Booking your tickets is the easy part. When it comes to flying with an infant or toddler (or, really, any child), stress levels start to rise when you consider the packing, the boarding process, the duration of the trip and how the heck you’ll prevent your next of kin from melting down. We rounded up the best tricks for keeping your cool when you're up in the air.
How to Fly with a Child at Any Age
If You’re Flying With An Infant Or Baby
Request a seat—and bassinet—in the bulkhead. Did you know that if you're on a flight that's longer than five hours, most airlines will provide a complimentary bassinet that bolts to the wall in the bulkhead (the seats in the front row of every section)? To reserve, simply contact the airline and make your request; There are typically just two per flight, so the early bird gets the worm.
Check your car seat at the curb…and stuff it with diapers. Most airlines let you check a car seat for free, so take advantage of that valuable real estate and fill yours with diapers, baby clothes, etc, then stuff the whole thing in a car seat cover. Free checked luggage!
Feed at takeoff and landing. Whether you’re nursing or bottle-feeding, getting your baby to suck during takeoff and landing helps reduce pressure on their ears.
Bring a nursing cover. No, it’s not for privacy, it’s for when your finally asleep baby (who’s gotten quite used to the blackout shades in his nursery) wakes up to the cabin lights being turned on for dinner service.
And a change of clothes. This goes for mom and baby.
Don’t underestimate the value of the carrier. Yes, you can gate-check the stroller, but we recommend also packing a carrier, in order to walk around the plane, hands-free.
Pack a few “new” toys. By which we mean, items they may have forgotten about due to lack of play. That said, if you’re going to buy something brand-new, this NogginStik Developmental Rattle pulls double duty: It lights up and is great for teething.
Last resort, try headphones. Think of them as the baby version of noise-cancelling headphones—and ones that actually stay on their head.
If You’re Flying With A Toddler
Be the last to board. It sounds counterintuitive, but sitting down as close to takeoff as possible can reduce the feeling of restlessness and length of time before the seatbelt sign goes off.
BYO snacks…and juice. Yes, you can carry them through security. (In reasonable quantities, formula, breast milk and juice for infants and toddlers is all allowed by TSA—although it may have to go through additional screening processes.) As far as snacks go, it’s great to have healthy options (think apple slices or string cheese), but dry stuff (like cheddar bunnies or puffs) goes a really long way since kids can eat them one by one…by one.
Last resort, load up your iPad. At 18 months, your kid may start to resist the feel of headphones, but luckily airplanes are loud enough that she probably won’t bother anybody if she watches a show without them. Worried about screen time? Don’t. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that watching Daniel Tiger helped children exhibit higher levels of empathy and confidence.
If You’re Flying With A Preschooler
Run around the terminal before you board. Instead of letting your kid dive into her toys at the gate, spend any downtime before departure roaming the airport. Ride the people-mover or take laps from one end of the terminal to the other—whatever it takes to wear your child out.
And use the bathroom. Because otherwise you know that little jerk is going to have to pee the second you sit down.
Pack some surprises. There’s a reason the YouTube videos are so popular: Kids love opening up plastic eggs as long as there’s the promise of an unexpected surprise inside. Buy some here, then pack them with small toys or whatever you think will delight your kids. To make it even more time-consuming exciting, wrap each egg in tin foil.
Make a “no electronics” rule until you’re in the clouds. At this stage, you're probably at least a little reliant on the good ol' iPad. But make a rule that nobody watches until you're in the air, in order to cut down on screen time and avoid freak-outs when you have to turn off devices for takeoff.
If You’re Flying With A Grade Schooler
Ask if your kid can meet the pilot. Just be sure to put in the request before you board, so there’s ample time for the flight attendants to accommodate.
Change up seats mid-flight. Sometimes a change of scenery is all you need to ward off the mid-flight whining. If both parents are traveling, switch up who's sitting next to the kiddo at the half-way mark. Got two or or more children? Have them swap places...so everybody gets a turn at the window seat.
Ignore screen time limits. At this age, it’s about keeping them entertained and occupied. Pre-load an iPad with their favorite show—or scan the in-flight entertainment system for something you know they love—and let them zone out for as long as you can get.
If You’re Flying With A Middle Schooler
Talk to them about what to expect. At this age, they can fully understand the experience of flying—but they may still feel the boredom and restlessness of younger kids. Before you get to the airport, discuss the length of the flight and exactly how they’ll spend the time on the plane. (For example, movies, a Nintendo Switch, card games, etc.)
Then, encourage them to pack their own bag. You’ll need to double check it, of course, but empowering your 11-year-old to pack activities for the plane will help them get excited for the trip—and all the special things they get to do up in the air.
Have a plan for talking through anxiety. This is a common age for once chill-travelers to begin showing signs of nervousness. Bring it up the night before your flight, and come up with a plan for keeping them calm. (For example, if there's turbulence, remind them that you're right there to squeeze their hand.)
Invest in items that can help them sleep. For bigger kids, sleeping on a plane can prove challenging. (Same.) This is where those travel pillows come in—a small investment up front, but one that pays off if it means everyone arrives in Paris well-rested.