We travel a lot. For the past three years, we probably travel internationally three or four times a year. And because we are from the US, we make the long flight from Delhi to Washington DC at least once a year. Here are 15 tips and strategies for parents flying with kids.
Our international travel as a family started early. Soon after our daughter turned one, and we endured an obligatory family holiday to Destin, Florida, we embarked on an ambitious international flight to Paris and Amsterdam.
After what turned out to be a disastrous two-hour flight from Washington DC to Destin, I was quite anxious about how we were going to survive an eight-hour flight to Paris just two months later! While flying to Destin, with my one-year-old crying in my lap, I kept telling myself, “it’s only two hours, and we’re at least halfway there, just an hour to go.” Leading up to our trip to Paris, I kept thinking about our flight to Destin, “How are we going survive an eight-hour flight across the Atlantic with this kid? Only six hours to go?” These two parents were nervous.
Like any parenting challenge, seek out advice. There are so many resources available to us: friends, parents, books, videos, podcasts, Facebook groups, and yes even blogs! Somehow in the span of two months, by doing more research, we had more ideas, tips, and strategies in our toolbox, and we were able to survive our flight to Paris. so How to Travel with Kids in Flights?
Most of the following fifteen tips and strategies are ones that we’ve personally used in our travels with our kid. While some of these may not be age-appropriate or relevant for you, picking up one or two ideas can make a huge difference.
15 Best Family Travel Tips for Parents with Kids on Flights
Flight Tip #1 Reserve that bassinet!
Because I had not traveled a lot internationally before becoming a dad, I had no idea airline bassinets existed. The trick with the airline bassinet is you must request the bassinet and sit in a front-row seat (also called the “bulkhead row”). I would also suggest parents, double-checking a couple of days before your flight to make sure you still have the bulkhead and bassinet option reserved. While our daughter didn’t sleep one wink on the flight to Paris, she slept almost all the way home.
Flight Tip #2 Travel at night parents.
Flying nonstop from New Delhi to Newark, NJ is a fifteen-and-a-half-hour flight. One strategy we often use now is to fly at night. By doing so we cut the time we have to be awake in half. While we do land at Newark early in the morning, we’re the first in line to rent a car. It’s well worth it.
Flight Tip #3 Check-in online for your flight.
The general rule parents to surviving an international flight with your children is answering “YES” to anything you can do to make it easy. Curbside luggage dropoff, priority seating, upgrading to economy premium for extra legroom are all excellent strategies if you can afford it.
Flight Tip #4 Remember parents to order that kid’s meal.
This has happened to us a few times now. Order that kids meal for your flight in advance. Somehow the kiddo will figure out there was a kid option, and the adult meal on their tray table is not going to cut it.
Flight Tip #5 Your stroller folded up goes through the security baggage scanner just fine.
Parents, my first tip when it comes to stroller, be sure it makes sense to bring one to whichever country you are visiting. While Paris makes sense, India not so much. Second tip, with your stroller, you have two options, you can either check it in with your checked luggage or check it in at the gate. Checking the stroller at the gate is a great strategy because it’s a HUGE help to parents being able to roll their kid from security to the gate and then use the stroller until boarding begins.
Flight Tip #6 Are you all signed up for the frequent flier award program?
Make sure parents and kids are signed up, the miles count for all of you! Our daughter has had her own frequent flier accounts since her first flight.
Flight Tip #7 What to do once you get through security or when your flight is delayed?
First, stay calm. Here are a few tips and strategies we’ve used while waiting to board the plane.
- Walk around, climb some steps, check out the moving walkway, play chase, burn off as much energy as possible before boarding the flight.
- Check out the planes and explain the basics of aviation.
- Window shop and be sure you have enough readily available snacks and plenty of water before boarding.
- Check out what’s available at the airport for kids to do. Many airports have play areas specifically for kids and parents.
Flight Tip #8 Before arriving at the airport, talk about the process with your child.
Of course, parents, many of these tips depend on the age of your child, but this is really important if they’re old enough to understand and if they haven’t flown a lot before. While our daughter was never frightened of flying, other than holding our hand at takeoff and landing, she knows by heart what we are doing when we arrive at the airport and all the steps involved before we get on the plane. For better or for worse, our daughter’s mantra is, “check-in, immigration, security, and buy a treat!” She even has her standard “airport snacks” list of potato chips or sour gummy candy she chooses from. But if your child is new or afraid of flying, a great strategy is to walk them through the process before your trip and cross off each step as you proceed to your destination.
Flight Tip #9 Bring your own food and water.
You don’t want to be stuck on a fifteen-hour flight without plenty of food or water. Our strategy is we simply don’t rely on the plane to have everything we will need on the flight. Upon clearing security, we fill our water bottles. Of course, you will likely have one or two inflight meals and snacks depending on the duration of your flight, but you also want to be prepared if your child, or you for that matter, don’t care for the menu. Another strategy is to bring food from home, which will be much cheaper than what you’ll find at the airport.
Flight Tip #10 Flight Activities to do with your kid.
Here are a few items and strategies we bring and use on a flight:
- Coloring books with crayons, color pencils, kids markers.
- Books to read, a journal to write in.
- Tablet preloaded with movies, Peppa Pig episodes, and a new kids app now and then.
- Toys you’re ok with losing!
- We keep a bag with all her “stuff” under the seat, and those items she often uses in the pouch in front of her.
Flight Tip #11 Headphones for everyone!
Kids’ headphones are a must, as they are specially designed to limit the volume to protect those young ears. I would go ahead and purchase the inexpensive plug variety instead of Bluetooth. If there’s inflight entertainment, you will be able to use these headphones, and the quality will be better than the set the airline provides. Also, as my wife suggests to everyone, a good pair of wireless, noise canceling headphones for the parents is a must. A quick note here, if you’re a fan of the power bank, make sure it’s charged and in your carry-on luggage too.
Flight Tip #12 Oh, joyous sleep.
In addition to scheduling your departure for the evening, other recommendations include bringing a small blanket from home just in case the airline doesn’t provide one or its too scratchy, a kid-size neck pillow, and their usual pajamas. Parents, try to replicate whatever you do at home when putting them to bed, even if that includes singing a song (quietly for the other passengers) or reading them their favorite book. And check out these increasingly popular inflatable cushions on Fly Tot. We don’t have one of these yet, but based on my experience, this strategy could be a game-changer.
Flight Tip #13 Cranky kids need everyone to know they are cranky.
This is inevitable. A couple of strategies I’ve used include walking up and down the aisle with our daughter. Many times, a change of scenery is just what they need out of that cramped space. Also, when it is safe to move around, I’ve let our daughter since she was two or so walk the aisle with me tagging along. It burns off energy and she becomes entertainment for the other passengers, also desperate for a respite. Take your kid to the bathroom with you when you go. Again parents, get them out of their seat and into a new space as often as possible.
Flight Tip #14 Extra set of clothes for everyone.
For parents, maybe you don’t need to bring an extra pair of socks or pants, but I’d bring a shirt for those times when the kid gets sick or spills something all over you, and that stuff can get on your pants too. And for the kid, it’s a must: you’ll be so happy you did.
Flight Tip #15 Bring a pack of stickers!
I’m not sure where we learned this strategy or who of our parent friends shared this tip, but it works. It really, really works. Our daughter must have spent a total of about an hour on the way to Paris sticking and unsticking a set of stickers.
I’m going to end here with a few additional favorites that have saved us. First, bring plenty of diapers, because they’re super expensive and incredibly hard to find in airports. Second, bring some hard candy for them to suck on, or if you’re nursing, consider doing so during takeoff and landing, this will help their ears adjust to the change in altitude. And third, and this one is awesome, buy a small, inexpensive toy for each hour you’re flying. Individually wrap each toy, then on the hour, let your kid unwrap and play with the toy. You can thank me in the comments. So, what are your favorite strategies? Leave them in the comments. When it comes to parenting tips and strategies, sharing is caring. See you in the air!