May 7, 2021
24 Tips for Flying with Kids

24 Tips for Flying with Kids


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Are you thinking about flying with kids but are a little nervous about traveling with children? I’ve got you covered with tips and tricks to make your next family vacation a breeze!
Traveling with Children: 24 Tips for Flying with Kids - These are great trips for traveling with kids of all ages including airports with playgrounds, flying even if you forgot your photo id and more!

So why should you take my advice on traveling with children? 

Well, besides having grown up flying a LOT (my parents were missionaries), we’ve taken our own three children on an annual vacation since they were babies.

I’ve got lots of tips and tricks for families with babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary age children to travel with ease!

Tips for Flying with Kids

Take a Stroller

Did you know you can check your stroller for {free} at the gate! That means you can push your kids {or carryon’s} around the airport with ease and then just leave it at the gate.

You will need to get a gate tag.  When you get to your gate, just show the employee at the gate counter your ticket and they will issue you a gate check tag for your stroller. The stroller will be put on the plane last and will be waiting for you when you get off the plan – right at the gate!
Traveling with Children - take a stroller
Depending on your ultimate destination you can choose an umbrella stroller (great for cruising) or a full stroller (great for Disney). Goofy was wiped out after our cruise and because the umbrella stroller doesn’t recline, we reclined him as we waited out the bad weather flight delay.

Hint: This also makes it easy to keep wandering toddlers close by!


Take Individual Snacks

When you are in flight no one wants to dig around in the overhead compartment searching for snacks! Especially the other passengers sitting underneath! Our family puts a large zip lock bag in each person’s carryon with a mixture of healthy, savory, and a couple sweet items to choose from. This eliminates fighting since everyone is in control of their own stash.

  • Trail Mix
  • Dried Fruit / Raisins
  • Pretzels
  • Nuts
  • Fruit Snacks
  • Pez
  • Cereal (like cheerios)
  • Apple
  • Goldfish

Take Things to Do

Sure it’s exciting to sit by the window and ride in an airplane . . . . but now what? Bring things for your child to do waiting for or in the airplane. Remember you don’t want to bring your favorite toy which could get lost or spilled on. Don’t bring heavy things that will be bulky to carry. Also, don’t bring things with lots of little pieces that are going to get lost or roll under chairs in the airplane. Here are some suggestions of what to bring:Flying with Kids

  • Character packs ($1 at Target include coloring book, 4 crayons and stickers)
  • Coloring book with 8 pack crayons (too many crayons will end up causing a mess and markers could cause permanent staining on your children’s clothes, the airplane seat or {gasp} Mommy’s white shirt!
  • 1-2 books (NOT library books that may get damaged, favorite books, or bulky books) Chapter book for 2nd+ graders, cheap garage sale pictures books, or favorite soft covers that the kids enjoy reading over and over again.


Here are some great book recommendations. Our two favorite books we love to help get our kids ready for the airplane ride are: The Noisy Airplane Ride and Airport.

  • Magna Doodle (we love this lighted magna doodle!)
  • Stickers (when in doubt we turn to stickers!) You can get booklets form Michaels for $1 or lots at Oriental Trading Company. Putting these on themselves or a piece of paper always kept my toddlers from loosing it when all else failed! Hint:

When there is child sitting closely on the airplane who was loosing it, I have my kids give them a sheet of stickers and it ALWAYS works to quiet them down. The parents, child, and other passengers are always grateful!

  • Play dough – we bring the mini cans they have out for Halloween. These are just big enough to create something without enough to make a mess! Plus you can just pitch them if they get spilled on, dirty, or before arriving home!
  • Empty drawing notebook – my kids love filling these up! They get such a sense of accomplishment from having theirbook. I get character ones at back to school or small ones in the Target or Michael dollar sections.
  • Random things like Kush balls or light up pencils
  • Word Searches or Crossword Puzzles (my kids love the Disney themed word search you can sometimes find for $1 at Target)
  • Action Figures
  • Mini Disney Princesses (Polly Pocket Size)
  • Mini Bean Bag Stuffed Animal (enough to be a friend, but not to take up much room)
  • Magazines (Disney Junior, National Geographic for Little Kids, Disney Princess, National Geographic Kids, etc.)
  • Dover Sticker or Paper Doll Activity Book
  • Lace cheerios (and snack away!)
  • Mad Libs – my kids really enjoy the silly stories we end up with
  • Pipe Cleaners – to make different creations like an airplane
  • Finger Puppets
  • Anything from 50+ Ideas for Car Trip Fun


Take something NEW

Flying with Kids - Inexpensive PresentsYour children will be much more entertained by something that is new to them! Our family has a tradition where I wrap up several new toys and put them in their carryons. The kids are always to excited to open their presents! That is almost as much fun as the present itself! We wrap up simple things from the dollar section, fruit snack, stickers, etc.

Allow EXTRA time

When you are rushed everything always seems to go wrong! Allow plenty of extra time getting to and checking in at the airport. Remember that kids sometimes need to go to the bathroom at inopportune times – just plan on it! Everyone will be more relaxed and able to roll with the punches if you’ve built an extra time buffer into your plans.

Make a Plan!

Sure, it’s vacation. But I truly believe planning is the key to success. Make sure to start making your packing list weeks in advance so you can add to it as things come to mind. Pack a day or two in advance to make sure everything you intend to pack is clean. Print off directions to the airport and boarding passes in advance. Confirm hotel or other travel arrangements 7 days in advance (sometimes reservations get lost!) SEE MY VACATION PLANNING CHECK LIST (coming soon)

Remember who you are planning for! Your family is unique. Leaving on an early flight may work great for my family, but not for yours. If you think something just won’t work for your family – that’s okay!

Traveling with Children - 6 month old baby

Plan flights strategically

There are usually choices when it comes to flights. Sometimes there are fewer choices based on cost, but when at all possible consider flight times and locations carefully.

  • Get non-stop flights when at all possible
  • Make layovers in airports with children’s play areas
  • Layovers should be longer than 60 minutes, but no more than 3 hours – If you must have a layover because you don’t live by a major airport or you are headed oversease, plan to have a layover over lunch to take up extra time
  • Early Flights – consider if you can really get there on time! Remember that you need to be at the airport at least 90 minutes before a domestic flight if you are checking bags (2+ hours for international flights)
  • Later flight remember what time that puts you at your final destination – a midnight arrival at Disney would mean a cranky start to the next day! If you are going on a cruise you must figure 1-2 hours to get to the port and be on board by at least 5pm (note time varies by ship and itinerary)
  • Try to plan flight times to coincide with naps when at all possible (especially helpful with babies and toddlers)
  • Traveling overseas? Overnight flights are a great way to use up lots of flight time!
  • Have kids drink (baby drink bottle), lollipop (for preschoolers) and gum (for older kids) to ease the ear pressure during take/off landing.
  • Let kids help – they like to have a job & some independence. Have them help you look for gate number and carry their own stuff
  • Wear babies to keep your hands free
  • Another way to plan for success is by choosing when you go on vacation!
    • Summers are more crowded that off peak time.
    • Weekday is mostly business travelers during the year and many don’t have as much patience for noisy kids.
    • We love traveling with 6 month olds because they are friendly and portable.


Kid Suitcases

Flying with Kids Every child I’ve ever met wants their own suitcase. It’s like an extension of dress-up time! They will love the sense of independence they get from having my suitcase.

Just make sure . . . .

  • They don’t pack it themselves – (enough said)
  • Glides / wheels easily
  • Fit under the seat in front of them
  • It has your name and cell phone number on it in case it gets misplaced.
  • We find it helpful to get backpack/wheely suitcases so that a grown-up can through it on their back if the child gets tired.


Bring Water!

Unless you have babies you can’t take liquid through security. However, you fill a bottle you brought from home or purchase a water bottle before boarding the plane. I highly recommend this! 

Flying is very dehydrating and although they typically offer complementary beverages on most carriers, if there are lots of turbulence they will not serve them. There is also a possibility they can run out or you could end up in one of these horrific flights like this flight from Vegas where they were left on the tarmac with no air conditioning or water – passengers passed out from the heat!

NOTE: Tap Airplane water is not safe to drink.

Pack _______ in a Parent Carry On

You should be selective in what you are carrying on. {Remember you have to carry this and possibly your child and their carry on}  Make sure your carry on will comfortably fit under the seat in front of you. With airlines charging for checked bags many people are carrying on WAY MORE! It is a very real possibility that there won’t be room overhead – so it’ll be under your feet or checked below with baggage and you won’t be able to access it during the flight.
Don’t leave home without these important items you will want to carry on in a parents carry on:

  • Travel documents (boarding passes, photo identification including birth certificates for children requiring age verification– check the date at least 2 months before traveling) Note: Children’s passports expire 5 years after being issued. Make sure to check everyone documents at least 2 months before traveling.
  • Copy of travel plans
  • Make sure you are both carrying a different credit card (in case one of you gets pick pocketed you can cancel that card, but will still have one to get by on)  AND  you have some cash on hand for tipping or for cash only places (We usually only carry about $40 each)
  • Put a changing table liner, 2 diapers, travel size wipes, extra outfit in a large zip lock bag. Now you can just grab the bag to go change your sweetie!  Keep wipes with you even if you don’t have babies – these are handy to wipe up faces, feel refreshed, etc.
  • Enough extra diapers to make it 24 hours (in case your luggage gets lots or you end up delayed in an airport)
  • Electronic Devices {fully charged with child-size head phones} I’m not one for lots of movies usually, but when we travel I am willing to make an exception. I urge you to let them play and entertain themselves as long as they can first. This is a last resort and that way it will work!
  • Everyone has a change of clothes. Sometimes your clothes don’t make it or you are planning on swimming right away at your Disney hotel before your luggage arrives. Note: When I am going home I do not bring more than an extra shirt in my carry on for grown-ups.
  • Bags (big ones & small ones – soiled clothes, getting sick, holding loose toys, etc.)
  • Medicine (any and all prescription medications should always be carried on with you in their original bottles that have your name and prescription information) – We always have some Tylenol, Band-Aids and Imodium. If you get motion sickness or have some other recurring problem like heart burn, plan accordingly. I DO NOT RECOMMEND DRUGGING YOUR CHILDREN!
  • Hand sanitizer {you know they make next year’s flu shot based on the germs found in airports, right?}


Bring Bags

You may feel a little silly bringing a couple grocery bags, large zip lock, and small zip lock bags. But trust me you’ll be glad you did! You need the bags if someone gets sick, for soiled clothes, to hold toys, to seal a smelly diaper when you change them on the fly, to hold a snack they don’t finish, and for LOTS of other things!

Traveling with Children

Put Baby in Footie Pajamas

Sure baby socks and shoes are cute, but do you really want to be looking all over the airport or airplane for the ones baby has lost? If you just have them travel in footie pajamas there feet are covered without the chance for loosing them. Plus there is nothing to remove at security screenings.

Surviving TSA Screenings

Like them or hate them – they are here to stay! Have your child wear shoes that are easy to put on & take off. Avoid wearing overalls, belt buckles, keeping spare change in your pocket, or other metal items that will slow down the process.

While still in line gather all your families shoes and toss them in one of your grocery store bags you’ve slipped in the side of your carry on – it will be easier to carry them all – TRUST ME!

If traveling with 2 parents send one parent in first followed by all the carryon’s. Then begin sending the children through one by one with a parent at the end. If a parent needs to be patted down separately you need to make sure there is someone to watch children.

If you or your child must have a pat down that individual is allowed to have one companion of their choosing in the room with him. Here are more details from TSA.

Don’t be that Noisy Family

While it is okay for a cute child to say hi once, it is not okay for a child to repeatedly initiate conversation with someone who does not want to talk. Let’s try to break the stereo types of obnoxious children on airplanes by keeping our kids on their best behavior.

Make sure your kids aren’t kicking chairs in front or bugging people. When in doubt – pull out the stickers!

Note: If despite your best effort your child is still just not behaving well. Take a moment to apologize to others around you as you deplane. It will go a long ways to leave them with an apology from a nice parent than a memory of an annoying child!

Walk, Walk, Walk

Traveling with Children - Walk, walk, walkBefore you get on the plane fight the urge to sit at your gate. Use the time to let your child stretch their legs and get out some energy. Chances are they are pretty excited and eager to go on the moving walkways anyway! Just make sure you leave enough time for a potty break and to be at the gate for family boarding if you choose to get on early.

If your flight is more than 3 hours make sure you take the opportunity to walk your child to the bathroom during the flight. Not only will they need to use the restroom or be changed, it is also a chance to stretch their legs. It’s not good for anyone to sit that long! Plus, despite what we grown-ups think, airplane bathrooms are super cool to kids!


Should you Pre Board?

I don’t think everyone should try to pre board with the family boarding time.

Board early if . . . .

  • you are flying Southwest ! You need to make sure you get seats together!
  • or if you have a baby and need to snag some milk or get settled before take off
  • If you have inside seats go ahead and get on before you make someone move.

But if those don’t apply to you, consider letting kids move around and stretch their legs as long as possible before they are cooped up in a seat for hours!

Keep Them Safe

You probably know to make sure your name, address, and cell phone number is on all your luggage and carryons. But did you think about tagging your children too? Even very cautious parents know that sometimes the unexpected happens and a child wanders off. Help make an already traumatic event less stressful by having each child wear a bracelet with your cell phone or a temporary tattoo with your cell phone number so they will be able to get back with you as quickly and smoothly as possible! Teach your child who is a safe person to ask for help if they get lost – we tell our children anyone with a name badge behind a counter.

Hint: Keep babies in carriers and toddlers in strollers. Preschool and elementary age children should be trained to hold hands and stay close in the airport. Remind them gently about stranger danger and the need to stay with you. Teach them who to ask for help if they do get separated!

Carseats on Airplanes?

According to the Federal Aviation Administration the safest places for little children during turbulence in as approved restraint system, not your lap.
  • Infants – who meet the height and weight requirements for rear facing car seats are urged to purchase an extra seat and bring their own rear facing car seat.   Note: All seats must be approved for use on an airplane; check the labels on your car seat. 
  • Toddlers / Preschoolers – The most convenient is to use the CARES Restraint System which weighs less than one pound and can easily be tucked in your carry on bag. It is approved for use with children 22-44 pounds. *Note some airlines (including United prohibit the use of booster seats)
The argument is that during extreme turbulence a small child could be catapulted off a parents lap or out of the lap belt. It is also argued that parents may crush children they are holding in their lap. There have been instances, all be it few, where this has happened.
So do you really need one? You decide!
  • Cons – Up until recently they weren’t even really commonly available and children have been flying for decades. The chances of something happening are pretty slim. Bringing traditional car seats is cumber sum to carry and can be to mount. If you are taking one for children under 2 it will require you to purchase an extra seat.
  • Pros – In the few cases where children have been catapulted out of parents arms or the seat’s lapbelt it would have protected them.  Children may feel more secure, sleep easier, and be better contained.
  • International Travel – I want to help you think through that on long international flight with infants or toddlers are you really aware of your children & their safety while you are sleeping {or need to use the restroom}.


Will you need one where you are going?
If you are going to be traveling on buses, trains or shuttles {like the Disney shuttle} your children do not need to be in car seats.
If you need to rent a vehicle or take a taxi most states {including Florida} require you to follow car seat regulations. You can call the local police department’s non emergency number for more information. States with lots of tourism may offer car seats to rent or borrow {always subject to availability} where others like Illinois do not.

Airport Playgrounds

Did you know that many large airports have areas for kids to play – if you have a 3+ hours delay or layover ask the airport information if they have one. See if the airport you are visiting has a children’s play area.
Flying with Kids - Ohare airport play area

Your Vacation Starts Now!

Too many times we think the vacation part doesn’t start until we arrive at our destination. I urge you to view the trip as part of the vacation – your kids do! Talk to your kids, listen, laugh, tell jokes, and take time to enjoy this moment in time. As we all have heard before, they grow up quickly! (Here is Goofy learning to walk at the airport!)
Traveling with Children

Vacation Memories

  • Help kids earn $$ before their trip to spend on souvenirs. Let them learn about managing money by saving and then only spending what they saved.
  • Get your child an inexpensive camera and let them take their own pictures. You’ll find that will keep them very entertained on the airplane!
  • Help your kids draw or journal to remember about their trip.
  • Write a postcard form vacation and send it to your children as a souvenir, it will be fun to look back at all the family vacation you’ve taken.
  • Instead of collecting lots of knick knacks, buy a Christmas ornament from your vacation spot so you can look at it and remember your vacation when you put up your tree once a year.


Less is MoreTraveling with Children - less is more!

Finally, just wanted to remind you that when it comes to traveling with kids sometimes less is more – both carryon and luggage. Instead of taking everything but the kitchen sink, pack lightly! Remember that even if you may pay a little extra, chances are you can buy any items you forgot.  Because let’s face it, you may end up carrying it all!

Our family has always packed 2 suitcases, a stroller, 1 grown-up backpack carry (leaving one parent unencumbered), and each child that is old enough has a kid suitcase. We have fit all our diapers for 2 weeks, toiletries, clothes, and even formal clothes for cruises all in that space. It can be done!

Instead of packing tons of clothes, consider doing laundry along your trip! Then you’ll save on luggage costs and nuisance of hauling it all!

Dress for Comfort

Wear something you are comfortable wearing/sitting in. Layers are helpful as sometimes airplanes can be hot or cold – you really never can tell! Just toss a fleece in your carry-on which can serve as a blanket, pillow, or warmth!

Roll with the Punches

No matter how well planned or thought through your plan is remember things can change. Flights get delayed, kids get sick, etc. Try to roll with the punches – remember your kids are going to pick up on your attitude! Enjoy the fun things you packed for the plan, take a walk, discover the airport playground, or enjoy dinner in the food court. You’re on vacation!

We traveled a lot growing up. I loved flying – my suitcase, the airplane food, the little bathrooms, and the moving walkways. But most of it is a blur. But the two things I remember clearly to this day are my Mom loosing her cool and yelling at a gate agent about our seating {pleae remember your kids are listening} and my Dad being walking silly on a moving walkway in London – it still makes me smile to think of all these years later!

Nothing Left Behind

Inevitably something is going to get left on the plane! I remember one time we left our portable DVD player (before i pads) on the plane. Luckily we remembered and returned to the gate to get it. Just know sometimes things get lost – which is why you don’t take your favorite toys! But before you leave an area (especially the airplane) try to do a last minute check of the floor, seat pockets, and over head bin.

Got  a Tip?

If you have a tip for me I’d love to hear it!

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