The Best Tips For Flying With Kids By Age Group

One of the most common reasons friends tell me they don’t travel with their kids is they fear the plane part.  The idea of being confined to a small space in a flying vessel for an extended period of time overwhelms them. What if the kids get hungry, bored, antsy, or upset?  They tell me stories of the rough experiences they had and how it scarred them.

I know what they mean. I once was traveling with my 18-month old and two cats. While I was bouncing my son in the front of the plane trying to get him to sleep – while he protested – one of my cats ESCAPED her carrier and ran down the aisle. Not kidding, folks.  It actually happened. We found her hiding in the galley with the help of kind flight attendant and returned her to the carrier.  Talk about being a spectacle! I have also had sick kids, crying kids, and everything in between on a flight.

Truth? Flying with kids can have challenges. But, it is completely doable with some planning, patience, and flexibility. If you don’t know where to begin to plan a trip, check out my post about Traveling With Kids: A Beginners Guide.

The Fear of Flying With Kids

Flying with kids is not as simple as car travel, obviously. Whether you are flying a short flight or a long-haul, you have to plan. You have to get to the airport, go through security, wait to board, and sit on a plane.

Toddler watching kid-show on plane
Having a few child-friendly television shows on a tablet can help when flying with toddlers.

With kids, you have extra people to look after along with their baggage. You are doing this while simultaneously navigating crowds, security, and sometimes delays and cancellations. Sometimes the flight gets bumpy or the TV doesn’t work. The unpredictability of travel sometimes creates stress that you are managing, while keeping track of little ones and their needs.

Why Flying With Kids Feels Challenging

Quite simply, kids just come with extra needs.  They are often taken out of their routine and off schedule. They are overwhelmed by the crowds, sights, and sounds, and are sometimes just super excited to get where they are going!

It is important to take this all into account, which is where the patience comes in handy.  They aren’t adults, and we can’t expect them to behave as such. The more you travel with them, the easier it gets, even if something unexpected happens.

Sometimes things go wrong while traveling, and this is where flexibility is helpful. Being flexible ourselves will help our kids follow our lead.  This will ultimately help problems get solved quickly so you can get on with your trip.

Babies

Flying with babies is a bit more cumbersome because they need a lot of stuff.  You need to bring some baby equipment, such as strollers, car seats, baby carriers, and pack n’ plays. Of course, you also need to bring the essentials of formula, food, diapers, changing pads, wipes, extra clothes, pacifiers, and toys. Babies also communicate by crying their needs, and many people fear their baby will cry on the plane.

Toddlers to Preschool-age

two kids sitting on a plane with headphones on doing activities flying with kids
Bring activity packs and entertainment when flying with younger children.

This age is challenging because they need to move. Their bodies aren’t meant to be confined to a seat for long periods of time. They also need lots of snacks, potty breaks, and distractions.  Sometimes they express their feelings through loud and spectacular displays of emotion (also known as a tantrum.)  Naps are still important at this age, as is the delicate sleep and eating cycle – any disruption to this can wreak havoc on a little person’s ability to cope with a flight. People fear flying with little ones at this age for the potential of their child to “Hulk out” on the flight.

School-age to Teen

In my experience, many of the concerns that plague flying with the little ones aren’t as worrisome. But, whining and boredom can be the biggest challenge of this age group.  Being flexible and patient does not come naturally to this age. But, they are far more independent and able to be – get ready for it – helpful if you teach and encourage them.  You still have extra people to keep track of, but this is a great age to foster independence and teach them HOW to travel.

Best Tips for Flying With Kids

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  • General Flying With Kids Tips

    • For any age, my best tip is to arrive at the airport EARLY.  You have extra people and bags, and you will need time to check-in and make it through security.
    • We always make it the priority to get through security before we use restrooms, get food, or sit down. It is better to have extra time on that side than to get to the security line and discover you have to wait so long you might miss your flight.
    • Pack what you need but don’t overpack your carry-ons.
    • Check the TSA guidelines in advance and organize your bags before the flight so you aren’t holding up the line figuring out what needs to come out.
    • Book direct flights or one with a longer layover. Traveling with kids always takes extra time, so you don’t want to be running with kids to catch a connection.
  • Flying With Babies

    • You can purchase an extra seat and put your baby in the car seat in this extra seat. Under age 2, children can sit on your lap, so this is an option if you don’t want to buy the extra seat.  There are different opinions about this. Check with airline and safety experts to decide what is right for you.

      Mom traveling on plane with a baby.
      We took our first family trip when my son was three-months old.
    • If you plan to check baby equipment, such as pack n’ plays or car seats, many airlines don’t count this as one of your bags. Be sure to identify it as such when checking in.
    • Consider renting some equipment at your destination. Things like strollers, pack n’ plays, jumparoos, and playmats can be rented by many baby equipment rental companies in many travel destinations. Babyquip is a service that provides baby equipment rentals in numerous locations throughout the United States and a few locations worldwide.
    • Consider buying a safe, light car seat just for travel.
    • Include enough diapers, change of clothes, formula, or food in your carry-on to last the full length of your journey, door to door, plus a bit extra just in case. You may have trouble finding these items at the airport.  The Transportation and Security Administration (TSA ) allows these items through security, but you need to declare it to the TSA. Check out my post Traveling With Kids: A Beginners Guide to find resources on traveling with kids, including a link to the TSA’s site about what you can bring on a plane.
    • Change diaper prior to boarding.
    • Take advantage of early boarding.
    • Strollers can usually be taken down to the gate, but have to be left on the jetway. Be sure to get a tag from the gate agent. You can usually retrieve it on jetway when you arrive at the destination.
    • Consider using a light, easy to fold, stroller (like an umbrella stroller) for travel.
    • Diaper bags do not usually count against your carry on allowance.  So you can still have a separate carry on and personal item for you (hooray!).
    • On the plane, the pressure during take-off and landing can hurt babies’ ears. We would give our kids something to chew on or a bottle during these times, which helped.
    • A babywearing device like the Ergobaby Carrier or BabyBjorn is very helpful for bouncing the baby in flight. Find a little nook in the back of the plane where you are not in the way of the flight attendants, and only when it is safe to do so, stand in the back and bounce the baby.
    • If you are taking a long-haul or overnight flight, consider looking into a sleeping device so your child can get some rest. Check out this great post for recommendations on how to get babies to sleep on planes, what to purchase, and how to use them properly.
  • Flying with Toddlers to Preschoolers

    child sleeping on plane
    Younger kids often nap during flights.
    • Plan in advance! Pack activity packs, earphones, a small toy or two, extra snacks, water bottle, and a tablet with toddler games and favorite shows or movies pre-loaded.
    • When it comes to activity packs, bring out a new and special one the child hasn’t seen before. The novelty of a new activity book can keep kids’ attention for quite a bit.  For this age, try a Magic Ink activity book, as it is less frustrating. It only colors what they color, so they can’t go outside the lines. It is also only one marker to have to worry about.
    • Pack books that keep toddlers’ attention, such as interactive ones with windows you can open or move, or look and find books.
    • See my post about what to include in kids’ carry-ons.
    • Use the bathroom prior to boarding/change diaper.
    • Give them time to move prior to boarding. Let them run or take advantage of the play areas some airports have.
    • They may still have ear trouble with taking off and landing, so we always gave our kids something to chew on or drink during this time.
    • Encourage a nap if possible.
    • Got twins? Check out this great post for surviving the flight with twin toddlers.
  • Flying with School-aged Kids and Teens

    • School-aged kids and teens can be helpful! Have them pack and carry their own carry-ons. 
    • Be sure they bring enough to entertain themselves in the airport and on the plane.  Playing cards, mini-travel games, activity packs, books, tablets with games and movies (remember headphones!) and music are great for this age.
    • Lots of snacks and a water bottle are useful, so they can feed and hydrate themselves as needed.
    • Engage them in the process! Have them help push suitcases or help hand over documents to the agents.  Not only does this help our kids feel significant, but it also helps them learn about the process of traveling and what is needed.
    • Be sure they know how to plan for and get through security.  Teens may want to know in advance what make-up and beauty products they are allowed to bring through security. They don’t want to learn this the hard way by having to throw it out.
    • This is also a great age to learn common courtesy of boarding and being a passenger. Some important manners to learn include:
      • Saying “hello, good-bye, please, and thank you” to the flight attendants and pilots
      • Stepping inside the aisle while you get organized in your seat
      • Not putting your feet on the seat in front of you
      • Being respectful and mindful of your seat-mates’ space
      • Cleaning up your trash
    • It is also a great age about to learn about picking up your baggage in baggage-claim and basic packing skills. Learning how to travel is a great life skill!
    • They may want to keep in touch with friend’s back home or be able to use their phone.  Be sure to check your phone plan for data packages that can work, especially if you are traveling internationally.  You also can download the WhatsApp app to keep in touch with friends.

 

The Last Thing You Need to Know About Flying With Kids

Many people fear traveling with kids. But it doesn’t have to be a scary ride!  Some flights will go smoothly and some will have bumps along the way.  All you can do is pack well, plan on being early, and maintain patience and flexibility.  Remember, travel is all about the journey and the flight is just one piece of this family adventure.

I’d love to hear from you! What are your best tips for flying with kids?

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Nicolle | 24th May 19

    I love your tips and advice. I was pleasantly surprised how well my toddler did with our first airplane trip. 3.5 hour flights each way. She stayed busy with lots of screen-free activities! The baby also did better than expected, but it was kind of a pain to nurse him in such a tight space. The kids each had their rear-facing car seats, and I think that helped a lot.

    • Keri | 30th May 19

      Thank you Nicolle. Yes, kids are often more adaptable than we think. Thank you so much for visiting!

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