Air travel is generally uncomfortable. Adults can just barely tolerate the experience – but for kids – being tethered to a seat, sometimes for hours, can seem never-ending and intolerable.
Not to fear – I’m here to let you in on some secrets and give you 5 tips for flying with kids that are going to make your whole vacation experience so much more enjoyable!
My family of four recently flew cross-country to visit family. There were delays and cancelled flights, a surprise second layover and long periods of time just waiting. Even though it was tough on all of us we took 5 key steps to prepare, and as a result, my kids were total troopers through all the headaches and discomfort.
My boys are now 4 and 6 years old and they’ve both flown 1 – 2 times per year since they were born. It should go without saying that successful air travel with babies and toddlers takes a slightly different strategy than the tips I share below. The overarching key, in my opinion, to easy flights with children is preparedness. I’m no travel expert, and what works for our family may not work for yours, but I do know that these tips really worked for us. The ultimate proof lies in the sweet memories we made – filled with games and giggles – during our unexpected Pittsburgh layover.
And here they are…
Top 5 Tips For Flying With Kids
1. Pack Light (or as light as possible)
Check your bags. Don’t mess with overhead bins when you have kids to worry about. Only carry one small bag per child that mostly contains items that will entertain/distract. You want everything you need to help your kids behave and enjoy the flight easily accessible.
That just won’t be the case if half of what you need is in the overhead bin and the other half is mixed in with your toiletries and extra underwear. Plan ahead and pack your checked bags so that they don’t exceed weight limits and incur extra charges (actually weigh them at home to make sure.) Budget bag checking into the price of your ticket – it’s a necessity.
One of my top tips for flying with kids is that the length of your flight(s) and the age of your children will determine how much you generally want to pack for each child in a small carry on bag.
Knowing that for kids ages 4 – 6, a good rule of thumb is that they’ll happily spend at least 15 minutes per activity and also knowing that our longest flight was 6 hours, I was able to pack a variety of small items that made sense and we rotated through them a few times while in the air.
This is what I packed for each boy:
- Healthy Snacks (I’ll get into exactly what kind of snacks are best later.)
- Two not so healthy snacks for each flight (I’ll explain below.)
- One special toy that they pick themselves (usually something soft and squishy that can be shoved into a bag without breaking or double as a pillow for their tiny head!)
- One favorite coloring book + their own box of crayons.
- One new activity magazine that they’ve never seen before (my guys absolutely love it when these include a small toy as a gift.)
- Tablet (preloaded with downloaded games, shows and movies) + headphones + chargers.
- A complete change of clothes – including socks, underwear and flip flops. (This was the only category of items that we didn’t need to use at all this time around. If you regularly travel with kids, though, you know any variety of accidents can generally happen at any given time that may require a change of clothes. It’s always better to be prepared!)
2. Enforce A Pre-Travel Electronics Ban
I strongly recommend travelling with some form of electronic entertainment for your kids. Another great tip for flying with kids.
Like it or not we live in an electronic age and our kids love it.
My children hate sitting still. They are energetic and smart boys who need to run and play and bump into each other as a healthy part of their development. Forcing them to sit in one spot for up to 6 hours is almost cruel. Games/Movies/TV shows can almost painlessly pass two hours of time for my kids.
There is the twist to successfully using electronics during travel, though. Just packing a tablet or phone for each child is not what will make a trip entertaining and fun for them. They need to not use the device for a few days (preferably a week) prior to the day of travel.
That way they can earn the use of the device, feel good about getting time with it, and you, as a parent, can rest assured that you are not doing them a disservice by letting them have so much screen time on one day.
In our house the kids get to use their tablets on the weekends and when we travel. This system works for us and prior to any family travel we find a reason not to use the tablets for a week. If you are completely against the use of electronics, that, of course, is your prerogative.
Just remember – if you purchase tickets for a 6 hour flight there is always a chance something will cause your trip to be delayed or you could unexpectedly have to sit on the runway for two additional hours without being allowed to get out of your seat until the airline addresses a safety issue.
Those circumstances create the potential for a travel nightmare and the use of electronics very well may be your saving grace.
3. Pack Food (Strategically Timed Treats Are Okay)
We all know that hangry kids are no fun to be around. Plan ahead, think about your travel times and the times that your kids usually snack/eat and pack a little lunchbox for each of them. During our recent trip I knew that we would be in the air during breakfast and that we would likely have time to eat lunch and dinner during layover.
It’s always easier to get my kids to eat healthy early in the day because they wake up hungry. For the morning of travel I packed whole apples and prepackaged breakfast protein bars. Think about it – apples travel well and protein bars are packed with energy.
Even though you are sitting for long periods of time travel still takes a lot out of you so your kids need all the vitamins and energy you can squeeze into them. For snacks later in they day I included prepackaged, low sugar, favorites like chewy bars and animal crackers.
Now, the next item I list may be controversial. Candy. For take off and landing, when air pressure is changing in the cabin of the plane and ears are popping and heads are hurting let your kids have a few pieces of chewy candy – like starbursts or mentos. Small lollipops work really well too.
The chewing and sucking motion of eating these treats will really help with any pain they are experiencing. Plus the kids get a little reward for being such good travellers – it’s a win win.
Some important things to remember if you employ this tactic:
- Only give them 2 – 3 small pieces of chewy candy or one small lollipop (like a dum dum.)
- Wait until the plane has taken off before you share it with them – you want to avoid sugar overload at all costs.
- Keep it a surprise (to avoid having them over-anticipate something that, let’s face it, isn’t that great to begin with.)
- Let them use their electronics as soon as possible after the candy. (This way any small sugar high or low is contained and their focus is on their game or show rather than bouncing around the cabin.)
4. Choose Seats Near The Bathroom
The very last row of coach is generally right next to the bathroom. These seats are less than ideal for most travellers for all the right reasons: you usually board the plane last, it takes longer to deplane, you’re last to get service (like coffee or tea), there’s usually a line for the bathroom that stands right next to you, etc. For an adult travelling alone all of these things sound terrible.
Keep in mind – kids are oblivious to almost all of the complaints an adult may have with these seats. Boarding the plane last? Great – more time to get your wiggles out. Plus, being close to the bathroom has one huge benefit for the whole family – it takes a lot less time to get in there if there is an emergency. Plain and simple – you could avoid a bathroom accident and sometimes, when travelling with kids, that’s the most important thing.
The bright side of choosing these seats for the adults? They are generally on the cheaper side!
5. Have (and Maintain) A Positive Mindset
This one may be hard for some people to digest but for me it makes all the difference in the world. As soon as I buy plane tickets I envision how well the travel will go. I believe it will be good and focus on all the things I can do to make it so, like taking the time to prepare.
There is absolutely no harm in thinking positively about the trip whereas I’ve found that when I let anxiety get the better of me and I think of all of the negative things that may happen I end up dreading the experience. That sense of dread then colors my whole trip. When I plan with positivity I feel great and it’s easier to roll with the punches as they occur.
A good example of how this tactic came in handy on this trip was when one of our flights was cancelled and we were re-routed with an additional flight and layover. No problem. Guess what kids? We only had to pay for two flights but today is our lucky day – we get to take three whole plane rides instead of just two. Not many people can say that!
The kids loved it and felt very special and since mommy and daddy were forced to focus on the positive we couldn’t dwell on the negative.
It may sound unbelievable but we chose to focus on the positives and in so doing we actually treated our unplanned layover like a bonus and played through the whole thing. None of us got upset and the trip just moved forward.
There you have it – my tried and true strategy for flying with kids. Remember, the shorter the flight the more manageable it will be for everyone involved. if you take the time to prepare for success with these tips multiple flights, of any duration, will be as low stress as possible.
Thanks for reading and if you want to hear more about how I use a simple approach to family travel and keep in touch then sign up for email updates so you’ll always be the first to know!