Airplane travel with kids can be overwhelming, exhausting and stressful. Believe me, I know. But after years and years of flying with our 4 kids across the country, I’ve learned a few things that make it more simple, fun and enjoyable. Today, I’m sharing my top 12 tips for airplane travel with kids.
TIP 1: Lower your expectations and give yourself grace.
Remember that you’re in survival mode when flying with kids – give yourself grace and try not to get too stressed out. Your energy sets the mood for the entire family, so try to make it one of excitement and calm.
All other tips build off this one because it’s that important! The standard rules you apply at home and ways you parent normally are not applicable here. You just need to make the trip as smooth and stress-free as possible for everyone involved.
TIP 2: Prepare a backpack for each child and fill with snacks, an activity bag, headphones, an empty water bottle, a thin blanket, neck pillow, and any screens.
Even little kids like having some responsibility and having them carry their own backpack makes them feel important, and lightens the load for you. If they’re toddlers, you can get smaller backpacks.
I like to have separate “travel backpacks” we use just for airplane and road trips. Then I don’t have to worry about emptying school backpacks and I can prepare them for the trip while the kids are still using their regular backpacks.
I’ll go more into snacks, activities and screens with my other tips, but I love having a thin blanket for each kid (I just use muslin baby blankets). They don’t take up much space and are nice to have if it’s chilly or if we’re flying during nap/bed time.
Our Favorite Travel Backpacks and Gear
TIP 3: Prepare individual snack bags for each member of the family (including you!)
I like to pack portion sizes of food. That way, there aren’t big containers of anything and the kids can be pretty self-sufficient with eating. It also saves on space because once something is eaten, they can be done with that baggie.
I also like bringing empty Polar Bottle water bottles for each person. Once we get through security, we will fill them in the drinking fountain, or I’ll often fill them with ice and water from a soda machine for free.
Avoid bringing anything with peanuts, because your kids may not be allowed to eat it on the flight if there is someone with a severe allergy onboard (it’s happened to me twice).
For toddlers, a great “snacktivity” (snack + activity) is to fill a weekly pill container with bite-size snacks. They have so much fun opening each compartment and taking the food out one piece at a time!
TIP 4: Prepare activity bag “stations” that can be rotated between kids.
This way, you don’t need to pack the same things in each child’s backpack. You can just put together several activity bags they’ll all enjoy and rotate them!
Some of our favorites are pipe cleaners with Cheerios (to make cereal necklaces or bracelets), Color Wow water painting, a doodling bag with post-it notes and circle stickers, window clings, little animals, removable sticker scenes and Wikki Sticks.
Our Favorite Airplane Activities
TIP 5: Prepare devices and don’t limit screen time.
Remember rule #1. You are in survival mode. Giving your kids a little extra screen time is fine and devices are quite possibly your greatest resource for keeping kids happy on the plane.
Make sure your devices are pre-loaded with no-WiFi-needed apps, download shows and movies, make sure you’ve got the right headphones, and get a headphone splitter, if necessary.
AUDIOBOOKS: There are several ways to get audiobooks for your road trip.
1. Sign up for an audiobook subscription service like Audible, Google Play Books, Walmart eBooks, or Apple Books.
2. Check out audiobook CDs from the library.
3. Download the Libby from Overdrive app and check out audiobooks digitally for free with your library card.
If you’ve got an Apple device, using GUIDED ACCESS is a game-changer. It locks your device from exiting an app or prevents certain parts of the screen from being clicked on. Want them to stay in the movie they’re watching or stop clicking into the App Store from their game? This hack will be your best friend.
To use guided access:
Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access
Toggle to “on” and set a password. To use, go to the app your child will be using and triple click on the home button. This will open a screen that allows you to select areas of the screen to disable and start guided access. To exit, triple click and enter your password.
Our Favorite Headphones and Devices
TIP 6: Pack a bag for yourself with all the essentials.
I like to pick as light as possible, but also be prepared for whatever situation we might find ourselves in. I carry a pretty small bag normally, but prefer a backpack for travel because it can fit a lot more and allows me to be hands-free.
Be prepared with essentials (I like to use a backpack for travel). Sanitizing wipes, first aid kit, family medicine, smarties lollipops, baggies for trash.
My Backpack Essentials
TIP 7: Try to ensure everyone (including you) gets a full night’s rest before travel.
It’s simple, but makes a huge difference! I, for one, get pretty grumpy and impatient when I’m tired, so I try to do everything in my power to get a good night’s rest before we travel.
The only way to ensure this happens is to prepare as much in advance as you can! Do the laundry and pack all your bags (except toiletries) a couple days before you leave. Get your snack bags filled a day or two before and keep them in the fridge (if necessary). Load all the games/apps/movies onto your devices several days before you travel.
There’s actually not a lot that CAN’T be done in advance. The only thing I save for the last minute is toiletries. So do you future self a favor and prep as far in advance as you can! I promise you’ll thank your past self when you start your travel day well rested.
PS this photo is me holding my youngest during a 3-hour layover that was a part of a 12-hour travel day. We didn’t get to our destination until 2am our time so it was exhausting, but would have been even more so had we not gotten a good night’s sleep the day before!
TIP 8: Wear clothes that will be comfortable and recognizable.
What your kids wear can be a big factor in how comfortable or uncomfortable they are on the flight. It’s tricky because no matter what time of year you’re traveling, it’s uncertain what the temperature of the airplane will be.
I love to dress my kids in lightweight sweatsuits. They’re not too hot and not too cold, plus super comfortable. I love these ones from Lulu and Roo because they have the added bonus of being super easy to spot in the airport! Just look for the stripes.
I’ve made the mistake of dressing kids or myself in rompers for travel, and while they’re super cute, it’s an added challenge to use the bathroom, so I avoid them.
TIP 9: Check all your bags.
I know some people swear by only carrying on bags, but I’ve never had a single bag lost in transit. I feel like if you get to the airport with plenty of time before your flight, you’re pretty safe to assume your bags will travel just fine with the plane.
And lugging all those extra bags with kids through security and on and off the plane?? That’s a huge hassle!! Especially if you’re traveling alone with kids. And if you have a layover where you switch planes – even more inconvenient.
When we moved away from the majority of our family we got the Delta American Express credit card specifically for the purpose of getting free checked bags. It’s saved us a ton of money over the years! An airline credit card is definitely something to consider if you travel frequently.
My Favorite Hard-Shell Bags
TIP 10: Take a stroller to check at the gate so you can load all your stuff and kids onto it when moving through the airport.
This tip saved me SO many times over the years when I would fly alone with young kids. Someone would undoubtedly refuse to walk, others would refuse to carry their backpacks … it can be tough!
I got a used Sit N’ Stand Stroller at a consignment store and it was perfect for wheeling through the airport because I could load tons of stuff onto it.
If you’re new to traveling, all baby gear can be checked for FREE, so if you’re questioning whether to bring that stroller, car seat, diaper bag, etc, BRING THEM. You won’t pay any extra fees. And your stroller can be taken through security right to the gate. They just tag it right before you get on the plane and put it with the rest of the checked luggage. And when you get off the plane, it will be right outside the door again ready for you to grab.
Now my kids are at at age where we don’t need to travel with a stroller anymore, but if you’ve got young kids, babies and toddlers, it’s a HUGE help to have a stroller get you through the airport.
My Favorite Stroller for Airplane Travel
TIP 11: Take your toddler cart seat on the plane with you.
May sound counterproductive to the packing light tip, right? I know, I know. But hear me out. The HARDEST age to fly with is toddlers who want to be busy and moving around, but aren’t super entertained by screens yet.
I’ve been in the situation many times with a busy toddler on a flight who refuses to sit with the seat belt on. I’ve been reprimanded by flight attendants to keep them buckled up, but felt frustrated when it was IMPOSSIBLE to do so.
Enter toddler car seats. The first time we took ours onto the plane with us, it was a dream come true. My busy toddler knew he couldn’t get out of his 5-point harness and accepted his fate to be still. It also had an added benefit of being a much more comfortable place for a nap.
Yes, it’s inconvenient to lug that thing through the airport with you, but totally worth it when your toddler is happily restrained on the airplane. Our car seat fit perfectly on the back bench seat of our Sit ‘N Stand stroller (see precious tip) so it was really just the carrying it on and off the plane that was slightly inconvenient.
We don’t take car seats on the plane anymore because my youngest is 5 and not in that busy-body toddler phase, but it sure was a lifesaver with 2-4 year olds!
*Note: the car seat boosts the child up and puts their feet at a height where they can kick the seat in front of them. So I just made sure to be aware of that so we weren’t being inconsiderate. Still totally worth it, in my opinion.
TIP 12: Have your kids suck on a lollipop, eat something, or drink something during takeoff and landing to help regulate their ears.
It’s something we do naturally as adults – pop our ears by opening our mouth wide or swallowing. But kids don’t do that naturally and when your ears don’t adjust to the pressure it can be really uncomfortable!
So for young kids, I just make sure they’re sucking, eating or drinking when we’re taking off and landing to naturally counteract the pressure change.
I hope you’ve found these airplane travel tips helpful! If you have any additional tips to add, I’d love to hear them in the comments. I also have videos explaining each of these steps on my Instagram page in the Airplane Tips highlight bubbles.
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