How to Survive an Airplane With Kids



My first flight alone with my then eight month old son went something like this:

1. I hand him a “brain-stimulating” toy that I had bought for the flight….he chucks the toy three aisles down with an accuracy that has yet to be seen again by this same child.

2. I snuggle him into me to sleep….and somehow forget how hard we worked on sleep training him so that he would only fall asleep…by himself…in his crib. He caterwauls and pinwheels like I am trying to suffocate him with his blanket.

3. I discover what that awful smell is….and decide that I am a diaper-changing magician and thus will be able to change his diaper while he is sitting on my lap. I am wrong.

After enduring airplane-travel for almost seven years with my two kids to visit our far-flung relatives, I have some tips for surviving an airplane with kids. Here goes…

1. DO try this: If you are traveling with a toddler, try to convince them through subliminal messaging that they will be very tired once they get on the plane. I once did this with amazing results. I started whispering to her early that morning, “You will be very sleepy when you get on the plane, your eyes will feel heavy and you will be cozy and warm.” I think I might have accidentally hypnotized her or something. We got on the plane and she immediately fell asleep, which was the complete opposite experience of our previous trip where I wrestled her like she was a spider monkey on crack for the entire flight.

2. DO bring a crap-ton of familiar food, milk and diapers. Things often go awry when traveling by plane and you never know when you might accidentally get stranded in a random backwoods airport and these items will save your life. After getting stranded once, my toddler refused three different meals that I had bought for her in the airport. She decided that she would only eat the disgusting warm cheese that I had packed about 10 hours before and I was so desperate to see her eat anything, that I let her.

3. DON’T let crabby men get to you. They may not understand why your baby is crying hysterically during take off and they may feel that you aren’t disciplining your 8-month-old enough, and thus blame you because their crabby old man nap is being interrupted. And then they might yell at you to quiet your baby down. Take heart. Karma is a powerful thing, and that man has just guaranteed that he will sit by a crying baby on an airplane for the rest of  his existence.

4. DON’T give your kid Benadryl to make them drowsy on the plane. I had a friend who once tried this….with her three-year-old twins…..on a four hour flight. This technique can horribly backfire since, in some children, Benadryl can actually WAKE THEM UP MORE. I can’t really imagine a more horrible scenario than being stuck on a plane for hours with small children who are MORE awake than small children usually are.

5. DO bring copious amounts of hand sanitizer. It helps your peace of mind, if nothing else. The only down side is that you can’t actually squirt it into your kids’ mouths. Once, while on a plane with my son, I looked over at him and he was actually sliding his seatbelt inside his mouth. Inside. His. Mouth. Like to make sure he could get every single germ available. And then when he licked the hand rails on the train between terminals I pretty much gave him up as a lost cause for sickness and fevers to come, and seriously started questioning his intelligence. We had to start telling him that there is actual poop on everything in the airport (which there probably is) and that mental image finally slowed down the licking…a bit.

6. DON’T bring a million toys or waste your money on buying “new” toys. Kids don’t give a shit about toys when they are busy trying to make your life a living nightmare. The best toys on a plane? Ask your flight attendant for a couple of plastic cups and some straws . And you won’t even care when they fall on the ground and you never see them again.

7. DO bring dum dum suckers for that rare occurrence I call; a complete and total freak-o-rama. The kid is pissed. So pissed that they are screaming at their max capacity for long enough that you start to get feral looks from your neighbors and you also begin to fear and admire the child’s commitment to being pissed. During one such episode, I had a lady who claimed to be a pediatrician give me a dum dum sucker (or she might have been a dum dum saleswoman? I should have probably checked her credentials), and the sugar and the sucking kinda jolted my toddler out of whatever crazy space she was in. And while I would never encourage taking candy from a stranger, that woman may have saved our life that day.

8. DO let your older kid watch whatever junk and play whatever game on whatever electronic device available. Survival is survival, and as you are already wrestling the aforementioned spider monkey on crack, you probably won’t have the mental space to answer 5 billion questions about how planes get into the air or why farts stink or listen to how hot the pink power ranger is, and what does hot mean anyway?

9. DO let people help you, even if that help appears in a condescending form. I once had to get myself and the kids from the plane to a (very) remote parking lot to pick up our car. I had a towering pile of suitcases, a pack ‘n’ play, two carseats, a reluctant six-year-old helper and a completely useless toddler. I was obviously struggling and a woman asked me if I needed assistance. The way she said it, though, was like, “I really do not want to help you, but human decency is requiring me to offer you help even though I think you are a complete idiot for getting yourself into this situation.” But perhaps I’m paraphrasing her expression. Whatever. I stubbornly refused her help. But after walking for what seemed to be a pot-induced length of time, after our suitcases continued to tip and the carseats kept trying to commit Hara-kari, I began to wish that I would have taken her up on her non-genuine offer. Take help when it is offered, swallow your pride, and save your sanity.

10. DON’T be too envious of that older woman sitting across the aisle from you who is reading People magazine with her perfectly manicured nails, smugly sipping a cocktail. You too, will travel in style someday, kid-free, with hair that doesn’t spend its entire existence rolled in a ball on top of your head, and with clothes on that haven’t recently had crusty warm cheese scraped off of them, and you will reminisce and begin to miss those days when your kids were small.Yeah not really. Actually, the next time I get to fly kid-free, I plan on buying two martinis and toasting myself for getting to the other side.


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  1. 1

    rebecca at thisfineday says

    Ha ha ha- must be the season. I just posted today about the same topic after our flight back from Hawaii last night! I forgot about the hand sanitizer! I did this too when my kids were super young. I used to give them the sanitizer wipes so they could clean the plane. This seriously occupied them for at least 15 minutes, which is like a lifetime on a plane! ha ha ha. I didn’t sanitize once this last trip.. man hope they aren’t barfing in a day or two!

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  2. 2

    Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes says

    And this is why we have avoided air-travel like the plague ever since we had kids. Ok, car trips are no picknick either but at least you can let them out for 15min every hour to run wild and scream at the top of their lungs.

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  3. 3

    Amanda says

    Unfortunately for us, air travel is the necessary evil of living halfway ’round the world from family. The last trip we took, my spider-monkey-on-crack (then) 2 year old screamed for almost an entire 18 hour journey (with several flights and layovers) while DH slept beside us for the first 9 hour flight. I was never so happy to get off of that plane!

    I’m hoping that DS3 be preoccupied by the ipad for the next flight, but at least it’s not going to be as long as the trip to Hong Kong!

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    • 4

      CaleyDog says

      Wow. Wish MY mom had known spider monkeys on crack and pot-induced amounts of time. How proud your kids will be when they read your earlier work! More seriously, if I’m limited to two drinks on a plane, can’t smoke and/or have to sit next to someone who needs to purchase two seats, do I REALLY have to listen to someone spawning offspring like a spider monkey on crack herself call me a grumpy old man and warn me about negative karma? (You’re going for a third? Did I read that right? Are your genes THAT vital to the world’s future?) Wouldn’t it be far easier for the Hong Kong contingent to come visit you rather than you subjecting 200+ others to your little cherubs’ vocal stylings? I’d think about that karma thing a bit more.

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      • 5

        Amanda says

        Was this comment directed at me or the author of the article?

        If it was directed at me: No, it wouldn’t have been easier for the Hong Kong family to visit us. We were going to see DH’s grandmother who was on her deathbed. If you’re the type of person to need alcohol, a nicotine fix and peace and quiet on a flight, I suggest you buy noise cancelling headphones and Nicorette patches for your next trip. Unfortunately children get bored, tired, overstimulated and want to run around, and sometimes there’s not much that the parents can do about it. Being “that guy” on the flight who complains about every.single.thing is worse than a screaming child IMO.

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  4. 6

    Nuts about food says

    I laughed through the whole post, remembering some of those moments. Incidentally, I am taking an intercontinental flight the day after tomorrow with my two kids, and am suddenlyfeeling a little panicky. I wonder why? I must stock up on snacks and lollipops.I already packed the hand sanitizer. Oh, by the way, we also use the “poop on everything” story with our son (never needed it with out daughter… must be a boy thing to lick everything around).

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  5. 7

    catina says

    Everything you mention is sooo true! Thank goodness my kids are ipad junkies now and just past toddler age. Now we just have poop issues during flights!

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  6. 8

    grownandflown says

    We are two moms at that “martini-people magazine-manicure stage” now and remember all too well the nightmarish condition you describe of traveling around the country (and sometimes across the ocean) with our very young kids. Great list – I would only add this: make sure to retrieve your child’s lovely from the carry on security belt. We once left behind our son’s stuffed rabbit in Orlando which we, fortunately, realized before it was too late.

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  7. 10

    Maura says

    We travel by air about 3-4 times a year, and this will be the first year that we can’t carry our son on our lap. I’m hoping the frequency of travel will eventually make him immune to acting up, but in the meantime, I agree with being armed with drink and snacks; maybe a small toy or two and some books. We also try to schedule flights around his nap time so he will be naturally inclined to sleep. Also, change his diaper just before boarding – I know, he could still potentially “poop” midway, but odds are you’re saving yourself the trouble of a wee wee leak if you are proactive. Happy flying!

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  8. 11

    Wendy says

    I once was traveling by train with my 6 y.o., and 2 1/2 y.o. (just 3 weeks out of diapers). We’re sitting in Penn station, NYC with two large suitcases, backpack, and other assorted carrying devices, when my 2 y.o. has to pee, really bad. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to bring two kids and all our luggage in to the bathroom, and the screaming begins -“I can’t hold it! I’m going to wet my pants! MOMMY, I gotta go!” What to do, what to do? There was not a porter or cop any where in sight, and there was no way to carry everything, and no way I was going to leave all our stuff sitting there. Panic started to set in, but then my 6 y.o. very calmly said, “Mom, you take her, I’ll stay here with the luggage,” and I grabbed the little one and ran to the bathroom. She’s sitting there happily doing her thing, when suddenly it hits me – I left a 6 y.o. alone in Penn station!!!! OMG, am I insane????? I quickly wiped the tot, grabbed her up, and ran back out. My big boy was clearly a little nervous, but fine. A very nice gentleman came to me and said he was keeping an eye on him, and understood my dilemma. I wished he would have told me that before! 22 years later I still think back on that and shutter, and curse the person who dropped us off, rather wait with us!

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  9. 12

    Hana says

    This is why I refuse to fly with my kids! They will see every in of California before I get in a plane with them and not before they are into their teens.

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  10. 14

    Brenda Dion says

    I take long car trips with my kids and I agree survival is survival! You do what you have to do. I would add to this list, bring at least one change of clothes (maybe even one for yourself!). I’ll never forget bringing my newly adopted daughter home from Saint Petersburg, I had packed four extra outfits (just in case) for this day and by the first hour (of a total 24 hour trip) we were down three outfits with one to go! We didn’t bring a change of clothes for ourselves so we came out of customs stained with pee, vomit and god knows what else but grinning from ear to ear to finally be HOME.

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  11. 16

    Tom says

    As a CBC (Childless By Choice) who flies about 100k miles a year for my work, I appreciate the advice you are giving and even the implication that the whole plane is not there to assist you.
    I do take issue with the assumption that anyone who reacts to your screaming child as they are throwing “chucking their toys three aisles down” with any amount of disdain is a “crabby old man”:
    1) The lack of appreciation for the behavior your child is exhibiting and the impact it is having on our travel experience (we paid for our seat too) does not define us as crabby. Better that you consider that look to be of a more informative nature; letting you know that your child is disturbing other passengers and being rude.
    2) Not everyone is on “vacation”. Some of us are on the way to work, returning from work, or actually working during the flight. It’s really sweet that you are taking your kids cross country to see Grandma, but that doesn’t mean that you have the right to impose your plans on the rest of us. I’ll let your kid scream all he wants if you are willing to help me finish up this 2 million dollar contract and prepare for the meeting I am heading to.
    3) Not all of us are old, or men. The fact that you have children was your choice. There are many of us who have chosen otherwise. Many of us made this decision when were young. We respect your choice to have children. Do not expect us to be there for you to “help you pick up the slack”. If you choose to be a vegetarian, great…just don’t put tofu on my plate when I order a steak.
    4) Changing a diaper is not “cute”. It is a terribly unhygienic. It may be an unavoidable fact of parenthood, but it is unhygienic nonetheless. Would you change a diaper on the table at a nice restaurant with people sitting around you trying to eat? Would you change a diaper on a crowded city bus with people sitting and standing all around you? NO. So what makes ANYONE think it is appropriate to change a diaper in the seat of a moving airplane??? It is scary how many times this has actually been attempted on my flights. Do you not realize that people are trying to consume food and beverages around you? Do you not realize that flights experience turbulence? This is the most glaring example of the “parents on airplanes” syndrome and if you accomplish one thing out of your article, I hope it is the education of your readers and other flying-parents that this is NEVER ok, not to mention illegal per health-code for the airlines.

    I am on a flight about twice a week and almost every time there is someone who piles on the plane with a load of children that they are ill equipped to handle. The most the rest of us can do is hope they keep walking past us and have to impose their lifestyle choice on someone else.
    However, I do want to thank you for many of the proactive pieces of advice you offered here. As a frequent traveler, it would be nice to see people use some common sense and adopt them.

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    • 17

      Penny says

      Your response is betraying the exact sense of entitlement that you are accusing parents of small children of having. That plane ticket you bought guarantees you a seat on the airplane, no more. It does not entitle you to a blissful, silent, child-free experience in the air. Whether or not you choose to have children, they do exist and they have every right to be on that aircraft if a ticket was purchased for them. Sitting near you on an airplane is not imposing any kind of lifestyle on you. It’s using a seat that was paid for just like yours was. And that contract you’re working on? Not anyone’s problem but your own.

      It might do you some good to sympathize with the parents rather than condescend to them. That look you are giving them? The one you claim is just to let them know their child is disturbing people? Please. THEY KNOW. But that child is trapped in a tube in the air and there is no “let’s take the kid out for a walk to cool off.”

      Sure, there are parents who don’t plan ahead, who don’t tell their kid to quit kicking the seat in front of them, and who don’t care who is bothered. But for those of who do care and are mortified enough that our children are acting out, your attitude only makes it worse.

      I will give you your point #4, because I fully agree that changing a diaper anywhere but in the bathroom (which is crazy difficult, granted) is unacceptable.

      But please stop assuming that you are any more important that anyone else on that plane, no matter what the reason for your trip. A paid ticket is a paid ticket. Get over yourself.

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      • 18

        Tom says


        With all due respect. Nobody has yet to complain that there are children on a plane or present in general. No one expects a plane ticket to entitle them to a “blissfull, silent, child free experience”. However, on that note, it also does not entitle you or you child to be rude and disruptive.
        If your child cannot be on a plane without being a ill tempered little monster, perhaps you should consider the advice and practice of some of the more considerate parents out there who choose to travel by road. The fact that your child is on an airplane is your fault, not ours. Take responsibility for your decisions and actions.
        Never did I assume that I was MORE important than anyone else on the plane. I assume that I am as EQUALLY important as anyone else on the plane. That is the part you are apparently misunderstanding: When you find it acceptible for me to scream, run up and down the aisle, and throw things at yout or other passengers when on a plane, then we will find it acceptable when you children do it to us.

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      • 19

        Mama and the City says


        Unless you pay for a private ride, there is no other way than to be tolerant. Plain and simple.

        An 8 month old baby, at least has an excuse.

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    • 20

      Monkey's Mama says

      Say what you will but you are most definitely that crabby man (old or not) on the plane. You were once a child and I’m sure your parents dealt with at least once instance (air travel or otherwise) where you had a total and complete meltdown in front of a ton of strangers and were entirely inconsolable. Do you think that the poor parents of the screaming child on your plane are not horribly embarrassed or AWARE of the fact that they are the focus of a lot of peoples’ attention, angry, sympathetic or otherwise? You don’t the first clue about why that family is on that plane and it’s certainly not always “just to visit Gramma”. Next time you come across a blog like this (although I’m still baffled as to what brought you to this page. Do you frequently search for articles about children just so you can leave asinine comments like this?) I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself. I’m sure your mother taught you the rule of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” and I’ll bet she’d be ashamed to see you spouting your garbage in such a forum. Go back to your $2 million contracts, Mr Big Shot.

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    • 24

      Kelly says

      Tom you made excellent points & I agree that parents should be much more mindful of these things while traveling with children. If they can avoid it, do not bring a baby or small child on the plane. It’s not fair to the other passengers to endure two and a half hours of your baby screaming or your child talking loudly & kicking their seat throughout the flight. People pay a lot of money to fly, and many have to fly for their jobs & use that flight time to prepare documents or catch a much needed nap. It’s about being thoughtful, and considering that the other 175 passengers aren’t amused that you brought an infant that messes itself & screams on the plane…keep that in mind when you consider flying with a little one. The sooner people realize that the world does not revolve around their kid, the better. And my god, if you are that disgusting to change a diaper while sitting in your seat, you should be arrested when your plane lands…no one wants to get sick from your kid’s excrement. Hand, Foot, & Mouth sound like fun to you? Get a damn brain & change them in the plane bathroom or don’t fly with a baby like the rest of us moms who practice common sense.

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      • 25

        Ariana says

        I’m a little late to this party, but feel compelled to respond to both Tom and Kelly. I offer these points:
        1. Children, especially babies are unpredictable. The perfectly well behaved child one day, can act completely different the next, all we parents can do is react, and hope that we are reacting appropriately and effectively. Guess what? Sometimes we get it wrong!
        2. There are situations that can induce panic…and panic can lead to poor decisions. Poop causes panic (as does vomit).
        3. No one WANTS to bring a baby on a plane. Sometimes life necessitates it though. You have know idea why this family is traveling, how much time they had to prepare for the flight, or how much experience they have. Lighten up, that mom maybe on her way to see her wounded husband in the hospital across the country…Unless you’ve taken the time to ask you don’t know, but it sounds like the limit of your interaction with the mom is sending her that look that says “hey, just thought you might want to know, your baby is being loud and rude”.
        4. Your attitude is unhelpful, and unproductive…it won’t change the behavior of future travelers or your “flying experience”. What is helpful? Offering to help the mom put her bag in the overhead while she seats the baby. Maybe offering to keep an eye on her 8 year old while she takes her 8 month old to the restroom to change its diaper. Offering a scrap of paper for the toddler to doodle on. These are small kindnesses that even the smallest hearted person can manage, and could make a huge difference to the mother.

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      • 26

        Andrea, Passports And Pushchairs says

        Some of us don’t have a choice but to fly. We have family in another part of the world, and if we want to see them there is no other way to get there than to fly. The world also doesn’t revolve around those who don’t want to share a very public space with babies or children, we all have to find a way to share it, peacefully, which means parents have to work to keep their kids quiet and people flying without kids have to recognize that a plane is nothing else than a vessel that gets you from point a to point b. It isn’t a place to relax, or to expect that you can get work done. You may be able to, and that would be great, but if it isn’t a child (which, by the way, way to presume all babies and kids will be terrible) it is the man snoring behind you, or the woman wearing too much perfume in front of you, or the person taking up more of your ‘space’ than they should. Not flying with babies isn’t ‘common sense’, it is a choice you make. I choose to fly with mine, to show them the world, to see their family, and to get them used to it. By the way? Sometimes we even fly business class. The horror. Yet we have never had a meltdown/screaming fit/crying for hours episode on any of the many flights we have been on.

        We were all babies once. I know it is easy to forget.

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    • 27

      Sara says

      An eight-month-old baby is rude? Hahaha. That’s a good one. I’ll tell my daughter that next time she has a random breakdown. “Quiet sweetie, this behavior is rude.” That will go over swimmingly.

      You do realize that not all people have children with your discomfort in mind, correct?

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    • 28

      Evelyn says

      We all impose on others lives styles so suck it up! I impose in others smoking next to me and making my environment not breathable! I impose in the fact that others flight so much to make millions yet contaminating our environment. I impose in others becoming rich while others are becoming poorer and sicker. I hope you get my point because you also chose the life style to flight out of country to make a living!

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  12. 29

    Sara Thompson says

    I’ve never braved an airplane with my son (who is now 16) but we did a cross country trip by train and it was wonderful because he could run and play. The train wasn’t so crowded on the way there but really crowded on the way back – however they provided some entertainment and there was plenty of space to wiggle and escape.

    Your post made me think of a time in a parenting group when we started talking about traveling with our kids. The leader said if you get on a plane with a child who is difficult then that child has a cold and Nyquil is your friend (my son gets hyper on Nyquil so I completely understand the backfire but it was the funniest thing I had ever heard).

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  13. 30

    Rebecca Greene says

    Licking everything….almost peed myself laughing….great…I am thankful my kids are now old enough to sit plugged in to the entertainment console in the seat back for the whole flight. As kids my parents managed to fly all over the world with three very small kids. How did they manage….pediatric sedative….lol….so that was what the spoonful of jelly in the terminal was all about.

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  14. 31

    Monkey's Mama says

    We’ve flown just once with my son, who was 10 months old at the time and I think I spent about two months asking everyone I knew who’d flown with kids for advice. I packed three bags worth of food, toys, books, diapers and anything else I could think of and my son fell asleep during the taxi to take off and didn’t wake up until we’d gotten to our destination. My husband thought it was hilarious but I don’t think I’d ever been more anxious in my life. I did NOT want to be THAT FAMILY with the screaming baby because I was very worried about encountering someone like good old “Tom” up there.

    I guess my only advice for parents who are going to take their kids on a plane for the first time is listen to Joelle and try not to worry too much about the possibilities of encountering the infamous “CBC douchecanoes” because surprisingly they are few and far between. It just seems like there are more of them because they like to announce themselves loudly and proudly everywhere.

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  15. 35

    Kate Chalmers says

    Benadryl isn't a great idea for a lot of kids though. We have to carry it for emergency allergy reasons so wouldn't consider using it for anything else. It actually has the opposite effect on about 40% of kids according to our pediatrician. And I've seen it on a recent plane journey. Hyper toddler and parents wondering what happened.

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