Traveling with children can be daunting. After almost two decades of air travel with infants, toddlers, and teens, here are my top tips for flying with kids.
Before you Fly
Bulkhead seats offer extra space, but the downside is the table tray is in the armrest, and that can be tricky for younger kids. Use Seat Guru to find seats where you will feel comfortable.
Pre-Order a Child’s Meal
Many airlines offer special children’s meals, and you can order these when you book your flight.
Bring the Stroller
If you have young children, “if in doubt, leave it out” doesn’t apply to the stroller. You can use it to move a car seat if you bring one on the plane, transport all of the extras that accompany family travel, and use it as a bed for a child in the event of a layover or delayed flight.
Airlines will often gate-check the stroller for you, meaning you can leave it at the door of the aircraft as you board – make sure it has a gate check tag – and airline staff will store it and return it to you once you exit the plane at your destination.
Talk about the Flight
Take time to talk to young children about flying and explain how people behave on airplanes. If they are old enough, ask them to pack a few of their favourite things in a child-sized backpack.
At the Airport
Plan to spend time in a dedicated children’s play area before boarding the plane. If the airport doesn’t offer a play zone, most children will figure something out!
Unless you are flying in first or business, airplane seats are tiny, and people covet what little space they have. Things can get ugly if children treat the plane and associated gadgets – window shade, tray table, and surrounding seats – like a preschool playroom.
Remove young children’s shoes once you are in your seats. Kids seem less inclined to kick the seat in front of them if they are in socks or bare feet.
Stay Clean & Healthy
Airplanes are dirty, so pack hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. One of my top tips for flying with kids is to use a product like Neat Solutions Table Topper disposable placemats to cover airplane tray tables.
Carry on a Car Seat
A safe place for a young child on an airplane is in a government-approved child safety restraint system (CRS) or device. When my kids were small, I often used an approved car seat on the plane for their safety and comfort. FAA-approved harness-type restraints are another option, but I often needed car seats at our destination, so it made sense to bring them on board.
Invest in Child-Specific Headphones
Airline-supplied headphones or earbuds often don’t fit small heads and ears, and the maximum noise level is much higher than on headphones designed for children.
Airplanes are often chilly – bring a fleece blanket, extra receiving blankets for little ones, or down sweaters for bigger kids.
Pack a medical kit in your carry-on with at least a thermometer, fever-reducer tablets, throat drops, Band-Aids, and, motion-sickness medication.
Change of clothes
Carry on a change of clothes for each child (and adults if possible) in case of spilt drinks, air sickness, or other accidents.
Snacks and Gum
Nursing, sipping and chewing helps babies or toddlers adjust to air pressure changes when flying and gum works well for older children. Pack chewy snacks e.g. fruit juice gummies, lollies, empty sippy cups, and gum in your carry-on bag.
Don’t Forget the Fun Stuff
Before you leave home, load electronic devices with audio books, movies, and games. Download airline video player apps in advance. You can find out more about the video player app on your airline’s website.
Although seat back entertainment and iPads have changed air travel, card games, sticker books, and small toys are excellent options on a long flight or layover.
Airline food choices may be limited so pack energy bars or other child-friendly snacks in your carry-on luggage. On a recent early morning flight to Hawaii, I assumed there would be food available for purchase, so I didn’t pack many snacks. Big mistake! The airline hadn’t received the expected catering package, and we ended up eating Pringles for six hours. Not the end of the world, but it would have been nice to have a few other options.
Easier said than done; I know. Every passenger on the airplane was an infant and child at one time, and you can bet they weren’t all angels. Children cry, and airplane travel can be stressful and uncomfortable for them. I still shake my head when I think of the middle-aged man seated behind me asking if I had something for my red-faced, shrieking four-month-old to suck on. I had a few things for my son to suck on, but he wasn’t interested. And there was nothing more I could do.
Please email me or add your suggestions for flying with kids to the comments section. You can find a list of tested and approved travel products on my Amazon shop.
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