Let’s face it, there are a million things we love to do with our children, but even for the most patient of parents, the thought of traveling with kids on a plane makes us instantly anxious. Traveling on its own can be stressful enough - adding kids into the equation never makes it any easier.
What is it that we really fear about travelling with toddlers on a long haul flight? It’s not that we think our kids are so misbehaved that they will act like total monsters throughout the entire flight. Really, it’s that during a flight, a child just exhibiting normal behavior is going to be disruptive to someone. Stares and snickers from other passengers can feel overbearing, and sometimes it feels like all eyes are on you. However, whether other passengers like it or not, your child has just as much of a right to fly and travel as they do.
Although a kid will be a kid, there are a few “how to travel with kids” tricks and hacks to make sure you are best prepared. In this guide, we will examine several tips for traveling with kids to help make your experience as positive as possible.
Ask a few parents who travel with children often and they’ll tell you, anything can go wrong! Mid-flight is a bad time to find out that you forgot the extra bottle of milk, or that you didn’t pack enough diapers. If your child has never been on a flight, it will be difficult to assume how they will react to the experience. Some frequent-flying parents would say to assume that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”, and the key to making sure that nothing goes wrong - is to ensure that nothing can go wrong. A plane experience is much different than traveling with toddlers in a car. You can’t just pull over and fix the problem, or stop by the store on the way if you need something.
What can go wrong, you ask? Consider these common scenarios:
You Forget Something: You are traveling with a two-year old on a plane. He absolutely loves his “blankie” and never sleeps without it. At takeoff, when he asks for it, you realize that you forgot to pack it with your carry-on items. What do you do?
The Kids Get Bored: You’re flying with a 4 year old who was totally intrigued by the window view for the first 45-minutes of the flight. Now, there’s three hours left, and she’s noticeably bored. With nothing else to keep her mind occupied, she begins kicking the seat in front of her. What do you do?
They Have A Bad Reaction: Your 5-year old was extremely excited for the flight, but wasn’t prepared for the increasing pressure as the plane rises into the sky. As the pressure builds in his ears, he begins crying uncontrollably. What do you do?
Here’s the upside. With the right preparation, you can overcome any situation that you find yourself in while traveling with children. We asked several frequent-flying parents for their advice on traveling with kids and here are the top 12 tips that they advised:
Plan FAR Ahead: Traveling with kids is the one time you need everything to be well thought out and prepared. Never put yourself in a position where you must rush to get everything together. Make a checklist of items that you’ll need, and confirm that you have picked up and packed those items before you check them off the list. The days before and the day of travel will often feel hectic and rushed, even without a lack of preparation. The more prepared you are ahead of time, the greater your chances are of avoiding a stressful situation while 40,000 feet in the air.
Make Early Travel Arrangements: Many frequent flyers would agree that traveling in the morning is the best time to travel with children. Fly as early in the day as possible. Morning flights are usually less crowded, and in the early morning, kids are often more tired and prone to sleep or nap. Alternately, book your flights around the time when you know that your child is most likely to be tired, and by all means, avoid traveling with kids during the times of the day that they are most likely to be hyper and energetic.
Choose The Right Seating Arrangements: If you are able to choose your own seating, it is recommended that you pick seats closest to the back of the plane. Especially if you are traveling with several children, bathroom visits will likely be frequent. Being closer to the bathroom ensures that there are less people that you must squeeze by in the aisles each time a bathroom trip is necessary. In the case of any mishap, such as your newborn’s milk spilling all over your shirt, you will appreciate the close proximity to the restroom.
Layer Their Clothing: Be prepared for drastically changing temperatures when flying. Weather can be different from one location to another, from one altitude to another, and even, from one plane to another. To prepare for any weather situation, dress your child in comfortable layers that can be removed if they get hot, and can be put back on if they get cold. Consider layering children in easily removable clothing without buttons and zippers, so that nothing will prevent them from getting to the bathroom in time.
Seat Kids Away From The Aisle: Frequent flying parents often recommend seating your child away from the aisle. The aisle is often used as a transport lane for hot coffee and water, and can be dangerous to small flailing arms and legs. Seat your kids on the inner seats or window seats to prevent any aisle-way mishaps!
Wipe Everything Down: Bring alcohol wipes in your carry-on and use them obsessively on every surface that your child will touch. Hundreds of passengers may pass through a single airplane on a daily basis, leaving all types of germs behind. Disinfecting the area prevents your child from picking up these germs. There is nothing fun about taking care of a sick child during a vacation, so do everything that you can to kill those germs before they travel with you to your destination. Also, use these wipes to disinfect the area at the end of the flight to make sure your child hasn’t left any germs behind for the next passenger!
Maintain Your Composure: Ask any flight attendant, and they’ll tell you that disagreements about kids traveling have led to many “in-the-sky arguments”. Non-parent passengers will never understand what parents go through while traveling with kids. While some children can be downright misbehaved, there will always be one rude passenger who will gripe the moment your child does anything - cries, laughs, coughs, or any other small action that may momentarily interrupt the passenger’s comfort. Air travel can be stressful for anyone - small situations can quickly turn into much bigger (and unnecessary) arguments. Diffuse situations by ignoring any rude comments, or simply apologize and move on. Keep in mind that no matter what your kid does, other parents will sympathize with you and commend you for trying your best; as far as everyone else, you’ll probably never see them again anyway!
Keep Them Entertained: A distracted child is much easier to deal with on a flight than one who is bored and looking for something to keep their attention. Bring their favorite distraction along on the flight - coloring books, their tablet, or whatever it takes to keep them entertained for the length of the flight. Many frequent flying parents suggest bringing a surprise toy and allowing your child to unwrap it during the flight. Nothing holds a child’s attention like playing with a new toy for the first time. If you’re completely lost on what to bring when traveling with a toddler, watch them closely for a few days. Pay attention to which toys they play with that hold their attention for longest, and which ones they only play with for a few minutes before moving on.
Pack The Right Snacks: Airlines have become increasingly restricted in the selection of snacks that they will carry on an airline, if they carry any at all. It’s important to make sure that you have water and snacks on hand; and not just any snacks, but snacks that your child enjoys. Children are more likely to act out when they are hungry, and mid-flight isn’t the best time to try to force your child to eat snacks that they don’t like. There is a caveat, however - stay away from sugary snacks and beverages, since sugar can give them a major burst of energy at an unwanted time.
Reward Them For Good Behavior: Frequently, let your child know that you appreciate them being on their best behavior. Offer to treat them with something if they showcase good behavior throughout the entire flight. Agree to give them their favorite food when they get off the plane, or to do a fun activity with them when you make it to your destination. A little appreciation can go a long way for anyone!
Make Them Comfortable: Get them their own travel accessories to make sure that when they are ready to rest during travel, they can do so comfortably. Purchase a kids-sized pair of headphones, and kid-sized travel pillows and blankets to bring along on the flight.
Prepare For Accidents: Unfortunately, even with the best preparation, accidents happen. Be prepared for these accidents by packing extra “just in case” items. If you have a newborn or younger toddler, pack more diapers/pull-ups then you actually expect to need. Bring an extra set of clothing for each child in case they spill something, get nauseated, or have any other type of accident. Furthermore, bring an extra t-shirt for yourself. Better safe than sorry!
Most importantly, just breathe. No matter what happens, in the end, you will get through it. As you travel more frequently with your children, the both of you will become more accustomed to and prepared for the process. Relax and don’t forget to have fun and enjoy yourself - a flight is a memorable and exciting experience for ALL members of the family!