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Flying With Children Tips

Flying with children is not only a challenge but an art form. Here are some tips that could help on your next adventure with your kids.

Child flying on an airplaneStrapping a kid in a seat inside of a long metal tube and telling it to sit there quietly for 3 to 15 hours doesn’t always work according to plan. In point, flying with children is a challenge that borders on an art form.

Not only do you, as a parent, need to keep your children happy and entertained throughout the duration of a flight — which is an extremely taxing task in and of itself — but you have to make sure they are not bothering the hell out of the other passengers sitting around you. I have to admit it, even though I’m a father who travels with a little girl, I still moan inwardly when I see babies and other little kids parked next to me in airplanes. My daughter has been traveling and flying since she was six weeks old, and she knows the drill: she sits down, hangs out, naps, watches videos, and looks at books until we arrive at our destination. She is an experienced flier, it is a normal part of her life, and she has yet to be more of a nuisance on a plane than what is inherently allotted to her on the grounds that she’s a human being. She does well, but this wasn’t by accident: my wife and I have a complex system in place to ensure that our flying experiences go as smoothly and as enjoyably as possible. After all, flying is the most expensive thing that we do, so we may as well enjoy it.

This takes preparation and a plan, the following are some tips for flying with children from Chaya, my wife:

Buying your tickets

  1. When booking your ticket think about whether you want layovers. Layovers give you shorter flights with breaks in between to run around, but also increases the overall travel time and the take-off and landing time which could be hard on your baby’s sensitive ears.
  2. Children under two don’t need their own seat and can fly free on their parent’s lap. If you want them to ride in a car seat, however, you need to purchase their own seat.
  3. If traveling with a lap infant, call your airline after booking to confirm you have a lap infant and ask about bulkhead bassinets. These are available on many international flights and give your small baby her own bassinet to sleep in, it can be a lifesaver!

In the Airport

  1. Give yourself plenty of time. Make sure you get to airport early for check in. If you have layovers, make sure you have enough time in between the flights. Things take a lot longer with kids, and it is generally a lot easier to take care of feeding, diapering and changing clothes in airports rather than on the plane. Traveling can be stressful and even young babies pick up on parent’s stress, don’t make it harder on yourself by putting the family in situations where you need to rush.
  2. Check-in early. Ask when you check-in if the flight is full. If the flight isn’t too full, the airline employee may be able to reserve an empty seat next to you to only be filled if absolutely necessary.
  3. Be sweet and look helpless. This goes a long with airline hostesses who can usually hook you up with extra free food for your little one, and other passengers who can help you with bags, let you cut in line and cut you a little slack when the kids get fussy.
  4. Hands-free baby carrying. You can use a stroller (they can often be checked at the gate) or a baby carrier (this is what we do), but either way, you’re going to want your hands free when going through security etc. I have worn Petra in a baby carrier through numerous security lines both in the U.S. and abroad and have never been asked to take it off to go through the metal detector.
  5. Pre-board….or don’t. Think about whether you want to take advantage of preboarding if you are traveling with young children. While it can be nice to skip the lines and get all settled in first, you also might rather your toddler had a few more minutes to run around the gate area rather than sitting on your lap in the plane. I usually pre-board because it allows me a few minutes to get extra help from stewardesses.
  6. Knowing what to expect, especially if you haven’t flown too much before, can help reduce stress. Ask friends, ask me, or check out the TSA tips and information to walk you through the airport TSA flying with children page.
  7. There is usually a play area, somewhere in the airport, or if not, moving sidewalks and escalators can be just as entertaining.

On the plane

  1. Help relieve pressure on your children’s ears when taking off and landing, this can really painful. If you are traveling with a baby the best way to do this is breastfeeding or giving them a bottle. If you are traveling with older children, warn them of the possibility and offer a hard sucking candy or gum.
  2. Make sure everything you need is readily available. I pack a small bag in the diaper bag to take out and put in the seat back pocket. In this I have: anti-bacterial hand wipes, a small snack and water, diapers,wipes, changing pad and a couple toys. I keep the diaper bag under the seat in front of me. I have short legs, so it isn’t too uncomfortable for me and definitely feels worth it to know I don’t have to stand up holding baby, open the overhead compartment and retrieve something while the plane is moving.
  3. This isn’t the time to feel shy asking for help, especially if you are traveling alone with kids. Feel free to ask flight attendants for extra water or snacks, blankets or anything else.
  4. Pack an engaging, diverse toy selection. Don’t bring toys with too many pieces or that are going to roll to the back of the plane too easily when your child drops them. For example, a drawing board with a pen attached with a string is probably a better choice than a cup full of crayons and some white paper. Bring toys that stimulate the mind to prevent boredom. Take both comforting familiar toys and one or two new ones as a special interesting treat.
  5. Get creative with what you have. Look at Skymall magazine together, or bring a piece of paper and glue stick, rip out pictures and make a collage. Make a puppet out of the air sickness bag. Sing a counting song about your peanuts as you eat them. Pretend your headphones are secret spy walkie-talkies; everything can be made into a toy.
  6. Cut everyone some slack, even yourself. Even if you usually have strict rules about how much TV your child can watch or when your baby is allowed to use her pacifier or nurse, relax them when you’re traveling. Flying can be trying for everyone, do whatever you need to (within reason of course) to get through the flight.
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Filed under: Air Travel, Travel With Family

About the Author:

After traveling on her own for three or four years, Chaya met up with Wade Shepard, the editor of VagabondJourney.com. They were married in 2009, and continue to travel the world together with their young daughter. From time to time Chaya blogs about family travel and life on the road. has written 102 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Chaya Shepard is currently in: Xiamen, China

3 comments… add one

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  • Paul Noble August 16, 2012, 4:09 pm

    My Name is Paul, I’m from the UK and I am a Open University student, studying Design and Innovation. I am currently designing a product to help young children rest or sleep while flying in economy class seating. After reading your ‘Flying With Children Tips’ entry I wondered if you might be able to help me with a little research, given your extensive travelling. I have 3 questions listed below; feel free to answer them as fully or briefly as you wish.
    Q1. What position is most comfortable for your child to sleep in when onboard a plane?
    Q2. Do you use the ‘Cares’ harness, if so how useful is this product?
    Q3. In your opinion, what would make your child’s sleep on an aeroplane more restful?
    Hopefully this is not too much to ask, but if it is then simply don’t respond, that’s ok.
    Thank you, Paul.

    Link Reply
  • Chaya Shepard August 17, 2012, 12:12 am

    Hello Paul,
    Happy to help with your research.
    Q1. What position is most comfortable for your child to sleep in when onboard a plane?
    The most comfortable position for my child is being cradled in my arms, like a small baby. This, however, is not the most comfortable for me, as my arms get tired of holding her like this, especially if I am sitting in the middle seat and don’t have access to two arm rests. The other option is for her to lie across the seats, head on my lap and feet on her seat. Both of these options work better if my husband is traveling with us so we have three seats to use, since our little girl is getting big and we don’t want to invade the space of the people sitting next to us.

    Q2. Do you use the ‘Cares’ harness, if so how useful is this product?
    I haven’t used the Cares harness. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but the risk of a crash in which the Cares harness would make a difference doesn’t seem very high to me. We travel in a backpacker style and have to be prepared to carry everything we need for a family of three in a few small bags. Space in our bags very tight.

    Q3. In your opinion, what would make your child’s sleep on an aeroplane more restful?
    A way for her to lie down or at least recline in an airplane seat. Maybe a seat insert or hammock style seat meant for young child’s size or something like a footrest that could attached to the seat.

    Best of luck with your research. Would love to help test it when it’s ready. 🙂

    Read more http://www.vagabondjourney.com/flying-with-children-tips/

    Link Reply