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Tips for Traveling by Airplane With Small Children (Infants, Toddlers, or Preschoolers)

I'm a freelance writer and editor, blooming in the desert with my husband, son, two dogs, two cats and several plants.

Contents may shift during flight.

Contents may shift during flight.

Flying With Small Children 101: Airplane Travel Tips

You haven't endured a true in-flight experience until an airplane ride with your small child. The sea of dirty looks incurred before even boarding the aircraft is enough to send the adult males in your travel group in search of the nearest vasectomy clinic.

I don't mean a couple of unkind glances and some scattered eye rolling. I'm talking about the kind of maniacal expression you would expect to see on the face of your mortal enemy as you descend from the darkness to avenge your parents' deaths. It's the equivalent of pure unadulterated evil radiating from strangers in an airport, just because two years earlier or so an egg was successfully fertilized.

From packing your bags to arriving safely at your destination, flying with an infant, toddler or preschooler is tricky business. It must be handled from start to finish with delicate precision—and the following seven tips for traveling by airplane with small children.

"This is SUCH juvenile literature."

"This is SUCH juvenile literature."

1. Keep Calm and Bring a Carry-On

The carry-on is perhaps the most crucial component of successful airplane travel with kids. If you mess this one up, your flight will likely end in tears and a stomach ulcer.

On the plane, you must stay focused on keeping your child as busy as possible, so your personal carry-on is useless. Go ahead and bring a magazine, but you probably won't get a chance to read it. Just concede and pack your carry-on with your kids' stuff too.

Even with a perfectly packed carry-on, it is unlikely that things will go as smoothly as planned, and an overly stern, "Don't make me turn this plane around!" isn't going to work after take off. As soon as you lose your cool, your kid will also lose their cool. It's not exactly Murphy's Law, but that applies here too. Just try and sit back in your uncomfortable seat, take a deep breath of recirculated air and settle down.

What to Pack in Your Kid's Carry-On

  • Electronics: Handheld devices like an e-reader, tablet or DVD player are your best friends in times of air travel. Bring a good selection of the kiddo's favorite programs and games, plus new ones. Headphones and batteries too.
  • Coloring Stuff: A pad of blank paper, a coloring book or three (your kid is picky), crayons, markers ...
  • Stickers: Stickers are an amazing distraction. Stick them on paper, the seat in front of you, all over your child's body, and yours. Bring several sheets and stick away.
  • Books: Bring a good combination of your child's favorites and a new book or two.
  • Beloved Blankie or Other Loved Object: If your kid has a favorite blankie or a particular doll they cannot be separated from, then for the love of all things good and mighty, by the power of Grayskull, do not forget to bring it. If you do forget to bring it, you should probably just cancel your trip.
  • Snacks: A hungry child is an unpredictable child, so don't scrimp on snacks. Bring healthy, fresh snacks, including fruits, veggies and protein-filled food. If you're worried about spoilage, use an insulated lunch box and ice pack.

2. Don't Book the Redeye

Don't make the same mistake we made the first time we traveled by airplane with our son. In our defense, booking the red eye seemed like a logical equation:

Night + Sleep (Peace + Quiet) = Happy Mommy ≥ Happy Daddy

Turns out our math was way off. It didn't take intervening variables into account, such as stimulating airport and airplane activity, new people, new noises, the captain's announcements, the changing time zone. . .

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Our toddler was awake the whole flight. I was exhausted and grumpy the whole vacation. Subsequently, my husband was stressed out the whole vacation. Do yourself and your family a favor. Fly at a time that won't completely mess with your sleep schedules or nap times.

3. Turn to the Bottle

No, not a bottle of vodka (although that is a helpful tip for mommy). I mean your child's bottle, if they use one.

The change in air pressure upon airplane take-off puts a lot of pressure on a young child's ears. Think about your own ears and making them "pop" when you fly. A young child doesn't know how to do that and instead ends up in pain. Sucking on a bottle helps to alleviate that pressure and gets their ears to "pop" naturally.

If your child is too old for a bottle, try a lollipop during takeoff and landing (preferably sugar-free, or endure the consequences of a sky-high sugar high).

"Excuse me, could I get an extra pillow?"

"Excuse me, could I get an extra pillow?"

4. Behold the Bathroom Break

Bathroom breaks are good for obvious reasons, but also because it's not healthy for anyone to sit in one place for an extended period of time. Even if your child isn't potty trained, a trip to the bathroom for diaper changes will afford you a nice change of scenery.

This is also a nice opportunity to scan the airplane for the ones who shunned you in the airport and return their evil glances.

5. Find a Cure for the Common Seat-Kicker

I think it's happened to all of us. Despite their parents' incessant begging, the kid behind us on the airplane refused to stop kicking our seat.

We were annoyed and angry at first, but once we glanced behind us and saw that dead, empty look in the eyes of that child's parents we couldn't help but feel like deep down we somehow deserved to be kicked.

Kick a Stranger No More

My husband was once placed in front of my son on a crowded flight across the country. I was panicked without my backup, but it ended up being a godsend. The chair my son kicked was his dad's. When the seatbelt light went off, he turned around in his seat and entertained my son, who got a "kick" out of seeing his dad in the seat in front of him.

Beauty of Bulkhead Seats

The bulkead seats are those situated between cabin and first class which have extra foot room and no seats in front of them. They are reserved for people with disabilities, but when they're empty, you can request to sit there. There's nothing for your kid to kick and lots of extra room for mommy and daddy. My son was also impressed by the really cool, unfolding tray table that "magically" appeared from his armrest.

6. Use These Tips from the TSA

For safety reasons, the Transportation Security Administration screens all passengers at the airport security checkpoint (even infants). Ever tried juggling your child, a stroller, and carry-on luggage while removing your shoes from your feet and your keys from your pocket? It isn't easy!

Here are some TSA tips for traveling by airplane with small children.

7. Employ the Power of Good PR

I know a woman (a public relations professional) who was traveling a long way with toddler twin girls. Before takeoff, she stood up and handed out earplugs to everyone around her on the airplane, "Just in case!"

The passengers were amused, and it removed some of the unspoken tension Besides, who doesn't love swag?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


glenn wallace on April 25, 2012:

Excellent Hub! Useful and funny. As someone who has flown several times with a (now) two-year-old I applaude all your tips.

We substitute band-aids for stickers, since they can serve the double duty of covering up boo-boos.

sord87 on April 25, 2012:

A very useful tips for long hours on airplane.For now I prefer short trip on airplane for vacation comfortable for my kid as well as parent but looking forward to long hours trip.

LauraGT from MA on April 23, 2012:

Great hub about air travel with kids. I actually have found that air travel is a ton of fun with them, if you're well-prepared. There is so much to see and do in the airport, and airplanes are a time for all sorts of special treats they don't usually get. Snack traps are great for having snacks readily available!

Styles1920 from North Shore, Massachusetts on April 23, 2012:

This is a great hub and perfectly timed for my husband and myself. We are looking to plan a family vacation next year and our daughter will have just turned two when we depart. Our biggest fear has been the plane ride; your tips will definitely be helpful!

Felina Margetty from New York, New York on April 23, 2012:

Last year on a S.F - JFK flight a child threw up all over me. It was so awful for the mother. She was so embarrassed she started to cry. The steward, sorry the attendant or what ever the PC thing is that we call airline staff now, was so, totally, not sypathetic. He scolded the mother and grabbed the child by the hand quite forcefully when he was helping to clean up the boy.

The boy was full of fast food from the airport. I know this first hand. I did not know his situation or his mothers so I was in no place to judge but I could hear the steward telling the woman that she can't be over protective or indulgent with her son if she ever expects him to act like more than just a little savage. I was shocked frankly.

The boy was a brat, screaming earlier in the flight and having tantrums, the steward had to bring him to his seat after pulling dozens of paper towels out of the dispenser in the bathroom.

This was a good hub and your positive approach to something as irrational as children is commendable. Mind you my plane trip was not the fantasy experience I had of meeting some one interesting to talk to on the plane and my Italian wool will never be the same, but besides that, children will be, well, children I suppose.

Good hub and voted up! Cheers F.

Moon Willow Lake on April 21, 2012:

I traveled alone with my son once when he was 4. It was certainly interesting. I know that I certainly brought a carry-on for him and a carry-on for me in which things for him were packed in both bags.

I would like to add that if you want to prevent a potentially leaky pull-up from ruining the seat, try having your little one sit on a plastic trash bag. And though coloring can be good, my son usually isn't much in to that, and I know he'd be more interested in trying to color on the seat or plane itself if there were markers involved. So, I personally stuck to crayons (though he never really touched them - lol).

But, otherwise, thanks for an interesting read and I voted up.

Kingbell from Chennai, India on April 21, 2012:

I love all your parenting hubs. This one will surely help parents who frequently travel with their little ones. your idea of 'Beloved Blankie or Other Loved Object' will definitely work with toddlers.I have shared this hub with my followers. Also forwarded to my daughter who is going to travel from California to India shortly with her two and half year old toddler son. Congrats for HOTD. Thanks for sharing wonderful tips.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on April 19, 2012:

I don't recall my first airplane flight--I was only 9 months old! That was in the dark ages, well before jets and non-stop fights.

My dad worked for the airline, so we got discount tickets. By the time I was 5 or 6--I was "well traveled" so to speak...(we never went anywhere but between home in CA and MA, to visit relatives...about every 2 or 3 years...) ...

But the pressure change was worse in those days--of course the planes did not fly as high, and I don't think the cabins were pressurized, or not as much. I do remember the "stews" used to hand out little squares of chewing gum, which helped greatly to get that "pop" out of the ears...just another suggestion.

Great article, good ideas for those who still have youngsters...Congrats on HOTD! Voted up and shared.

iefox5 on April 19, 2012:

It is not easy to fly with a child, this article should be recommended as a must read for parents, interesting and helpful,voted up.

HawaiiHeart from Hawaii on April 19, 2012:

LOL - love that lady who passed out earplugs! I've heard mixed reviews about flying the redeye...I guess every child is different, but it's really important to be prepared no matter what! Very useful hub!

2012greatwall on April 19, 2012:

This was a great Hub for parents with small children who have to fly. I love that you said "by the power of Grayskull"!

archgirl1985 from Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK on April 19, 2012:

Excellent tips. And mot just for parents. I will be keeping this in mind when I travel with my nephew and small cousins. Thanks.

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on April 19, 2012:

COngratualtions for the hub of the day. This is an incredible hub. My wife an I are planning to take our new baby along some of our trips. Although they are just 1 hour flights, the tips here will help keep our sanity. I know what you mean about the stimulation children get and they just wont sleep. My baby is like that. Even if it's her to time for some ZZZ she won't go lights out as long as she sees something interesting around. So we usually switch off the lights.

Thanks for the suggestions in this wonderful hub.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on April 19, 2012:

"Actually, no one other than your child finds Caillou charming)". lol. I got my laugh on that one.

You are so right on every point!

On my last trip across the Atlantic to Africa, I had bags of snacks, cookies, raisins, gummy bears etc. There was this lady on the same plane with a boy about my son's age (six). She either didn't pack any snack or somehow checked it in with her luggage.

Well, let's just say I was the 'automated vending machine' for the entire 18 plus hour trip. No kidding, and no charge here!

Thanks for sharing. And congrats on the HOTD. You deserve it!

taw2012 from India on April 19, 2012:

Great hub. parents will really find it useful. Congrats on HOTD.

jaswinder64 from Toronto, Canada. on April 19, 2012:

Great hub! Congrats.

Pamela N Red from Oklahoma on April 19, 2012:

Wonderful tips that every parent of young children should read. I've been on flights where the parent ignored the child who was bored and loud. Keeping them busy is the key.

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on April 19, 2012:

Thank you to everyone who is commenting. You are all awesome!!!!!

Milli from USA on April 19, 2012:

Useful and informative. Voted up! Congrats on HOTD.

Urmila from Rancho Cucamonga,CA, USA on April 19, 2012:

Great Hub. Voted up and congratulations on Hub of the day award!

Yvonne Spence from UK on April 19, 2012:

Just stopping by again to say congrats on your hub of the day!

Riverfish24 from United States on April 19, 2012:

Super cool Hub, you made me actually laugh a couple of times..Great tips to keep in mind!

Subhas from New Delhi, India on April 19, 2012:

This is not just a hub but a self-help guidebook and will be of great help whenever anyone is travelling with a child.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on April 19, 2012:

Congrats on Hub of the Day! This was a great Hub for parents with small children who have to fly. Thank God, I never had to fly with mine when they were small, but I have been a passenger with them. I'll bet the little ones' ears hurt: mine are. Maybe that's why they cry. I voted this UP, etc.

Robert Erich from California on April 19, 2012:

Alezafree: This article is incredibly entertaining and well planned out. I have been the annoying child on the plane, I have seen the annoying on the plane, and I have yet to be the parent with the annoying child on the plane. However, when I am, this article will certainly help! Thanks for your article and I will certainly keep reading your material! I love your writing style.

Marissa from United States on April 19, 2012:

Just back to say congrats on the Hub of the Day! You deserve it! :)

Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on April 19, 2012:

Congrats on your well deserved hub of the day! So many great tips here. We have not been in an airplane with our two boys yet but I can just imagine the stress and tension that goes with it! And yes the most important item for us would be the blankies. I love that you said "by the power of Grayskull"! I was so obsessed with He-Man and She-ra when I was little! :) Great hub - voted up and useful!

Tricia1000 from South Africa on April 19, 2012:

Some great tips. I have been using them for years traveling with my son (now seven) on international flights since he was three. Portable devices are a must. They are also handy while waiting at the airport for the next flight.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on April 19, 2012:

Congrats on the hub of the day for this well written article jam packed with great tips. But, I must say, it was the eyecatching photo of the kids crammed in the overhead carrier that initially caught my attention. I was curious if you had actually taken that photo of your kids, LOL.

Great job.

kelleyward on April 19, 2012:

I new this hub was a winner the first time I read it! Congrats well deserved Hub Of The Day!

Teresa Davis from Moscow, Texas on April 19, 2012:

I was a flight attendant for Continental and believe me the tips you have given are wonderful. The most horrible thing is being cramped in a small space with a screaming child. Thanks for the advice.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on April 19, 2012:

I love your photos! Congrats on a great hub and well-deserved Hub of the Day!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on April 19, 2012:

Thanks for sharing is filled with humor but a lot of ideas that one may know in their mind but 'forget' in all of the hurry hurry of travel. Being prepared in advance of the trip will be a lifesaver. My daughter has a toddler and will be traveling across the country soon and I will share these with her.

Congratulations on hub of the day.

houseclearance from Preston, Lancashire on April 19, 2012:

some great tips, however the DS isn't always the funnest thing to listen to for hours :)

mortysmadhouse from Perth, Western Australia (the Wait Awhile state) on April 19, 2012:

Great hub that many parents will find both useful and amusing =)

Talullah from SW France on April 19, 2012:

Great hub full of really useful tips. Why is it that some adults forget that they were once children?

wardahg on April 05, 2012:

Nice helpful hub. I just went through this experience recently when i first traveled with my two month old daughter and i can still remember the looks on peoples faces. Yet i would admit that i also had the same look on my face before i had my daughter

hvacunits from Longview, TeXas on April 03, 2012:

Simply an amazing Hub. Thanks so much for all your wonderful work. "Awesome." I always buy earplugs before flying. Crying children drive me crazy. A big vote here for your hub! Just had to share it on Twitter and Facebook with my followers!

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on April 03, 2012:

Thanks @Pinkchic18!!!

Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on April 03, 2012:

This hub is wonderful, you've got great ideas and I absolutely love that last bit about the ear plugs. It's hard enough to control a toddler in public let alone a confined airplane!

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on April 01, 2012:

Thank you @Mary Stuart, @timelesstraveler, & @bmukherjii.

Mary from Washington on April 01, 2012:

This is a great Hub. It was always a challenge to travel with my little ones. I think the challenges are even greater now than they were 15 years ago. Thank you for your tips.

Judy Specht from California on March 27, 2012:

Three cheers for a wonderful hub! Making sure my son and daughter-in-law see this. They have a 3 1/2 month old. Nanna and Granddad are in Texas. Love your choice of pictures.

I always thought it would be fun to ride in the overhead compartment.

bmukherjii on March 27, 2012:

useful tips. every woman should check this hub at-least for once before she takes he child on a flight.

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 18, 2012:

@donnaisabella It sounds like you had some nice in flight experiences. You are very fortunate indeed!!

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 18, 2012:

@buckleupdorothy Interesting. I actually hadn't thought about that angle. I will keep that in mind when my son starts asking questions. Thanks for the comment!

Isabella Mukanda from Fort Myers on March 18, 2012:

Very interesting hub with quite a few handy tips for traveling on air with kids. All the time I was reading this, I kept wondering why a parent would need to fuss so much just to travel with their kids. What kind of kids are these that need so much attention and distraction? My mind kept flashing back to when I traveled over 16 hours on two different flights with a 2 1/2 year old, one 8 year old and a ten year old. Our trip could not have been smoother, I do not remember any trouble from any one of them, and too, there were other kids on the flight whom I only heard squirm on landing and take off. However, it occurred to me that domestic and international flights and flights from different countries may differ in the way they are administered. The British Airways planes we traveled on actually had coloring books, toys, souvenirs and adjustable tv screens with the possibility of the children viewing what they desired. My children were fully distracted and in any case they did not need much because they were used to entertaining themselves or one another. Thanks for your article, it is very helpful.

buckleupdorothy from Istanbul, Turkey on March 18, 2012:

Hey! Great hub, Aleza.

I've traveled with children on a number of occasions and have largely been very fortunate. But I've come across (overheard) a significant handful of children between 3 and 6 ruminating on the possibility of death, and in dealing with that it seems useful to take the time to go over the safety precautions with them, maybe ask a stewardess for a little extra authority ("Well, I've flown exactly 4 thousand times and we've never crashed. We did once make an emergency landing, but it was okay because we always travel with extra fuel, etc etc."). And of course, keep calm yourself.

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 16, 2012:

@Melovy That is awesome. I will also link back to yours! I am very interested to read your perspective!!

Yvonne Spence from UK on March 16, 2012:

My husband is a pilot, so our first daughter’s first long haul flight was at 10 months, and they have been on several other trips since, including one journey of 24 hours. I think all your tips here are useful.

I totally agree you won’t get time to read a magazine with small children, but by the time they are 5 or 6 they get interested in in-flight entertainment and you get a little peace! At the age of 6 one of our daughters insisted on wearing her pyjamas on a night flight. She then watched ‘Beauty and the Beast” most of the way across the Atlantic, finally falling asleep about an hour before we landed. I wrote a hub while ago about traveling solo with small children and will link to this one.

kelleyward on March 14, 2012:

Great Hub! Useful information for any parent flying the not so friendly skies!

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 14, 2012:

@Chin chin You are so fortunate that they sleep for you! I have a feeling that our son not sleeping had to do with the excitement of flying for the first time. It was a whole new experience and as a result, he was wired!! Thanks for stopping by and thanks for commenting. I am impressed with your ability to handle 5 children on an airplane. WOW!

Chin chin from Philippines on March 14, 2012:

Great hub, alezafree. We have traveled on an airplane with our 1,2,3,4 then 5 children to and from the Philippines - about 8-11 hour flights. Definitely, not easy. Contrary to your experience, what I most like is to schedule the flight at a time that coincides with our children's sleeping time. As much as possible, I don't let them sleep before the flight, so that they would have no problem sleeping on the plane. But sometimes, it is still unpredictable what will happen on the plane.

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 14, 2012:

@KathyH That paper doll trick sounds great! It's good to hear from a mom who has survived the years of flying with young kids and has lived to tell about it!!!

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 14, 2012:

@Simone Smith Thank you! Sometimes no matter what you do you will lose control since kids will be kids and the only thing that's 100% certain about kids (besides boogers) is a lack of predictability. But I think the key is to stay engaged and keep the kid occupied so they never get a chance to misbehave or even think about the prospect!!

KathyH from Waukesha, Wisconsin on March 14, 2012:

What a GREAT hub! We were in the process of moving to Maryland from HAWAII when our twin boys were one year old. SO, that meant a LONG flight. We took the redeye just like you did thinking they would sleep, WRONG! How they stayed UP all night is beyond me, and they cried a lot. One of our boys actually had a medical condition, so we didn't really get the hateful looks that you got, we actually got some sympathetic ones, but I do know where you're coming from! ;) (Our son outgrew his condition by age 3, so we are blessed... he is perfectly fine now, married and a Daddy of a beautiful three year old girl!)

Traveling to Las Vegas before we moved here, I saw a Mom with a young girl, and she and her daughter played paper dolls on the four hour flight from Wisconsin! I LOVED paper dolls growing up, so it was really fun to watch them! :) They played with stickers and coloring books, too.

Fantastic hub, voted up and across! :) Thank you for sharing!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on March 14, 2012:

These tips ROCK!!! There are few people I respect more than parents who responsibly manage their kids on flights. It's no small feat, but by sticking to your tips, one can certainly do it- and thereby defy the negative stereotypes of demon children on long flights! Awesome Hub.

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 13, 2012:

Thank you @stephhicks68 the funny thing is I remember a time long ago when flying was fun! I think I too have blocked much of our first flight out of my mind! It's the dirty looks that bother me most, especially since my son was behaving!

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on March 13, 2012:

I think I started sweating just THINKING about the prospect of flying with young children. Its certainly not an easy task - even with my youngest children (twins) that are 9, it's a huge hassle to get through security, get onto the plane and get situated. I would add some recollections about flying with the kids when they were younger, but I permanently blocked them from memory. :-)

Great hub, filled with lots of useful information! Rated up across the board - cheers, Steph

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 13, 2012:

@JustAboutIt Great tip on the Motrin! I absolutely agree. My friend used to be a flight attendant and said using a car seat on the airplane is the safest way to secure your child, even an infant. It means buying the extra seat, but if there's extremely heavy turbulence, your baby could fly right out of your arms.

Just About It from southern CA on March 13, 2012:

This is a great hub for parents traveling with young children. My 4 1/2 year old is a seasoned traveler and I totally agree with being prepared for anything with carry on. I have pulled out the DVD player with a new DVD I normally wouldn't let him watch. I have pulled out a new gaming systeming that he never saw before. Snacks and food are also a must but be prepared to buy something from the airline because it is cool to buy food on an airplane. My son has a lot of trouble equalizing his ears so I started giving him Motrin before the flight and that works well. The last thing that I think is a must is a better restraint system than just the seat belt. I use the CARES system with a velcro strap. He can't get out of it on his own and I always blame the pilot when he needs to be buckled in.

Thanks for the great hub and happy travels.

Marissa from United States on March 13, 2012:

I bet you'd be nervous! I would be, especially since there is that story out there of the family who was kicked off of a flight for an unexpected temper tantrum! ;)

Aleza Freeman (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 13, 2012:

Thanks @ThePracticalMommy!!!! What I forgot to include was how I wake up with night sweats for about a week before air travel with my son. My son is a great kid and very well behaved. But behavior on an airplane is so unpredictable (and that goes for kids AND adults). It ties me up in knots!!!!

Marissa from United States on March 13, 2012:

This is an AWESOME hub for any parent who is going to brave the skies with little ones. I'll be bookmarking it for future reference!! :)

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