Flying with kids can stress everybody out. Whether your child (or grandchild) is a toddler or a teen, you’re likely already having nightmares about yelling, crying, seating woes, and luggage hassles. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Seasoned travelers and in-the-know flight attendants have discovered plenty of secrets that make flying with kids so much easier.
Want their best advice? Below, check out the tried-and-true strategies that will make flying with kids easier on everybody.
1. Scheduling an early flight is your best bet
Nobody likes dragging themselves out of bed before the sun’s up to get to the airport. But Parents.com reports that when you’re flying with kids, that’s your best option. According to flight attendants, early-morning flights offer you the best chance at avoiding delays at takeoff and landing. Early-morning flights are also the least crowded. And everybody who’s on board will typically want to nap, including your kids or grandkids.
2. Economy is usually a better choice than first class
You’d think that the extra legroom and smaller cabin in first class would be worth the upgrade when you have a toddler in tow. But Parents.com advises against it. Many travelers have noted that their first class seat mates seem more likely to complain about a lively child than those in economy. One flight attendant tells Parents.com, “It’s not fair, but you’re just going to get more empathy and support with kids in economy.”
3. You should always check your seats before it’s time to board
It may be the last thing on your mind if you’re preoccupied with all the other challenges of flying with kids. But Reader’s Digest reports that it’s important to check your seats before it’s time to get on the plane. Gate agents note that computers assign seats, and may not take your kids or grandkids’ ages into account. A gate agent can probably help you out if you catch a seating problem before the plane is full. Check your boarding passes so that you catch any problems as early as possible.
4. Stocking up on water can help prepare kids for air pressure changes
One of the most uncomfortable things about flying for little travelers — who don’t have the same legroom complaints as the rest of us — is the inevitable series of air pressure changes that occur at takeoff and landing. Parents.com advises that anyone flying with kids should stock up on water after getting through airport security. Then, have your children drink water right before takeoff, and again during the last 30 to 45 minutes of the flight. The swallowing will also help equalize the pressure in your kids’ ears with the air pressure in the cabin, alleviating discomfort. However, if your child has an ear infection, you might want to consult with your doctor before heading to the airport at all.
5. Sitting near the front of the plane can help with motion sickness
Reader’s Digest reports that if you’re flying with kids who are prone to motion sickness, you should always ask to sit near the front of the plane. The ride will feel bumpier in the back of the plane. Whether you can choose your seats online or you have to enlist the help of the gate agent, trying to sit near the front of the aircraft can make the ride smoother in more ways than one.
6. You should never overpack when flying with kids
When flying with kids, it’s tempting to stuff everything you think you might need into a huge bag and hope for the best. But Parents.com reports that it’s actually a better idea to streamline your carry-on. (Don’t even think about foregoing a checked bag.)
Remember, you’ll need to carry all of that stuff with you through airport security, across the airport, and onto the plane. And even then, you’ll have only a limited amount of space to stow your belongings., so try to pack selectively. If you can, put everything you’ll need for the flight in a bag that can fit under the seat in front of you.
7. Low-sugar snacks are the best option
Even grownups don’t usually like airplane food. So it’s no surprise that people flying with kids find it especially difficult to get little ones to eat whatever the airline is serving. Parents.com recommends packing plenty of snacks, especially foods that are low in sugar. (Think string cheese, granola, Cheerios, pretzels, crackers, or nuts.) Taking foods that won’t cause problems at airport security will give you more control over what your kids are eating at the airport or on the plane. That way, you won’t end up with hyper kids who want to run up and down the aisle, just as you’re hoping that they’ll settle in with a book.
8. You should always dress everyone in layers
Whether you’re flying with toddlers or teens, you’ll need to prepare everyone for the changing temperatures at the airport and on the plane. Your best bet? Dress everybody in layers. Parents.com reports that according to flight attendants, you should also dress small children in clothes that don’t have buttons, zippers, or anything that could prevent them from getting to the bathroom on time. And when you’re choosing shoes, avoid styles with laces and pick slip-on shoes instead.
9. Dressing comfortably should be your priority
After you’ve figured out outfits for your kids or grandkids, don’t forget to spend a few moments thinking about what you’re going to wear, too. The TODAY Parenting Team advises that you should dress comfortably, even if you won’t look your best. In fact, the authors say that looking a little worn can actually help you. “You should dress comfortably, as you will likely be chasing little people eager to get lost or run over by an airport golf cart. Looking a bit ragged will also foster sympathy from people in uniforms.”
10. Packing extra clothes is a must
Anyone who’s spent time flying with kids knows that anything can happen. You should always come prepared with a change of clothes for each child — and for yourself. Whether somebody gets sick, has an accident, or spills apple juice all over themselves, you’ll be glad to have some clean clothes accessible during the flight. If you put everything in your checked bag, it won’t be of any help to you mid-flight.
11. Always look for the family line
Whether there are huge lines at check-in or a crowd at the gate, it pays to look around and see if there’s a family line. Also, you can ask the gate agent whether families with small children can get on the plane first. Many airports and airlines do make accommodations for parents and grandparents flying with kids. So it’s always a good idea to ask for help to get through the day.
12. Don’t be afraid to use Pull-Ups as a backup
Flying with kids who are just getting to used to potty training can add an extra layer of stress. Parents.com recommends making things easier on everybody by using Pull-Ups as a backup. Sometimes, there’s a line for the airplane bathroom. Or, if you’re waiting at the airport, the restroom may be a long walk from your gate. Do what you can to minimize the chances of an accident, but don’t be afraid to use Pull-Ups as a backup.
13. You’ll probably want to switch out your usual stroller
Most parents and grandparents wouldn’t dream of heading to the airport — much less going on vacation — without a stroller for their kiddos. But Parents.com recommends switching out your usual, bulky stroller for an umbrella-style stroller instead. The lighter-weight stroller will be much easier to haul on and off the plane. Some flight attendants even suggest using a kid harness (and leash) to keep track of multiple toddlers. One tells Parents.com that those responsible for little ones should “do what you need to do to protect your kids and your sanity.”
14. Avoid folding up your stroller at airport security
The Today Parenting Team also has some words of advice for parents (and grandparents) who don’t want to juggle children as they struggle to fold up a stroller at airport security. You can request a stroller “self-check,” in which a “stern-faced agent” walks your stroller through the checkpoint and uses a handheld scanner to ensure that it’s safe. You’ll get out of having to wrestle the thing closed, and you won’t have to heft it up onto the conveyor belt, either.
15. Always seat children away from the aisle
Anybody who’s ever had an aisle seat on the plane knows that there are perils to be aware of when you select those seats. You may get hit by other passengers’ luggage as they walk down the aisle to board the plane. And you also have to pay close attention to keep your feet and hands out of the way of the beverage cart. Parents.com recommends that parents and grandparents always seat children away from the aisle to keep little ones out of harm’s way.
16. Stay cognizant of germs when flying with kids
We all know that airplanes (and airports) are full of germ-infested surfaces. You might be tempted to ignore it when you’re flying by yourself. But if you’re flying with kids, you owe it to them to look out for their immune systems and beware of germs. Parents.com advises wiping down the tray table and the armrests. And never send a child to the bathroom without shoes on.
17. Don’t ignore the seat belt sign
Some parents cavalierly advocate for ignoring the sign that tells you to keep your seat belt fastened. But that’s actually one of the most dangerous things you can do on a plane. Adults can get injured if they aren’t buckled in when the plane hits rough air. So it follows that children can be seriously hurt or even killed if they aren’t strapped in as the plane goes through turbulence. Children sitting on a parent’s lap are the most likely to go flying when the plane hits rough air. So if the seat belt sign is on, play it safe and keep everybody buckled in to their own seats.
18. Keeping kids seated the whole time can make for an easier flight
Flight attendants advise that once you and your children find your seats and get buckled in, you stay that way for the whole flight. That may only work for short flights, and you should always make an exception for bathroom breaks, of course. But it can make flying with kids a lot easier if you don’t allow them to roam around. (And don’t give them the opportunity to throw a tantrum when you tell them it’s time to get back in their seat.)
19. Pack some surprises to keep kids occupied
If you’re most worried about keeping your kids occupied (and quiet) on the flight, Parents.com has a useful suggestion. Pack some surprises, like toys or books, and have them wrapped up. It will take at least a little bit of time for your kids or grandkids to unwrap their surprises. And something that’s brand-new will likely hold their attention longer than something they’ve read or played with numerous times before.
20. Wait to eat until you get on the plane
According to the Today Parenting Team, one of the biggest secrets when flying with kids is to wait to feed everybody until you get on the plane. “Always board the plane hungry and loaded down with a variety of airport food items — garlic knots, bananas and bagels,” the publication advises. “Eating is a wonderful activity to fill flying time and the hour spent in the airport should be dedicated to gift shop browsing and energy burning.”
21. You should always stay calm when dealing with grumpy seat mates
Flying with kids puts you in all kinds of unpredictable situations. Parents.com advises that you try to maintain your composure, even if some inconsiderate adult across the aisle begins complaining the moment your child sneezes. Flight attendants note that adults who take issue with a crying child are acting like children themselves. Everybody else on the flight feels for you and your kid. So if somebody grumbles, just stay calm and don’t engage.
22. Showing appreciation for the flight attendant can make your trip easier
If you have the time and cash to spare, Parents.com recommends picking up some chocolate to give to the flight attendant as soon as you board. The publication reports that this nice gesture won’t go unappreciated, especially around the holidays. One flight attendant tells Parents.com that flight attendants always appreciate the gesture, and they’ll look out for you on the flight. They may even send a free drink your way.
23. You should never check a car seat
Babble reports that if you need the car seat at your destination, you should never check it. It’s impossible for you to know whether someone dropped it, threw it, or even if it fell from a dangerous height. Even a car seat that looks fine might no longer be safe in the case of an accident. So instead of checking your child’s car seat, carry it on. You can use it to keep your child safely restrained during the flight. (As we discussed already, it’s important to keep your child firmly buckled into a seat, not sitting on your lap.)