16 Essential Tips for Flying with Kids

Flying with kids of any age isn’t easy, but it helps to be prepared. My kids have been flying with us since they were less than a year old. Here are some tips for flying with kids that I’ve learned along the way.

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Related Posts: How to Plan a Vacation with Kids, Tips for Traveling with Kids, and Tips for a Multigenerational Family Vacation.

1. Scheduling Flights

Consider early flights since they have less delays and cancellations. Keep babies and young kids in their pajamas and let them sleep on the plane. If possible, consider nonstop flights or ones with only 1 connection. It might be less expensive to book flights with 2 or more connections, but it won’t feel worth it once you are doing it.

If you are connecting, make sure you book flights with a long enough lay over so you aren’t having to run to your next gate. Remember when traveling with kids you’ll likely be one of the last ones off the plane trying to gather everything and everyone. And, if you have a stroller you’ll have checked it in at the gate and you will need to wait for them to get it out for you (it’ll probably be waiting on the ramp when you get out of the plane).

2. Car Seats

tips for flying with kids

Kids under 2 usually fly free if they sit on your lap. But, consider getting them their own seat and have them sit in their car seat. This will make everyone much more comfortable and it’s safer. Airlines in the United States require an FAA approved car seat (no boosters). The back of the car seat will have a sticker that will say if it is approved for airplanes. If you are flying on an international airline, please check with them for their rules for car seats as they vary.

3. Seat Selection

We’re a family of 4, so when selecting seats I either get 2 and 2 or an entire row of 4 when that’s available. If sitting 2 and 2, I let my husband sit in front of me. He tends to put on his headphones during a flight, so he doesn’t hear me when I call his name. So if he’s sitting in front of me I can tap him on the shoulder when I need him. The row of 4 I find helpful especially on night flights so the kids can stretch out and sleep.

Place kids away from the aisle and also other passengers. Window seats are great so they can look outside at what is going on and it keeps them away from drink and food carts and keeps them contained.

With older kids, you can separate out a little bit and sit 3 and 1. Each parent can take turns and get a break!

4. What to Wear

At the airport in Miami before our flight

For comfort on the plane and for going through security, I suggest long pants or leggings, short sleeved-shirt, socks, and slip on shoes. I usually try and dress everyone in dark clothes in case they get dirty, but that’s just my preference.

5. Carryon Bag

On most flights you can take a carryon bag and a handbag. Put anything you need accessible into your handbag/backpack. Pack anything extra into your carryon bag that you will put in the overhead bin. I always pack a change of clothes for the kids and myself, in case of spills.

Also take extra diapers and wipes. In your handbag/backpack take some diapers, wipes, toys, electronics, and a 2 gallon seal top plastic bag for dirty diapers. You shouldn’t throw dirty diapers in the bathroom garbage bin. Also a good idea to pack disposable bags for the garbage you’ll accumulate and any clothes that have gotten dirty.

The blankets and pillows on the plane don’t always get washed, so I suggest bringing a small, light blanket and a small pillow. I usually take a shawl that I use as a blanket. Also, make sure you take sweaters for everyone since it does get cold.

6. Global Entry or TSA Pre

It’s an extra expense, but consider getting Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. It can save a lot of time (and prevent meltdowns by the kids and the adults) when going through airports.

TSA Pre allows you go to go through the TSA security line without having to take off your shoes or take out your liquids.

If you plan to travel internationally, then I highly recommend Global Entry. You get the benefits of TSA Pre, as well as the advantage of going through a smaller line in immigration when returning from an international destination.

This proved beneficial when we were coming back to the U.S. from Vancouver. In Canada they require you to do immigration before you return the U.S. Our flight connected in Toronto and we had to go through U.S. immigration before going to our connecting flight. The line was so long that if we hadn’t had Global Entry we would not have made our connection. In fact, those that didn’t have it did not make the flight.

7. Arrive Early

I like to arrive early to the airport to make sure we have enough time to go through security and I’m not nervous about being on time. It’s suggested to arrive 2 hours early for domestic flights and 3 for international. If you have Global Entry or TSA Pre these are great for getting through security faster.

8. Lightweight stroller

A lightweight stroller can be helpful for going through the airport, quickly folded when going through security, and light enough to be carried.

9. Security

Check the TSA rules for traveling with children before your flight. They have guidelines for how much milk and baby food you can take with you and how they screen children and strollers. I recommend packing all blankets and toys in your backpack in advance to save time.

10. Airport Lounge

At a lounge waiting for our flight.

If you have a credit card that gives you lounge access, check ahead of time to determine if your terminal has a lounge. After security we head straight there before our flight to relax. The lounge posts departure times and they let you know if your flight is delayed.

If you don’t have lounge access, consider getting a card that includes it as a benefit. It can be very helpful when traveling with kids. They have complimentary food and beverages, some have areas for kids to play, and it’s more comfortable than the seats at the gate. This can prove especially helpful if you have a layover.

11. Snacks and Refillable Water Bottles

I think this is a recurring topic in my posts, but here it is again. Pack snacks for the plane. On take off and landing, you’ll want to give kids something they can munch on to help with the air pressure. Depending on their age, you can give them a bottle, cereal or puffs, lollipops, or gum.

Take a refillable water bottle so you can fill it up before getting on the plane. Or purchase one at the airport. I try and take one that isn’t too heavy.

At the airport waiting to board

12. Board Early

When they begin boarding and they call people traveling with children, make sure to go. This helps you get settled and ensures you can take your carryon with all your special items you’ve packed so carefully. On my first flight with my son, I made the mistake of getting on the plane towards the end of boarding so that he would have time to move around. It backfired and I had to check my carry on because they didn’t have any more room.

13. Thank the Flight Attendants

My sister is a flight attendant and she always reminds me to get chocolates before a flight and give them to the flight attendants. They are usually very appreciative and most of the time they will take care of you with a free drink or, at the very least, look out for you.

14. In-flight Entertainment

My son on the plane with his table and headphones

We’re not a device at the dinner table sort of family, but I will give them one for the airplane. But, there’s nothing more annoying than listening to other people’s audio, especially kids. So, be a kind plane companion and make sure you get your kids headphones. Remember to download movies and shows ahead of time. Remember that at take off and landing, tables need to be stowed, so consider a tablet holder that has its own stand.

15. Breaks

If you have a long flight, have the kids walk around the plane to stretch their legs. Take them to the bathroom regularly.

16. Patience

Patience is important when traveling with little ones. Take it slow and don’t try and do too much.

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