HomeAcademics & ActivitiesTravel

Flying With Kids

Flying is never boring with kids.

By Cathy Lanigan, Lonely Planet

Flights are never likely to be boring again once you start flying with children. In fact, you'll probably be savoring the quiet moments. It can be hard work flying with kids, particularly young ones, but some good preparation can help make it manageable.

Once children are school-age, it does get easier. The children can amuse themselves with drawing and simple games. They can play with a few well-chosen toys, listening to the children's channel and even the movie will occupy them for a little while. They can feed themselves from their tray and the novelty of being offered drinks will usually keep them in good humor.

Teenagers are much more self-sufficient and can usually be kept amused with in-flight entertainment and their own selection of books and music. Like adults they'll get bored as well but can cope with it much better.


Arrive at the airport early and try to be among the first to check in.

This is important if you are going to have any choice at all in the seat allocation, although airlines often will try to give families more choice than other passengers.

An elastic loop will secure a favorite toy.

Most children have a toy that must travel with them-a teddy, a doll or some such friend. To avoid having to carry this, tie elastic around its neck so that there is a loop. This loop goes around your child's wrist. It means that even if you have to carry teddy, the elastic loop can go around your wrist and leave your hands free. The tactic prevents the nightmarish possibility that you may inadvertently leave it behind somewhere.

Attach a small whistle to your child's jacket.

Other methods for coping with small children at airports include attaching a small but loud whistle to your child's jacket. If they get lost or even momentarily separated from you, they can give a good piercing blast. It gives them a sense of security, although you will have to dissuade them from using it at inappropriate moments and hope they remember to use it at the appropriate one!

What to wear on the flight.

Comfort is the main consideration in deciding what to wear. Regardless of where you're going or the expected weather, cover all possibilities in case of an unexpected stopover. A layer system of clothing works well.

If you want the children to look relatively clean and tidy when you arrive, carry their good clothes separately, but don't put them on too soon-when you are taxing to the terminal is time enough, as children can often foil their parents' best-laid plans.

Parents need to be comfortable, too, and if you are traveling with small children, remember that it's possible to get spectacularly dirty by the time you arrive. Sticky fingers, spilled food, regurgitated sweets all have fewer places to go in a confined space and you may find yourself the main recipient.

Where to Sit

The pros and cons of the bulkhead.

Where you sit can be quite important. Parents with small children are generally placed in the first row of seats facing the bulkhead. This has the advantage of more leg room so your children can play, and you may be seated with other sympathetic parents. The disadvantages are that generally the bulkhead seat row has fixed armrests which the tables fold down into. This means that even if you are lucky enough to score an empty seat beside you, your child can't lie flat because the armrest won't budge. Even if there is a vacant seat, without an armrest that lifts, you can't spread your child across their seat and your knee.

The other disadvantage is that if the plane doesn't have movie screens with each seat, then when the movie is on, you are right beneath it. If you stand up, which you seem to have to do a lot with children, you are in everyone's way. It is also less easy to turn your light on for all those emergencies for which you need illumination, as this affects the picture for everyone behind. Finally, any other parents with babies or young children will be right there next to you. If your children don't usually cry, sitting beside children who do cry might just set them off!

The advantages of sitting in the middle section.

If it is to be a long flight, you could ask for seats in the middle section with the theory that there are more seats in that section than between the aisle and the window. In the middle section, you have more chance of being able to stretch out if there are vacant seats. Also, if you and your family have three seats in a row of four and an individual stranger sits down in the remaining seat, one look at your contingent is usually enough to send them looking for alternative seating, so you may still wind up with an extra seat. If you have two adults and two or more children, you can always go on a scouting trip through the plane. You may find that by splitting up you can get very comfortably organized for sleeping.


Planes are very dry, which can make everyone feel uncomfortable. Take a spray-nozzled container filled with water to spray on children's faces. It feels nice and fresh, and the children usually think it is a lot of fun. If you follow it with a moisturizing cream, it does take the tight, dry feeling away. A chapstick is also useful for dry lips. Toothbrushes and toothpaste are good for when you want to freshen up.

If you find the dry air causes sore noses or sinus discomfort, try putting a scarf or handkerchief around a child's face, like a bandit. Something made of light material, lightly placed across their noses may cause some localized humidity and ease the discomfort.

Food and Drink

On an airplane, you may not always be able to get food and drink when you need it. If the children are ready for dinner about the time you'll be in the departure lounge, then bring along some sandwiches, fruit or yogurt and have a picnic dinner or buy them a meal at the airport. Similarly, it's worth keeping snacks in your bag for when your children are hungry between meals and the cabin crew are busy.

Everyone gets dehydrated on planes. Use the water fountains frequently, request glasses of mineral water or bring your own bottle and get it refilled. If you decide to bring snacks, remember they will be spending quite a while in your bag; anything with a tendency to mush, crumble or become soggy is not a good idea.

Time Zones

Time zones can really disorient children. They will usually be tired anyway from the plane trip and their body clock alarm will be going off at odd times. They can become worn out and miserable (when they are not bouncing around in the early hours of the morning, making you feel worn out and miserable). Although you may feel like just falling into bed when you reach your destination, if it is mid-morning on your new time zone, you should try to keep going for the rest of the day. Relax and wind down, but try to make your bed time and appropriate one. The more quickly you can get on to the new time, the faster you will adjust. This doesn't mean that you have to keep your children awake come what may. They will probably nap anyway, but try to keep the going-to-bed rituals (bath, pajamas, stories, etc.) until the time when they will actually be going to bed.

If you arrive when it is early morning on the new time, then aim to have the children sleep before or around midday for an hour or two, then wake them up and keep them awake until a reasonable bed time. They will then hopefully sleep through the night and be on their way to adapting to the time change within a few days.

Older children and teenagers who have traveled before are at least aware of what is happening. Although it is still hard to keep them awake when they really want to sleep, they are more likely to cooperate and they can lie down, reading or listening to a tape.

Comments from readers

"Some other tips for planning flights: Buy plane tickets early; many airlines allow you to select your seats at purchase time, and the earlier you buy the tickets the more selection you'll have. If any of your children are old enough to walk and young enough to get lost, have them wear brightly colored, distinct clothing during travel, and try to wear eye-catching clothing yourself. This makes it easier to find each other in a crowd. As a child, I got lost on the beach while wearing a lavender and grey bathing suit, and my poor mother couldn't find me in the crowd for some long painful minutes. I wore bright orange and pink bathing suits for years after that, and never had that problem again!"
"Parents tend to spend time researching your vacation, scouring the Internet for ideas. If during this time your child hasn't any idea what's ahead except the destination, it should be no surprise that he or she can become overwhelmed by the journey. 'Grandma's House' or 'Disney World' or 'a fun airplane ride' are good reasons to get excited for travel, but not enough to make the trip itself fun. Most children have temper fits at security checkpoints and on planes for one of two reasons, if not a combination of both: (1) They are confused and scared as a result of being unfamiliar with airport/airplane environments - or - (2) They are ill equipped for air travel: not allowed to move around before being expected to sit for hours in a confined space, given sugar snacks or juice to 'calm' them (?!!), not having distracting quiet toys/books/activities to entertain them It is imperative that we as parents PREPARE our children - especially toddlers and preschoolers - to fly. * If possible, Take your child to the airport on a day you're not flying and show her what the people are doing: standing in lines, going through security (the loud metal doorway and the requirement that my toddler walk through it alone was terrifying to her until she did it once), etc. More firsthand stories and recommendations can be found at: * Buy one of the few books/media available (example: the Shae by Air DVD Toolkit) that SHOW children what goes on at the airport. Give them something to relate to. Some great resources can be found at: and * Dress For Success. As small a consideration as it may seem, attire actually plays a big role in the whole flying adventure. Honor the journey, weight it with preparation, excitement and then dress for the occasion. Your fellow passengers' first impression of you will be that you respect them, and the journey, and that you are not taking the experience lightly. Even better, Your children will have visceral, tangible evidence that traveling by air is something special. When they are not dressed as if they it's just another day at daycare or preschool, and you are not dressed like the family is making a quick run to the supermarket, it sets a positive, exciting tone, and children will be more open to change and the different environments of the airport and airplane. * Anticipate your child's need to move! If possible, let your child walk to the gate. Allow children to move around while waiting in the terminal. Take a walk and check out the terminal displays/posters. Have a look out the windows at the airplanes, fool around at the kiddie corner if the airport has one. Making a child sit in a stroller while waiting for the flight is the worst idea of all. It is impractical to expect a child to sit, sit, sit for hours on end without wanting - needing - to move around. * Pack Adventure-worthy Snacks and Distractions. It is an unfortunate truth that individual-sized processed snacks are easiest to find, and generally well-packaged for travel, but they are almost always full of sugar and excess salt - and rarely a good idea. Rather than fruit snacks or lollipops, pack carrots, goldfish, raisins, peanut butter crackers. (Side note: Some parents swear by lollipops or hard candies, since they take so long to suck, and are therefore good time occupiers as well as useful rewards for good behavior ... the downsides of course being that your child is now fueled with sugar and very likely a fidgety, sticky mess. If you choose this option, pack extra wipes!!) Our favorite? Grapes are easy to pack, fun to eat, and will rehydrate as well as satisfy snack urges. The night before our last trip we put together veggie snack bags of carrots, snap peas and crunchy cucumber slices and fruit bags with grapes, chilling them overnight. In the morning we put the bags in a lunch bag-sized soft cooler pack. Even midday after two layovers, the snacks were refreshing and hydrating. Luckily we'd more than we needed because we were asked and able to share with other kiddos on the flights! * As for travel distractions, experience has taught us to bring only items that: (1) have few (or no) extra pieces that aren't securely attached to the game (or you will spend the majority of your time fishing things off the dirty airplane floor); (2) pack easily and don't take much room and (3) will hold attention and be reusable (at least for the flight home!). Where to find such travel toys? A good sampling of products available from a multitude of reputable shops can be found at"