4 Pro tips for flying with kids
Updated: Aug 27
Traveling with young children can be intimidating, especially flying with multiple kids. It can also be incredibly exciting.
Lean into the excitement end of it, and you’ll do fine.
Follow these 4 pro tips for flying with kids to keep your children calm and happy along the way:
#1 Have each child (who is old enough) carry a backpack.
This gives them a job and makes them feel important to have their own travel gear. Also, you won't have to carry *all* the things this way. Here's what you should put inside:
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a coloring book with 2-4 crayons (any more and you will lose them the first time they come out). Look for coloring books that also have activity pages in them (like 'connect the dots' or 'find what's different' or ‘color by number’). Put the crayons in a Ziplock bag and tape it securely to the coloring book cover
NO pens or markers
DO get those Crayola mess-free coloring book sets, the kids love them, they're like magic, and you don't have to worry about them marking on tables, walls, etc.
a new small thin notebook or sketchpad with blank paper to draw on, and a pencil for older kids (but the younger ones can just use their crayons -- pencils become knives fast)
a new small book, if they're into books
many MANY (non-messy) snacks. Split these up into 3 or 4 baggies, each with a # on it. That way, you can say, "bag #1 is for the airport, bag #2 is for the plane, etc" (they get to decide if they eat everything from the bag all at once or stretch it out, but at least you know they have a new bag to dig into soon, so you won't run out of snacks completely before you even board the plane) Suckers/lollipops are your friend on planes (but not the kind that turn into gum) as they are long-lasting; use them during takeoff/landing to help relieve air pressure on the ears
a small water bottle that you don't mind losing -- the disposable plastic ones with a pop top are great; they’re fun for kids and you won’t have to worry about losing a cap (fill it from a water fountain before getting on the plane). Encourage them to slowly sip water during takeoff/landing to help relieve air pressure on the ears
a very thin blanket for naps and snuggling (it gets cold on airplanes)
any small lovey that they want, but seriously consider/discuss leaving the most important ones safe at home
one thin change of clothes, just in case, placed in a Ziplock bag, rolled up tight (to save space and prevent food/drinks getting on it) buried in the bottom of the backpack
any electronic device you are comfortable with, we loved Kindle Fire but use what is convenient for you (download games, shows or movies to the device before the trip, and make sure they’re fully charged)
If you have babies, bring the stroller.
It’s best to have an in-between size for this – not so big you can’t fit it through the doorway, but not so small that it flips over super easily. Especially if you’ll have other young kids pushing the stroller. One time, while my 6-year-old was pushing the baby in the stroller at the airport, he pulled down too hard on the handle, tripped, fell, and flipped the entire stroller over backwards. The 6-year-old was lying on the floor under the flipped over stroller, diaper bag contents strewn about, with my infant (luckily firmly strapped and clipped into the baby carrier) hanging over him, calmly checking things out from his new aerial perspective.
If you have to choose between a big stroller and an umbrella stroller, pick the big one (as long as it will fit on the plane (check with your airline to see if there are any gate check size restrictions for strollers)). If you have to choose between an umbrella stroller and no stroller, pick the umbrella stroller. We loved the Jeep strollers for traveling.
Bringing a stroller means you have somewhere to put your baby down while hustling through the big terminals at major airports, which can be such a relief for your back. It also can give you somewhere to put the diaper bag, discarded jackets, snacks, water bottles, backpacks… you name it. I travelled quite a bit with my babes by myself, and it was immeasurably easier to do with a stroller. Plus, you can push it right up to the gate (ask for a gate-check) so you never have to worry about checking it at the counter or losing it or storing it on the plane – the airline staff will take care of all that for you and will have it sitting there waiting for you right when you step off the plane at your destination. Voila!
I also used my stroller as a ‘base’ while we were walking. The baby rode in the stroller, and the walking kids had to have a hand on the stroller. This made sure everyone stayed together without me having to hold their hands. If you have more kids than stroller hand space allows, just extend the rule to be ‘hands on the stroller or hands on hands’ so whoever has a hand on the stroller also has to hold the hand of someone not able to touch the stroller.
Navigating the airport, security and customs will take a LOT longer with kids. If you get stressed out about getting to your flight on time, the kids will get stressed out too, and that will only raise your anxiety level. Just leave early. Give yourself plenty of extra time so you can stroll through the airport with confidence and enjoy how excited your kids get to see all the sights. Point out security checks and explain what the staff is doing and why, so that your kids are interested instead of afraid. Collect a list of jokes and riddles beforehand so you have something to distract your kids with while standing in lines. If they’re old enough, do spelling or math contests out loud. Find a quiet spot near the window and let your kids have a snack break while watching planes together. When it’s time to board, introduce them to the flight attendant and ask if they can meet the pilot – lots of pilots are thrilled to fulfill this request. Let your child pick if they want the window or aisle seat (if possible). The more you focus on enhancing joy for them, the more fun you will all have.
Check with your doctor before you travel.
We spoke with our pediatrician before our first big trip with kids, and he had some great health guidance, specific to our destination. As a traveling parent himself, he also offered up this nugget of advice: “let all the rules fly out the window when you’re traveling” – meaning, if you normally only allow an hour of screen time a day for your kid or you never allow them to eat candy...just let those things go for the travel days. Loosen up the rules. Do whatever works to keep everyone calm and happy. The rules can be put back in place once you reach your destination. Or not. Give yourself and your kids permission to drop them for the entire vacation, if you want, and just pick back up with them when you return home.
The goal for a trip with kids is not necessarily to have a vacation, because let’s face it, kids are a lot of work, no matter where you are. Rather, the goal is to MAKE MEMORIES. Good, bad, ugly, boring, scary, exciting. . . the great thing is, it doesn’t matter one bit what kind of trip you have, it will still become a memory for you and your family. It will be something you talk about for the rest of your lives.
Stop and think about that for a minute.
This trip is creating hours and hours of future conversations and laughter for you and your entire family.