The Do's & Don'ts of Air Travel with Kids

Germany Flight 2013

Germany Flight 2013

Our trip to Nashville in July was our 6th airplane trip with kids, so although we’re not technically kid-travel experts, I think we’re pretty darn close. We’ve traveled with one, two and three children; infants, toddlers, kids. We’ve done domestic and we’ve done international (twice). Suffice it to say, we’ve picked up a few tips that have helped us along the way.

Our first trip was to Michigan to visit my family, when Isaac was 6 months old. In our experience, travel with a young infant is the easiest, because mostly they just sleep on the plane, with an occasional nursing or bottle session (try to make it so you’re nursing or giving a bottle during takeoff and landing if you can, helps their little ears with the pressure changes). 

Our next flight was with 2 under 2, and it was a biggie: international flight to Stuttgart, Germany to visit my parents who used to live there. I did alllll the research before that trip; we had a 22 month old and a 5 month old. Originally we were going to do the trip with two lap infants, because Isaac was still under two at the time. My parents stepped in and were like, nope, you need a seat for Isaac or you’ll literally lose your minds on the flight, so they bought him his own seat and he rode in his carseat. I wore Kaiya in a mobi wrap and it actually worked out perfectly. We flew into Atlanta first, and then had a dinner-nighttime flight to Stuttgart, so after dinner we got the kids in their pjs and did a mini version of our bedtime routine, and they slept the entire rest of the way. It was awesome. Aaron and I didn’t really sleep at all, but at least they did. They give you so much food on international flights, it’s so awesome. Also free beer and wine, which is also awesome, except I was nursing Kaiya so I didn’t get to partake in free wine that time. Anyway…

International planes are so much bigger! Germany 2013

International planes are so much bigger! Germany 2013

Next came California a few months later for a work training for Aaron; Kaiya was 10 months and mobile, and Isaac was 2. Pretty easy, short flight. 

About a year and a half later we flew back to Michigan for my brother’s wedding; Isaac was 3.5, Kaiya was 2. We also had a mini road trip with that one, we flew into Chicago because it was a lot cheaper, and rented a car and drove 6 hours to the town the wedding was in. We don’t recommend doing that; pay the extra amount and fly into the nearest big airport. The kids did really well on the drive, but it just felt like forever, especially after an already busy morning of airports and rental car places. Also don’t ever fly Spirit with kids (or even without kids, let’s be real); we had an awful delayed flight experience on the flight back to Denver. That’s a story for another day, though. 

Trip number 5 was back to Stuttgart, this time with 3 kids 5 and under. Isaac was 5.5, Kaiya had just turned 4, and Gracie was 11 months old. This time all three kids had their own seat, thanks entirely to my gracious parents. This time around I was able to enjoy a glass of wine (heads up, wait to get your glass of wine until the dinner service, because that one glass of wine I had on a hungry tummy made me a bit dizzy up in the sky!), and the free individual entertainment for the kids is awesome. It was another dinner/night flight, so the kids ending up sleeping for most of it again. It went well until we landed and Kaiya started throwing up every 10-15 minutes while waiting to go through customs. That was fun. Thankfully her little bug only lasted about a day or so, but it was pretty stressful in the airport with that going on.

Trip number 6, as I mentioned at the start, was on July 4th to Nashville/Clarksville, to visit my parents who moved there last fall. Isaac was 6, Kaiya had just turned 5, and Gracie was a few weeks from turning 2. The flight went well, the bigger kids did really well, Gracie was a little harder because she just wanted to get down and run around and play (and also she’s our wild one, fiercely independent and determined). She did take a 45 minute nap or so. All in all though, it was a fairly easy flight, but it was a super early morning flight too, our flight left at 6 am, so we were at the airport around 4 am. I wouldn’t really recommend leaving so early in the morning if you have a later night coming. We traveled on the 4th, so the kids were up super early in the morning, and then stayed up super late at night for the fireworks.

So, here are our top tips from what we’ve learned so far…

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The Do’s & Don’ts of Air Travel with Kids

DO: Bring tons and tons and tons of snacks. Bring way more snacks for each child than you think they could ever eat in a day. Bring applesauce-type pouches, bunny grahams, granola bars, whatever nonperishable snacks your kids love. Also bring candy or some kind of special treat they don’t normally eat. Which leads me to…

DON’T: Be afraid to bribe your kids with candy. As a mom I try not to bribe my kids as much as I can help it (but seriously, let whoever has not bribed their child ever throw the first stone 😉), but when you’re on an airplane I think it’s super important to be considerate of other people and try to keep any potential tantrums to a minimal. Candy/treats can be a great motivator and distractor for kids. Also adults. ;)

DO: Let your kids get away with more than they typically would. An airplane isn’t the place to work on putting your foot down. Obviously if it’s dangerous, rude (i.e. kicking the seat in front of them repeatedly), etc, do what you need to do. But smaller infractions should go to the wayside for the time being, because again, it’s important to take the other passengers into consideration. 

DON’T: Expect to have a nice, relaxing flight. You have little kids now, so those days are long gone, and won’t be back until your youngest is 8, maybe. It took me the entire 8.5/9 hour flight back from Germany last summer to make it through one movie (live action Beauty and the Beast — it’s awesome btw). That’s not to say it’ll be miserable, but you’ll be working the whole time to entertain, diffuse potential tantrums, picking up the dropped toys a million times, potty trips, etc. 

DO: Bring lots of activities and things for your kids to do. Definitely bring something for them to watch their favorite movies/shows on and to play games on, bring some coloring books (highly recommend Crayola Color Wonder stuff! No mess = happy mama and flight attendants!), bring some favorite toys and a couple of little new ones they’ve never seen (the Dollar Store is a good place for this, because if they get lost no harm no foul). Boredom is the catalyst for misbehavior, so if you can prevent boredom you can prevent things like kicking the seats, messing with their siblings, etc. 

DON’T: Bother with using Benadryl for long haul flights if you’re hoping to help them fall asleep. It’s unreliable and can cause the opposite effect in some kids. We used melatonin for our two oldest when we went to Germany last summer, and it helped tremendously because they were old enough that they needed a little help to fall asleep in a strange place. I much prefer natural remedies anyway, so I felt way better about using that then Benadryl. We like these two brands: Zarbee’s and Kirkman(?); our kids only needed 1/2 mg (so half of a tablet), but check with your pediatrician on the correct dose and to make sure that it’s a good choice for your little one. Melatonin also helped them get turned around quicker with jet lag. 

DO: Bring children’s Motrin and/or Tylenol. If your little one is experiencing ear pain you’ll be so glad you came prepared. I had chronic ear infections as a toddler, and I can distinctly remember the awful ear pain that I would sometimes have on our flights. Better to bring it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.

The best compliment a parent can get while traveling, at least for me, is to have people at the end of a flight tell you “Wow! Your kids did amazing!” Any parent that has traveled with young kids has felt the looks of fellow passengers at the gate, burning into them with a look mixed with judgment and fear of a long, loud flight. I’ve flown tons of times throughout my life however, and have yet to experience a truly miserable flight with screaming kids. But, crying does happen sometimes, and I implore other passengers to be compassionate to both the kids and the parents. It is hard work traveling with kids, super rewarding and so worth it, but it’s hard and doesn’t always go as planned. Be kind, be understanding, and offer that parent a smile, a comforting word, and some grace. 

Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for your own family adventure. Traveling with kids can add a little extra stress sometimes, but it is so, so worth the amazing memories you’ll make. Share your kid travel tips with us in the comments!