Flying With Children: The Ultimate Guide
Flying can be stressful enough when you’re kid-free; all the packing, preparing, getting through airport security, and jet lag can do a number on even the most experienced travelers. However, things can become exponentially more complicated when you’re flying with children.
At the same time, you shouldn’t let this prevent you from traveling. Seeing the world with your kids can be a wonderful experience. And of course, there are some situations where you may have no choice but to fly with your kids. Perhaps you have a family wedding to attend and couldn’t find a sitter, or maybe you’re moving across the country.
Regardless, the good news is that with a little careful planning, you can significantly cut down on the stress of flying with children. By knowing what to pack and how to minimize the chances of meltdowns at the airport or on the plane, you can enjoy a newfound sense of confidence as you travel with your kid(s).
Of course, we’re not promising that your trip will be entirely stress-free or smooth sailing. Any time you’re traveling with little ones, there are going to be some surprises and frustrations along the way. Still, a bit of preparation goes a long way in making it from point A to point B without losing your sanity.
The Best (And Worst) Ages to Fly With Kids
If you have any say in when you’ll be traveling with your kids, there are some things to keep in mind when it comes to the best and worst ages to fly.
If you have a teeny-tiny baby, exercise caution when planning any kind of travel that requires flying. Ideally, you’ll want to avoid flying with newborn babies simply due to the fact that airports and planes tend to harbor a lot of germs and bacteria. Young babies’ immune systems are still very much developing between the ages of 0-3 months, so flying isn’t ideal.
Once infants get a little older, between the ages of about 4-9 months, they’re a lot easier to travel with. During this time, they’ll generally nap pretty frequently (so hopefully they’ll nap for a good portion of the flight) and they aren’t mobile just yet. Unfortunately, once your infant becomes mobile (crawling, walking, etc.), it becomes much more difficult to convince the to sit still during a flight.
The beginning of the toddler stage (around 12-24 months) is not an ideal time to fly, either. During these ages, toddlers are very mobile and still very much discovering the world around them. They’re testing boundaries, and they’re not likely to sit still easily during a flight. Toddlers of this age may also have a harder time napping during a plane ride. Some toddlers may even need an airplane child seat.
Around the age of 2-3 years, however, flying with toddlers does get easier. By this point, they’re old enough to understand that they need to remain seated and they may be more easily occupied by things like coloring books, tablets, and other seated activities for longer periods of time.
Once your kids are school-aged (about 5 and up), things get so much easier! They can generally carry their own luggage, stay occupied during the flight, and understand the importance of listening to flight attendants. These ages are probably the best times to fly with kids!
Preparing For A Successful Flight
Before you book a flight with kids, there are some important steps you’ll want to take that can make all the difference.
Know What Documentation Will Be Required
Depending on where you’re traveling and how old your child is, you may need to provide some specific documentation for your child when you arrive at the airport. For example, if you’ll be traveling internationally, then you’ll need a passport for your child regardless of his or her age.
For domestic flights, children under the age of 18 generally won’t need any form of identification. However, it’s always a good idea to bring along your child’s birth certificate just in case. This is especially recommended if you’ll be flying with a lap infant, as some airlines will want proof that your child is under the age of two and thus eligible for a lap infant seat.
Choose a Family-Friendly Airline
Not all airlines are created equal when it comes to being accommodating for families, so be sure to plan accordingly here. For starters, make sure that the airline you’re choosing offers pre-boarding for families, as this will make getting settled into the airplane so much easier. Some airlines also offer perks to help keep children entertained on flights, such as free cable television and unlimited snacks.
Make sure the airline you choose also allows you to carry-on or check baby gear (such as strollers and/or car seats) at no additional charge.
What About Seating Arrangements?
Many airlines allow you to pay a little extra when you book your fare to ensure that you’re seated together with other members of your family. If you’ll be traveling with kids who will have their own seats, this is a must.
If you have the ability to select your seats, there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, if you’ll be bringing a car seat along, be aware that you will not be able to choose seating in an exit row per FAA regulations. For most families, selecting seating closest to the lavatory (towards the front or rear of the plane) will be ideal, since these areas will offer quick bathroom access and will also make getting help from a flight attendant easier, if needed.
Research Carry-On Baggage Allowances
Carry-on allowances for children can vary greatly from one airline to the next, so be sure to research these allowances ahead of time to avoid surprises and fees. This is especially important if you’ll be traveling with a lap infant, as some airlines will permit additional carry-on luggage for infants and some will not. Be sure that you’re also aware of your airline’s policies for checking or carrying on strollers and/or car seats.
Be Prepared to Go Through Security
Getting through airline security can be one of the most stressful aspects of flying with kids. One of the best things you can do to make your life easier here is to make sure that all electronics and liquids are packed in a way that makes them easy to remove from your luggage (as will be required) when going through security.
If you’re traveling with kids under 13, the good news is that they shouldn’t have to remove their shoes during screening. Still, you might consider applying for TSA PreCheck before your flight so that you and your family can enjoy an expedited trip through security; this can save a lot of time and stress.
Pack Your Carry-Ons Wisely
What you pack in your carry-on luggage can make all the difference when you’re flying with kids. For young children, such as babies and toddlers, it’s a good idea to pack some new toys that your child has never seen or played with before. The novelty of the toys will hopefully keep them entertained for a bit longer.
For children old enough to be eating solid foods, you’ll also want to pack plenty of snacks. These can be a great way to keep a child occupied while also avoiding a hunger-induced meltdown on the plane.
If you know the approximate duration of your flight, you might also consider planning timed activities for different stages of the flight. Don’t expect your child to happily follow your schedule exactly, but having a little structure can make all the difference for many children.
Tips and Tricks For Parents Flying With Children
On the day of your flight, there are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind that can make things easier on everyone.
Inquire About an Airport Play Room
Some airports have “playrooms” specifically designed for children. These rooms often contain play structures, swings, and other activities designed to occupy and entertain them as you wait for a flight. If available, they can also be a great way to tire your child out before a flight, possibly increasing his or her chances of actually sleeping on the plane.
Take Advantage of Early Boarding
Most airlines offer early boarding as a perk to traveling families, so research your airline’s policies here and take advantage if early boarding is available to you. Being one of the first groups to board the plane will give you the extra time and space you need to get everybody settled.
Use the Airplane Lavatory for Diaper Changes
A little etiquette rule to keep in mind: diaper changes should be done in the airplane’s lavatory—not on the tray table or the seat next to you. Most airplanes should be equipped with a changing table in each bathroom. Furthermore, if you’re traveling with a potty-trained toddler, it’s never a bad idea to have them wear a Pull-Up during flight. Unfortunately, access to lavatories isn’t always guaranteed, such as while the “fasten seatbelt” sign is illuminated or during take-off/landing.
Minimize Ear Pain During Take-Off/Landing
Speaking of take-off and landing, you can help to offset ear pain for your child in a number of ways. For older kids, providing them with a piece of gum or even a sucker can help to stabilize pressure and thus reduce discomfort. For younger babies, you might consider providing a pacifier or feeding with a bottle during take-off and landing to achieve a similar effect.
Be Prepared for Mishaps and Meltdowns
No matter how much you prepare, something is always bound to go wrong when you’re flying with small children. Babies cry, and it is likely that your baby will do at least some crying on the plane. Or, your champion napper may decide that this is the one time he or she is going to refuse a nap. If you can accept that things aren’t going to go exactly according to plan ahead of time, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress.
Flying with children is no walk in the park, even for experienced travelers. But the good news is that with a little preparation, your trip can go a lot more smoothly than you might think.