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What to do on an airplane with young children

Updated on May 8, 2014

I love to travel and determined early on that having children wouldn’t keep me at home. This became important when we left our families on the east coast and moved to the Arizona desert. Our oldest son was born within the year, and the only way some of my family and friends were going to meet him was if we went home to visit them. So at 6 months, my son took his first airplane ride. He was a seasoned traveler by the time his brother came along and our second son had his first trip across the country at two months of age. I was now traveling back and forth with two young children a couple times a year, often by myself. This is a list of things that I found helpful in keeping my own kids happy and content on these trips. I hope they are helpful to you too.

-Have a good attitude

Children learn how to respond to situations from watching their parents. If you are calm and relaxed during travel, your child is more likely to feel comfortable and secure. If you are worried and tense, your child will pick up on that be worried too. A child who does not feel safe will be more likely to cry or act out, becoming more difficult to handle. The longer you are traveling, the more likely you are to encounter problems. If you realize and accept this ahead of time, when trouble arises you will be better equipped to handle the difficulties in a calm and patient manner. Remember, the airline has plenty of people to help you in the event that a flight is delayed, canceled or missed. Travel is unpredictable. You can help your child by being patient and flexible.

-Use a car seat

While a car seat is a difficult thing to travel with, it is worth the effort on long flights. Children are used to traveling in their car seats and feel safe and secure in them. It is something familiar to them in a strange place. The design of a car seat also gives them a place to rest their head and go to sleep. A sleeping child is a wonderful thing on an airplane, and your traveling companions will be thankful.


Before you leave, make sure you locate the “approved for flight” notice on the car seat. You will need to show this to the flight attendant if they question the safety of your seat.

-Keep carry-ons light

The car seat and all the stuff you need for the kids will be bulky enough so try to keep your personal items to a lightweight minimum. The less you have to lug around the better, especially if you are traveling alone with the children.

-Small lollipops for takeoff and landing

Sucking on a lollipop, pacifier or chewing gum, depending on the age of the child, is a great way to equalize the pressure change that occurs during takeoff and landing. Change in pressure can be painful to your child’s ears, causing tears. These treats can not only take away the pain, but make it a special occasion. Smaller lollipops are best because you don’t want them to have too much sugar. After all, you want them to remain calm over a long period of time.

-Provide new toys and books

A new toy and a new book is a great way to keep a child entertained on a long flight. The more interactive the toy or book is, the longer it will hopefully keep your child’s attention. For longer trips you might want something new for each leg of the journey. Stay away from toys that are too small or will roll around. You will probably spend some time picking them up off the floor. Electronics such as the Leapster, IPAD, or a tablet are often a good way to keep your kids occupied for extended periods of time.

-Take some comfortable favorites

In case the new items don’t fascinate your child as much as you hoped, it’s always a good idea to take some tried and true favorites. Don’t forget that special stuffed animal or the book you’ve read a million times. If you have an ipad or tablet, you can bring along their favorite movies or music. A small pillow or blanket from home can be very soothing.

-Don’t forget the snacks!

Healthy and convenient snacks can be a lifesaver. Bring those favorite treats that they don’t get very often and use them as rewards (or bribes) for good behavior. Stay away from too much sugar and take along enough to satisfy hunger when mealtimes are missed.

-Interaction and routine

Structuring the time you spend in flight can help keep your child from being bored. Spend time playing with them, followed by some quiet time with the electronics. Then read a story or talk to them about your trip. Interacting with your child makes the time more enjoyable for them and keeps them from acting out to get your attention. If your child takes naps, let them know ahead of time that they will take one on the plane then follow your normal naptime routine to the best of your ability. This also good for night flying, take them to the airport in pajamas and follow their bedtime routine the best you can. Hopefully they will relax and fall asleep quickly. During the day they will probably enjoy looking out the window and seeing the world from a different perspective. Flying can be fascinating! Just remember to be flexible and go with what works best.


-Take advantage of long layovers

If you must change planes, it is good to have a longer layover when traveling with children. Layovers are a great way to get out some excess energy and stretch the legs. Take a walk around the airport and find a quiet area where your child can run around and play without disturbing anyone. More and more airports are adding child play areas to their list of amenities. If there is a train or subway connecting the gates, it could be fun for your child to ride it to the end and back. If your child is good in restaurants, it may be a nice change of scenery to sit down and eat a good meal together. Choosing a longer layover also has the advantage of giving you a time cushion in case your plane arrives late. This cuts back on the stress of running through the airport with your child, who may not be able to go very fast, in order to catch your next flight.


No matter how hard you try and how prepared you are, it’s possible your child still won’t be happy. You may have to resort to the "hail Mary" play. If you believe in God, this is a good time to comfort them to the best of your ability then pray for help from a higher power. Pray that something will work and that you will be able to keep your calm!

I hope that you find these tips useful and that they will help make your next flight with your children an enjoyable and bonding experience.


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