Air Travel With Kids

Does flying with your kids make you wonder why you ever left home?

As a child, air travel was an exciting experience where we got to fly through the clouds, be served soda and peanuts, and sometimes even get to meet the pilot! Well, times have certainly changed, and while children may still feel in awe of sky travel, for their parents there are many obstacles to overcome before having a pleasant flight. Here are some common problems parents encounter while flying with their kids, and some ideas to help you have a smooth flight.

Problem: Seat Assignments

It seems that air travel has become more unpredictable, and therefore airlines don't assign planes for flights, and therefore also don't offer seat assignments until they are within 24 hours of the flight.


  • If you wait to check in for your flight at the airport counter, you will find that it is very difficult to find seats located together for your family. If this happens, your only option is to ask fellow passengers to rearrange their seats to accommodate your family, which can set a bad tone for the flight with your kids. Having a few $5 Starbucks cards on hand in case of emergency, might come in handy as a 'thank you.'
  • If possible, check in for your flight online within the 24 hour period, and pick your seat assignments at that time. The closer to the beginning of that window, the better seat options you will have.
  • For airlines, like Southwest, that do not assign seats, but boarding order during check in, it is also vital to check in online during the 24 hours before, specifically, 23 hours and 59 minutes! If you have children under age four, you will be allowed to board the plane early, regardless of your assigned number.

Problem: Security Hoopla

If you are a seasoned traveler with your children, you know that one of the best things to happen recently regarding air travel is that children under age 12 no longer have to take their shoes off to go through security. Hallelujah! Here are a few more things that will ease the process for your family:

  • In the security line, all loose items must be packed away in your child's backpack, including any jacket or sweater he might be wearing.
  • For the younger lot, explain that the X-ray machine will not hurt their beloved lovey or blanket, and they will get it right back.
  • If traveling with two adults, have one adult go through the metal detector first, send the kids through, then the other adult after everyone else. This keeps the kids from having to stand waiting for you alone, or wandering off.
  • Pack sealed snacks, portioned powdered formula, but empty sippy cups and bottles. You can fill sippys or purchase water bottles  by your gate.

Problem: Restless Children

Traveling with a child under two on your lap? It may be cheaper, but it's NOT easy. With  space between seats constantly shrinking, holding a small child on your lap for any duration of flight will be problematic.

  • In the day and age of iPad, smart phones, and mini portable DVD players, this may be the ideal time to put one to use. Download a few of their favorite shows, add some cheap kiddie earphones, and a calm will come over your child, and the passenger in front of you.
  • Bring some new or favorite books to read to your child.
  • Cuddle them with their favorite blanket and lovey, and the white noise of the aircraft might just lull them to sleep!
  • And just in case things go bad, fellow moms have suggested introducing yourself and kid to the passenger in front of you, letting them know you'll be doing your best to control the situation, but that an in-flight drink courtesy of you, or a $5 Starbucks gift card you just happen to have on hand might ease any in flight discomfort.

Problem: Ear Pressure 

  • If my kid has a cold, runny nose, or even a chance of an ear infection, I would consider taking her to the doctor to deal with it before getting on a plane. The ear pain will certainly be exacerbated by  the ear pressure during a flight. Depending on your child's age, you might also ask your pediatrician about using a dose of Benedryl to dry up any fluid that might be lingering in sinuses or ear canals.
  • For infants, bottle or breast feeding during take off and landing will make them suck and swallow, relieving the ear pressure they might feel.
  • For toddlers, a special treat of a small lollipop or Ring Pop will be a popular distraction, as well as cause them to do some extra swallowing, which should also help with their ear pressure.
  • For kids, bring the gum! I've found that to really get them to chew hard enough to relieve ear pressure, they need a big wad of gum, so offer two pieces or a big piece, like Hubba Bubba.
  • You can also have a yawning contest with the kids. If you fake yawn enough, it will catch on and become real yawns, becoming a silly game that will distract them, and help their ears at the same time.

Preparing yourself and your kids for their air travel experience should help you navigate all the air travel turbulence, and send you on your way for a smooth flight and fabulous trip!

Marvin J. Felix May 30, 2012 at 08:01 PM
I have traveled quite a bit with my two kids (currently 3.5 and almost 2) and have learned quite a bit on how to travel with tiny tots. We are going on another trip in July and I like the idea about the lollipop. Thanks for that idea!
Keri Goodfriend May 30, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Kudos to you Marvin on being so brave to travel so often with two little ones! It only take one trip on a plane with kids to learn what NOT to do!
Rachel Leon (Editor) May 31, 2012 at 11:50 AM
Good luck on your upcoming trip, Marvin!
Karen Moore May 31, 2012 at 11:53 AM
After watching many families fly during my years as a flight attendant, I'd like to add a few more tips. Always carry on a change of clothes for your children as well as any medications you need. Think what you would need if there were a 12 hour delay in your flight, let's hope it doesn't happen but I've lived through that, and have those items in a carry on bag. If you have a child in diapers always carry many extras as well as a plastic bags to store the used ones! A deck of cards goes a long way with elementary school age children if you teach them how to play some simple card games. I love that there are now electronics to have so that children have their favorite movies (don't forget the extra batteries!), but be prepared with other ways to entertain them. Coloring books and crayons are a must, or a new notebook they can make a travel journal out of. They can use it to draw pictures and write about their experiences on the trip. Always pack snacks as the airlines now never seem to have food and the airports are expensive. Flight Attendants can always give you hot water and packaged noodle soups, oatmeal, etc. can be a help when there's nothing for your child to eat. Good luck!
Rachel Leon (Editor) May 31, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Thank you for these great tips, Karen! Which airlines did you work with?


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »