Have you seen the movie Snakes on a Plane? Me neither. Creeps me out just thinking about it. But if I had to draw any analogy to what it’s like to fly with young children, that’s the one.

The only bonus for flying with young ones is that you don’t have to pay for their seat before they hit two years old. But it’s really the years after that get tough. You’re in a cramped space, with not-so-good-acoustics that carry the wailing cries to travel the full length of the aircraft, and total strangers are throwing judgy stares and eye rolls in your general direction.

It’s an environment with minimal amounts of control, and not everyone will understand your plight as a parent to minimize the distraction. If you’re lucky (I mean, win the lottery kind of lucky), your precious one will sleep most of the time, barring the use of sedatives. Although I cannot condone certain child medicinal elixirs, I can neither confirm or deny that we have been tempted to slip them a dose (or two) before boarding.

Unless you plan to keep your kids on the ground, here are some tips to make air travel easier.

Infants (Birth to Walking)

  • This one may be a little obvious, but try to catch the red-eye flight to increase your chances of baby slumber. Plus, they turn the lights down on evening flights; this added ambiance may help your cause.
  • Try your best to keep the baby awake for as long as possible before the flight so they’re extra tired when it’s time to board.
  • Keep them cozy. Cuddle them, wrap them in warm clothes and blankets. Higher body temp will help them sleep and comforted from the louder airport noises.
  • Prepare to breast feed or have a bottle ready for the baby during the plane’s ascent when the pressure changes. This will help their little ears to pop, and a full belly may also help them sleep. Call ahead to make sure you can carry pumped breast milk through security, otherwise have formula powder ready to mix with water purchased after security.
  • I’m not going to sugar coat this: during awake time, prepare yourself for lots of bouncing and silly faces. If you are traveling with another adult, trade off time with them, maybe every 30 minutes if it’s a long flight.
  • Make nice with the people next to you and try to get an aisle seat close to the restroom for frequent diaper changing.

Pack for Distraction

Board Books – made of cardboard, no pages to tear

Quiet toys or teethers (no squeaky)

*These Silicone Teething Necklaces and Melissa & Doug Shape Sorters are my favorite!

Mommy Resource: Flying with Baby: The Essential Guide to Flying Domestically with Infants Under 1 Years Old

Toddlers (Walking to 4  years old)

If you have a toddler, they won’t be in their seat very much. Then you’re fighting the frustrated human who doesn’t understand that the path to freedom is blocked by a food cart. Wiggling, squirming, drooling, climbing creatures who don’t understand the first thing about personal space. After following the first two bullet points from the Infant list, consider these:

  • Try to keep them awake, yes, but also do your best to adjust their nap schedule the week before you leave. The key word here is try.
  • Keep plenty of snacks at hand, but also plenty of fluids. The high altitude can be more dehydrating for kids than for adults. We usually bring our empty Hydroflasks and fill them up after security checks.
  • Have some finger play songs in your arsenal. You know, like “Ensie Wensie Spider” (with the hand motions). I like The Book of Fingerplays and Action Songs.
  • I prefer to use this as a last resort so they don’t have a screen in their face the whole time, but there are some pretty amazing free kids apps. Here is a starter list of the best apps for toddlers without hidden in-app purchases.

Pack for Distraction

Snacks, Snacks, and more Snacks (and wipes for clean up)

*We like Sprout or Annie’s natural snacks

Board Books – made of cardboard, no pages to tear

Manhattan Toy Soft Baby Photo Book – Insert your own family pictures! Include pictures of the folks you’re flying to visit and help the kids practice learning their names.

Big Kids (5 to 8 years old)

Schedule activities for these guys, too – but involve them in the process! Brainstorm together, because when they have skin in the game, they are more likely to invest in the choices they made. Setting a schedule not only breaks up the monotony of the plane ride for them, but for you too. Otherwise, the “are we there yet” questions may drive you nuts.

  • Brainstorm a list of activities with them. Our list looked something like this:
    • Coloring or drawing
    • Card game (Uno, Go Fish)
    • Typing on Mommy’s laptop
    • Tablet / iPad game
    • Hangman
    • Read books
    • Wikki Stix – create shapes or words
    • Bananagrams – how many words can you make

I found that planning in 30 minute increments were good boundaries for their attention spans. After we finished brainstorming, they got to choose where their activities were placed.

  • Example
Time Chloe Asher
5:00 – 5:30 Hangman Hangman
5:30 – 6:00 Coloring Wiki Stix
6:00 – 6:30 iPad Uno
6:30 – 7:00 Bananagrams Typing
7:00 – 8:00 Typing Read Books
8:00 – 9:00 Wiki Stix Coloring

Watching them work out their own schedule, make their own choices, and compromise based on their preferences was really exciting to watch. Some things they chose to do at the same time if it was a card game, and others they chose when to take turns. The only rule was they couldn’t choose the same things twice.

I’m telling you, the flight goes by so much faster when the kids are occupied like this!

Be flexible – I knew they would end up falling asleep at some point, so when they woke up, we picked up where we left off or they could switch things around into the new time slot.

Pack for Distraction

Coloring – an actual coloring book or an app on a mobile device.

Colored Pencils, Markers, Crayons

Card games or flashcards

Books (maybe 3 per child)

Prepping the Audience: Make a Peace Offering

I liked this mommy’s idea to make ahead some baggies to hand out to the passengers around her. Inside there would be a note introducing the baby (like this one does in first person), apologizing for any future distractions, asking for understanding, offering a snack and maybe some ear plugs.


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