Tips to traveling with kids on an airplane

Traveling with kids, especially toddlers, is always a challenge.  The unexpected ALWAYS happens no matter how prepared you are.   We did some research as to what some other people say to do to be better prepared, several sources and several different options to help.

First, from Today’s Parent, here are some tips for the actual flight:

Take advantage of early boarding

“Would any passengers travelling with small children or passengers needing extra assistance please proceed to the gate now.” Those are sweet words to hear over the loudspeaker, because quite frankly, the early boarding privilege is the only known benefit to flying with small children. It’s the airline’s way of saying, “We know you’re going to have a hellish five hours. So why don’t you at least make sure you cram your carry-on luggage into our tiny overhead compartments before everyone else?”

Make friends with other parents on the flight

Let’s face it, you’re probably going to need allies on this aircraft. So while you’re in the waiting area, be sure to strike up conversations with any other parents who are getting on your flight. Ask the standard questions like, “How old is your little guy?” and “Do you happen to have any children’s Gravol?” You may not become lifelong friends with these people, but at least you’ll have someone to exchange frustrated glances with when your toddler is having a meltdown at 30,000 feet.

Be prepared for a special chat with the flight attendant

If you have a child who is under the age of two—and therefore flying for free—get ready for your special one-on-one conversation with the flight attendant. They usually are less enthusiastic about this chat than they are about talking to passengers seated in the emergency exit row. The flight attendant will instruct you with super-obvious tips on how hold your baby for take-off and landing — just in case you were thinking about stuffing the little bundle of joy in the seat pocket in front of you.

Bring activities

Don’t be the person who asks the flight attendant for a pencil and a cocktail napkin out of desperation. Make sure you bring ALL of the following items on board with you: Portable DVD player, iPod, iPad, Kindle, Nintendo DS, LeapPad, colouring books, sticker books, pop-up books, crayons, markers, pencil crayons, stuffed animals, Go Fish playing cards and a series of dry-erase books. (Just don’t forget the dry-erase markers).

Bring snacks

No child wants to eat the hand-carved roast beef sandwich that is featured in the airline’s menu. And by the time the snack cart gets to you in the back of the plane — where they banish all of the children — there are no more sandwiches available because all the childless couples have devoured them up front. You are likely stuck with the option of either Cool Ranch-flavoured Bugles or something called Vegan Crisps. So make sure you bring ample snacks on board. A bag of surprise gummy bears when things are really melting down can be a more effective lifesaver than those oxygen masks.

Be ready for the walk of shame

When you are at your wits end with a fussy toddler in a public place, what’s the number one solution to the problem? You take them for a walk. But on an airplane, you have a space that is 90 feet long and 18 inches wide to roam free. Oh — and watch out for the drink cart, which will cut your space in half at the exact moment when you need to take that stroll. As you parade up and down the same walkway repeatedly, you end up executing as many half-turns as a runway model in Paris — except that nobody cares to watch your sad little fashion show.

Have a “sanity seat”

When my wife and I travel with our two girls, one of us handles the kids and the other person gets to sit in a “sanity seat.” Basically, one person is stuck with the kids, while the other person is in a child-free paradise in another part of the plane, eating sandwiches with those other couples. When things get bad, you simply switch seats with the other parent so that everyone shares in the misery. If I’m sitting in the “sanity seat” and I hear my kids wailing and screaming at the back of the plane, I often turn to the person next to me and say, “Geez, some parents just can’t control their children.”

Be prepared for them to complain about their ears

The fear of every parent is flying when their child has a cold, as they inevitably go Poltergeist upon take-off and landing. In those situations, even those parents who you thought were your allies will refuse to make direct eye contact with you. But even if a child doesn’t have a nasty head cold, they still tend to complain about their ears popping during the flight. You can tell them to try yawning or chewing some gum to alleviate the discomfort in their ears. But I find that headphones — for you the parent — are the most effective solution.

Always lie to your kids

Towards the end of the flight, your child will become irritable and agitated, as the effects of sitting in a stale environment for three to five hours start to catch up. When they ask you how much longer is left in the flight, always lie to the child to make it seem like the landing is imminent. I usually go with, “Just about 25 minutes to go — hang in there.” Be sure to disable the interactive map feature on the headrest TV, as the child may figure out that you are really 2.5 hours away from your destination. ??

Don’t expect your child to sleep on the plane

Don’t try and trick your kid with the whole, “Just close your eyes and we’ll be there” routine. No person sitting in economy class has ever gotten a restful sleep in the history of commercial aviation and your fussy child is certainly not going to be the first one. So just ride out the storm …and hopefully you can find that new parent friend of yours that has the children’s Gravol.

Packing a carry-on bag for kids

When flying with infants, toddlers or children, your carry-on will be the most important bag to pack. You must take the essentials for your children without the bag becoming too heavy for you to carry easily! Having the right supplies when traveling with kids is very important!

What should I use as a carry-on when flying with kids?

  • Backpacks are great for transporting what you need onto the plane while remaining hands-free. Many come with multiple sections as well as side compartments for water bottles, baby bottles and other items you may need to grab quickly.
  • Organize the contents as logically as you can so you don’t have to rummage too much while on the crowded plane. Combine snack/drinks/toys into one section and diapers/extra clothes in another section. Keep the organization consistent so the bag can be passed between adults as needed.

What drinks should I pack when flying with children?

  • Be sure to check TSA (Transportation Security Administration) policies before packing liquids. Most liquids you bring onboard must be purchased AFTER the security checkpoint. Plan to purchase water, milk or juice for your children BEFORE boarding the airplane.
  • Some smaller planes do not have refrigeration units and DO NOT carry milk onboard. If milk is essential for your child, be sure to have it handy. Perhaps purchasing milk and pouring into a thermos will help get you thru the flight.
  • If you have a formula-fed infant, pre-measure the formula and place into bottles at home. Without a spare set of hands this can become a juggling act on the plane (especially if you are traveling with your infant alone). Alternatively, purchase the single serving packets for easy pouring. Be aware that obtaining “warm” water on board the airplane will not be an option. Bring your own room temperature water for use with formula mixing. On long flights, the flight attendants are willing to rinse bottles with hot water from their service tap. Do not drink or rinse bottles/cups with tap water from the passenger bathroom as it is not safe to drink.
  • If your children require special cups (ie. sippy cups or bottles) be sure to bring extra. Do not drink or rinse bottles/cups with tap water from the passenger bathroom as it is not considered safe
  • Bring straws for easy drinking out of milk cartons or canned beverages the flight attendants may supply on board.

What food should I pack when traveling with children?

  • Nourishment aids patience for everyone. Don’t depend on the airline to offer sufficient snacks/meals for your kids. Pack what your kids like and bring more than you will think you need.
  • Depending on the age, preferences and allergies of your children, try the following: dried cereal, dried fruit (and nuts), carrots (cooked or uncooked), grapes, Goldfish, gram crackers, granola bars, yogurt covered pretzels. Pre-pack the snacks in small ziplock bags to hand out individually.
  • Bring a few plastic spoons (& straws).
  • “The last resort” As a parent, you know that there is a point that is reached when a child has had enough and let’s face it, you have too. They may be tired, hungry, and/or uncomfortable. Pack a special “item” that can be use for this moment alone. The item can be anything from a new book/toy to candy. Lollypops and M&Ms are a personal favorite but if candy is not your thing, it can be anything you choose that your child will enjoy and be distracted enough to settle down. M&Ms are great because you can use them as a learning tool as well as a sweet treat – you can sort them by color, count them, make patterns, trade them, time how long it takes them to melt in your mouth etc.

What toys and comfort items should I pack when flying with children?

Select small books and toys that your child has never seen before or hasn’t used in awhile.

  • Flying with babies – books, grabbing toys, soothing items (blanket, pacifier).
  • Flying with toddlers – bring anything that lights up and has buttons. Paperback books, self-inking stamps, stickers, magna-doodle or etch-a-sketch, small stuffed animals, portable DVD player with headset, a special blanket or soothing item.
  • Children ages 3-6. Bring paperback books, simple self-contained art kits, activity books (dot-to-dot, mazes), sticker books, coloring books, Wikki Stix, small stuffed animals or figures, hand-held video games, and portable DVD player with headset. A deck of cards is fun for go fish or other matching games. Help your children pack their own carry-on (something with wheels they can pull themselves).
  • Older children 7+. Put them in charge of packing and carrying their own backpack. Suggest they bring: homework, books, MP3 player, hand-held video games, deck-of-cards, brain-teaser games, find-a-words, crossword puzzles, and Mad Libs games.

What should I pack in my diaper bag when traveling with infants?

Select small books and toys that your child has never seen before or hasn’t used in awhile.

  • This is a sub-bag within your carry-on that can be grabbed easily. Gallon ziplock bags are great for this purpose.
  • This bag should contain the number of diapers you would use for an entire day plus a few extra. Plenty of baby wipes (great for wiping everything from bottoms to hands and surfaces), your lotion of choice and a changing pad or blanket. Bring extra plastic bags to put dirty diapers or soiled clothes.

How should I handle medication & special documents?

Select small books and toys that your child has never seen before or hasn’t used in awhile.

  • Bring the medications you or your child might need during your trip. Be sure to write descriptive information on the bottle and separate any liquids into your quart sized ziplock bag.
  • Passports and travel documents. Infants and children are required to have a passport if you are traveling internationally, but not required to have ID for domestic flights.


And lastly, we found some tips on how to talk and get your children ready for their flight. This was found on

  • Talk about your trip and your flight ahead of time, focusing on the aspects that are new to your child or might cause them some concern.
  • Read stories about flying or about going on a trip. My favorite choice for toddlers is Airplanes by Byron Barton, and older kids will enjoy the detail in Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport. If you’re headed to a new destination, make a trip to the library to pick up a few books set in that place.
  • Line up some dining chairs to make airplane seats, and act out how you should sit down and buckle up on a plane. Build a security checkpoint using a doorway as the metal detector and a cardboard box and towel as the conveyor belt and X-ray. Practice putting your child’s lovey or blanket through the x-ray and getting it back on the other side.
  • Nervous about a pat-down? Kids get them very rarely these days, but it helps to be prepared. Here are some tips for talking with your child about TSA pat downs.
  • Let your children help pack their busy bags (but secret away a few new toys in your own bag). That way they’ll get to choose which items they just can’t live without, and you’ll get to set expectations about which toys are ok on the plane (leave the harmonica at home, please!).

Family vacations can be a breeze if you prepare for the unexpected and be ready for anything!  Hope to see you on the Emerald Coast soon!   Book your next flight at