How To Make Flying with Kids Easier
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Air travel is hard. It’s stressful, exhausting, and just not fun. Throw kids into the mix and you add on another level of difficulty. And a big one!
My husband and I are lucky because our kids are amazing travelers.
People might cringe when they line up behind us in the TSA line, but as soon as they seem them put their jackets, electronics, and liquids on the belt with precision they quickly change their mind about wishing they were in another line.
I’ve seen people grimace when we come down the aisle of a plane, heading straight for the open seats by them. I don’t take offense. There are three of them. I’d be worried too.
But those same people often compliment me on my well-behaved children after we land. And I take those compliments like a badge of honor.
It took a lot of work to get to this point of traveling with my kids. They didn’t pop out of the womb knowing how to handle air travel like a champ. There were lots of stressful flights, crying fits, harrowing trips through TSA with all their gear, and tons of trial and error.
So how did we turn our kids into air traveling pros?
Lots of practice, and by following a few simple tips and tricks that I picked up along the way.
Below I’ve outlined 10 of my favorite tips, and you could easily implement with them with your own family.
While every kid is different and what works for mine might not work for yours, my hope is that you’ll find at least one or two tips that work for your family.
Then your kids will turn into airplane traveling pros as well, and the whole process will become a ton easier for everyone.
Disclosure: I link to a few products in this blog post. However, they are NOT affiliate links and I get no benefit from you clicking them. I simply love and use the product and recommend you do too.
Buy Them Their Own Seat
Even when my kids were babies, I always bought them their own seat.
Sure, it’s tempting to take advantage of the fact they can fly for free until age 2. But if you can, buy that seat.
Not only is it safer, they will be so much more comfortable in their own seat, in their own space, and so will mom and dad.
I flew one time with my son when he was a baby on my lap and we were both miserable. He just wanted to wiggle around, didn’t understand why we couldn’t just move around at will, and whined and cried the whole flight. From then on, I always bought him a seat and we were both much happier.
You will need to bring their car seat onto the plane for this. (Make sure it is FAA approved. There is a sticker on the side of the seat that will tell you as such.) We bought a lighter weight car seat just for plane travel and it worked great. Even most infant car seats are FAA approved.
Double bonus, we have our car seat to put in the rental car when we get to our destination. One less thing to worry about.
If you don’t want to bring the big car seat and your child is age 1 or older and weighs between 22 and 44 pounds, you can get the CARES harness instead. It’s easy and quick to install and keeps your kiddos comfortable and safe in their airplane seat.
Gate Check Your Stroller and Car Seat
I do not like relying on car rental agencies to provide car seats to use for the length of our trip. Who knows how old they are, what condition they are going to be in, or if they will even have any available.
We always bring our own car seats on our trips. That seems a bit overwhelming, and it can be, but we’ve gotten how to travel with them down to a science.
First off, you should know that it is free to check any baby related item. I recommend buying a car seat or stroller travel bag like this one to protect your car seat during travel.
I also recommend buying a folding luggage cart to make hauling the car seat up to baggage check easier. Once you get to the ticket counter, simply fold up the cart and put it into the car seat travel bag with the car seat. Then you can take it out when you claim it at baggage claim and roll the seat to your car with ease.
You can also bring your car seat and stroller with you through the terminal and gate check them. We usually check our car seats with our luggage, but we always bring our stroller through the terminal and gate check it.
It’s free, its easy, and its handy to have to get the littlest ones and your stuff through the terminal. Just grab a tag from the gate attendant before you board, leave your folded stroller at the end of the jetway when you get on the plane, and it will be waiting for you in the same general location when you land.
Worried about getting it through TSA? Don’t be. Even double strollers can get through TSA. If your stroller can’t be folded down small enough to fit through the x-ray machine, they will just check it separately.
Use Your Car Seat as a Stroller
Won’t need a stroller where you are going but will need a car seat? Turn your car seat into a stroller to use through the terminal with this amazing tool, the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate Car Seat Travel Stroller.
This thing is worth its weight in gold. We used it a TON until our kids were old enough that we didn’t need it anymore.
It allowed us to have a stroller when we needed it and easily transport our car seat to use in our rental car at our destination. When our kids were young, we’d use it to wheel the car seat onto the plane to use in the seat and stowed the Travelmate attachment under the seat in front of us. When they got big enough to sit in the seat on their own, we’d just gate check it with the car seat still attached to the Travelmate like any other stroller.
It’s a little pricey, but I promise you won’t have buyer’s remorse after you use it. It’s one of my all-time favorite baby gear items.
And no, I’m not a paid spokesperson for this product. I just love it that much.
Bring Pre-Packaged, Lightweight Snacks and Toddler Friendly Snack Containers from Home
The obvious one. Make sure you bring lots of non-messy snacks with you on the plane to appease those little tummies.
I make sure to have plenty of crackers, golf fish, raisins, granola bars, and more in our carry-on bags. I also bring the special toddler snack cups that make it easy for them to grab what they want to eat without spilling it all over the place.
I also bring everyone their own water bottles. It’s a container they are familiar and comfortable with and its super easy to buy bottled water and pour them into everyone’s water bottles to drink as they see fit. Better yet, many airports now offer water bottle friendly water fountains so you can fill everyone’s water bottles for free.
Dum Dums are also a must. The hardest time for kiddos on the plane is when you are landing. The change in altitude is a lot on those ears and they don’t know how to clear it out yet.
They might be too young to chew gum. Dum Dums are a great alternative to let your little ones suck on to help alleviate that ear pain. Binkies, bottles, or anything else that gets them to constantly suck work great too.
Bring Extra Clothes for You and Baby
Accidents happen. Especially with kids. Do yourself a favor and be prepared for the worst by taking an extra set of clothes for both you and your kids just in case. And plastic bags to put the dirty ones into.
I don’t think I need to go into detail on this one. You get the picture.
Have Kids Carry Their Own Carry-On
It’s too much for me to have to carry everything for everyone on our trips. So, each child has their own carry-on bag that they are responsible for lugging through the airport and keeping track of. Yes, even the littlest one in our family has her very own carry-on bag that she is mostly in charge of in the airport.
Before you start thinking I’m crazy, I promise you I’m not. Well, at least in this case anyway.
The trick here is to buy them a small, roller bag that can fit what they need and go under the seat in front of them on the airplane. According to Travel & Leisure, this means a bag that is less than 11in tall by 17” wide by 18-20” long.
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT buy them a backpack and expect them to lug it around. You will end up carrying that bag within the first 10 minutes of your trip.
There are tons of cute, kid friendly roller bags that are the perfect size. You can get them at Target or Amazon and they aren’t super expensive. Get your kids excited about them and have them pick out their own bag.
My kids each picked one that they loved and are super excited to pack it up for trips when its time. My oldest has an awesome R2-D2 roller bag that gets tons of comments, my middle son picked his favorite Lightning McQueen, and my daughter has “her girl” Minnie on her roller bag. When it’s time to pack for a trip, they are pumped to get out their individual roller bags and help pack it up.
We’ve been using the same ones for years and they’ve held up well. And no one is ever complaining to me that they can’t carry their bag because it’s too heavy. They happily wheel it through the airport, no problem.
Bring Just a Few Plane Friendly Activities
I used to weigh my carry-on bag down with tons of heavy activity books, crayons, stickers, and more for the plane. Not only was that bag so heavy and cumbersome to lug around the airport, most of that stuff ended up going unused.
I since learned to just grab a few, easy and lightweight activities I know my kids will enjoy and just bring those.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Melissa & Doug Water Wow Activity Pads
Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free Marker Coloring Books
Imagine Ink Activity Books
Gel Window clings (use to decorate the plane window)
Grade-Level Activity Books and Pencil
Seek-n-Find Picture Books
If you notice, crayons are not on this list. I HATE lugging a bunch of crayons around. I’m a big fan of the magic ink activities where one marker can make all the necessary colors in a picture.
And I rotate through this list for each trip. I don’t bring every single thing on the list on each trip. That’s too much stuff to carry around and I’m big on less is more when traveling. Your back will thank you too.
iPads—Your Best Travel Friend
There is a lot of controversy around screen time and kids. How much is too much, what is acceptable, can it be dangerous, etc. Because of this I limit my kid’s screen time at home. In fact, iPads are completely off limits with very few exceptions at home.
But when we are on an airplane, I throw all that to the side and let them play with the iPads to their hearts content. I download age appropriate games, books, movies, and shows ahead of time and let them have at it.
Because they are hardly ever able to use it at home, it’s a special treat for them to use it on the airplane and it keeps them happily occupied for long periods of time. And quietly. In fact, I think my kids love flying just because they know they get to use the iPads then and only then.
Every family works differently, and I understand this may still be off limits for some. But it works great for my kids.
Bring Corded Headphones
All the electronics seem to be moving in the direction of only using Bluetooth headphones and not having jacks for the traditional headphones.
That’s great and all, but a lot of the airplanes these days have individual entertainment systems in the seat backs and guess what kind of headphones you need for those. Yup, traditional corded headphones.
Sometimes the airlines will pass out free corded headphones for you to use. But do yourself a favor and just bring a pair for everyone to use just in case. Then you won’t be stuck with this awesome way to keep your kids entertained and no way to utilize it.
Pick Your Seats Strategically
We are a family of 5 and cannot all sit together in one half an aisle. But instead of buying three seats on the right, and two seats on the left of the same aisle, I buy three seats on the right and two seats directly behind them.
My husband and our two oldest typically sit in the three seats together. Then my daughter, our youngest, and I sit in the seats behind them. It makes it easier to talk to each other and pass toys or snacks back and forth. But that’s not the main reason I do this.
The biggest reason I do this is because there is no chance my daughter can kick a stranger’s seat and bug them. If she does kick the seat, she is just kicking her brother and there is no drama while I correct the behavior. And I don’t feel stressed or guilt about it while she is still learning what is and is not acceptable plane behavior.
Practice Makes Almost Perfect
Any child can be awesome at flying. It just takes practice, modeling to your kids what is and is not acceptable plane behavior, correcting and redirecting bad behavior in the moment, and doing your best to stay calm in the moment.
The more you do it, the easier it gets for both you and your kids. So take that trip! You’ll all be better for it.
Found any of these tips helpful? Be sure to Pin it for later and share with others you think could use them.
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