One of the most frequently asked questions about traveling is what advice I have for parents for flying with small children. After flying with our three kids several times, I think we’ve finally found a groove and system that works for us.
The most important tip I have for you when flying with small children is to be prepared.
The time you take to research, talk to other parents, read blogs (like this), and soak in all the advice you can lead a better experience for everyone when flying. Chances are you’re flying to go somewhere fun with your kids, and flying is part of the experience and trip. You want it to go as smoothly as possible.
From snacks to layovers, let’s talk about what makes flying with kids a bit easier.
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12 Tips for Flying with Small Children
1. Fewer Layovers is Ideal
Sometimes, layovers are unavoidable, especially if flying overseas, but book a direct flight if possible. The only time that stopovers might be a good idea is if you have long-haul flights because it gives you time to let your kids get out some energy in the airports.
Let’s not forget, layovers also mean you have a higher risk of losing luggage, and the idea of losing luggage when you’re flying with kids is horrible. Plus, you have to deal with multiple takeoffs, and that’s when kids seem to be most scared and upset.
2. Consider Flying at Night
We’ve tried flying early morning, around 5 AM, and by the end, my kids are fussy and exhausted.
If you’re on a long flight, flying at night is ideal. Chances are your kiddos will sleep most of the time, especially if you give them some melatonin to help them calm down.
Sleeping on the flight also delays jetlag in the middle of the day.
If you’re on a short flight, try booking a flight in the middle of the day. The main disadvantage of this is that airport might be busier, so you may have to plan to arrive earlier.
3. Reserve Seats – Pay Extra
Some airlines make you pay extra to reserve seats, and I say reserve the seats. You want to make sure your entire family sits together and that you have a choice where to sit.
4. Potty Break Before Boarding
The process of boarding, taxing, and taking off seems to take forever, so I suggest making sure you all use the bathroom right before boarding.
Be safe about bathroom breaks. Your kids should use the bathroom before you go through security as well; those lines are long. When I visited St. Thomas, we waited in line at the airport for an hour and a half. It was insane!
If you have a potty training toddler, I suggest wearing pull-ups on the airplane. You don’t want any accidents in the middle of an airplane.
5. Divide and Conquer
I like to set tasks for my husband and me or assign each person a kid or kids if you have more than two kiddos. This helps to make sure you don’t have to spread yourself too thin. Plus, having extra hands means you’ll have a moment to take a breather and gather yourself.
6. Use Early Boarding
When we fly, we like to use the early boarding option to our advantage. Most airlines announce in the beginning that passengers traveling with small children or those who need assistance should come to the gate.
Take advantage of this! Everyone knows the hassle of boarding an airplane and the annoying lines. Let’s not forget trying to bring your carry-on luggage and stuffing them into the small overhead compartments before everyone else around you.
No way. Board first – trust me!
7. Pack the Essentials in Your Carry-On Bag
Be smart about what you bring in your carry-on bag when flying with small children. You have to pack the essentials to keep everyone happy and always plan for things to take longer and pack more than you need.
Essentials that you must pack when flying with kids include:
- Extra clothing
- Formula or special food
- A few favorite toys
- A blanket
- Hoodie or sweater
- Socks (so they can take off their shoes)
8. Don’t Overpack
One mistake I see when people are flying with small children is packing too much. You need to keep your hands free, so I suggest bringing your stroller or collapsible wagon throughout the airport. They need to fold and be gate-checking friendly.
9. Bring Snacks
Snacks are key when flying with small children. My kids love to eat, and when they’re eating, they’re happy. Happy kids on an airplane are the name of the game, so bring plenty for your kids to enjoy.
Don’t depend on the food provided by the airplane. With new regulations, most only provide small bags of pretzels, and I know my kids need plenty more than that when they’re stuck in an airplane.
When packing snacks for flying, make sure you pay attention to the liquid requirements by the FAA. In most cases, you cannot fly with liquids over three ounces.
A few suggestions for snacks include:
- Goldfish crackers
- Granola bars
- Fruit snacks
- Fresh fruit
- Dried fruit
- Lunchables (you’ll need a small cooler bag for this)
10. Have Headphones and Tablets with Loaded Games and Shows
A tablet is a must-have. I know that some people are anti-screens, but flying is an exception that needs to be made, especially during longer flights. Watching a tablet will make life so much easier.
I suggest bringing along headphones for the tablet, and you also might want to grab headphones with a regular aux input cord that will connect to the TVs on the back of the headrest.
Chances are you won’t have WiFi while flying, so you need to download shows ahead of time onto the tablet and games. Make sure you have games that don’t need WiFi to run or consider paying for inflight WiFi.
11. Pack a Bag with Activities
Don’t pack things just to pack them; you need to be intentional and bring activities that will keep your small children engaged while traveling.
A few things that I suggest include:
12. Car Seats Help Contain Kiddos
The FAA suggests that young kids flying while contained in car seats. Not only is this much safer in the event of turbulence, but it also helps keep your children in their seats. In addition, kids are used to being in car seats while driving around town, so they understand the concept of staying in a car seat.
Kids will want to move around and potentially run around if they aren’t in a car seat. It helps my little kids to understand that flying doesn’t mean a free for all, and honestly, we’ve hit some bad turbulence before. F
lying is one of the safest ways to travel, and most injuries happen when turbulence happens, and people aren’t obeying the seatbelt signs. If you’re holding your small child, an injury might occur.
Flying with small children doesn’t have to be a daunting, horrible experience. With the right planning and snacks, your kids and family will love flying together and making memories in new locations.