For so many people, flying with kids can be this intimidating (dare we say terrifying) thing. BUT we’re here to say…it doesn’t have to be! We’ve been flying with our kids as often as we can since they were infants. And now we are to the point where flying with our family is a true breeze (for the most part :)). Here’s our top tips for helping you go from fear to flying with confidence!
Traveling with your little ones as often as we can is SO important (IMO)! Cheers to you Mama, you got this!
Set some expectations (for you and them)
Coming from a background in elementary education I know the MASSIVE value in setting expectations. The undeniable MVP for how they can help avoid meltdowns and unnecessarily stressful situations…especially while traveling with kids.
Before flying with kids, we always lay out the day of travel for them weeks, days, and then hours in advance of a flight. What will they expect on the day of travel? Will they be waking up super early and just be carried to the car in PJs? Will you head to the airport after lunch? Will you have a layover somewhere? What is the plan once your arrive at your destination?
We also always give them heads up/reminder about all the waiting that happens when flying. Waiting during check in, waiting during security, waiting at the gate, waiting on the flight. Telling them “things might not go perfectly smoothly, we might run into x y and z problems.” And as my mom always tells the girls, “Be ready to pack your patience!”
Setting all these expectations ahead of time will save you SO many meltdowns. Kids are able to navigate unknown situations with so much more ease if they have a little heads up and picture of how the travel day might go in advance.
…and that goes for you too mama! Setting expectations for myself the day of a flight does wonders. There will be moments of stress. There will be things that don’t go as planned. Kids are going to get fussy (at the worst possible time). Your patience will wain in difficult moments. BUT just expecting these things to happen are half the battle! Flying with kids can dare I say…be fun!
Tire them out before boarding
One our easiest tips for flying with kids is to get them up and walking as much as possible before take off! Go walk to get your meal, walk to go check out the different shops, look out at all the airplanes outside. Burning a bit of physical energy before sitting on an airplane for a few hours can do wonders for content little kiddos through a flight.
So many airports now have play areas too! We always try to seek out those kids friendly areas where we can, because expending some physical energy before flying leads to much happier little ones mid-flight.
Choose your flights wisely
Although we do know budget is a huge factor here (don’t miss how we find dirt cheap flight in this post!), when we are able we are very intentional about the flights we chose when flying with kids. I would say our unicorn of a flight is probably mid morning or afternoon. That way we don’t have to wake the kids up crazy early and throw off their schedules for the day, but also arrive before their normal bedtime and gives us time to settle in.
You can absolutely still have flights that are a breeze with kids that are at less than ideal times! And at the end of the day YOU know your kids best, and when they will most likely be happiest in transit.
If we get the pick of the best, we are choosing a mid morning or afternoon flight (and non-stop if at all possible). Now when flying internationally on a budget, that obviously is next to impossible. However, we will always choose the least number of flights that fits our budget. It is always worth it to us to spend just a little bit more money to get one flight instead of two. Less time in the air = less opportunities for meltdowns.
Reserve your seats in advance or take advantage of family boarding
Again, if budget allows reserve your seats in advance when flying with kids. With our kids current ages (7 and 4.5), our pick is window seats for them because they love looking outside during take off and landing. I.E. read, something super easy to hold their attention during a chunk of the flight. If you have a toddler, you may chose the aisle seat so you can get out easily to walk around.
Some people like the back of the plane because it is more “family-friendly,” coupled with the louder white noise sound at the rear. Some prefer the front so they can get off that plane ASAP at landing! Completely personal preference!
Don’t forget (with Southwest) about family boarding! Just by flying with a child 6 years or younger, you get early family boarding between the A and B groups…without early bird check in!
Less is (SO) much more
…now don’t get me on my soap box, but if I feel passionately about one thing, it is this. Traveling with less when flying with kids, means more hands free for wrangling kiddos, a lighter load for a less stressed mama, and less mess to clean up. Packing as minimally as possible for flights is one of our most important tips for flying with kids.
Whether it’s using the most compact headphones (you won’t believe the price on these- our favorite headphones to travel with!) or just picking a few select, intentional activities. The less you have in your bag and the less you have in your hands, the happier of a traveler you will be. The happier of a traveler you are, the happier of a traveler your kids will be. Our packing list for traveling with a baby (for the minimal mama) is a great resource if you have super little ones!
Pack minimal, mess-free activities
Here’s my criteria for what activities make it on the plane when we are flying as a family:
- Not a ton of parts that can be lost
- Easy and not too bulky to pack
- Can hold their attention for a long period of time (has multiple iterations, reusable etc)
When going on a plane with little ones, we pack a few intentional activities. More is not more when traveling with kids, we are convinced. I don’t even love bringing something like markers on a flight honestly, because good lord knows I don’t want to go searching under those seats for a marker cap.
Our go-to’s for older kids are Puzzle Sticker books, and for younger kids we love these reusable water coloring books. Anything that is minimal, mess free, not too difficult to pack, and will hold their attention! We also find our littles tire more easily of an activity they’ve seen before, so when possible I like to surprise them with a brand new activity once we have boarded.
Fill their bellies with protein heavy snacks
Truly full bellies = less fussy children (the goal here right?!). I personally have found if I am handing over more “empty” snacks, that just leave them hungry 30 minutes later, my kids are much more easily on edge. So one of our top tips for flying with kids is to try to make sure and pack compact, plane friendly, protein heavy snacks for all of your flights. And when traveling with little ones, lots of normal “rules” go out the window. They can have a snack whenever they want, however often they want.
Some of our go-to snacks higher in protein are:
- Duke’s Meat Sticks
- RX Kids Bar
- Any sort of Nut Bar (Kind)
- Protein heavy pouches
Plan for ALL the movies
Let me tell you, there is no award for the mom who has the most successful screen free flight with kids.
We are pretty intentional about the amount of technology our little ones get at home. However, when we travel that really goes out the window. Now, they don’t have their faces glued to the pad literally the entire trip. BUT bring onnnnn the movies! We personally prefer movies over any games, because it seems games always need some kind of intervention or help. The more hands off the better!
Best tips for flying with kids = without a question a little help from your trusty friend the iPad.
Always have a chewy treat on hand
When flying with kids, expect potential ear issues due to air pressure. Although, I will say in all our flying, we have only had one or two instances with ear problems. However, with how much discomfort it puts their little bodies in, I always like to be prepared for the worst.
If they are not old enough for gum yet, I like to keep on hand a chewy treat when flying with kids. This not only helps them pop their little ears, but also provides a helpful distraction.
***And speaking of helpful distractions, my secret weapon when traveling with little ones is to have a surprise treat on hand they don’t know about. Sometimes, if on the verge of a meltdown, a simple distraction can be a LIFESAVER.
Be the thermostat, not the thermometer
Last, but certainly not least. This is one of the most important tips for flying with kids, and making it a SUCCESS. Children are going to 100% feed off your energy and attitude when traveling. So you have to read the temperature of your crew, not set the dominos for an easily stressed, grumbling family of travelers.
Like I mentioned at the start of this post, setting your expectations are a HUGE piece here. Your attitude on travel day is going to set the entire tone for all your little people (and husband!). And to take it a step further, if you can not only try to weather the stress of the day well, but have FUN with it….you are going to be on your way to family flights full of confidence and ease.
We hope these tips for flying with kids are helpful and of value to you! And if you are road tripping and not flying, don’t miss our super comprehensive guide for your next family road trip! You got this Mama 🙂