If you are flying to your kids, you want to make sure it is enjoyable for everyone in the family. Over the years of flying with my kids, I have figured out some things that make the travel not only less stressful but also enjoyable. Here is my list of tips for flying with kids, this list is great for all ages of kids.
Tips for Flying with Kids: Things to do Before you Fly
Having 4 kids and flying with them over the years I have learned there are many things that can make a flight better even when it is a child’s first time flying. Things that are done before you even get to the airport for your flight can make a big difference in how things go and the stress levels that you have.
Book Direct Flights
While not always possible depending on where you are going, if you can booking a direct flight will make things easier. You will not have to worry about layover delays, connecting flights, and lugging all of your belongings along with the kids thru an airport to make the next flight.
Book a flight that fits your schedule
If your family is not an early-to-rise family booking a 5 am flight is going to cause you added stress and the same goes if you are not a late-night family and you book a 10 pm flight. While this is sometimes unavoidable if you can book flights the time does not add stress to the trip.
Pick your Seats in advance
Making sure that your whole family is sitting together in advance will make things much easier when you are boarding the plane. If it is an airline that offers you to skip this step, when you are traveling with kids I do not recommend waiting until you board to make sure everyone is together. Yes, there is sometimes an extra cost for picking your seats but I have found it to be well worth the cost so I don’t have the stress once we are on the plane of trying to get us all seated together.
Plan Snacks and Meals
If your flight has inflight meals be sure to reserve the kid’s meals with the airline in advance. While they will get a meal like everyone else does regardless of when the flight has a meal, if you pick a kid’s meal the airlines hand out those first.
On some flights, they do have snacks, but they are airline snacks and not always the snacks that the kids enjoy or want. Packing your kid’s favorite snacks in their backpack will make sure they have snacks they enjoy. If the kids have easy access to their snacks then you also do not have to worry about waiting for when snacks will come around, the kids can eat them as they want to.
Also, be sure to bring snacks the kids like. This is not the time to try a new snack or stick to things you want the kids to eat. You will end up with a child who is grumpy and hungry and doesn’t want the snacks you are trying to get them to eat. Side note for you, if you think you have enough snacks pack more. I am not sure what it is but it seems like flights make kids hungrier then they ever have been before and snacks run out faster then normal.
Bring a water bottle
We always pack empty water bottles in our backpacks when we are traveling and they stay empty until we get thru security. Once thru security, we find a water fountain or a water bottle fill station and fill them up. This has saved us many times when one of the younger kids wanted a drink while waiting for drinks to come around on the flight.
Pack plenty of toys, games, books, coloring books, and activities to keep your child entertained during the flight. Consider bringing a tablet or portable DVD player with movies or TV shows downloaded in advance. I find it best to have the kid’s activities with them in their backpacks so they can access them as needed.
Charge the electronics ahead of time
I say this one from experience. I once did not check to make sure a device was charged and we had a long flight that turned into some tears with a child who had fully intended to watch a movie. We got in the air and realized that the tablet was not charged and so there was no movie to be watched.
Bring Child sized headphones
Many airlines have inflight entertainment, which is great for having kids watch movies while on the plane. While most of the airlines give earbuds or headphones out so you can enjoy the inflight entertainment they are adult-sized. Having child-sized headphones with you will make it easy for the kids to watch a movie on the plane.
Wear Comfortable Clothes
I grew up thinking you had to dress nicely when getting on a flight and while that sounds like a great idea it is not always ideal when flying with kids. I have my kids wear clothing that looks presentable but is comfortable. My girls wear leggings or sweats and my son wears sweats or track pants. Wearing layers also is important as the temperature on the planes can differ. A t-shirt and then a sweatshirt over it if we are leaving a colder area, otherwise the sweatshirt is in the backpack. We also make sure each kid has a pair of shorts if traveling to a warm location in their backpack. Comfortable shoes are also a must and ones that the kids can take off and put back on themselves is a plus.
Pack extra clothing
You never know when an accident will happen or the temperature will change or a kid will spill something on themselves. I always pack an extra outfit for each kid in their backpack. Even with my teenagers, I have them pack an extra outfit in their carryon backpack just in case.
Bring a stroller
While this may seem like an obvious one for kids who are infants and toddlers it is helpful with other ages as well. Kids who are under 6 and you the parent will benefit from having a stroller with you. While they may not use a stroller at home, when traveling thru an airport it can make things much easier. It gives a place for them to sit, it gives a place for the bags to go, and if you are running to catch a connecting flight it’s much easier to push a stroller than to have a young child try and keep up.
They make strollers that are specific for travel and fold up small so you can fit it in the overhead compartment and don’t have to check it. Strollers also can be gate checked for free when you are boarding the flight, so you can use it while in the airport and then give it to the airline when you are boarding. Once you land you then pick it back up at the exit of the plane before heading into the airport where you arrive.
Sign up for Clear, TSA PreCheck, or Global Entry
The security line can be long but you can cut your time spent in the security line by signing up for Clear, TSA Precheck, or Global Entry will cut down on the time that you need to go thru it.
Explain Flying to the kids and What to expect
If your child has never flown before then giving them the information on what to expect when flying will help them. They will have an idea of what things are and what they need to do. If the kids are older and have flown before then give them the details of the flights and the times. This will help them to know what they need to do and the timeline of the travel.
Tips for Flying with Kids: What to Pack in a Child’s Carry on Personal Item
When traveling you will want to have each child have their own carry on item where all of their belonging and items needed are. If the kids are older they can carry their own bag if they are younger you might need to. I personally use a backpack for each kid. They are able to carry it themselves and everything that they need is in their bag. It makes things much easier than having to dig thru my carry on to find the things they need. When we are packing carry on personal items for a flight this is the list of things I make sure each kid has in their bag. It is important to not over pack but also to make sure you do pack the items that are essential.
- Empty water bottle. If you have a younger child you can use a sippy cup or a bottle.
- Snacks. I also include gum or a lollipop during take-off and landing to help with their ears. If you have a toddler or an infant a pacifier can do the same.
- Entertainment items. This includes tablets, coloring books, books, crayons, and small toys.
- Change of clothing.
- Comfort items. This includes a stuffed animal, a small blanket, or a small pillow. These items can help your child feel more comfortable and secure during the flight.
- Essentials for infants and toddlers. Diapers, pull-ups, wipes, bottles, sippy cups, formula, bags to put soiled diapers in, medications, feeding items, and any other items that your infant or toddler will need that an older child will not.
Tips for Flying with Kids: Things to do when you arrive at the airport
You have your bags packed, extra snacks, and extra outfits, and now you are at the airport. Now the adventure of flying begins and you want to keep things as smooth moving as possible. A meltdown in the security line with a child might not always be avoidable but there are many things you can do that will help keep things moving smoothly.
One of the worst things I have ever found is running later than I wanted to for a flight with kids in tow. Kids, especially young kids are not as aware as adults of the need to hurry up. They will mess around, they will drop something, and they will get distracted by all the new things they are seeing. They will need to go to the bathroom, and they will need a snack. These things take time to do and if you don’t leave enough time to get them done you will end up rushing and being short on time. Being short on time and rushing means that things get stressful.
For domestic flights, I say get to the airport 2.5 hours before your flight, and for international flights 3.5 hours before your flight. This gives everyone ample time to get thru security and any unplanned bathroom or snack stops that the kids need.
Plan a bathroom stop
Once you are thru security plan to make a stop at the bathroom. It has never failed me that anytime I have not done this a child has needed to use the bathroom as we are about to board the plane causing us to have to rush.
Avoid bringing liquids you don’t need
Liquids and too much of them will cause a delay in the security line. If you will need water you can fill the empty water bottle up or buy water at an airport store. They will not allow it thru security and how much liquid you can bring is limited so to keep things easier bring as few liquid items as you can.
Let the kids burn off energy
When you get to your gate you may be tempted to tell them to sit down and just be. Nerves and excitement will cause them to have extra energy. Before boarding the plane let them run off that energy so that there is no built up energy once they get on the plane. I like to find an area where there is no other people and let the kids do things like jumping jacks or jump up and down. Some airport have play areas and that is a great way to have the kids burn off energy before getting on the flight where they will have to sit down.
Use the Stroller or a Carrier
If you are traveling with a toddler you might be tempted to let them walk thru the airport. I do not suggest this at all. Once you get to your terminal to wait to board let them roam with you. Before that, strap them in the stroller or in the carrier to avoid them running off and causing more stress. Airports are busy places and knowing where your toddler is will make things easier.
Tips for Flying with Kids: When you arrive at your Destination
You have made it thru the getting to the airport, then the flight and now you have arrived at the destination airport. There are still things that need to get done before you can start your trip and there are a few things that can make that easier.
Don’t rush off the plane
You may be ready to get off the plane. Your children are sure to be ready to get off the plane. However so is everyone else on the plane which makes things a mess. I have found that if we just wait a few minutes that the struggle of getting all our stuff and the kids off the plane is a lot easier. The extra few minutes of waiting in our seats is better then the stress of trying to get in the crowd getting off the plane.
You may have had the kids take a bathroom break while on the flight. But once you arrive there are many things that can cause an unwanted rush to the bathroom. As soon as we get off the flight the first thing we do is a bathroom stop.
Refill water bottles
The second thing we do after our bathroom stop when we arrive is refilling the water bottles. From the airport we will be heading to our hotel most of the time. But that can mean that someone needs a drink along the way with no way to get one. Having full water bottles for everyone solves that easily.
Have one Parent stay with the kids
If you are traveling with 2 adults and a bunch of kids have one of the parents stay with the kids. Have the other parent go and get any of the checked luggage. While one of us is waiting for the luggage the other one is able to handle the bathroom stop, refilling water bottles and letting the kids run off some energy.
Overall, remember that flying with children can be a bit challenging, but with proper planning and preparation, you can help make the experience more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone involved. I hope these tips help you with your planning and packing so you can enjoy flying with kids.