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23 Sanity-Saving Tips for Airplane Travel with Kids

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

How to have smooth and (mostly) stress-free airplane travel with your children.

Traveling on an airplane with kids can feel like the epitome of walking on eggshells... making sure conditions are just right to ensure they don’t sass a surly TSA agent, have an accident during take off, or lose it when everyone on the plane is asleep. In addition, you have to make sure you have your travel ducks in order for that many more people. Sigh. It can be a mile high nightmare.

However, with thoughtful prep and effective contingency plans, your air travel can feel more relaxing than relentless. And you won't have to hand out an apology letters and $10 ($20?) to everyone in a 12-seat radius of your littles.

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1. Book flights that coincide with sleepy time.

If you’d rather not deal with a fidgety child on an airplane, select flights that overlap with your child’s naptime, or are in the air at night. To support them in falling asleep in such a foreign environment, replicate their nap or bedtime routine as much as possible, by packing their pajamas, lovie, favorite sleepy time books, and any other tools you use to get them to snooze land.

Ensure you’re also able to get some sleep by packing earplugs, an eye-mask, your own pajamas, and some lavender essential oil, or other soothing scent. In addition, you can download a relaxation recording that supports sleep.

2. Reserve a ticket for every member of the family.

Red, European passport sitting on top of a map, next to a compass.

Even if you have a child who is under two and will probably fly for free, you still need to reserve a ticket for them, just not a seat. And if you’re flying international, the bub will need a passport. You probably already knew all this, but it’s worth a mention.

3. Select seats in the back, near the bathrooms.

Not only is the back of the plane safest in a crash but it also has bathrooms, that most kids need... a lot. This seating choice minimizes long in-flight commutes and might even allow you to send the kiddo on a solo bathroom adventure. And added bonus, it’s usually easy to get seats together at the back, as many travelers covet seats as far forward as possible.

4. Organize your travel documents in a waterproof folder.

 A white table with a clear, waterproof folder with travel documents and a notebook on top of it, next to a gold watch and rings.

Prevent the need to shuffle through numerous bags and wallets when you need to show passports, or other travel documents, by collecting passports, flight confirmations, birth certificate copies, visas, or anything else you’ll need to get from point A to B, in a waterproof folder that securely closes. In addition to facilitating easy retrieval, if you make sure to always put documents back in the folder after use, you can help prevent misplacing these crucial items.

5. Ensure all passports are valid for at least 6 months after your return flight.

For example, if your return flight is scheduled for August 1 and your passport expires on December 1, many airlines won’t let you on the plane. Save yourself a serious travel kerfuffle by triple checking that all passports are good to go for at least 7 to 10 months after your return flight. And know that kiddo passports expire in less time than an adult’s.

6. Check the airline’s policy on diaper bags, car seats and strollers.

Bed with a striped blue sheet on it, in addition to a brown leather diaper backpack, baby shoes and sunglasses, a wooden rattle, and diapers and wipes, all being prepared for a trip.

While almost every airline does not charge to check a stroller or car seat, and doesn’t count the diaper bag as one of your carry-ons, it’s still wise to double check on their website so you’re not met with surprise charges on the day of travel.

7. Be smart with carry-ons.

As adults usually end up carrying most of the kids’ stuff, it’s wise to select carry-ons that are easy to carry, and can be attached to other carry-ons. For example, swap your purse for a backpack (or put your purse in a backpack), use bags with wheels, and select bags that can be attached to the ones with wheels.

8. Load a bag with new-to-them entertainment supplies.

Flat lay with brightly colored toy cars, blocks, trains, Legos, and a monkey stuffed animal for airplane travel with kids.

Kids love novelty, at least when it comes to toys, books, art supplies and other kid stuff. To wow out your littles, and distract them from the fact that they have to sit still for X hours, bring a backpack filled with new small toys, coloring books and other goodies that aren’t messy. If you don’t want to spend a lot on this endeavor, utilize thrift stores and used bookstores, which offer “almost new” options that are usually in excellent condition.

9. Bring a baby carrier, or stroller.

If you have more than one child, or a baby or toddler, you can save yourself mega-stress by bringing your favorite baby carrier, or stroller. This not only gives you free hands to lug luggage, or space on a stroller to store carry-ons, but also prevents the need to wrangle a wandering child, and facilitates speed if you need to hustle.

10. Pack a battery pack.

Child with blonde braids and a gray shirt tapping on an iPad during an airplane trip.

As screens are often a go-to entertainment method in planes, trains, cars, boats... it can be a major pain when they die and you have no way to charge them. Some blessed airplanes have outlets, but many don’t, often leaving you with a pissed tot when Daniel Tiger cuts out right when he was getting to his morality lesson. Prevent this by ordering a battery pack that has enough oomph to fully charge a computer. We heavily rely on our Jackery AC Portable Laptop Charger.

11. Carry on nausea soothers.

There’s nothing worse than kids puking on a plane, so do yourself a solid by packing tools to relieve nausea, such as peppermint essential oil, ginger chews, and some crackers. In addition, have your child take small sips of water if they begin feeling nauseous, or ask the flight attendant for a Sprite or Ginger Ale.

12. Load up on healthy snacks and water.

Black metal water bottle on a wooden bedside table in the Caribbean.

As lovely as dry pretzels and 15 peanuts are, they don’t do a thorough job at sating hunger. To minimize hangery children, pack their nutrition-filled favorites and bring refillable water bottles (to fill after you clear security.) This wellness-enhancing food and water not only elevates your in-flight experience but also minimizes the illness, constipation and fatigue flying can often cause. In addition, bringing your own nosh saves significant funds, as airport and airplane food is often exorbitantly overpriced.

13. Pack layers.

Planes can get cold, like Arctic cold. So even if you’re flying to a balmy locale, throw two to three layers, for each family member, in your carry-on. And because a good deal of heat is lost through the feet, add some cozy socks.

14. Give your family more time than you think you need to get to your gate.

Check in area at a modern airport.

While numerous circumstances like traffic, security snafus, and other issues could derail your transit to the airplane, shuffling kids through the process seriously extends the needed time. So take the amount of time you think you’ll need, and add tack on one to two hours. It’s much less stressful entertaining kids for an hour or two at the gate, than rushing to make a flight.

15. Talk to the gate agent ASAP if you weren’t able to reserve seats together.

If you couldn’t get a block of seats together when you reserved your seats online, arrive at the airport early so you’re able to talk to the gate agent and see if they can move people around to ensure you’re able to sit by your children. Worst case, you can ask somebody to swap with you when you get on the plane, as they would likely prefer you care for your children instead of them.

16. Ask if you can pre-board.

People boarding a white plane from the tarmac.

While many airlines only let you pre-board if you’re business class, platinum elite, gold elite, economy plus, or super-extra-special-credit-card-member, some (usually foreign) airlines will do families with young children the logical kindness of boarding first, as it takes way more time to board when you’re herding little people. To see if they’ll throw you a bone, inquire at the service counter before boarding begins.

17. Pee before you board.

Head to the bathroom with your brood about 15-minutes before boarding to make sure the potty dance doesn’t happen when you’re about to hand over your ticket, or barred from the on-board bathroom because you’re about to take off.

18. Breast or bottle-feed during take off and landing.

Baby about to breastfeed to equalize ears while taking off in an airplane.

If you have a baby, minimize ear discomfort by popping them on the boob or bottle as the plane ascends and descends.

19. Know how to minimize flying anxiety.

Turbulence, strange, super loud noises, and the fact that they’re thousands of feet high can make children panic. Soothe nerves by talking to your child about how normal turbulence is (about the same as bumps in the road when you’re driving), and that the crew is expertly trained to keep passengers safe in all situations.

In addition, bring headphones so they can block out the noise with music, a movie or this no-more-airplane-anxiety relaxation recording. Other calming tools include a beloved stuffed animal, a handhold or that bag of new treasures mentioned above.

20. Practice relaxation techniques.

Profile of a child looking out the window of an airplane.

In addition to thinking of ways to sooth your child on an airplane, begin practicing ways to soothe yourself when your patience is running on empty. For example, begin utilizing deep breathing whenever you feel your irritation bubbling up, create affirmations to help you remember why you’re traveling and why you love your children (!), bring along relaxing essential oils, like lavender, to signal your mind and body to unwind, or do anything else you find calming.

21. Do a lap up and down the aisle every hour.

Pent up energy can bust out in not great ways, making kids extra not fun on a flight. To release that energy before it expresses itself in shrieking or seat kicking, take them on a stroll up and down the aisle every hour or so.

22. If you’ll be flying overnight, and your child occasionally wets the bed, bring a diaper.

Stack of Honest brand diapers being packed for airplane travel, on a wooden table next to a green houseplant.

As embarrassing as it might be for an older kid who no longer wears diapers to wear one when they sleep on the flight, an accident in their seat can make for a miserable flight.

23. Give them melatonin tablets if you’re flying into a wonky time zone.

If you’re traveling to a time zone that could seriously derail your children’s sleep schedule, check with their pediatrician about helping them regulate their circadian rhythm with melatonin tablets. If you get the go ahead, give them a dose a few hours before you land.

In addition, if you’re arriving during the day, and need them to stay awake, plan some outdoor activities in the sun, as sunlight gives the body the message that it’s time to be awake.

If you’re arriving in the evening, but the kids are wide awake, promote sleepiness by having a healthy dinner, going through your regular bedtime routine, drinking some chamomile tea, turning off the lights, hopping in bed, and playing some soothing music, or a guided meditation recording, if they’re having trouble falling asleep.


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