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.

How to Survive an Airplane With Kids on Scary Mommy


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  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. 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. 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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    • 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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      • 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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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