Flying with Kids: Strategies for Stress-Free Travel

Sure, between the long lines, cramped quarters and tiny bathroom, air travel with children is no picnic. But you can cut down on the stress for you and your kids with a bit of planning. Read on for our tried-and-true tips, and stack the odds for a peaceful flight.

Prep Work & Logistics

Prepping for a flight with kids

The secret to stress-free flying begins well before the actual flight. From choosing the right time to fly and reducing wait time in airport lines to prepping your kids for what’s to come, these are critical steps to success.

  • When you’re booking the trip, look for early morning or evening flights – anytime your children are accustomed to being asleep. With a little luck, the white noise of the engine, the excitement of the trip and the sheer monotony of the flight itself will lull your little one to sleep.

Tip: If your destination is more than six hours away, try to work in a layover. A change of scenery and the chance to run around, even for a short time, can be a lifesaver. If it’s not an option, encourage your child to get his wiggles out before you board.

  • Do yourself a favor and opt for curbside check-in if it’s an option. Anything you can do to cut time waiting in line with your child is worth it.
  • Have a short discussion with your kids about your expectations from them during the flight. This will be more beneficial with older kids, but hey, the little ones might surprise you.
  • No matter what the weather’s like in your departure and arrival cities, temperatures can vary in the airport and on the plane. Make it easy and dress your children in a few simple layers so you can keep them comfortable. And skip the laces – opt for slip-on shoes if at all possible.
  • If you’re bringing a stroller, check in at the gate instead of sending it along with the rest of your checked luggage.

During take off and landing, as the plane is gaining or losing altitude, try to head off air pressure playing havoc with your child’s ears. If he or she is breast or bottle feeding or will take a pacifier, encourage it – swallowing helps with ear pressure. Bigger kids can chew gum, eat lollipops or drink water during the last thirty minutes or so of the flight.

Packing

packing for a flight

Skip the apologetic gift bag idea for your fellow passengers and focus on what your family will need instead. Packing effectively is the single most important thing you can do to cut down on stress. Pack a carry-on for yourself and a backpack for each child as well. And don’t overdo it – too much stuff can be just as stressful as too little.

  • Fill your bag with the essentials – low-sugar snacks (and plenty of them), diapers, wipes and a small changing pad if you have a child in diapers, bottled water or sippy cups, pacifiers if your child uses them, a small first-aid kit stocked with bandages and acetaminophen, and fully-charged mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.

Tip: Make sure to download a few movies or television shows before the trip. A device for each child with individual headphones is ideal, but if your kids need to share a tablet to watch a movie, spring for a headphone splitter.

  • In your child’s backpack, pack a book or two, art supplies (crayons, sticker sheets and a notepad), a warm layer like a sweatshirt, a favorite toy like a stuffed animal and a small surprise or two.

Tip: Avoid anything with lots of small parts (like blocks) that can be dropped and easily lost.

  • Above all, try to relax! Frame the trip as an adventure – something to be enjoyed instead of something to be endured. Your children are likely to take their cues from you, so try to stay calm. Eventually, you’ll reach your destination!