Flying with kids and need a game plan? I’ve been on countless flights with my sons and I put together a list of my best tips for you! Keep reading for everything you need to know about flying with your kids.
Ahh the days of flying before I had kids. I didn’t appreciate them enough. Hours I could fill with anything I wanted. Maybe I’d catch up on the show I was binging or watch a movie. Maybe I’d nap or read a book. I could do anything!
Fast forward a few years and two kids later, flights aren’t as quiet. However, while it’s not easy, flying with kids is still manageable.
Read on for my best tips for flying with kids.
⚠️ Flying with a newborn?
Read here for my best tips to get you through your first few flights with baby.
Table of Contents
21 Expert Tips for Flying with Kids
1. Fly during nap time for babies. For toddlers and older kids, when they're in the best mood.
When my son was a baby, nap time was the perfect time to fly. He’d have a bottle during take-off, nap for a couple of hours, then another bottle at landing… easy peasy!
The older he got, the less easy peasy it got… he’d get too excited with the new environment and would take forever to nap, then wouldn’t nap as long, then would end up cranky.
So, I started booking mid-morning flights after breakfast. He’s a lot more chill in the morning and can be entertained easier. He is (for the most part) content and I don’t have to worry about him going down for a nap. You know your kid’s moods so use that to your advantage and plan around them.
2. For kids under 2, pay for their own seat or don't be shy to ask for empty rows.
The more room, the better when you’re flying with kids so if you can buy an extra seat for your kid under 2 then do it! It gives you more room to get situated plus you will have one less (or no!) strangers in the row with you.
If you get their own seat, put them in their car seat. I use this car seat backpack to carry it around the airport. I also put the baby bag in there so I only have to carry one thing.
If you can’t swing the extra seat, you still have another option. Once you get through Security, ask the desk agents about any empty rows they can move you to. If the plane isn’t full, they can move you! Every time I’ve asked they’ve always tried to help me out.
3. Know the rules on bringing a lap child
Airlines all have different rules for flying with kids.
For example, American Airlines prefers that you call to add a lap child to your ticket, or you can do it on the kiosk when you check-in. My sister flew United and said they didn’t even ask about her daughter. When we fly Southwest, I’ve been asked for my son’s birth certificate.
For now, remember to add the lap child when booking the ticket. If you have to add them later, try to do so online or call. And just in case, bring a copy of their birth certificate.
Policies are always changing, so be safe and contact the airline or read over their policies online before you get to the airport.
Major US Airlines Lap Child Policies:
4. Use a carrier for baby
My baby carrier was one of the most used items I own! It keeps your arms free and babies love them. During the newborn stage I would face the babies towards me and they would snuggle and fall asleep almost immediately.
Once they got a little older I would face them out so they can see the world; they’d be so entertained I wouldn’t hear a peep from them. In my opinion, it’s the BEST baby product when flying with kids.
If you’re looking for a great carrier, try this one made by Ergobaby.
5. Bring snacks on the plane - for kids AND parents.
Bring their favorites and bring a lot! It’s one of the best ways to keep my kids quiet (when flying, but also in general). They’ll get excited every time a new one comes out.
I usually bring snacks like goldfish, popcorn, sliced banana, string cheese, grapes, cheerios, or granola bars. Get a good breakfast in before the flight so they’re happily munching and not ravenous. Also bring a couple of sweets like lollipops for a fun treat.
And milk/water/juices are allowed through Security, but they’ll need to be removed from your bag to be screened separately.
And mom and dad—remember to eat before the flight too or bring your own snacks. A couple of times I’ve been so busy getting everything ready I forgot to eat or bring anything for myself and was starving the whole flight. Being hungry just makes everything harder!
Tip: There are water stations all over airports nowadays so bring a couple of empty water bottles to fill up once you are past Security.
6. Bring 2-3 favorite toys... but also 1-2 new ones.
Bring them out one by one. And these don’t have to necessarily be toys—books, stickers, magnets, coloring books, play-doh all work. Just make sure they’re not tiny pieces, you don’t leave a huge mess, and it doesn’t bother the people around you (like a book of farm animal sounds).
Make sure to bring any attachment items too! If they have a stuffed animal or blanket they love, bring it.
⚠️ Need travel toys?
Read over my full list of the best toys to bring on a plane with kids – it’s seperated by age too.
7. Bring a tablet
As much as I hate giving my kids screen time, desperate times call for desperate measures. To limit the screen time, I try to use it as my last resort. When we get in our seats I like to play games about the plane first—like, “what colors do you see,” or “what do you see outside the window?” Then snacks, favorite toys, new toys.
Lastly, the tablet.
Once you’re off the plane, limit it as usual. Don’t forget the charger and to charge it up the night before.
If you’re looking for a great tablet for kids, check out the Fire 7.
8. Pack extra clothes for the children.. but also for you too.
Every mom knows to bring extra clothes for the kids, but don’t forget your clothes! You never know when you’ll get spit up (or worse) on you and you don’t want to smell for the whole flight and rest of the travel day.
Throw an extra t-shirt and pants in a ziplock bag in the diaper bag. Then, if you need to change you can put the dirty clothes in there to reduce the smell.
And always bring extra socks… kids just love taking their socks off, don’t they?
9. Compartmentalize the baby bag
For everyday use, everything has a perfect place in the baby bag and it’s easy to find whatever you need. When traveling, there’s more in there and you’re sitting in a cramped space—so organize everything that goes together and put them in their own bags.
Put diapers, wipes, ointment, and an extra outfit in one bag, toys in another, meds in another, etc. that way it’s just one easy grab in there. Gallon ziplock bags or small drawstring bags will work perfect for this.
10. Download the airline's app on your phone and tablet before flying.
If your plane doesn’t have the entertainment screens for each seat, a lot of airlines have tons of entertainment on their apps now—but you have to download the app before the flight. Make sure to download on all of your devices in case one of them dies. The apps have movies, tv shows, games, music… lots of different options to keep kids entertained.
It’ll also give you flight info so you can see how much time you have left and connecting flight info if you need it. And it’ll alert you of any delays or gate changes before the flight too.
11. Gate check the stroller (if you bring it)
I know people that just check their car seat or stroller with their luggage and like to be done with it until they’re at baggage claim. If your kids are older (or behaved enough) to get through the airport walking on their own, do it!
But getting through the airport with toddlers can be difficult—make it easier by bringing a stroller.
If you know that you won’t need it at your destination, consider buying an umbrella stroller just for the airport.
But if you WILL need one, then bring your normal stroller or buy a travel stroller. Once you get to the gate, just tell the agent so they can put a tag on it and drop if off either with them, or when you get to the tarmac. It’ll be waiting for you once you get off the plane, and (best part) it travels for free!
⚠️ Looking for a travel stroller?
Read my list of the top 9 travel strollers all under 16 lbs (for all price points!)
12. Travel light on the plane
My first flight as a new mom I basically brought his whole nursey in the baby bag… and used less than half. Don’t think that you need every little thing because you’re traveling—just bring the necessities! You don’t want to be weighed down with a huge bag or multiple bags when flying with kids.
My top 10 traveling necessities are:
- diapers and wipes
- extra outfit
- small blanket
- a few ziplock bags
- small medicine bag
- my wallet and cell phone, so I didn’t have to bring a separate bag for myself.
Also, if you’re using something constantly during a certain period (like teethers or certain medications), throw it in there.
13. Prepare as much as you can beforehand
Save time at the airport by checking-in to your flight the day before, select your seats and pay for baggage if you can, print your boarding pass or get it emailed to you. Put your bottles in a separate pocket or a bag to easily take out.
Anything you can do before you get to the airport, do it!
Extra tip: if you can, sign up for TSA pre-check (or Clear). It is so much quicker than regular security and you don’t have to take your shoes and extra clothes off. This has saved me SO much time.
14. Get on the plane last if you have assigned seats
If you have assigned seats and don’t need to fight for the overhead storage space, don’t rush onto the plane. It’s just more time that you’ll be cramped on the plane.
Take a walk around the terminal, go up and down the escalator, or look out the window at the planes… anything to get energy out!
For non-assigned seats, ask the gate agent about family boarding.
15. Drinks or snacks during takeoff and landing for ears
This is a classic for flying with kids. Kid ears are sensitive and the change in pressure will make their ears hurt during takeoff and landing. Have them drink liquid, chew snacks, or use a paci to help with that.
16. Prep the kids for the flight
For the toddlers and older kids, let them know what’s going on a week or so before. Tell them they’re going on an airplane, what to expect, where the family is flying to, and who and what they’ll see when they get there.
Get them involved with the packing– let them pack their own backpack for the plane. Show them pictures of airplanes or read books about traveling. Get them in the mindset so they’re not completely thrown off guard once the day comes. And once they get used to traveling, they’ll get so excited about their next trip!
17. Ask other parents about flying
Pretty much every parent has traveled with kids, so ask around! Everyone has their own tips and tricks.
I was talking to my co-worker about traveling and she said she had a traveling car seat backpack in for the airport—then she brought it in the next day so I could borrow it! Another co-worker gave me extra window stickers she had. You never know how someone else will be able to help.
18. Be flexible!
When I was planning my wedding, everyone told me “try not to stress out about everything because something WILL go wrong on your wedding day.” Sure enough, as much as I planned there were things that went wrong.
Think like that when you’re traveling with kids. Expect for something to go wrong and just go with it. Do what you can to get through the flight with your children and remember that you will eventually land and it’ll be over!
FAQs: Flying with Kids
What documents does a child need to fly within the US?
Does my child have to be in a car seat on a plane?
It’s not required for a child to be in a car seat. However, it’s recommended by airlines for safety (in cases of turbulence or falling off the seat).
I recommend putting baby in a car seat. Having them restrained makes it easier for you and more comfortable for them!
Wrapping Up: Flying with Kids
Now that you have this information, I hope that you’re a little less scared about flying with kids.
With some preparation and proper packing, you’ll be ready for a smooth flight!