Flying With Young Children: Helpful Hints

Disclosure: We recently received Ear Planes to review. We were not compensated for this post. As always, all opinions are our own. Read our full disclosure on our site.

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Because family lives so far away, our children started flying only a few months after they were born.  After 14 years of flying all types of routes with three busy children, we have a couple of hints we would like to share.

Flying with young children can be brutal no matter if it is an hour flight or a seven hour flight.  The hardest age for flying is pre-schoolers (ages 2-5) who have a hard time sitting still and like to be busy. If you can, try to fly with your spouse, a friend or a relative. If that is unaffordable or not an option, try to prepare as much in advance as possible.

listens to child

We love our babies–precious cargo on board!


Pre-flight Strategies and Preparation

  • Map out all needed routes: what terminal, where to park, stroller friendly areas, and diaper changing facilities
  • 24 hours before the flight make sure you book your seats right away so you can be in an early boarding group.  Luckily, if you have stroller children, you can board before the masses
  • Get directions to rental car returns: we can’t tell you how many times we have driven around strange airports looking for Avis at 4 in the morning
  • Pack a snack for the children to eat on the way to the airport or before going thru security
  • Download your boarding passes to your smart phone so you have hands free to grab wandering toddlers
  • Secure all Passports/IDs: make sure you have some sort of ID for your children whether a passport or birth certificate. Since our children are dual citizens, we are big believers that it is never too early to get a passport. You can make an appointment at most post offices to get passports, but be sure to schedule months in advance as they get booked or you will have to stand in line.  We found out the hard way that it is best to renew passports with 6 months lead time before major trips. Luckily, they do have expedited options now, but it is quite expensive and still requires both parents to stand in line
  • Talk to your doctor or nurse who knows your children well for any suggestions on allergies, sleeping, eating etc..
  • Make a seating strategy of who should sit by whom to reduce stress and turn into a fun game
  • Develop creative rewards for good behavior: souvenir budgets, ice cream, a movie on the flight, a snack box (the airlines charge for everything now)
  • Wear security friendly outfits and shoes (avoid belts, bejeweled outfits and shoes and tons of jewelry) so you can breeze through the scanners


Sleeping/not sleeping:

  • What helps your little one to be comfortable sleeping? Bring items that remind them of night-night: a favorite pillow, blanket or stuffed animal but make sure you always have an extra at home just in case the friend gets left behind
  • Once you toddlers are walking they love to carry their own little backpacks, so you  can have them help pack it with their favorite toy, video or blanket
  • If your child naps, nap too, because you gotta get it when you can
  • Try to pick a flight that coordinates with nap time
  • All three of our children grew out of their nap times by two so no matter how we cut it—it was an exhausting ordeal. We would try to get a good night’s rest the whole week prior if we could

Handy Supplies:

  • Pacifier: the  only time we ever used them was on flight emergencies
  • Tylenol: pack liquids in sandwich bags to avoid leakage and include a syringe for little ones. Have chewable options for older kids
  • Gum: really helps with the air pressure on take off and landing not matter what the age, just be careful your tween doesn’t grab the stash and chew it all before the landing
  • Ear Planes: a public relations firm recently sent us this product to ease ear discomfort. Sometimes they helped depending upon the turbulence of the plane. We recommend giving them a try if your child has issues with air pressure on planes
  • Bring all medicines,  inhalers, glasses, contacts or whatever the doctor orders in your carry-on
  • Pack Band-aids of their favorite characters for real or imagined boo-boos
  • An extra set of headphones because someone always forgets theirs
  • Tons of Kleenex, wipes and even a barf bag because you never know what might come your way…
  • Buy healthy snacks after managing security: no matter how you cut it airport food will be outrageous but luckily now there are healthy options like Au Bon Pain where you can buy hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, water and of course coffee for mommy

Plan plenty of activities  (assume 15 minutes per activity)

  • Bring crayons and ready-made pictures of their favorite cartoon or storybook character
  • Prepare ABC’s they can trace, their name, and math problems they can do
  • Download your favorite math apps or ilearn programs to your smart phone or tablet
  • Consider Leapster games or books but bring headphones
  • Bring a portable movie player or a tablet
  • Most flights now have crayons and even internet which is worth paying the $7.99 to keep the children and teens occupied
  • An easy craft such as decorating with stickers
  • Ask the flight team for wings from the Captain. Our children still wear theirs proudly. Unfortunately, they are the only complimentary items these days!


If an emergency happens (We surveyed flight crews on several major carriers for this helpful advice):

  • If an issue happens on a flight, try to make sure your children are listening to music on their head phones so they don’t get worried and you can focus on emergency instructions
  • Your reaction will dictate the mood of your children. Take the lead of the flight staff who are trained professionals.
  • Do not hesitate to reach out to those around you for help.
  • On a flight recently, a gentleman passed out at the back of the plane.  It was interesting that with everyone wearing head phones no one noticed. Someone had to scream “is there a doctor on board?”.  Our daughter was quite upset by this announcement but it quickly brought two physicians to the passenger’s aid.  The Flight staff handled it very well and even carried a crying baby up and down the aisle since the parents were not allowed to get up until the gentleman had been stabilized
  •  Luckily, we have only experienced minor issues but we would love to hear any other strategies to cope


One last nugget of advice: never accept a bump-up to first class when traveling with little ones unless you are on a quiet day flight. We had a very rough flight one Christmas when a fellow passenger who became over-served objected to our 2-year-old in first class.  Any hints from your family vacations? Please leave in the comment section below as we love to learn.


Related articles and resources:

We received a sample of Ear Planes but again no payment took place. All opinions are our own.

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Suzanna Keith is an experienced marketing professional who believes in leveraging revolutionary insights and ideas to grow extraordinary brands. Her expertise includes researching consumer insights and building on these insights to drive long-term strategic direction in all aspects of brand management. read more

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Bibbins June 7, 2013 at 1:02 pm

This is a great article about flying with kids! Well done! When we flew with th kids I also brought a sleep mask or blind fold to block out the harsh light for nap times and oversensitivity. Sunglasses will also do in a pinch.


Suzanna Keith June 8, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Sue, Such a great hint! Thanks so much for your support!


Charmin - The Momiverse June 11, 2013 at 4:20 am

Suzanna, I loved this list! It’s a must read for any family traveling with young kids. My kids are seasoned travelers and we practice most of the tips you’ve listed, but I learned a couple new ones. I especially like the idea of having your children wear headphones so they won’t have to hear anything that worries them. Thanks!


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