A child runs down a moving walkway in an airport.

How to Make Your Journey Go Smoother When Flying with Kids

When it comes to air travel, we’re all a little on edge. It can be a lot to handle, with long flight times, crowded airports, small seats, delays (if not cancellations), long wait times…  you get the picture.

Now add a baby or toddler to the mix.

On top of your usual stresses, there’s now a little one to keep occupied, happy, fed, and calm. Flying with kids can be stressful, often for the same reasons parents are hesitant to bring their young children out to dinner at restaurants.

But with a positive attitude and careful preparation, you can make the experience less stressful for you and your kids.

Here are some of the top tips for surviving air travel with kids.

Request a Bassinet If You’re Flying with a Baby

Airplanes are crowded, and carry-on luggage for yourself and your baby is a lot to lug around. Add a baby seat or carrier to the mix, and suddenly you’re over your carry-on limit. These carriers are also often checked at the gate, leaving you without a dedicated seat for your little one.

Thankfully, there are solutions!

If your little one is coming with you on a flight lasting five hours or more, call your airline ahead of time to book a bassinet. Airlines frequently provide bassinets for children under 25 pounds. These bassinets give you a small crib that attaches to the bulkhead (you’ll need to book bulkhead seats) that can provide a quiet crib for your little one to nap through the flight, giving you a break.

Of course, you’ll still have to hold your child during take-off and landing, and not all bassinets are created equal. It’s not an ideal solution, but it does give you an option if you wind up having to check a baby carrier. You may also be able to bring a car seat on a plane—just make sure you check with your airline ahead of time!

Prep for Meals

If possible, feed your baby before boarding. When travelling with a baby on a plane, a well-fed baby will likely sleep better and longer on a flight.

Also, pack protein-rich foods that will fill your kids’ bellies and help them fall asleep on the flight. These foods include string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, roasted chicken, and sun butter sandwiches. Dried fruit and low-sugar protein bars for kids are good snacks for flights because they’re not messy to eat, but it can also help to have some favourite snacks tucked away.

However, you will want to avoid high-sugar foods and the rush that comes with them. If you do order kids meals on the flight, be cautious of all the sugar-filled foods being served. You might want to remove some of these foods before handing the meals to your kids.

Airport security is more lenient for parents travelling with kids, so you can pack bottled breast milk and formula in your carry-on. However, you might have to put the bottles in clear plastic bags before going through the security check.

Lastly, don’t forget to pack reusable water bottles to fill up before boarding so you and your kids can stay hydrated throughout your trip.

Remind Your Kids of the Rules

To ensure your kids are respectful of other passengers on the flight, remind them of the rules before and during your trip. Be consistent with the rules, always stay in charge, and keep your kids occupied so they don’t disrupt others.

While your children may not stay quiet the entire time, you can remind them to keep their voices down and make sure they don’t run wild and kick the seats in front of them.

Pack a Busy Bag or a “Big Kid” Carry-On

A busy bag should have everything your child needs to stay busy on the flight. This should include their snacks, blanket, and a variety of toys, books, games, and puzzles.

Depending on the age of the child, this could be a small backpack that your child carries or a large backpack that you carry. And if you need another carry-on bag, make sure it’s on wheels so you’re not weighed down. Most parents of young children travel with a backpack carry-on (so their hands are free) and a stroller.

 Book Flights Scheduled during Sleep Time

Consider booking your flights during a time you know your child is typically tired or asleep, such as evening or night time. Otherwise, choose a time when your child is calm and well-rested, such as first thing in the morning.

If your flight departs in the afternoon, make sure your child gets plenty of exercise before the flight. Consider bringing them to the park or have them burn off energy at the airport by doing jumping jacks or running laps at an empty gate.

Hopefully, by taking every opportunity to exercise before the flight, the engine noise will soothe your child into a long, deep nap.

Be Lenient When It Comes to Electronics

Limits to screen time shouldn’t apply during air travel. The in-flight entertainment system and your own electronics will keep your kids occupied for hours, so take advantage of these devices. Load up your smartphone or tablet with child-friendly apps.

Get proper headphones that will fit over your child’s ears. In-flight earbuds don’t usually fit in children’s ears. Be sure to remember to adjust the volume of the headphones to a safe level for children’s ears.

Arrive Early and Take Advantage of Early Boarding

Passengers with small children get to board planes early. Early boarding gives you more time to settle into your seats. Plus there will be more space at this time to stow away your carry-on luggage in the overhead compartment above your seat.

Once seated, you can start playing with your kids and take measures to prevent your child’s ears from popping during take-off. When flying with a toddler or an infant, offer a bottle or feeding. Give kids over four years old a piece of gum to chew on. The chewing motions will help equalize pressure in their ears and reduce ear pain.

A nasal decongestion spray used about half an hour before a flight can also help prevent painful congestion from spreading to the ears during flights. Ears will also pop when flights are landing, so be sure to offer gum, a bottle, or feeding during this time too.

Pack Their Favourite Things… And a Reward!

To keep your child happy and comfortable on the flight, make sure to pack their favourite toys, stuffed animal, and comfort blanket in a carry-on. You could also dress them in their favourite comfy clothes and shoes. Don’t forget to pack extra socks and more than enough diapers, either!

You could also pack a gift or surprise new toys in your carry-on to give to your kid mid-flight and keep them occupied. This toy should be time-consuming, like puzzles, crafts, stickers, colouring books, and activity sets. Play games together, do crafts together, and keep things light and fun.

Flying Overnight? Try to Maintain Your Bedtime Routine

Get your kids to brush their teeth and change into their pyjamas. Then read them a story and tuck them in. Tuck them in with a soft travel blanket that either comes with a pillow attached or give them a comfy neck pillow.

Stay Calm, Breathe, and Try to Relax

This is probably the most important tip of all. Don’t let the stress of flying with kids get you down. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take deep breaths. A relaxed, healthy parent is better able to cope with the stress of air travel with kids. And if you’re afraid your child will throw a tantrum, follow these tips to handle tantrums.

Maintain your composure throughout the flight, and do the best that you can. The flight will likely go much better than you think anyway, especially if you follow these tips for surviving air travel with kids.