF.  You know what I’m talking about – the diapers, the wipes, the bottles, the warmer, the clothes, and the backup clothes, the baby soaps and shampoos, the bibs, and the backup bibs, the blankets, etc.  Not mention the car seat, toys, and so on.  

So, how to survive a flight with your little one?  Here are some ideas (based on age):

Young Infant –  Most of the times babies this age are content to eat, sleep and poop as they normally do when not in an airplane.  The biggest issue will be helping them to “pop” their ears and equalize the pressure in them during the flight.  Generally, if your ears are popping, their little ears are trying to do the same.   To help your baby with this, make sure that he/she is swallowing during takeoff and landing.  You can do this by feeding your baby during these time periods.   Just make sure to pack extra clothes and diapers, including extra clothes for yourself for unexpected soling from spit-up or diaper accidents.

Check the TSA website listed later in this blog post to familiarize yourself with rules regarding bringing formula or breastmilk onto the airplane.

Older Infant/Toddler – This is a challenging age for flying.  You can certainly fly successfully with a toddler, but timing is of utmost importance in this age group.  Choose your flight time by avoiding anything near naptime or bedtime.  Tired toddlers make lousy travel companions.  Pack plenty of snacks, favorite toys and distractions.   If at all possible, try to book nonstop flights to minimize the total travel time.  For really long flights, a break in the middle at a connecting city for a few hours may be ideal – however leave enough time so that you won’t be running for a connecting flight with a toddler in tow.  

You can bring your stroller all the way to the gate and check it in at the gate just before you board.  It will make getting all your belongings and your baby to the plane easier.  Also, bring an empty sippy cup and then buy something in the airport to fill it, or ask them to fill it on the airplane.
For very long flights, some pediatricians recommend bringing along a weight-appropriate dose of Benedryl along in case your toddler is really having a difficult time resting on the plane.  Benadryl is an allergy medication that generally causes drowsiness as a side effect.  However, be aware that a small percentage of children actually get hyper instead.  If you are going to use Benadryl, try a dose at home before you travel.  You don't want to discover that your child get crazy on Benadryl on an airplane!

Children Ages 2-5 Years Old – This age group generally loves airplanes… at least they love looking at them.  Flying in them may be a different issue.  Reading about flying or going on an airplane is a good idea if this is your child’s first trip.

I usually try to have a surprise activity for each child on the airplane – a new coloring book or new activity that travels well.  The fun of trying out a new coloring book and new markers will entertain most children for at least a portion of the trip.  Don’t give it to them until you are actually on the plane to enhance the surprise (and distraction) factor.

Also, while I don’t normally advocate video watching or video games, it can work wonders to keep little minds occupied for a good portion of longer trips.  With smartphones and portable electronics, it's easy enough to bring something along for entertainment.  Also, taking a few walks up and down the aisle midflight helps to break the monotony of sitting in the seat.  Be sure to bring snacks or food for a meal on the plane based on the timing of your flight.

School-Aged Children and Older – Luckily, this age group tends to be able to entertain themselves.  Favorite activities, including books, handheld games, videos and iPads/iPods, make flying a more enjoyable and less boring experience for this group. Let them pack their own backpack and have them each carry their own carry-on.  It's such a liberating experience when your child can help with carrying the luggage!

Again, food is an excellent way to pass the time, so bring a meal or snacks onboard.  This will also ensure that they will not be hungry during the flight.

International Travel – If you are traveling abroad, make sure to plan for the time it takes to get through customs.  It can sometimes take an additional hour to get through the customs lines in some countries.  In many of the popular tourist countries, they will allow families with three or more children to move up closer to the front of the line.  If you fit this criteria, it never hurts to ask if you can do this!
With the many travel rules these days from TSA, it’s a good idea to check out their website for rules about traveling with children.  They have a useful website at:

I hope this helps if you are traveling by plane this summer with your kids!  If you tried some tricks for successful flying that have worked for your children, please share them by posting a comment!  

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful summer!


  1. This is a big help. Thanks a lot. I could save a lot of money on travels.


  2. This is so good! Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I really need to figure this out. We are flying out in two hours. I didn't want to bug the local pediatrics clinic in Spring Lake NC seeing that I could find this online. Thank you!

    1. Glad it was helpful! Hope you had a great trip. Happy Thanksgiving!