For most people, traveling under any circumstances is a rather stressful experience. However, as new parents soon discover, traveling with kids can bring on a whole other dimension of stress. For those who are planning a trip with their little ones soon, no need to panic! Flying with kids is really not something to worry about, and doesn’t need to give you a headache. To save you stress, we’ve put together a list of tips for taking your little ones on their first flight. Armed with these tips, and a little planning and patience, you’re guaranteed to have a great trip.
Before your flight: Plan, prepare, pack
Planning and preparations
One of the keys to successful flying with kids starts with the booking of the flight. Whenever possible, always book direct flights. Even with long flights, the reason for this is that it allows the kids to settle during the flight, and perhaps even fall asleep for a while if you’re lucky. Nobody likes long layovers in an airport terminal, but especially when flying with kids, getting on and off flights is likely to make them more hyper, and requires you to go through the process of settling them multiple times. It also means that they are likely to be even more tired and jetlagged when you do arrive. However, if you have no choice but to book a layover, consider making it an overnight stop in order to break up the journey and allow them to get some rest.
Also in terms of the timing of your flight, aim to travel at night or during the day. Traveling at night is ideal since the kids are more likely to fall asleep, which means that you too can get some rest for when you land. Leaving early in the morning is also a good option because these flights tend to be less crowded, and are less likely to experience delays at takeoff or landing.
Alternatively, for shorter flights, try the middle of the day, so that you don’t have to rush to the airport too early. It also means the flight may fall during their naptime, and by the time you arrive it will be closer to bedtime.
A little foresight during the booking process also goes a long way when traveling with kids. Always remember to reserve your seats in advance – this not only means that you can ensure that the whole family sits together, but it also gives you more choice in what area of the plane to sit in. This matters because you may want to make sure you’re close to a bathroom, or nearer to an exit so that you can get in and out of the aircraft more easily with the little ones. A useful tip when selecting your seats is, if the plane is relatively empty, take a chance and reserve a window seat and an aisle seat on the same row, leaving the middle empty. If the plane isn’t packed, there’s a very good chance that the middle seat will remain empty, giving you more room for the kids. And if by chance it does get filled, the person is more than likely to swap with you.
Something else that you can book in advance are special kids meals. Not only are these filled with food they are more likely to eat, but usually also have a special treat or toy that will make their day! For the hungry little guys, it also means that they’ll get their food well before you and everyone else since special meals are usually served first.
If you want to be extra certain, book your trip on a family-friendly airline. Many leading airlines offer special benefits for their littlest travelers. These might include kid-sized headphones for inflight entertainment with lots of kid-friendly programs to choose from, special snacks, a general travel allowance, complimentary strollers, or special travel kits for kids with drawing and other activities to keep them busy. A quick internet search will advise you on the best child-friendly airlines, and of the perks offered by different carriers.
Another key to success when flying with kids is packing. When you’re packing, focus on the absolute essentials, and try to avoid overpacking. While it may be tempting to try to account for every single thing you may possibly need, they usually go unneeded. Rather than packing tons of toys, just take their favorite one – with all the excitement of the airplane, it’s unlikely that they will be distracted by toys for too long. Instead, while it may not be the ideal choice, an iPad with some cartoons or movies downloaded can be a lifesaver in case of toddler tantrums. It’s light enough to pack, and is sure to entertain your kids for some of the way. Just don’t give it to them right at the start of the journey or it may lose its appeal, save it for when you feel they’re starting to get bored or uncontrollable.
Without overpacking massively, it’s still good to anticipate accidents when traveling with little ones, whether a leaky diaper, a juice spill, or a kid getting sick. Make sure to pack an extra outfit for any emergency, and a thick pair of socks in case they get cold. And in terms of extra diapers or baby formula, there’s no need to pack more than two or three times what you usually need for the duration of the flight – this way you’re covered in case of delay or accident, but you’re also not unnecessarily lugging tons of stuff. Kids are also little germ monsters, so packing some basic medication – painkillers, nose drops, cough syrup – is also a good idea. Similarly, kids get hungry at all times, and with all the excitement of the trip you never know when they’ll get hungry and cranky. Packing some snacks, perhaps even ones they don’t usually get (in order to make the trip extra special), will make sure they’re never starving in between meals. As a “treat” that’s secretly a parental tactic, reward your kids at the beginning or end of the flight with a lollipop – they will be thrilled, but more importantly, sucking on the lollipop will minimize their complaints when the changing air pressure affects their ears.
On the day and on the flight
The good news is that with the adequate preparation that we’ve outlined above, you’ve already minimized your anxieties for the actual day of travel, which is guaranteed to be a lot smoother now.
Before you leave for the airport, dress the kids in layers. Airports and planes are notorious for extreme temperatures – one moment you’re sweating in a massive queue, and another you’re freezing in the blasting air conditioning. For ultimate comfort, put them in their pajamas, which are also easy to get on and off if needed. Maybe also avoid shoes with laces which will have to come on and off for security checks.
Anyone with kids will know that the key to any peaceful event is to wear the kids out completely beforehand, so they’ll be more quiet and controllable when you need them to be. Flying is no exception. If possible, take the kids to a play area in the airport ahead of your flight and let them run around and burn off some of their energy before you board. Similarly, feeding your kids at the airport before the flight is also a good idea – even though kids meals come first, the boarding procedure can be long and it can take a while before the meal service even begins.
Upon boarding, don’t be shy to take advantage of the priority boarding offered by most airlines to passengers with children. This gives you extra time to check in, find your seat, put away all your luggage, and get the kids settled and buckled in. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this increases their time stuck seated in the plane, and so many increase their restlessness. Exercise your own best judgment here when it comes to your kids, whether you prefer to have them running around the gate a little longer, or whether the extra time to settle will help them calm down.
Finally, once on the flight, try to make sense with your neighbors and passengers around you. No matter how well-behaved they are or how prepared you are, the kids are sure to cause some disruption. Most people will be very sympathetic and understanding of the situation, but being friendly to those around you in advance is sure to buy you a little extra patience and consideration from them. It’s also good to show a little extra kindness to the flight attendants dealing with you – this will also make them more likely to check in on you and make sure the kids are happy. If you want to be extra appreciative, a little chocolate or small gift for your seat neighbors or flight attendants will be extremely well-received.