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Tips to Survive a Plane Ride with Kids

Child drawing picture with crayons in airplane. Little girl occupied while flying in aircraft. Travel with family and kids. Blue sky and sun outside the window.

by Kristen v.H. Middleton

Former School Teacher & Administrator

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This summer, my husband and myself flew with our two daughters (ages 11 months and 2.5 years) to the East Coast and back. Twice. I learned a lot the second time around. And really what you need to survive a plane ride with kids is to take better care of yourself. Learning How to Survive a Plane Ride with Kids . . . the Hard Way We’re a bi-coastal family. Our trip last June was brought about by a funeral, and our trip in August was a yearly vacation to the New Jersey shore with my parents. In both instances, once we got to our destinations, the flying was totally worth it. My 2.5 year old, Addy, is a… Read More

This summer, my husband and myself flew with our two daughters (ages 11 months and 2.5 years) to the East Coast and back. Twice. I learned a lot the second time around. And really what you need to survive a plane ride with kids is to take better care of yourself.

Learning How to Survive a Plane Ride with Kids . . . the Hard Way

We’re a bi-coastal family. Our trip last June was brought about by a funeral, and our trip in August was a yearly vacation to the New Jersey shore with my parents. In both instances, once we got to our destinations, the flying was totally worth it.

My 2.5 year old, Addy, is a strong-willed, rambunctious, emotionally intelligent, articulate, curly haired wonderer. Getting her to stay still for any amount of time is a challenge unless she’s sound asleep. My baby, Sage, had severe eczema from newborn to about 9 months of age, after which it became more moderate. She is very light-hearted and laughs a lot. But when she cries she brings down the house and has a powerful voice that projects about a mile out.

So going into the flights I knew my biggest obstacles would be:

  1. Helping Addy stay in her seat and remain engaged in fun activities; and
  2. Keeping Sage’s skin hydrated and the volume of her cries to a minimum.

Our Biggest Mistake

The biggest practical mistake we made was booking flights that left mid-morning.

I thought my kids would take their midday naps on the flight to New Jersey—but that didn’t happen. My kids were awake nearly the entire time.

This really set things off on the wrong foot as I struggled to make bottles and entertain our toddler. I started taking my frustrations out on my husband instead of taking responsibility for how I was feeling and taking actions to calm myself down. That meant that instead of a team-oriented approach to parenting like we usually have, I was biting his head off and he was disengaging.

Several poopy diaper blowouts and a sprint marathon up and down the aisle later, we had finally arrived. It was midnight. We were completely frazzled.

Whoops. I felt sorry I’d been rude. Perhaps not surprisingly, no one moved to help us.

But as with anything that is difficult, sometimes we learn from the experience and can become better people—better travelers—because of it.

Tips for Preparing Yourself for a Plane Ride with Kids

Take Care of Yourself

The best advice I can give any mom is to work on taking care of yourself before, during, and after the travel.

Yes, it’s possible.

  1. Call a few friends before flying. People you know will offer words of encouragement.
  2. Journal about some of your anxieties and hopes for the trip. Envision what a successful, positive flying experience will look and feel like.
  3. Try and exercise before the flight, or at least the day before.
  4. Carry a calming essential oil or hand lotion with you. Take it out for a relaxing scent break when needed.
  5. Stay grounded! If you’re religious, say a prayer. Or find a way to get in touch with your higher power to feel rooted in self-love.

Because I was feeling healthy, I was better able to provide for my family. I was also able to recognize that so much of the trip was out of my control. I would do what I could, but I wouldn’t sweat the small stuff.

This time, when Addy ran over to the dog pee station in the airport and put her hands on the red fire hydrant, I laughed. Then, of course, I disinfected her hands.

Practical Tips for a Plane Ride With Kids

1. Time it right.

Schedule your flight(s) for the evening hours. Our kids slept much better at night.

2. Pack strategically.

If you’re short on time, prioritize packing your carry-on bags over your suitcases. When in transit, it’s harder to find resources you might have forgotten at home.

3. Back to basics.

Make sure your kids have their basics on board and easy to reach. Food, drinks, clothes, diapers, favorite toy or lovey.

4. Make them comfortable.

We found blankets and pillows to be helpful for getting our toddler to sleep on the airplane. Dress your kid in comfy clothes or pajamas.

5. Lean into entertainment.

A children’s iPad uploaded with storybooks and TV shows was essential to keeping our toddler occupied during the flights.

6. Avoid brining along your car seats.

If possible, rent them or arrange for family, friend, or car service to have some ready to go in their vehicle. We struggled greatly with lugging car seats around the airport. And then they got lost in transit anyway. We were held up in the airport (after hours of flying) attempting to track them down. (With no immediate success.) Eventually, the airline delivered them to my parents house several days later.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Most flight attendants are glad to help. And most were very kind and supportive of us as we made in-flight requests.

8. Give yourself some grace!

Lean into your faith, higher power, or supportive friends. Remembering that I wasn’t alone gave me the clarity that I didn’t need to figure it all out myself. Nor did I need to lean entirely on my husband for support. There was a happy middle ground in the midst of it all.