6 Tips for Surviving Long Flights with Young Kids

Traveling with children even a short distance can be intimidating.

But boarding a plane knowing that you’re stuck there for a while can be even more frightening.  Forget the not-so-friendly looks you’re getting as you board with your crew, and try out these tips!

6 Tips for Traveling with Children by Air

1.  Bring a small carry-on.

Yes, a small carry-on.  Lots of parenting books advise you to pack plenty of things to entertain your child during the flight.  The exact opposite is true.  I tried bringing a bag stuffed full of “entertainment” for a toddler once.  All she wanted to do was play with the plastic cup from her complimentary drink and the in-flight magazine.  Take only the essential items for entertaining small children.

Also, bringing a carry-on that barely fits in the overhead bins only causes frustration.  It also creates even more disturbing glares as you board the plane directing your children to the correct seats while bumping other passengers along the way. Remember: you still only have two hands.

If your child is big enough, encourage him to carry his own small backpack on.  But make sure it’s not too heavy because you don’t want to end up carrying the extra load through the airport later.

2.  Prepare your children for the flight.

Long before the boarding call or even the arrival at the airport, teach your children about the flight. Tell them what to expect on the plane.  Help them anticipate an exciting adventure!

In our house, we play a game called “Airplane, Airplane”.  In it, we role play being on an airplane.  Usually Craig is the flight attendant and the rest of us are passengers.  We practice how to sit, order drinks (if they’re complimentary), listen to headphones, and how to sleep sitting up for the long flights.  The kids always like the pretend snacks and choosing the destination.

Read a children’s book about flying to alleviate any fears that may be lingering. My son’s favorite airplane book is Airplanes by Byron Barton.

3.  Use the restroom in the airport before boarding.

The family restrooms in many airports are enormous compared to the ones on the plane.  If you get claustrophobic in the plane lavatories alone, just imagine what it’s like to take one or two little kiddos inside with you.  Change diapers and make sure everyone uses the toilet before you board the plane. Save your toilet trips for emergency distractions later on the flight.

4.  Remind your children that there are other passengers on the plane.

Because of the bad looks you might receive getting on a plane with small children, it’s fun to surprise the other passengers with well-behaved kids. We’ve traveled internationally a few times with children ages 4 and under and have been complimented by how well-behaved our children were on the flight (thankfully!).  A simple hint: other passengers enjoy children who are reasonably quiet and who don’t kick the seat in front of them!

5.  Begin with a good attitude and make exceptions to your “rules”.

If you’re like me, it’s so hard to keep smiling when your baby just keeps crying or when you feel tired – which is bound to happen at some point while you’re traveling.  Before you even get on the plane, remind yourself that children are unpredictable, and expect them to be kids – even thousands of feet in the air.

Without compromising your values, make exceptions to rules you normally have: nurse your baby more frequently to soothe her or give your two-year-old an extra lollipop to keep him occupied.

6.  Reserve your infant’s bassinet early.

Traveling with an infant is not going to be easy, but it will certainly be easier with a bassinet.  On international flights, call early to reserve your baby’s bassinet.  (Many airlines have the policy that the youngest babies get the bassinets.)  Then call and confirm a few days before the flight. Then call and reconfirm.  When you check in, triple confirm it.  Before boarding, confirm at the gate once again that you do indeed have a bassinet.

We’ve been on flights that we thought we had a bassinet confirmed, only to find out some businessmen enjoyed those seats instead. Do your part and don’t miss out on this travel luxury!  We enjoyed having a bassinet for our baby on more than one super l-o-n-g flight. The bassinet allows your baby to sleep and keeps your hands and lap free to help with older children, take a short snooze, and even eat lunch with your tray down.

What other simple tips do you have for surviving a flight with young children?


  1. says

    I’m planning a round the world trip next year with my toddler, he’ll be just 3 by the time we go. I doubht he’ll change, and right now he just wants to run around and grab things.

    Do people think it is acceptable to let kids go for a wander provided they are supervised to some degree? (I’m not talking about letting them run riot, I’d be behind him the whole time).

    I wouldn’t mind personally as I know what its like travelling with kids, but I wouldn’t want to be public enemy number one!

    • Jeri says

      I definitely think most passengers would prefer to see a toddler taking a supervised walk periodically during the flight than to hear him screaming in his seat. I think if you use this option in moderation it is acceptable. I’ve done it many times, and some people seem to actually enjoy talking to my babies/toddlers as we walk by. Everyone needs to smile now and then, and kids have a way of making people do that – if they are behaving, of course. :) By the way, it’s amazing how different a 3 year old is from a 2 year old. You just might be surprised! Have a great trip and come back to let us know how your toddler did and what the passengers thought of your wandering.

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