How to Survive a Flight with Kids

By Candyce H. Stapen

Three basic elements have gotten me through many flights with my children over the years: planning ahead, arriving early and using strategic seating.  With reasonable forethought, you may actually enjoy flying with your kids or, at least, get from takeoff to touchdown with a minimum of problems. Here are some tips for flying with kids:

Flying with Children

Plan Ahead

Order meals. If your flight comes with a meal, then order one (at least 48 hours in advance) that you know your kids will eat. Even still, be sure to bring healthy snacks because your kids may not like the airline’s version of chicken strips or mac n’ cheese.

Have kids wear shoes that slip off. One less thing to tie saves time going through security, a major meltdown point for parents and tots.

Bring wipes. Bring anti-bacterial spray to sanitize the airplane's tray tables, seats and armrests and anti-bacterial lotion to clean hands.

Carry extra necessities. With tots and toddlers, keep extra baby food, diapers and a change of clothing in your carryon. Bring enough to get you through your flight plus an unexpected delay.

Talk about the plane ride. Explain each step of the plane ride to little kids so they know what to expect and will understand that noise and turbulence don’t mean that a crash is imminent.

Bring favorite toys and some surprises. Give your tot her Minnie doll to carry and cuddle. If your youngster is easily distracted or anxious about the flight, wrap small presents for her and take these on board.

Download favorite films. Be sure your tablet or laptop is pre-loaded with your child’s favorite films and games to keep them occupied during long stretches.

Travel with Kids

Arrive Early

Add an hour. Families move slowly and the younger the children, the slower your group moves through check-in and security. Avoid anxiety about getting to the gate by adding an extra hour to your airport arrival time. That gives you plenty of time for bathroom breaks, meals or snacks.

Purchase food and water. A hungry child is a grumpy one. Even if you have packed snacks, indulge your kids with some relatively healthy sandwiches, pizza or salads at the airport. Buy a bottle of water for each child.

Keep kids reasonably active before boarding. Let your kids work off energy before boarding by walking around the airport with you. Never let your child nap just before takeoff, which can reduce any naptime on the flight.

Flying with Kids

On Board the Plane

Use strategic seating. When two grade-schoolers and two adults fly, seat one child and one adult next to each other. If your kids have a tendency to bicker, make sure they don’t sit next to each other.

Bring out the surprises. When your preschooler becomes squirmy, hand her one of your prepacked surprises to unwrap, admire and play with.

Interact with your child. Turn flight time into quality time by talking with your child and playing games together. Consider cards, games on tablets or whatever your child likes.When traveling with a teen, be sure to use the time to chat. It’s rare that you get a teen away from their friends, phones, Facebook and Snapchat.

Schedule quiet time. Children and adults need quiet time, especially on long flights. Let young kids look and listen to children’s tales or favorite cartoons on a tablet and older ones watch a movie.

Find the destination for your next family getaway.

Long-time family travel guru Candyce H. Stapen writes for many publications and outlets. She has written 30 travel guidebooks, including two for National Geographic. See for more information.