10 Tips for Flying with Kids

Jenna Francisco March 13, 2014 12

As we board the plane for our trip from California to Brazil with our two toddler sons, I can see people looking, wondering if we will be sitting next to them. We take our seats, and the two women sitting near us ask if the kids will sleep. I tell myself not to worry, that we are prepared, and that even though this flight may not be easy, it will last just a few hours. I remind myself of the lessons I’ve learned over the years of flying with my kids at various ages.

Travelling with kids: The more prepared you are, the better.

Travelling with kids: the more prepared you are, the better.

1. Expect things to be wonky – don’t worry about routines

It has taken me years to learn that a missed nap or meal is not the end of the world. Kids will sleep and eat when they need to, and when they resist, there’s no need to worry. In fact, not wanting to sleep or eat can be a way of coping with a new situation. Often the excitement of traveling means that kids sleep much less than they do at home. If parents can relax and go with the flow, the kids will be more likely to relax, too. And when things do go badly, keep it in perspective: the flight won’t last forever and everyone will be okay.

Kids will sleep when they need to. Don't stress about keeping to the routine.

Kids will sleep when they need to. Don’t stress about keeping to the routine.

2. Bring new things to play with

It’s no secret that kids love new toys. Some favourite toys for travel are disposable ones like stickers or the magic colouring books sold at airport stores – use them on the plane and then toss them when the kids are finished with them. Other good options are small items that don’t take up much space and can be played with on airline tray tables, such as tiny animals or figures that the kids can play pretend with.

3. Bring familiar things to keep them comfortable

Kids may get excited about new stuff, but they love their own stuff, too. Let them choose a favourite small book or toy to bring, or choose a few of their special things and get them out as a surprise when the child needs comfort.

4. Have your child teach his/her favorite stuffed toy how to travel

Kids like the comfort of a soft toy, but they also love to teach their toys to do things. Our son travelled several times with one of his favourite toys. They slept together on the airplane and rode together in the stroller. We encouraged him to teach the toy how to be a good traveller so that he could model appropriate behaviour for it.

5. Load up the iPad

Puzzles, interactive e-books, and art apps are great to pass the time. Photo by T. Boca.

Puzzles, interactive e-books, and art apps are great to pass the time. Photo by T. Boca.

While some parents may not like to expose their kids to too much technology, a fun variety of tablet videos and apps will help children pass the time. Be sure to find apps that don’t require wi-fi and have enough activities to keep kids busy for long stretches. Puzzles, interactive e-books, and art apps are some of our standbys. We also purchase a special movie to use as a reward for being well-behaved aboard the plane.

6. Show examples of good behaviour in a book about airplane travel

Before the trip, find a children’s book about travel and airplanes, such as Amazing Airplane. Bring it on the flight and read it again at the beginning of the flight. Show your child the pictures of the passengers’ appropriate actions and responses, like sitting in their seats and not disrupting others.

7. Don’t worry too much about food, but bring fun snacks

Sometimes the novelty of a new and different snack is all it takes to make a kid feel happy and pampered. My kids never want to eat meals on the airplane, but a fun snack is exciting and helps both pass the time and keep them full. Try making healthy snacks exciting by offering favourite fruits or vegetables arranged into faces on a napkin. Later, consider letting them indulge in less-healthy snacks like chips or candy – for us, letting our kids have treats they don’t get at home makes the flying experience more fun for them.

8. Plan a few ways to pass the time together during “emergency” situations

Have a plan for lines.

Have a plan for when you’re in lines. Photo by D. Coetzee.

Some of the hardest moments of travel for both kids and adults are the waiting times, such as standing in line and waiting to deplane. Prepare a few ideas for easy ways to pass the time so that you’ll be able to distract your kids before a tantrum begins.

Some of our go-to methods include reviewing all the things we have done or seen that day, asking our kids to retell the day’s events, playing “guess the animal,” or telling a favourite story – whatever it is, it should be something you can do when you need to distract your kids in a pinch.

9. For overnight flights, make them feel at home

When it’s time to sleep, kids will fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer if they feel comfortable. Bring their pajamas, favorite bed toy, and usual bedtime book so that they will feel right at home sleeping while on the plane. If you have little ones that drink milk before bed, don’t be shy about asking for help from the flight attendants; they want your kids to be calm, too, so they’ll be happy to help by providing milk and warming it up for you by putting a bottle in hot water.

10. Have realistic expectations for how this flight will be for you

Travelling with kids is rewarding but requires a re-evaluation of expectations. Flying with them is no different; your mission is to keep them calm and comfortable, often at the expense of your own comfort and space. When I have realistic expectations, I don’t feel frustrated when I can’t get my rest because one of the kids is sleeping on my lap or the other needs to be held.

The good news about flying with kids is that they quickly become accustomed to the routine of flying. After my first son was born, we took him on many international trips and found that the more he travelled, the more adaptable he became. In fact, starting him travelling young was a good idea – he became used to airplanes and understood what good airplane behaviour is. Now, he begs us to take him on airplanes.


Getting There

Now that you know these great tips for flying with your kids, all you have to do is choose where to fly to! G Adventures has a host of Family Style trips on offer. Raise travellers and make a plan today.

12 Comments »

  1. Elena March 14, 2014 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    Great tips Jenna! I am lucky that I have only one child- since preparing with gadgets, toys or things to keep children entertained can be difficult at first- but as she has gotten older it has been fun to watch her prepare for travel by herself (and see which of my habits she has continued herself).

  2. Kimberly {Stuffed Suitcase} March 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Such great tips Jenna! A little bit of planning goes a long way.

  3. Jessie Voigts March 14, 2014 at 8:05 pm - Reply

    Love these tips, especially the last one. Adjusting your own expectations is the best thing you can do for everyone involved.

  4. Katie March 14, 2014 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    Great tips! I think 10 is huge. I really swallow a lot of angst and kill my daughter with kindness on long haul flights by playing whatever she wants to play, etc. It’s exhausting but worth it to keep her mood stable. I used to get frustrated that she doesn’t sleep on airplanes even on 15 hour flights to Hong Kong. Now, I just roll with it (with wine for me).

  5. Hilarye March 14, 2014 at 11:37 pm - Reply

    Loved the tips! That makes me sad those ladies made those comments. But hopefully the flight went great for you!

  6. Keryn from Walking On Travels March 15, 2014 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    Amazing tips Jenna! Such a great resource to share with families!

  7. Ashley March 16, 2014 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Fabulous! I learned new ideas! Thanks – I’ll share with lots of friends.

  8. Erin Bender (Travel With Bender) March 17, 2014 at 9:00 am - Reply

    Can never get enough of these. We fly so much that we are always looking for ways to keep the kids happy. Will share, thank you.

  9. Lance | Trips By Lance March 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Flying was probably our biggest anxious moment in traveling with our young son. For the most part he handled it well. I think it’s important to just go with it and know that a missed nap or less sleep isn’t the end of the world. And having that favorite toy along to “teach” things to is vital. Great list.

  10. Colleen Lanin March 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    Great flying with kids tips! Sharing all around!

  11. elina sara March 22, 2014 at 3:57 am - Reply

    Valuable tips. Great info for a families, whom, want to travel with the kids.

  12. Lesley Peterson April 15, 2014 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    Great tips, Jenna. My son adapted to air travel at a very early age. Knowing where he was going (a nice beach or to see his beloved cousins in Sicily) made him a very eager traveler. He would load a backpack with his own toy choices and use those to kill time in the waiting lounge. Once on board he would cross himself (his father is Catholic), make sure his belt was fastened and fall asleep immediately even before takeoff (to the flight attendants’ astonishment), asking to be woken before the food arrived. Food was a highlight and any extra little snacks packed helped pass any dull moments. I think that focusing on the destination makes kids eager and not anxious about travel. On a recent flight to and from Grenada, though, there were families who obviously hadn’t prepared. The parents themselves personally would have enjoyed the flight more if they had prepared a bit. Maybe you could get some of the airline mags to publish your kids travel tips!

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