5 Tips for Surviving A Flight With Young Children

I’m not talking about trips with cute little babies that you feed and rock back to sleep. I’m talking about air travel with kids — the kind that walk, talk, and have the ability to make 45 trips to the bathroom in a three hour flight. If you’re heading on a family vacation anytime soon, here are some tips for surviving a flight with young children…

1. Pack an antihistamine. No, not for the kids; though if you want to drug your kids, I’m totally not judging you. The meds are for you, in the event that your kids are melting down and the flight attendants have not come by with the drink cart yet.

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2. Never pre-board. This really isn’t hard to figure out; you and your children are going to be trapped in a tiny metal object for hours — do you think you should add on some extra time? Just for fun? NO. You do not want to board until the last possible second. Trust me, they are not going to take off while you are buckling your kid. When other passengers are starting to board, you need to have your kids burn off some excess energy. Never to early to start some cross-fit training in the airport lounge.

3. Wear elastic waisted pants; all of you. You are going to be in and out of those seats so much, and eating so many damn pretzels and Cheez-its, Lycra is your new best friend. As cranky as your 6 year old is, they will be 10,000 times crankier in jeans. And if you thought going through security was bad before kids, try scrambling through with toddlers and electronic devices as hostile travelers behind you send their plastic tubs sailing into yours, trying to hurry you along. Do you think you have time for your 6 year old to start trying to tie his shoes? No- this is the only time Crocs are an acceptable choice of footwear.

4. Get aisle seats: If you can’t get them, beg the person on the end of your aisle to trade. I can pretty much guarantee they’ll switch seats, given that your kids are going to be climbing over them over 13.2 minutes to go to the bathroom. Speaking of which, if your kid is under five, chances are they are going to be scared shitless (see what I did there?) of what appears to be a device that dumps your poop and pee directly into the air below the plane. So you’re going to have to go in there with them. And it will not be pretty. When you spend ten minutes maneuvering your three year old over the toilet and then holding her over the toilet while she poops, your’e going to gain a brand new respect for anyone who joins the Mile High Club.

5. Bring wipes. Remember how excited you were when your kids were done with diapers? And how you stopped buying baby wipes? That was stupid. You need them. You are going to de-plane with the remnants of every snack and meal your child eats during the course of the flight stuck to your clothes and hands. Sticky? It will look like you dipped yourself in a Jolly Rancher batter and then breaded yourself with crushed peanut butter crackers.

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By the way, you know how people say don’t worry about other passengers, they’ve all been through this? That’s a lie. You can see from the look of fear in other passengers’ faces as you board, the inability to make eye contact while they silently pray “please let that little boy keep moving down the aisle.” Trust me, if your kid is acting up (or throwing up), somewhere on that plane there’s a passenger cursing you. Can you really blame them?

Bon Voyage!

About the writer

Brooke is a wife, mom and attorney. Her hobbies include over-caffeinating herself, cursing and decorating her pretend beach house on Pinterest. When she can remember, she tweets at @brookekravitz.

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Raquel 1 month ago

I’ve travelled on six hr flights with m y daughter since she was three months old. when she was small I would basically nurse the whole time. now that she is three the trick is new activities every thirty minutes including eating. we rarely give her chips but she loves them so that is an activity. I go to the dollar or craft store and get her things that are new to her

Amanda Mercer 12 months ago

My husband works for an airline, so we fly A LOT. My kids (16 mo & 5) are great, probably because they’re so used to it. I get compliments on their behavior nearly every time. The one miserable flight we had was when my son was under 2 and had an ear infection (that we didn’t know about ). I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.

erin 1 year ago

When flying with just one child (age 6) I was glad to get to pre board on the way home.. it was 5 am he went right to sleep and so did I.. didn’t even wake up til we hit the Rockies at 7am!

Alissa Gabriel 1 year ago

I’m still bitter that I never knew about baby wipes until having children.

Erin Carroll Loy 1 year ago

Too funny!

Leslie Bateman Miller 1 year ago

My kids are teenagers and I still keep baby wipes!!! LOL

Christi Monson 1 year ago

Looking forward to it in 3 years or so. :-) Though I think they forgot #6 (from my understanding)… pack mess-free activities. I’m really hoping that by the time I have to take my littles on a plane, that stupid (and many times proven false) ban on hand held digital entertainment devices is pulled. My kid (and I’m assuming her brother will be the same) can stay quietly entertained for quite a while with the games, books & videos on her LeapPad.

Kelly Van Boekhout 1 year ago

My kids are 12 and 7, we still buy and use baby wipes.

Barbara Hiemstra Ticich 1 year ago

I’ve flown with my child since she was six weeks old. 1) Suckers and gum for landing 2) Every snack bribe you can carry 3) 6.99 for the in seat TV? Do it! Wifi isn’t worth it, you can’t stream. 4) Bring a cup to hold crayons/markers. When they fall, they roll. 5) Bring a receiving size blanket for napping kids. You can roll it up to make a pillow too.

Shaye Boucher 1 year ago

Booze hidden in mommy’s cup

Lee Ann Kuhn 1 year ago

Mean Mommy moment. Benadryl is always your friend

Raylene Hansen 1 year ago

When our kids were small. we would wrap a couple of gifts for each kid (crayons, colouring book, book, game). They were told that after they went through security they could open one, and then on the plane. They carried their own rolling backpacks with a change of clothes, the gift and some snacks.

Jenn Kulig 1 year ago

Thank goodness children under 12 no longer need to remove shoes, but I remember when it was required. Even for a baby. Also, suckers and gum for descent- helps distract from ear pain. Another good reason for baby wipes!

Misty Lumpkins 1 year ago

Ear plugs

Amanda Wenisch 1 year ago

Children under 12 are not required to remove their shoes when going through security.

Cindy Swaidan 1 year ago

Good advice but- I do suggest pre-boarding or boarding as fast as you can, because if you wait til the plane is full, you won’t have a space for your carry ins on the overhead bins. Also, in my case, it is easier to go in, corral the kids into our seats and THEN ask for them to hand over their carryons. I can’t do that if there’s people all over trying to get through. Oh, and one thing I highly suggest if you have kids who have to pee all the time, is get seats as close to the bathroom as possible.

Maggie Adams 1 year ago

Good to know, our first flight is Friday 😉

Violet Sawyer 1 year ago

Baby wipes rule! My kids are 6 & 8 and I still buy them regularly!

Sarah Hogan 1 year ago

I don’t think I can ever live without baby wipes again. I even keep a pack at my desk at work. By the way, they are GREAT stain removers too! Get a coffee or tea spill or little one wears his chocolate ice cream cone? Wipes right off with a baby wipe!

Jane Ramirez 2 years ago

1 word: Amtrak.
more leg-room, they can walk around and go sit at tables in the observation car. you can bring your own food…and your own booze. and while a longer trip than flying, you’re much less likely to completely HATE your child when you get to the destination.

Suri Tamna 2 years ago

I don’t know what kind of wild children the author has, but my kiddos (7, 5 and 2) have been to Asia every year (24-hr flight EACH WAY), and on multiple domestic flights (probably 2 each year) starting when the youngest was 8 months old (and yep, the Asia flight was the first flight).

I have never had them act uncontrollably, kick the seat, scream, cover me in sticky snacks, or cry in the bathroom. They are all high-energy kids, so it’s not like I lucked into genetically laid-back travelers. The secret is PARENTING. When they were babies my husband and I “worked” the whole flight keeping them comfortable and happy, and now that they are older, they know what is expected of them and they are well disciplined.

I really don’t get this attitude of “well, life is going to be a zoo, buckle up!” that has crept into modern motherhood. Your life doesn’t have to be a constant chaos of discomfort and children running roughshod on you. If your children are healthy, normal kids (exceptions for children with special needs — they really do have trouble controlling themselves sometimes), some patience and good parenting skills (including making sure your kids know how to behave in public) is all you need.

    Alleya 1 year ago

    It really is condescending that you seem to think you’re parenting approach is the “right” one and that if others followed you all children would be well-behaved and wonderful. Let me ask you something, even in the best circumstances does every adult you know react ideally in any given situation? Or even the same?

Christy Causey Trainor 2 years ago

Puleez. Mine are 13 and 9. They are still nervous to fly. If I can get them acclimated to the surroundings before take off, they do so much better.

Amanda Fritts 2 years ago

I just have to share my experience. Myself, my fiancee and his mother took our 3 year old daughter to Disney in January. It was a 2 hour nonstop flight. We had assigned seats and his mother paid the extra money for us to have the front row seats. That gave him (at 6’6″) the extra leg room, and our daughter a little extra space in case she needed to move around, which we let her do until the plane took off. We boarded the plane when we were supposed to (which was pretty early). In my opinion, she was very well behaved for a 3 year old on a plane for the first time ever. Even if she did want to rattle the ears off the flight attendants every time they came by and a couple other passengers near us.
It’s not always possible for parents to “be in more control of their kids” and even “parenting done right” still has their moments of loss of control/chaos/craziness.

Elise 2 years ago

I see people on a flight that haven’t brought a single thing to amuse their children. When I traveled with a toddler/young child, I had a new wind-up toy or book or crayons or *something* for every 20 minutes of the flight. Just as he was getting bored with something, I’d pull the next thing out and say, “How about *this*?” I always got compliments on how well-behaved my son was on a flight.

Beth Rabin Akkaway 2 years ago

Flying tomorrow with my 4 and 6 year old ALONE … thanks for the laugh :)

Shannon Westberg 2 years ago

With older kids maybe…but with babies/toddlers I appreciate the extra time to get the car seat in and adjusted properly. Also on southwest it’s how you ensure you sit next to your kids if you don’t have an A without making people move.

Kristyn F. 2 years ago

What about using FAA approved car seats, on the plane, for the children that should not be lap babies.
Yes, you would have to buy an extra seat… Window seat, but at least your small child would be the safest he or she can be!

Evelyn 2 years ago

When my son was 3, after we went through security he decided to run back out. I ran after him with the TSA agent running after me. I now always have the backpack harness when we travel ***sigh***

Leanne Silva 2 years ago

I agree that spending extra time in a plane with kids is awful, but I don’t like waiting to board the plane either. Kids can’t stand waiting to get on the plane, which means whining, attempts to get lost in the airport, etc.

Sophie Francis Pellizzari 2 years ago

We always board last! Waiting for takeoff if the worst part!

Bryan Kolaczkowski 2 years ago

is tip #5, “don’t be a conceited asshole preoccupied with your own comfort and pleasure”?

Geeta Patel Lahiri 2 years ago

We always board last. And I never worry about space for my carry on. We board with on e bag with all of our stuff. Including food for the kids because we deal with food allergies.

lesbomom 2 years ago

Traveling with the Munchkin SUCKED sometimes. I think that another tip is to try and get your seats as close to the bathroom as possible. In the back of the plane.

Denise Spencer 2 years ago

My son has never been on an airplane. Hes also a typical 3 year old. He is active, he doesnt play with electronics (i dont own an ipad or anything like that) and he rarely sits still to watch a full movie. I dont think id expect him to sit still for something like a six hour flight. Dont get me wrong, hes well behaved, but hes a three year old. They are unpredictable and cant be expected to behave like adults, as much as id like him to be :)

Helen Russo 2 years ago

My feeling is it took me SO long to get dd down the jetway with all the crap and get us settlers it would have been a freaking nightmare to wait…however, now that she’s 5? It wouldn’t make much difference, but then again she’s a pretty seasoned traveler.

Rachel 2 years ago

I totally agree with #3! it also prevents the security X-rays going off due to zips/ buttons etc and being delayed by a ‘pat down’. Having just travelled internationally 36 hours with various airport transits and 3 children aged 6 to 11 we too have “survived” – however we were grateful for the airport staff who took us to the front of the express queue at customs (just for having young kids!) and sought us out for pre-boarding. I was also held up for a decent time while my bag was checked and rechecked for a dangerous security risk – it turned out to be my baby wipes!

Debra Aguilar 2 years ago

Most kids are good on airplanes. They have enough electronic stuff to keep even the youngest occupied. The majority of Babies are generally good and happy. Once they start crawling and walking and before they are interested in toys etc is the hardest time period because the last place you want them is on an airplane floor. I can tell almost immediately if a child is going to be difficult when they board and it has more to do with the parents than the child. My kids are on an airplane at least once a month since they were born and have never been a problem on an airplane.

Karen Carlson 2 years ago

I’ve logged a lot of miles in planes with babies and kids. It can be done. http://wizzley.com/flying-with-a-baby-or-small-children/
Your best bet is to travel with another grown up (or semi-grown up) One of you gets on the plane first to stake out seats and overhead compartments… the other runs the kids around the terminal until the last second.
I also found that those EarPlanes work well for kids and so do dum dum suckers.
Make sure to pack extra food/snacks for the kids (and some extra treats for the people in the seats around you.
Wipes are essential.

Sabrina 2 years ago

My older daughter was a delight to have on a plane. She watched TV all night, ate her food, and was quiet. I even got a compliment and a thank you from an obvious person with the mind set of “Children should not be allowed on planes.” It was one of my most proud moments.

Now that I have baby #2, we are not flying on a plane any time in the future. Not until she is way older. I will drive over taking her on a plane. She hates being held, hates being put down, hates eating and smacks her food everywhere, is extremely loud and can be just flat out angry if she doesn’t get her way. No way I’m dealing with that or inflicting it on other people. It’s just not worth it.

Karen Johnston Dandewich 2 years ago

Totally agree kids should board among the last. I’ve done so many times.

Annamaria-Guarneri Mckean 2 years ago

Pre board last to board..an obnoxious kid is just an obnoxious kid. A baby however can not help crying out in pain during a flight. Ive flown many many times without a problem. Play with and entertain your kids. In a plane in a car in a boat on a moat …with a goat lol common sense..

Natalie Rister 2 years ago

I definitely prefer to preboard if I am flying with my daughter by myself. If I am flying with my husband or mom, then I preboard with the car seat, get that strapped in and ready to go, while the other person lets my kid hang out in the terminal until closer to takeoff. It works wonders. We get the advantage of extra time to strap the car seat in, the extra space in the overhead bins, no bumping anyone in the head with a car seat, AND the kid doesn’t have to sit in the airplane for 30 minutes waiting for everyone to board.

DontBlameTheKids 2 years ago

I will never, ever stop buying baby wipes! Those things are genius.

Laura Sanders Araiza 2 years ago

when we took our then 17 month old cross country to a funeral pre boarding was a lifesaver going there since it was so last notice there was no un booked seats together. By pre boradring we were able to get him settled in a seat and let the flight attendant know what was up to see if we could get some one to switch. On the way back east the people out west would not let us preboard saying a small child was not a good enough reason. Thankfully we were sitting together then but even then it was a lot more inconvenient since we had to juggle all the carry on stuff and baby all the way to the very back.

Melissa Ortiz 2 years ago

We also had each one chose a blanket, a few toys and carry their own backpack. Made it easier for them to get their own things out.

Melissa Ortiz 2 years ago

I traveled with 4 kids ages 7, twins 4, and 3 year olds last month. We hadn’t gone on a plane in years for fear of how they would behave on the plane. They did remarkably well. We did a late night flight so the 3 younger ones slept the whole way there. We did have every electronic device known to man and they did great!!! I used to be a flight attendant so I know how evil the adults on the plane ca.n be. Kids are kids. It’s the adults that need to be polite and have manners.

Kathy Helfrey Speelman 2 years ago

I always say that! Bad enough the kid has to be stuck on the plane for however many hours, why extend it by another hour?!?! I always board last. Now if they could let us off first………

Karyn Hammel Cummer 2 years ago

I disagree with not pre-boarding. I fly (alone) with a toddler and bring his car seat. When I am not allowed to pre-board I am bopping each passenger with the car seat as I walk down the aisle. The car seat is something they are used to sitting in for extended periods of time. It actually helps to keep them happier longer in their seats.

Trish Gessner St Michel 2 years ago

They get older and it gets better!!!! Last summer I managed to do some freelance writing on a flight, and after my laptop battery died, I read a book — with NO PICTURES! The kids were 6 and 4 and happily coloring and playing Leapsters (with headphones). Plus the school-age kids have full-size backpacks and can Sherpa their own stuff. Oh happy day!!

Meagan McKuski 2 years ago

I have 3 boys: 10 months, 2 and 5. We fly a few times a year and I always bring my 2 year olds car seat. My reasoning is to keep him in one spot! Lol that way it’s just like the car, he knows he has to stay in it and isn’t trying to climb around everywhere

Jennifer Capper 2 years ago

I love pre-boarding. I don’t know what other way to do it. Pre-boarding means we have tons of room above us for carry ons, we can get settled in the seats and take our time doing it. Get everything out and ready and it’s not a stressed hurry up thing. Don’t know how I would cope with out it! And my only rule is never kick or push the seat in front. Of corse it will bother the person in front of you.

Christine Kray 2 years ago

My daughter has special needs. Preboarding her is best for everyone. I know that people get stressed out while flying, but a smidgen of patience for those who need it really isn’t that much to ask.

April Lamkin 2 years ago

And if my kid is kicking your seat, instead of sitting there quietly pissed off, grow some balls and say something!!! I obviously cant tell! Dont be afraid to say something to parents, otherwise it IS your own damn problem! God knows if your kid is terrorizing me, your gonna freaking know it!!

April Lamkin 2 years ago

No, families shouldnt have to board at the last minute. Parents should be in more control of their kids. Its not like ALL kids on a plane are acting like animals. Theres a reason for that…its called parebting done right!

    Amanda 2 years ago

    I just have to share my experience. Myself, my fiancee and his mother took our 3 year old daughter to Disney in January. It was a 2 hour nonstop flight. We had assigned seats and his mother paid the extra money for us to have the front row seats. That gave him (at 6’6″) the extra leg room, and our daughter a little extra space in case she needed to move around, which we let her do until the plane took off. We boarded the plane when we were supposed to (which was pretty early). In my opinion, she was very well behaved for a 3 year old on a plane for the first time ever. Even if she did want to rattle the ears off the flight attendants every time they came by and a couple other passengers near us.
    It’s not always possible for parents to “be in more control of their kids” and even “parenting done right” still has their moments of loss of control/chaos/craziness.

Jenny Springman Farley 2 years ago

I have 4 kids and travel often. I don’t understand the whole “putting a car seat in” I always check them. If the plane is going down the chances of a car seat saving them is pretty much none. I’d love it if kids were last in 1st off.

    Natalie Rister 2 years ago

    Have you seen how they treat suitcases? Do you really want them tossing, dropping, and banging your car seat around? It could damage the car seat, in ways you might not even notice until it fails during a car crash. I bring my car seat on, not only for the safety & comfort of my child, but to also keep the car seat safe.

    Hayley 2 years ago

    I take 14 hour flights, so the ability to literally strap them still is a lifesaver. A car seat won’t help in a crash, but it can help prevent injury with bad turbulence.

    lyndi 2 years ago

    Hi there! If you join the facebook group “car seats for littles” and ask there why it isn’t a good idea to check car seats they will provide you with all the info as to why it’s a bad idea. It’s a great group! :)

Diane Skunicki Simard 2 years ago

I have always said this! They should be the last ones on, and the very first ones off.

Bree Sullivan 2 years ago

I would always pre-board when I was traveling with my then 9 month and 2 year old by myself. I found it easier to get on first and get settled in my seat with my kids rather than dealing with people standing in the aisle putting their bags away.

Emily Holder McIntosh 2 years ago

Agree with others…just come prepared. I keep “secret weapons” (favorite snacks, new books, new games etc.) in my carry-on so they are entertained while we wait. Personally I don’t want families boarding at the last minute because we all usually come on with 25 bags and junk that takes 30 minutes to poke in overheads and under seats.

Kristen Henige Ochomogo 2 years ago

It depends…if you’re lugging car seats on, I love the extra time to get everything installed and everyone situated.

Kari Harris 2 years ago

We fly often with our kids and always preboard. We need time to install their car seats on the plane and preboarding allows us that.

Debbie Riddle Little 2 years ago

I rather be on a plane with screaming. kids than with some rude and grumpy adults.

Danielle Robinson Van Barneveld 2 years ago

Yes agreed board last.

Jennifer Gammonley Boisvert 2 years ago

Well pre-boarding doesn’t make sense if you have an assigned seat but Southwest doesn’t have assigned seats and if you don’t get on between A & B then your SOL finding seats together. My husband took our 7 yr old out east last weekend to see his parents and he was a high number in B and when they got on the flight attendant had to interfere because there were NO seats together by that point. And he said people were being jerks & not giving up/trading seats so they COULD sit together. Once the attendant interfered and made some people switch were they able to.

So yes, I get pre-boarding(on the way back the airline let them get on via pre-boarding despite her age. He relayed to them what happened on the way out there). many parents can’t sit with their kids without it. Plus as long as you come prepared(snacks, books, coloring, DVD player w/headphones etc) you should be fine!

    mrs w 2 years ago

    Without sounding snobbish we travel from the US to England often to visit family we have 4 children aged between 2 and 11 we travel first class whenever we can the extra space is a god send. Our two older children love the bigger seats and in flight entertainment we hear nothing from them for the whole flight. Our two youngest can stretch out on the seats and sleep the whole time. Expensive although worth every penny

Sylwia Thornton 2 years ago

Crap! First of all, boarding last leaves no room or your stuff cause all the lumps with their oversized bags have taken up all the room. In sorry, with a kid I’m not going to be checking in my bag that has all the toys in it. Second, my 2.5yo loves sitting in planes early, watching stuff outside and saying hi to people that are boarding. Never ever do I want to board last.

Kelly Simonds 2 years ago

I’m sure when people see me get on the plane with my 3 kids, 11, 7 and 2 they are praying that we don’t sit near them LOL. They all do good well maybe the 2 yr old is seat kicker and doesn’t like to be buckled especially during takeoff and landing but its usually a really quick meltdown. LOL but really I have never really had a problem with them just lots of activities and lots and lots of snacks!!!!!!!

Melissa Parrott Kolasinski 2 years ago

I remember these days well, and I don’t miss them. Guess there is a bright side to having a teen and tween who live with their earbuds in! 😉

Jenny Sonnenberg Fussell 2 years ago

If you fly Southwest, you risk not getting seats together if you don’t board ahead of time. If you have assigned seats, then that’s awesome to wait til the last minute, but since I mostly fly Southwest when I fly, waiting isn’t an option.

Tawny Wetzel 2 years ago

I totally pre-board. I fly Southwest and my theory is, I’m going to get on the plane immediately and pick a row towards the back. Whoever chooses sits in front of me knows damn well they’re sitting in front of a toddler and can expect everything that is to be expected when flying with a toddler (though I typically get comments about how great my son is…. Except the one time he threw up a gallon of chocolate milk mid-takeoff on a six hour flight.)

    Angela Miller 2 years ago

    I feel like I missed an argument somewhere. lol

    Tawny Wetzel 2 years ago

    Lol, seems like you did. Crazy people shouldn’t be allowed to delete their comments!!! Share the crazy with everyone!

Shena Dennin Jocuns 2 years ago

Totally agree. I have always boarded last when traveling with my kids. The longer they sit in that seat the more I have to hear “I’m bored” or “how much longer”.

April Mier 2 years ago

Yeah, not the greatest tips here, especially the pre-boarding one. If you fly swa you don’t have a seat assignment. We travel with her faa approved car seat, bring it on the plane, sit as far in the back as possible, and make sure to bring enough entertainment and snacks. Two flights per year for all 4 years of her life and we’ve never had a problem.

    Sarah 1 year ago

    I fly SWA with my kids also. Must board first or kids won’t be sitting with me. Mine fly once a summer since 3 and they are awesome. They have their moments like all people on the plane. Pack their carry ons full of snacks, games and suckers for their ears. And if traveling to with two kids sit in between them. Save yourself the stress from them fighting over everything:)

Melissa Golden Martin 2 years ago

I travel frequently with my two boys..5 & almost 2 and we are always the last on! I used to travel a lot before kids & I have vowed to NOT HAVE A SEAT KICKER! But Monday while traveling from Portland to Tucson, my little one & I were chatting, he wasn’t screaming, he was saying hi…albeit repeatedly, but the older gentleman (I use that word loosely) sitting one row up & across the aisle plugged his ear & shot me daggers! Seriously? I’ve been on flights with kids vomiting behind me & this guy is pissed because my kid is saying hi? WTH!!!

    Theresa 2 years ago

    I would rather have a youngster wave and being happy at me on the plane. At least somebody is having a good time on a 13 hour flight. It really made my hubby and I miss our kids that much more.

Jeanette Custer 2 years ago

I am in total agreement!!!! Why board 30 minutes prior to let your kids get anxious, whiney, when you can hop on minutes before and avoid all of that!

Bev Reardon 2 years ago

Needs a bashing

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