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Surviving Plane Rides With Small Children

Updated on May 25, 2016
Anna Marie Bowman profile image

Anna wears many hats: writer, mother, crafter. Over the years, she has found what works and what doesn't for herself and her family.

Air Travel Is Expensive and Exhausting

With greater restrictions on airline travel, and ever climbing ticket prices, it is harder and harder for the average family to fly. Family vacations are harder to come by for a lot of families. But, for some of us, flying is sometimes the only option. What do you do to survive the hours trapped in a plane with one, or more, small children? The thought of it all can be rather stressful in itself.

Plan Ahead

It all starts with planning. I would start with booking your flights. Many would think that getting seats near the front of the aircraft is the best idea. This will mean less time waiting for others to get off the plane, but it also might mean a longer trip to the tiny airplane bathrooms. If you have small children, being close to the bathrooms is probably a good idea. Also keep in mind that if you are on a small plane, sitting near the wing will be noisier than towards the front.

Then, once you get to the airport, you have baggage check in to deal with. If you are flying with kids, you are sure to have some bags to check. Check what you have to. No one wants to lug stuff around the airport if they don't have to. When I fly with my daughter, I am usually on my own. I have learned to pack very light, and only bring what I know I will need. And with airlines charging extra fees for bags you check, be sure that you check only what you have to and nothing else. It becomes a very planned out exercise of what to pack, what to check at baggage check-in, and what you can, or need to, carry on.


The security check point can be a nightmare with a small child, and worse with several small children. Especially if you have one, or more, of them in a car seat. Wear shoes that slip on and off easily, and make sure your children do the same. Though this is becoming less of an issue, as airport security checkpoints are allowing children under a certain age, to keep their shoes on. This makes things so much easier for parents, trust me!

If you have a bag of activities and snacks, pack it in a small backpack that the child can carry. It will make your load a lot easier, and the kids will enjoy putting their own bag on the conveyor belt. (My daughter loves this!) Keep your little clear plastic bag containing liquids and such in a side pocket of a bag, making it easier to find it when the time comes to pull it out. I never carry a purse when traveling by air, and usually pack it in my checked luggage, if I know I am going to need it where I am going. Everything I need is either right in my pocket, or in the front pocket of my laptop bag. This makes getting my hands on important things like boarding passes, ID, and money much easier.

It's all about making your trip as easy as you possibly can. Make sure if you are traveling with an infant, who needs formula or breastmilk, you show it to the people at the security checkpoint. They will allow you to take a bottle of prepared formula and a can of powdered formula, but be sure to show it to them, to speed things up a bit.

The Airport Can Be Fun and It Doesn't Have to Be Torture

Making your way through the airport is exhausting, and usually, not a lot of fun. Make the mad dash through the airport a game. My daughter gets very tired of walking the miles it seems to take to get from the security checkpoint to the gate. Make it a race. See who can get to that fast food place, or restroom sign first. Take a short rest, then race on to the next landmark. Before you know it, you are at your gate, and that long walk will have seen like nothing. My daughter also loves riding on the escalators and moving sidewalks at the airport.

Strollers for the younger ones are a must!! They can be checked at the gate, and they can hold a lot of stuff if you do it right! My daughter is a little too old for a stroller, but when she was small, it was a lifesaver! Not only did it make it easier to get her through the long walk through the airport, but it also saved my back. Now that she is older, she is able to carry her own carry-on, and I carry mine.

If you have time before your flight, check out the shops near your gate, let the kids pick out a snack, a book, or an activity for the flight. It will make the trip more fun for them, and may save your sanity later on. I bought my daughter a stuffed toy on our way to visit family, and after over two years, she still has it, and treasures it. She was too little to remember the trip, but she still has her stuffed toy as a reminder.

First Plane Ride

Be Careful With Your Money

Everything at the airport is expensive, so save your money! Bring plenty of your own snacks, since you are allowed to bring them through security. If you have to buy something to drink for your wait at the gate, or to bring on the plane, opt for water or juice. Something you can share with your kids.

Remember, beverages on the plane are free, snacks are not! No more in-flight meals, or even free peanuts. Travel-sized packages of crackers and cookies are a great idea, as are boxes of raisins, little bags of pretzels, and fruit snacks. Think healthy and filling. I know that a lot of flights end up during at least one meal, but those snack boxes on the planes are not worth the money and there are a lot of things kids just won't eat. A small container of Pringles will cost you about two dollars, when you can buy a whole large can for less than that.

Bring snacks you know your kids will enjoy. But, remember, if you are going to be on a plane for a long period of time, or if you have a long layover, you will want something that will be filling enough to tide them over for the entire trip. If you do buy food at the airport, remember that everything is going to be more expensive at the airport. I have seen a ham sandwich for around eight dollars. I could make a ham sandwich for about one dollar, probably less.

Nothing Is Ever Perfect

This is not to say that your flight won't go well, or that things won't run smoothly, but things happen. Flights get delayed, children cry, and parents deal with it all the best way they can.

Some parents traveling with very small children, have opted to create "I'm Sorry" bags for the passengers around them. Sometimes, babies don't do well with air travel, and there is very little a parent can do about it. This is not the fault of the parent or the baby. However, sometimes, nearby passengers get rather upset that a baby is crying near them. I don't know why. It's not like they don't know that babies cry, or that air travel is difficult on their little ears. Parents have decided to try to curb this displeasure by passing out bags of goodies (candy, ear plugs, etc) to the people sitting around them. It is an ingenious idea!!

Keeping the Little Ones Occupied

Activities are a must. A long plane ride seems that much longer if you have nothing to do. And don't forget to bring something for yourself! Bring a book you have been wanting to read, a book of crossword puzzles, and some music to listen to. Bring plenty of things to keep you, and your kids, occupied!!

Coloring books, books to read, small toys, games, etc. are all great ideas. There are a lot of things that are even geared towards travel. They make small coloring books, with the box of crayons attached right to the back of the book, with large sized crayons that won't disappear if they fall on the floor. A hand-held game system for the slightly older kids is also a great idea, making sure, of course, that they wait to use them until they are cleared to do so.

When my daughter was younger she liked to bring her learning system with all the books and cartridges for it. It even had it's own backpack that she could carry herself. And the adjustable volume is great for the small confines of the airplane. It even had a headphone jack. Portable DVD players and laptops are also a good choice. You can pop in a movie that is appropriate for the age of your child. It should keep them busy through most of the flight. Usually, the inflight movie, if there is one, isn't geared towards children.

Sit Back and Enjoy Your Flight

Remember, with a little planning, a long day of flying can be relatively easy, even with small children! Just take the time before you fly to prepare, and make sure you have everything you need. Now, relax and have a safe flight!


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