Tips for Flying with Kids

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It’s a family vacation time and the beach is calling. Or Disney World. Or Iceland or Japan. The whole family has planned and mapped out the entire itinerary. Now there’s only one thing left to do — survive the flight while traveling with kids.

While the thought of a 12-hour flight over an ocean sounds intimidating, it doesn’t have to be something to dread, and can even be a positive experience. Even a two-hour flight can be nerve wracking with a cranky toddler. But that beach is calling, so click “book,” pack accordingly, and follow these tips on how to survive flying with children.

Don’t Rush

Nothing makes a travel day worse than ending up in a time crunch. While no one ever (we hope) intentionally gets to the airport minutes before the counters close, it’s wise to get there with plenty of time to spare. Security lines, the miles-long walk to the gate, and even bathroom lines can cause some serious delays. Added stress isn’t ideal in this situation and can easily be avoided by getting to the airport a bit early.

Choose Your Airline Wisely

Not all airlines are created equal. Some charge for seat selection, checked bags, and meals. Others offer free selection, two free checked bags, free meals, and keep a basket of snacks in the galleys between service. Some offer special kids meals and hand out fun entertainment packets before take off to keep kids busy. Some airlines offer bassinets at the bulkheads for infants.

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This happy flier scored a premium bulkhead seat! Photo: WIllian Whyte via Flickr

It’s worth checking around and comparing service level to price, as often those few extra dollars can be worth their weight in comfort and calm when travelling with children.

If an airline is charging for seat selection, there’s no guarantee they’ll seat families together unless you pay for seats together. Best to pay for seats if this is the situation.

Choose Toys Wisely

Keeping younger kids entertained on flights is the key to success. Some ideas that aren’t prone to getting too messy are coloring books, crayons (square or triangular to prevent rolling away) bendable wax, window clings (those stick to the seat and tray table too), magnet boards, buildable cardboard cutouts, and card games to play together. 

Packing a few new surprise toys can add to the fun as well. 

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Keep fellow plane passengers in mind when choosing toys. We all are in this flight together, and even on a short flight those around you may have been flying for many hours prior or are used to an entirely different time zone. Consider the noise and activity the toys will produce to be a good neighbor.

All of the Snacks

Picky kids and plane meals may not mix well. Pack a supply of food you know they’ll eat in a range of sweets/treats as well a nutritious, more filling foods. Some of our favorites are sandwiches, trail mix, granola bars, oranges (if allowed – produce can be off limits on some domestic and international flights), carrot sticks, and a few sweets or treats that kids will look forward to. A well-timed lollipop can be a solid five to ten minutes of distraction. 

Bring Napping/Comfort Items

For long-haul flights, pack comfort items like a stuffed animal, blanket, or pajamas. Items that kids usually bring to bed are a good idea for helping to create an environment they’ll feel comfortable and relaxed in. But whatever you do, do NOT leave this comfort item on the plane! 

Pack a Change of Clothes

Spills happen, especially on planes. For a myriad of reasons any parent is familiar with, a change of clothes might be a lifesaver if things don’t go as planned on a flight. If nothing else, a small bag of extra clothes can serve as a pillow.

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Entertainment and Headphones

We’re in a golden age of entertainment with the ability to download enough movies, books, shows, and podcasts to last a lifetime and certainly enough to get through several flights. Load up a kid-friendly device with movies they’ll enjoy or a TV series they’re excited about. If time or battery life is a concern, break up screen time with hands-on activities or quiet time with the hope of getting some shut eye.

Some airlines provide headphones, but not all do and not all headphones will fit a child well enough to be useful. If your child has a pair they like, those should come along in the carry- on bag. If you’re hoping everyone will get some sleep on the plane, downloading a white noise playlist can be beneficial.

Consider an Overnight Layover

Say your journey to Rome has a layover in London for five hours. This comes after flying for 11 hours over the Atlantic. If time permits, consider turning a layover into an overnight or even a several day adventure. You’ll see a new city while breaking up the journey to the final destination, giving everyone time to relax and recover from the first flight, and feel ready to get back on the plane.

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Manage Ear Pain

During take off and landing, kids (and adults) can experience ear pain because of the change in air pressure. This can range from mild discomfort to pretty severe pain that can linger even after the ears have adjusted. For many, yawning, swallowing, or chewing gum is enough to “pop” ears to adjust. If this doesn’t work, it’s worth looking into specialized ear plugs that assist in the process, Ear Planes. These fit in a fashion similar to an ear plug, but includes a filter that slows the shift in air pressure, giving your ears more time to acclimate.

If you think ear pain might be an issue, pack some gum and perhaps grab a few pairs of Ear Planes in case ears are hurting even with chewing gum and yawning.

In children, a bottle may help with ear pain since it encourages swallowing or a pacifier may do the trick, as well. Kids over the age of four can try the gum method or taking a sip of a drink.

Ready to Plan a Great Family Vacation?

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