How to Travel by Plane with Children

Traveling with children is no easy feat, especially on a long trip. If you're traveling by plane with kids, you want to pack smart, come prepared, and keep them entertained. Not every moment will be smiles and sunshine, but you can make it through with some careful preparation to keep everyone happy and healthy.


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    Pack smart. Avoid the stress of last-minute packing! As soon as you book your flights, start making a list of what you need, at least mentally. Make a list and divide it into categories: What you'll need and what each child will need (within reason—don't forget, they have stores where you're going!).
    • Some first-line items include: bandages, children's pain reliever, wipes, a sippy cup, lollipops, chewing gum, change of clothes, and extra Ziploc bags for wet clothes and nausea. Hide away a few in-flight surprises (deck of cards, stickers, coloring books, new crayons).
    • You'll be doing a lot of lugging, so remember: less is more. You will need free hands, so consider backpacks for your carry-on bags. Older tots can "help" pack their carry-ons. Make sure each child can carry his or her own pack (or else it will end up on your back!).
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    Dress for comfort. Forget your Sunday best. Put yourself and your family in layered, washable, elastic-waisted, slip-on outfits.
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    Take some safety precautions. Plan to dress your children in bright-colored, easy-to-spot clothing. Tuck a card with name/address/cell phone info in their pockets in case they get separated from you. Take a Polaroid the day of your flight or have a very recent picture of them with you. If your toddler is a real wanderer, especially if he is not verbal, insist that he remains strapped into his stroller until you board. Think about investing in child harnesses.
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    Enjoy the airport. Arrive at the airport with lots of time. While you "hurry up and wait" before boarding, walk around the airport with your child. Watch planes, shop, people-watch. Walk up and down the stairs, jump in place, do some yoga poses or dance moves. Burn off that extra energy (and calm any preflight nerves) before you are cooped up on board.
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    Get a bathroom break whenever you can, especially before boarding. Airplane bathrooms are tiny. Before boarding, head for an airport bathroom. Change all diapers and disposable underwear. Put toddlers (and yourself while you're in there) on the potty, just in case. Put disposable training pants on potty-trainers just in case. Don't forget a change of clothes and an extra plastic bag.
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    Bring snacks. Many flights no longer provide meals, especially foods that will appeal to your child. Bring plenty of portable, non-messy, nut-free snacks on board such as small crackers, juice boxes, cheese sticks, and grapes. Keep yourself and your children hydrated with bottled water.
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    Soothe the savage beast: Whatever soothes your child, such as a pacifier or stick of chewing gum, is a must-have. During takeoff and landing, offer a stick of sugar-free gum, lollipop, or pacifier for sore ears. This is a good time to nurse or bottlefeed babies.
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    Provide tons of opportunities for playtime. These days, iPads and iPhones are one sure-fire way to keep kids entertained with games and videos; you may not like resorting to electronics, but on a long flight, they can be a lifesaver. Just make sure your devices are fully charged and you bring chargers with you, if there are any on-board plugs. Coloring books, stickers, quiet games (Legos, puzzles), and books are all great distractions, too. Pack small "toy kits" for each child in Ziploc bags so the pieces all stay together.
    • Throughout the flight, hold some back as surprises. Don't reveal all your cards at once, or the kids will burn through the entertainment really fast. Hold back some really enjoyable toys, books, or activities for later in the flight, when they're tired and bored.
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    Use the on-flight entertainment. Many longer flights now include movies, TV shows, or even games on board through seat-back devices. Let your kid watch and enjoy! Make sure you come prepared with some headphones that fit comfortably, and let them enjoy the novelty of shows and games they don't have access to at home.
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    Encourage sleep. Jet lag is a big part of travel, and your kids are going to be tired, no matter what, after the flight. Don't worry too much about whether they're sleeping during the "day" for your destination's timezone; if they're tired on board the plane, let them sleep. You can even encourage it by putting on pajamas or other comfy clothes, bringing along a favorite pillow or blanket, getting snuggled up, and playing them some soothing music; some people have even been known to use a low-dose allergy medication to help the snooze fest along. On a very long flight, you probably won't regret any moment of peace you can get!

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Categories: Air Travel