Flying With Kids: A Guide for Parents
With vacation season fast approaching, concerns about flying with kids may be on your mind, especially if this will be the first time you’ve flown with your baby, toddler, or young child. We’re here to help.
From what to pack in your child’s carry-on bag to hacks for clearing the security line as soon as possible, you’ll find all the tips you need below to ensure the flight is as stress-free as possible for your whole family.
- Flying with Kids: What to Do Before the Flight
- What to Buy or Take with You on Board
- Tips for Getting Through Airport Security with Kids
- Once the Plane Lands
- How to Protect Your Family While Traveling
Flying with Kids: What to Do Before the Flight
Unless your child is very young, explain—briefly— that you’ll be taking a flight. Talking about what it’ll be like on the airplane is a good way to prepare your child for the journey and allow them to talk about any concerns they may have. Taking some things on board to keep your little one occupied is crucial, and we’ll discuss some ideas for activities and other things to pack below.
Ensure boarding the aircraft runs smoothly by gathering all the documentation you need for your child to fly in good time. If you’re flying within the US, you may not always be asked to show identification for your child if they’re under two years old, but you’ll definitely need a passport to travel internationally. It’s a good idea to carry a passport for your child, even if you’re traveling domestically, just in case, to prevent possible hold-ups or other problems.
It’s also important to be aware that some carriers are more family-friendly than others, so it’s worth looking into this, especially if the flight will be a long-haul one. For example, some airlines offer comparatively more spacious seating, while the charges for infant lap seats vary across carriers.
First Time Flying for Your Toddler or Young Child? How to Get Ready for Takeoff
Whether this is the first or the tenth time that your child has flown, preparing is the key to a happy trip. However, making some extra preparations ahead of time is even more important if this’ll be the very first time your child or toddler has flown. Your kid may be feeling nervous at the prospect, and assuaging their fears as far as possible is crucial.
Talking, in simple terms, about what will happen at the airport and on the plane itself can help take the edge off any anxieties your little one may be experiencing. You may wish to show them a child-friendly documentary about flying to allow them to get an even clearer picture of what they can expect. The unknown is often scary for children—and adults!—so giving them an idea of what flying entails is a good solution.
You know your child best: choose a flight at a time they’re likely to be sleepy so they can nap on board, or opt for a time when they’ll be wide awake if your kid is excited about flying for the first time. And a few extra little tips to help ensure a hassle-free flight? Book seats as near to the restrooms as possible, and avoid having your child sit in an aisle seat.
Finally: as you’ll know, your little one is a master at picking up on your energy. So staying positive and relaxed about the flight can make a real difference, especially when talking about it in the days leading up to your vacation. If you suffer from flight nerves yourself, try to keep these under wraps as far as your child is concerned.
What to Buy or Take with You on Board
Keeping your child occupied during the flight is key to happy family travels! The best things to buy or gather ready for the big day will largely depend on the age of your kid and their unique personality, but below are some general pointers when it comes to packing your child’s carry-on or flight bag.
When traveling with kids, boredom is your biggest enemy: providing your child with some interesting activities is one the best ways to avoid prolonged whining or a meltdown. This could be a simple magnet set, a coloring or sticker book (stickers seem to be universally popular with kids), or a book of age-appropriate puzzles for young kids.
A Reading Book
Buying a new reading book for the flight is also an effective way to keep the boredom monster at bay! Reading can help your child to relax while you’re in the air, and toddlers and young kids will likely find it comforting to read a book together with you, as they do at home.
A Cuddly Toy
Whether for general reassurance or as part of their settling down for a nap routine, a cuddly toy is an absolute must-pack for the flight. Your child’s most special cuddly toy could also be a great way to help your child prepare for the flight, especially if this will be their first time on a plane.
Suggest your child ‘pack’ a small bag for their toy, and have them explain to their friend what will happen in the airport.
A Few Small Play Figures
Depending on the age of your child, you could also consider packing a few small play figures in their flight bag. Many children will happily engage in having their toys ‘explore’ their seats or have them look out the window—even if you only get ten minutes of occupation out of it, those fifteen minutes all add up!
An Electronic Device
If your child has an electronic device, keeping it accessible for the flight is vital. Download an age-appropriate film in advance so you’ve got entertainment ready instantly. You may even wish to purchase a brand-new game for the device and save it for when you’re in the air. Check for second-hand games online to keep costs down—and be more sustainable.
A Travel Game
Again, depending on their age, your child may enjoy a simple magnetic travel game. Whether it’s Snakes and Ladders or Ludo, a game is a great way to pass half an hour or so of a long flight.
Snacks and Water
Sometimes, if all else fails, a sweet treat or other favorite snack is the only option! Pack a few snacks your child loves in their travel bag, including some healthy options along with a yummy light bite or two. Don’t forget a non-spill water bottle, too.
A Pacifier, Lollypop, or Similar
Many kids find the change of pressure experienced as the plane climbs and descends to be particularly painful: this is because the Eustachian tubes, located in the inner ear, are tiny in infants, which makes these pressure changes feel more painful. To relieve the discomfort, offer your child a pacifier, lolly, or similar suckable sweet.
A Change of Clothes
Grab a zip-loc bag and pop in a change of clothes for your child, along with spare diapers and changing supplies if applicable. These spare clothes, as well as the ones you dress your child in for the flight, should be loose, comfortable, and easy to put on and take off. Layers are a great idea.
Tips for Getting Through Airport Security with Kids
Flying with kids isn’t just about the airplane itself—you’ll also have to contend with airport security, and the more prepared you are for this, the better.
Have the Paperwork Required to Hand
Firstly, ensure you have the whole family’s paperwork up together. While on domestic flights within the US, there’s no legal requirement for children below eighteen years to carry proof of identity, the airline may ask you to provide proof of their ID if they’re traveling as a lap infant in order to prove that they are under two years of age.
For international flights, you’ll need a passport for your child, no matter how young they are.
Get Familiar with the Screening Rules Before the Day of Your Flight
The last thing you want is to have some of the carefully selected items you’ve put in your kid’s travel bag to be confiscated at airport screening. To avoid this, be really clear on what can and can’t be taken on board in your carry-on cases well before you head to the airport.
For example, it’s worth bearing in mind that while most types of food and drink can be taken on board with no problem, there’s a limit of 3.4 ounces of liquids per passenger.
Make the Most of the Family Screening Lines
Most major airports in the US offer specific family screening lines for those with babies or very young children, allowing you to skip extended waiting times. It’s not always clear whether these lines are available or where they’re located, so ask a member of the airport staff to point you in the right direction if you’re unsure.
Whizzing through security via a family screening line is a good way to get flying with kids off to the best possible start!
Apply for a TSA Precheck
Want to clear the security screening lines even more quickly? You may be able to apply for a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) pre-check if you’re traveling with a child. If this facility is available, once it’s successfully completed, you’ll be able to pass through security without the need for any member of your party to remove their shoes, and there will be no requirement to remove items like laptops or liquids from your carry-ons.
Arrive at the Airport Early
The best way to avoid any problems at security—or other issues—is to plan your journey with a view to arriving at the airport early. This will avoid the stress of rushing and help to keep everyone’s temper cool.
As a guide, aim to arrive at the airport two hours early if you’re traveling domestically within the US and three hours early if you’re flying internationally.
Just Before Boarding
And before you board the plane, it’s a great idea to take your child to the toilet in the airport or change their diaper so they’re fresh for the start of the journey. There’s generally no fresh milk available on an airplane, so you may also wish to buy a cup of milk once you’re through security to transfer it into a sippy cup for your child to drink on the flight.
And don’t forget, there are no diapers available on planes, either, so if you’re suddenly concerned that you may not have enough for the flight, now is the time to quickly grab some more.
Make the Most of the Family Room
Many airports now offer designated family rooms, which you can access once you’ve cleared security. You’re likely to find toys and play equipment here, and heading to this space so your child can get rid of a final burst of energy can help dispel the worst of the mid-air fidgets!
Tips for the Plane
Here are our top tips for getting through the flight itself with minimal stress so you arrive at your destination as unruffled as possible!
Opt for a Night Flight
If you’ll be flying long-haul with a toddler or young child, book a night flight if at all possible. This’ll hopefully allow your child (and yourself!) to sleep for at least five or six hours of the journey and will help minimize disruption to their routine. A flight that departs around 7 pm is likely to be a good choice, if available.
Consider Buying a Seat for Your Child
While kids under the age of two usually travel free when they sit on a parent’s lap, it’s definitely worth considering buying a seat for your little one, especially if your flight is a long one. As well as giving your child more room to stretch out, it’ll make the whole experience easier, from eating meals to keeping them occupied during the journey. Plus, it’ll make your flight a significantly more comfortable one, too.
Make the Most of the Early Boarding Facility
You may think taking advantage of the early boarding facility is a recipe for disaster: being on the plane longer means boredom setting in quicker, right? However, using this facility is highly recommended for those with young families. Doing so means you can get your child settled and set up with their activities in their seat and your carry-on bags secured without trying to do these things at the same time as all the other passengers.
Don’t Forget the Chargers
As well as ensuring that any devices you’re bringing along for entertainment are fully charged, be sure also to pack a backup charger in your carry-on. While most airplane seats incorporate chargers, having an emergency charger to hand is a great idea, just in case the seat port isn’t working. The last thing you want is for the movie your kid is enjoying to disappear suddenly, especially when you’ve still got hours left onboard…
Take plenty of opportunities during the daytime portions of the flight to walk the aisles with your child. As well as being good for keeping the blood flowing, simply stretching their legs and getting moving is likely to help prevent restlessness and improve everyone’s mood! Obviously, avoid walking the aisles during times when meals are being served.
Book a Bassinet
If you have a child of eight months or under, you may also want to book a bassinet seat for your little one: most airlines offer them, but they do tend to get reserved quickly, so if you’d like one, reserve it as soon as you make your flight booking.
Bassinets attach to special fittings on the airplane’s walls and allow babies to lie down fully, helping to ensure the most comfortable flight possible. Best of all? They’re free to reserve! Bassinets may also be referred to as airplane baby beds, sky cots (my personal favorite), or baskets.
Got Airline Points? Spend Them on the Good Seats
If you’ve accrued a significant amount of airline points through your past travels, then now might be a good time to use them to upgrade your family to better seats. True, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to enjoy a glass of champagne in peace as you settle back comfortably with your book for a few hours. However, all that extra space and comfort will make a long-haul flight, especially, that bit more pleasant if you’re flying with kids.
And one of the best pieces of advice when it comes to flying with kids? As hard as it may be, try to stay calm, be flexible, and keep things in perspective. Whether you have a smooth flight or there’s a multitude of mid-air temper tantrums followed by a catastrophic diaper incident, know that this time will pass, you’ll arrive at your destination, and before you know it, your vacation will begin.
While it’s normal to worry that other passengers may be staring at or judging you, try to remember that most people will have had their own experiences (and horror stories!) of traveling with young children and will be sympathetic. So take a deep breath, relax, and know that, whatever the flight throws at you, you can handle it.
Once the Plane Lands
You made it—congratulations! However, there are still a few tips to take on board (excuse the pun) to make the official start of your vacation smooth sailing. While it’s likely that everyone in your party will want to get off the airplane as soon as possible, waiting until most of the other passengers have disembarked will probably serve you well. You can take your time to ensure you have all your luggage and haul all your gear down the aisles without worrying about crashing into other passengers.
If you’ve arranged to pick up a rental car at your destination and are traveling with a partner (as well as a child) in tow, then it’s generally a good idea to have one adult go find the car and return with it while the other waits with the kids at the airport, if possible.
How to Protect Your Family While Traveling
It’s not just keeping your kids occupied on the flight you need to consider, but also ways to keep your family safe while traveling and on vacation. Taking out appropriate insurance cover ahead of your holiday is vital, to ensure you’ll have access to the care you need, in the unlikely case that the worst happens.
Another great way to protect your family is by using an app such as Findmykids. This is a great tool to help keep your child safe and give you peace of mind. The Findmykids app connects to your child’s smartphone or GPS watch and pairs with your own device. It allows you to track your child and their movements, and your child can use it to send you an SOS if they’re in trouble or need help.
It’s a great all-around solution to safeguard your kids: if they’re lost and aren’t sure where they are or are distressed, they can turn on the audio so you can hear what’s going around them. And as a handy bonus, parents can also use it to manage their child’s screen time, too.
How do I prepare my child for flying?
There are several ways you can help prepare your child for a flight. Explaining to them simply and clearly what will happen at the airport and on the plane itself is a great place to start. It’s also important to speak about flying in a positive and relaxed manner, as vacation day approaches, so that your child doesn’t pick up on the tension that may add to any anxiety they’re experiencing.
What is the hardest age to fly with a child?
While there’s no set age that’s ‘more difficult’ than others when it comes to flying with kids, in general, it’s much easier to travel with older children and teenagers than it is with younger kids. However, by preparing as much as possible for the flight, the experience of flying with toddlers or young children may be easier than you think.
What are the rules for kids on an airplane?
While specific rules are likely to change depending on the individual airline, in the majority of cases, an airline should do everything possible to ensure that children are seated next to their parents or no more than one row apart if this isn’t possible. Children under the age of two must be secured whenever the seatbelt light is on either using the provided seat loop to secure the child on the parent’s lap or through the use of another restraint, such as a car seat.
What is the best age to fly with kids?
In some cases, parents find it easier to travel with babies as opposed to toddlers or very young children, as babies can be more likely to sleep for a large part of the flight and don’t necessarily need lots of distractions to keep boredom from settling in. As mentioned above, however, preparation is the key to a happy, successful flight, whatever age your child happens to be!
The picture on the front page: FamVeld/Shutterstock.com
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