Even the most seasoned traveler can admit to the fact that flying can be a pretty stressful affair sometimes – negotiating your way through crowds to make it to your gate in time, slow lines at security and occasionally being told that your flight has been delayed by around 10 hours. These are all stresses we could do without before starting a vacay or an important trip. Add a child into the mix and suddenly, dealing with the former annoyances as a solo flyer start to seem like a holiday in itself!
If the idea of going through the airport, boarding and flying process with a kid stresses you, fret not, you’re definitely not alone as a new parent. Remember that your first time on a plane was probably a strange and unnerving experience too and most children will be feeling the same mix of fear, excitement and eventually, boredom (and as long as you come prepared for your flight, the latter emotion can be kept to a minimum).
Traveling with your children for the first time – or any time – shouldn't have to feel like a bad scenario. Neither is it guaranteed to be a joyful experience if you’re juggling toddlers on a long haul flight, but there are certain ways of making the flight manageable and far more sane than you probably anticipated (for you and others on board!). That’s why we’ve compiled a list of insider tips for all new parents from well-traveled parents themselves – those superheroes among mortals. Here are 20 ways to survive traveling with young children – you’ve got this.
20 Come Bearing Plenty Of Entertainment Supplies
Whether your flight is relatively short or you’re in it for the long haul, it’s always, always worth packing plenty of fun games and activities to keep your little ones entertained. It’s a good idea to keep things varied too, so make sure to bring a mix of tech gadgets and good old paper and coloring pencils.
Load up the iPad with their favorite shows or Disney films and whatever you do, don't forget to pack the charger and headphones! (There are usually charging ports in the aircraft, but maybe pack a back-up just in case). As for old-school fun, take along some drawing and activity books with plenty of crayons and perhaps a craft kit – so long as it falls within the airline regulations.
19 Bring Plenty Of Snacks On The Flight
Most adult flyers turn their nose (and stomach) up at airline food, so it’s safe to assume that not all kids are going to be mad for plane cuisine either. Whether your child happens to be a fussy eater or not, plane food may not always go down well, so make sure not to rely on their in-flight meal as their only form of sustenance throughout the journey.
Snacks, snacks and more snacks are your friends when flying with kids and the more varied your little picnic of in-flight treats is, the better. Keep things healthy by bringing a balance of cereal bars and fresh fruit slices with a few yogurt tubes or bags of gummy worms as a treat.
18 Pack Every ‘Just In Case’ Supply
There’s no such thing as ‘over preparing’ when you have kids in tow, and the last thing you want to be faced with when settling into your plane seat is the horrifying thought that you left this and that behind at home. We might not be so bothered about leaving the odd item behind as adult travelers, but if you’ve misplaced your kid’s favorite toy or a supply of band-aids, then you’re going to spend the flight regretting it.
In most cases, the flight crew may be stocked with a few emergency supplies such as spare diapers and a sachet of baby milk, but don’t expect them to have a baby and toddler warehouse of stuff. It’s up to you to not only pack everything you’ll definitely need but everything you think you might need.
17 Plan The Flight In Sync With Their Bedtime
It may not always be such a realistic idea in accordance with your schedule, but if you can afford to be flexible with your flight times, there’s no better time to choose than when your little one may be due for a nap. If time isn’t an issue when you fly, you could try booking it to fall in sync with your kid’s usual bedtime routine.
Jet lag can be a disorientating enough feeling when you’re an adult traveler. As a child – it could very well ignite a cranky tantrum in them later. As difficult as it might be to keep to anything resembling a normal ‘routine’ when you fly with kids, this is something you may at least be able to control – offering you peace and quiet on a long journey home.
16 Let The Flight Crew Know Your Struggle
Every parent's worst nightmare when flying is to feel undermined by the judgemental glares of everyone else while your kid’s tantrum is in full swing and you slowly sink into a pit of embarrassment and despair. You don’t have to go it alone though. Short of having super-nanny fly right alongside you, the next best thing can be to make friends with the cabin crew.
Flight crew members have seen it all before and will be happy to help passengers out in any way they can. Let a friendly staff member know if you’re feeling nervous or if you need someone to comfort and amuse them while you pop to the bathroom. After takeoff, friendly crew may even let your restless rascals walk along the length of the plane with them to cool off. Never be afraid to ask for help.
15 Seat Them Near The Window To Curb Boredom
Some parents would argue that the aisle seat is king when flying with kids because of bathroom breaks or diaper changes, but if you’re looking to keep a wild child relatively calm and distracted for the duration, a window seat may be much more preferable.
This is where your child’s natural curiosity can be thoroughly quenched and encouraged – by letting them stare out at the world below. Use it as a way to play games together, perhaps by asking them about the shape of the clouds. What do they see? An animal? A Face? Get them to draw what they see. Another plus to seating your child by the window is the added comfort factor – they can prop a pillow up next to the wall of the plane and sleep slightly more naturally than upright in a middle or aisle seat.
14 Use Sweets & Bottle Feeds To Combat Ear Discomfort
Ear-popping is a mild feeling of discomfort for us, but for babies and small children, the change in air pressure could feel about as welcome as teething. To keep pain and discomfort to a minimum for your little ones, be sure to bring on boiled sweets or lollipops for toddlers and young children to suck on since swallowing will help equalize the pressure.
As for young babies who may not be able to suck on a lollipop yet, the take-off and landing parts of the journey can be the perfect time to bottle feed. If you can, try to hold off from feeding until the air pressure rises and drops so your baby has a distraction from the uncomfortable ‘popping’ sensation.
13 Stay Calm and Collected And Kids Will (Mostly) Follow Suit
It may sound easier said than done to remain calm if your kids are kicking the seat in front of them and screaming at the top of their lungs but stay with us on this. It’s only natural to appear agitated and stressed if your kid is in mid-tantrum mode, but if you respond to chaos with chaos, kids can pick up on it and may continue regardless.
Instead, try keeping a cool head from the very start of the flight – your kids will pick this up in you and are more likely to behave since there’s nothing to rally against. If all else fails, it’s wise to remember that if your child does have a major crying episode, it's unlikely you will ever see your fellow passengers ever again.
12 Pack A Spare Shirt Or Top (For You)
Whether you fly solo or with a child, it’s always advisable that you bring extra clothing with you to layer up in case the cabin gets chilly. But if you’re jetting off with a small child (and particularly with an infant) then you should definitely not forget to pack some spare clothing for yourself – specifically a spare top or shirt you could change into.
The fact is, planes are not always a friend of sensitive little tummies and if some turbulence or the takeoff and landing sensations should cause them to have a sudden accident, you’ll be glad you packed a spare shirt to change into. It won’t be much fun to walk through the terminal with a throw-up stain and stench when you land.
11 Don’t Be Afraid To Talk Your Child Through Things
Whilst all the other seasoned flyers are plugged into their various devices or deep into a good book as the engines whirr and the plane makes its ascent and descent, this is all brand new to your child, and most of it could seem quite terrifying. For this reason, it can make a world of difference if you speak to your child about each new step of the flight.
From the plane getting off the runway to the landing, don’t be shy about narrating what's going on if your child seems nervous or restless. If nothing else, just hearing the sound of your voice among all the cacophony of chatter, flight announcements and turbulence is bound to have a soothing effect on your child, even if they can’t understand.
10 Pre-Order Baby Milk From The Airport Pharmacy
Flying with a baby for the first time means negotiating the headaches of bringing certain quantities of baby formula through security. The good news is, baby milk and food are most definitely allowed on a flight but be prepared for airport agents to open any container over four ounces.
If the idea of your baby’s formula being checked and open to the elements isn’t something you're comfortable with, you can always cut out the middleman and pre-order some from the airport so it’s ready and waiting to be collected. Skip the headache and questions at security by collecting baby milk from the airport departures area instead. Most pharmacy brands at airports will be able to arrange this.
9 When Possible, Try To Book A Direct Flight
If the idea of sharing one plane journey with your child is making you wince, then we’re guessing you probably won’t want to double or triple that experience. If you can arrange for your flight to be direct i.e. without any stops or layovers, then you should definitely consider it – especially for your first journey with a restless toddler in tow.
Booking connecting flights make sense if you're traveling long haul to give yourself and your kids a chance to stretch their legs, but if the destination is a fairly short distance, it's simply not worth waking tired and cranky toddlers form their deep sleep just to herd them through yet another airport terminal and security line.
8 Pack Your Child A Plane ‘Goody Bag’
While sticking to the tried and tested forms of entertainment for your kids is certainly not a bad idea, it can help to mix things up a bit. Pre-loading their tablet with their favorite film isn't guaranteed to keep them quiet and amused for the whole flight (particularly if you’re looking at one longer than 2 hours!), which is why a surprise goody bag may be just the trick.
If there’s one thing every kid loves about friends' birthday parties (aside from the cake and games) it's the treat bag they get to take home with them. These are often filled with an assortment of toys, puzzles, and sweets and the best part is – it’s all a surprise! Give them a bit of novelty and intrigue alongside the trusty in-flight gadgets and you’ll at least extend their amused time (and therefore, your peace and quiet).
7 Pack Your Hand Luggage In A Backpack
God knows having children in tow means your hands are very rarely free – juggling wet wipes and diapers in one hand while grasping tight onto their small sticky hands in the other. Make life easier for yourself by carrying everything you'll need on the flight in a backpack as opposed to a diaper bag holdall.
When you’re not maneuvering your way through busy crowds in the airport escalator or malls, your usually waiting in long queues at the check-in desk or in the security line, and it will vastly help matters if you’re not weighed down by a heavy and unsupportive shoulder bag. Free up your arms with a backpack so you can carry your exhausted little one if needs be.
6 Research Airline Fees/Rules For Flying With Babies & Toddlers
To avoid making your first flight with the kids a stressful mess before it even begins, be sure you’re well prepared in advance when it comes to airline fees and regulations for traveling with young children. Children aged 2 and above, for example, will be able to occupy their own seat on the plane and are therefore charged the full adult fare.
The younger your child, the lower the fee to travel and so on, so just make sure you’re aware of the precise costs and rules that apply to your baby or toddler. On top of everything else, no new parents want to be slapped with a surprise seating charge on their first journey together. Every airline is different though, so ensure you’re in the know before traveling.
5 Try This Technique If They Just Won’t Calm Down
Okay, so you’ve tried distracting them with sweets, Disney sing-alongs and a game of ‘I Spy’ but you’re out of ideas and now they’re climbing the plane seat screaming while you – and every other passenger – are climbing the walls. What to do? Child therapist and wellbeing expert Akcelina Cvijetic, could have the answer.
A highly effective technique known simply as ‘The Hold’ may be able to calm your distressed baby. Start by holding them at a 45-degree angle and gently folding their arms in place across their chest. While keeping your non-dominant hand on their arms, hold their bottom in your other hand and rock them gently left to right for 15 seconds. You can also try holding them high above your head and gently lowering them. Worth a try, right?
4 Get Your Kids To ‘Play Pilot’ To Curb Flying Fears
No, we’re not suggesting you let your 10-month-old waddle up to the cockpit and climb on to the co-pilot's chair (that would give everyone on board a certified flying phobia!). But if your child appears nervous on the plane, a good way of helping them relax can be to turn it into a game and pretend play as the pilot.
Playing pretend and letting their imagination entertain them is what kids do best, so if you can encourage your child to role play as pilot and play flying like they would playing doctors and nurses at home, this can really help to reduce their anxiety and give them a fun distraction that at the same time makes them feel pretty grown up!
3 Dress Your Children In Comfy, Roomy Layers
Chances are, you definitely wouldn’t wear your tightest jeans or itchiest jumper when flying, so why dress your child in clothes that don’t have the most relaxing fit? It can't be stressed enough that children need to feel comfortable and calm on a flight and the quickest way to undo any chance of this is to dress them in tight, restricting clothes outfit that will have them feeling cranky and restless.
Be sure to dress your child in flowy, roomy layers like loose tops, dresses, wide shorts and stretchy pj-style bottoms instead of jeans or tights. Make sure they appear comfy before leaving the house and just remember to keep them in layers – you never know how chilly or sweltering the aircraft is going to be.
2 Don’t Underestimate A Soft, Cuddly Toy
Trusted gadgets like their iPad and DVD players are all well and good, but sometimes, young kids will be craving comfort and familiarity as much as shiny new things that can entertain them. For that reason, you must never underestimate the calming and distracting powers of a traditional soft and cuddly toy in times of stress and unfamiliarity.
Your first thought could be to pack their favorite toy, but since there's a chance it could get lost, this probably isn’t the smartest idea. Buying your child a new, squishy and huggable pal for the plane ride will be an exciting treat for them and a kind of comfort blanket. If their heart is absolutely set on their favorite toy though, we’d recommend investing in a replacement toy just in case!
1 Lastly, Don’t Forget To Take Care Of Yourself!
Hopefully, these tips can help you fly with your little ones in relative peace and harmony – just make sure you don't wear yourself too thin in the process! A chilled toddler needs a chilled parent and as difficult as it is to remain chill sometimes, it’s super important to take care of yourself too.
Basics like getting a good night’s sleep the night before you fly and getting a healthy meal or two throughout the day will see you in fighting form to ace the challenges of flying as a new parent. Remember that you aren't the first and won't be the last parent to fly with unpredictable children, so don't be hard on yourself. You got this.