Wrangling favorite stuffed animals, restocking Cheerios, cramming 45 episodes of Paw Patrol onto an outdated iPad—these are just a few of the stresses weighing on the minds of nervous airport-bound parents around the world these days.
If that hectic scenario sounds familiar, don’t worry. You’re far from alone. To help set you and your kids up for smooth sailing, we’ve rounded up 18 excellent tips from members of the Scott’s Cheap Flights Travel Community on Facebook as well as a few jet-setting moms and dads that travel often for both work and play. Here are their tips on how best to keep the friendly skies friendly when flying with little ones.
1. Schedule takeoff and departure times wisely, and opt for longer connections.
Make sure to keep your kid’s daily routine and sleep schedule in mind when booking your flights. Time it so they spend the bulk of the flight asleep—whether it be an overnight long-haul or a short hop that corresponds to afternoon nap time—and they’re more likely to keep quiet in-air and wake up refreshed and ready to explore upon landing.
Also, be sure to pad connection times for layovers. Deplaning and moving through the terminal can take a lot longer with kids in tow and you don’t want to be sprinting to make your next flight.
- “I try to book flights at times of days when my kids would have natural down times. Not always possible, but with toddlers and younger it can be really helpful. - Travel Community member Lauren S.
- “You know your baby, so listen to her. My son was a great napper, so I first planned my trips around his schedule.” - Travel Community member Brandy Lynne H.
2. Take advantage of early boarding—or don’t.
Many airlines allow early boarding for families with little ones; use the extra time to settle in and get everyone comfortable before the flight. Of course, as mentioned above, you know your kids best. If a few extra minutes running around the terminal will mean a quieter flight, you may want to wait to board last, instead.
3. Pack extra snacks—and then pack more snacks.
Tiny bags of peanuts just aren’t going to cut it for growing kids. Bringing along an easily-accessible bag (or multiple bags) teeming with snacks you know your kids love will keep them full, occupied, and happy for hours.
- “Bring so many snacks. A bento box is a great way to bring lots of different kinds of snacks—a child who is eating is not screaming.” - Travel Community member Sara J.
- “Bring real food for teens. They’re hungry all the time and junk food doesn’t cut it. Apples, clementines, and nuts travel well.” - Travel Community member Cari H.
- “For teens, pack way more snacks than you think because they'll say they're not hungry but then they'll eat all your food.” - Travel Community member Sara H.
- “For toddlers, pack a small clear tackle box tray with all the compartments full of a variety of different snacks.” - Travel Community member Desiree L.
4. Arm your devices with plenty of movies, shows, music, or podcasts.
You might try to limit screen time at home but every parent knows that a trusty phone or tablet is the easiest way to make idle time fly. Try to download your content ahead of time in case your aircraft isn’t equipped with WiFi or seatback screens.
- “iPads help with younger kids. Load up games, shows and make sure it’s all charged up and you’re good to go.” - Travel Community member Andrew H.
- “Screens, screens, and more screens.” - Podcast producer Jenna Weiss-Berman
- “If you don't want your kids on screens the whole time (depending on the parenting style) there are some awesome, free kids' podcasts that will keep them entertained the entire time.” - Travel Community member Stacey C.
- “Appreciate that you have electronics now—movies, cartoons, games, even electronic coloring pages. When my daughter was young, we just had crayons and paper and a lot of tic-tac-toe.” - Travel Community member Susan D.
5. Pick up some inexpensive new toys and games.
Dropping by a dollar store to stock up on some exciting new trinkets is a great pre-flight ritual, especially if you’re traveling with young children. Wrapping them up individually or unveiling them one at a time during the flight adds to the fun.
- “Buy five to ten little toys, books, word searches, and snacks, wrap them up in decorative gift paper and bring them out one at a time, as needed.” - Travel Community member Tracey T.
- “Purchase some ‘surprise’ toys from the dollar store to spring on kids on the plane. Works as a great reward or carrot for good flight behavior, too.” - Travel Community member Claudia L.
- “We love to find the cheap small farm animals from the dollar store (or Amazon) and wrap each one individually in tissue paper. Throughout the flight we let our daughter open them. They take a good amount of time to unwrap then we learn about each animal as she opens it!” - Travel Community member Elena S.
6. Don’t forget a change of clothes.
And not just for the kiddos! If you’ve got infants or toddlers on your hands, odds are you’re all going to get a little messy at some point during your journey. Keep these extra clothes organized and within reach of your seat so you’re ready for any mid-air emergencies.
- “Always pack a full change of clothes for you and your children in you carry on bag. Great for accidents that happen on the plane or if your luggage gets lost.” - Travel Community member Tamara J.
- “Pack a change of clothes for each child and parent in a separate ziplock. In case a full change is needed, it’s easier to grab and go.” - Travel Community member Amanda C.
- “Bring a shirt for you and a change of clothes for baby. If baby throws up, you won’t have to stink for the rest of the flight.” - Travel Community member Jenny B.
>> Get tips on packing light and avoiding baggage fees.
7. Bring your car seat.
While infants below the age of two don’t necessarily require their own seat, tucking them into a sturdy, lightweight car seat once you’re onboard works wonders for enhancing their physical and emotional comfort.
- “It's ok to have a plane-specific car seat. We bought one that is narrow enough to fit down the aisle and ridiculously lightweight. We use it while traveling but never at home.” - Travel Community member Megan H.
- “Buy your infant or toddler their own ticketed seat and use a lightweight car seat on the plane. Our daughter has always slept for the majority of flights because she is so comfortable in her car seat and the plane noise lulls her to sleep, even now at 2 years old. It also keeps her contained and allows my husband and I to have full use of our tray tables during meal times.” - Travel Community member Jennifer B.
- “Put your kids in their car seats until age four or five. They are generally easy to put in the seat and it helps your child understand they have to stay put. This trick worked great for both of my kids.” - Travel Community member Katrina B.
- “Take advantage of the free transport of a baby seat. Buy a cheap, light one and fill the carrier bag with a bunch of other stuff to save weight in your normal luggage.” - Travel Community member Andrew N.
8. See if your airline’s frequent flyer program offers perks for young travelers.
It’s never too early to start earning status! Some loyalty programs give kids access to special children’s programs and regardless, accruing airline miles is beneficial at any age. Trust us, they’ll thank you later.
- “Make sure you get your child their own airline rewards card because those programs are often linked to kids programs that tend not to be well advertised. On one of our choice airlines my son is given a special goody bag on every flight.” - Travel Community member Katie P.
- “Get your kids frequent flyer miles as soon as you start to travel. Our boys have both Delta and United so I add the miles in every time they join a trip.” - Public Relations Assistant VP Alex Schrecengost
9. Start them out young.
Flying, like anything else, becomes easier the more often you do it. If you like to travel, getting your kids used to the ins and outs of flying as soon as you can will have lasting positive effects.
- “Start young. My kids were seasoned travelers by their teenage years.” - Travel Community member Diane C.
- “Start traveling as early as possible so they are used to it. Tell them about the trip and what to expect. Get them excited to go!!” - Travel Community member Amanda C.
>> Read more family travel tips from our community.
10. Don’t be afraid to get creative.
Contrary to popular belief—and our recommendation above—you don’t always need a fancy tablet to stave off boredom. The plane is a great time to think outside the box and get crafty with your little ones.
- “Toddlers are tricky. They do not easily entertain themselves. Some fun activities are giving them a package of post-it notes and let them stick them all over the tray table, seat and window. Easy to re-stack to reuse and just throw them away when you are done.” - Travel Community member Ona M.
- “In a pinch, airplane sick bags (in the seat pocket) make pretty fun sock puppets.” - Travel Community member Janessa G.
11. Make sure they keep their manners in check.
Being crammed into a small space with hundreds of strangers can test the patience of even the most polite adults. Avoid conflict and ensure a stress-free flight for all by giving your kids a rundown on proper plane etiquette well before takeoff.
- “Pay attention to them. Don't let them kick the seat ahead of them, stick their feet from behind onto the armrest, or stand on the seat and jump.” - Travel Community member Gail S.
- “Regarding flying with teens, please share with them ahead of time some etiquette—helping someone put their carryon above the seats, making sure they use headphones, not placing their feet on the armrests of the seat in front of them, etc. And lastly, they must wear deodorant!” - Travel Community member Cynthia M.
12. Call ahead to reserve a kids meal for long-haul flights.
Many airlines offer the chance to request specialty kids meals at no extra charge, which can be a gamechanger if you’ve got a picky eater. Make sure you secure your child’s meal in advance and don’t hesitate to call the airline and confirm that your order went through.
- “Check with the airlines beforehand to see if they offer kids meals. If they do, talk to a real person to make sure your request is in. I recently did one online and it apparently didn’t go through. Luckily, I had packed lunchables just in case.” - Travel Community member Ashley L.
- “We always do the kids meals, not because I like the food option any better but because they get served first!” - Travel Community member Lauren N.
13. Don’t worry too much about your usual rules.
Managing a child’s well-being inflight while also making sure they don’t disrupt a plane full of travelers can be anxiety-inducing to say the least. If you’re normally more reserved about indulgences like screen time and sweets, do yourself and your kid a favor and relax the rules a bit while you’re at 40,000 feet.
- “Be flexible with your parenting style and limitations. Trust me, that extra lollipop is getting you an extra 15 - 20 mins closer to your destination without a screaming child. Desperate times call for desperate measures.” - Travel Community member Jennifer E.
- “Have a fully loaded iPad and absolutely no compunction about your kid watching TV (or creepy YouTube unboxing videos) for 12 hours straight.” - Travel writer Aaron Goldfarb
- “Don't forget candy, candy, and more candy. Specifically M&M's, doled out one at a time.” - Freelance writer Kira Garcia
14. Help them manage ear pressure during altitude changes.
Anyone with ears is sensitive to altitude-related changes in air pressure and for kids who are too young to intentionally “pop” their own ears to relieve that pressure, takeoff, landing, and turbulence can result in major pain and discomfort.
- “If babes are of nursing age, I always nurse mine on the ascent and descent of the flight for ear popping.” - Travel Community member Alyssa K.
- “For infants, have a bottle ready or breastfeed after wheels up and during descent. Hold off on feedings to make sure they are more likely to feed for those times” - Travel Community member Louise J.
- “I allow my older toddler to have a pacifier only during ascent and descent. He has had two ear surgeries and still has had no problem with them hurting when he is sucking on the pacifier.” - Travel Community member Amy H.
- “Bring gum for takeoff and landing to help pop their ears.” - Travel Community member Deniz C.
15. Bring molded crayons for in-flight art sessions.
Standard crayons can easily roll off a tray table or get wedged between seats. Thankfully, crayons come in all different shapes, sizes, and weights these days, many of which are perfect for keeping them in the upright position all flight long.
- “Only bring square crayons... The regulars roll away.” - Travel Community member Megan H.
- “Buy triangle crayons! They don’t roll. They are awesome for the plane.” - Travel Community member Rebecca C.
16. Always carry extra plastic bags.
Second only to snacks in their importance, stuffing a few extra versatile plastic storage bags into your carry-on can make all the difference when you’re traveling.
- “Pack a ‘diaper purse’ for airport/airplane diaper changes. Fill a gallon ziplock bag with diapers, wipes, cream, and a change of clothes in case of a blowout. That way you have a ziplock bag for the soiled clothes and you have everything in one convenient place.” - Travel Community member Ashley V.
- “I like to pack several Ziplock bags filled with small amounts of snacks so if they spill it’s easier to clean up.” - Travel Community member Ona M.
- “Come prepared with plenty of plastic bags to catch vomit.” - Journalist Ethan Fixell
17. Book a bulkhead seat when flying with a baby.
Many planes have baby bassinet holders built into the bulkhead (though it’s less common on short-haul flights and budget airlines). If you’re flying with an infant, call the airline to see if you can reserve one of these seats.
It’s generally a first-come, first-served situation, and you may have to pay extra for the seat. The bassinet cannot be used during taxi, takeoff, landing, or during turbulence, and there are restrictions on weight (the limit varies by airline but is generally around 22-24 lbs.)
18. Use an inflatable foot rest for a makeshift bed.
Several clever travelers recommended purchasing a handy inflatable foot rest and wedging it in the footwell beneath your child’s seat for a DIY kiddie lie-flat experience. Note that you can’t use these in exit rows, or during take-off or landing.
- “For long flights, we bought two inflatable foot rests and put them in front of each child’s seat so it extended into a bed.” - Travel Community member Lindsey V.
- “Take inflatable footrests to make ‘beds’ for the kiddos but be sure NOT to book in bulkhead seats.” - Travel Community member Amanda C.