Flying with kids is something most parents dread! There is something so daunting about being up in the sky with no chance for a time out or break from whatever behaviour our children decide to throw at us. For many parents, it’s the very thought of flying with babies or children that can be a dealbreaker for a lot of travel destinations.
When you ask parents the hardest thing about travelling with children, many will say the long haul flights are right up there. Sometimes you get lucky. Other times you’ve got 12 hours of hell on your way across the world! It might not even be your own kids causing the disruptions either.
We have flown long haul with our kids from when they were babies right through to school age. Over those many trips, we have learned a few tips for flying with kids to help keep your sanity intact when you are airborne.
Plus we share our best family airlines reviews so you know which airlines are best for your next family holiday!
OUR TOP TIPS FOR FLYING WITH KIDS
Be prepared when flying long haul or short haul with children. So long as you plan ahead and have a few tricks up your sleeve for the flights, your time onboard is going to be a whole lot easier than those parents who didn’t come prepared and who just hoped for the best!
As a couple, we like to travel really light. We pack minimal extras and usually share a single carry on between the two of us. Since becoming parents and taking our two little explorers on worldwide adventures, one of the things we noticed first is that suddenly you aren’t packing so light with your cabin baggage!
It becomes like the Swiss Army Knife of carry-ons when you have kids in tow. You don’t want to forget any of the essentials that may have made your life much easier, and while I’m far from an everything plus the kitchen sink sort of traveller, we do overcompensate a little bit when travelling with kids.
Choosing Your Flights For Family Travel
Now let’s start right at the beginning when you first start planning your trip. If you have any flexibility, the timing of your flights can play an important role in helping your children have a comfortable flying experience.
If you are flying domestically and your flight is no more than a couple of hours long, this does not make too much difference. Ideally aim to arrive a couple of hours before bedtime so you aren’t dealing with overtired children while attempting to collect baggage and organise transportation to your accommodation.
This is the worst! We recently had our domestic flights to Mackay pushed back a couple of hours so we did not arrive until after 10pm, then had delays getting our rental car and by this point both kids were beyond exhausted and practically dead on their feet. Challenging when you also have bags to lug. No fun!
With international flights, timing them so you board a couple of hours before bedtime can be perfect. Your kids will have a better chance of getting some sleep on the plane if it is around their standard bedtime. If the bulk of your long haul flights occur over your usual sleep hours, you may get lucky and have your kids sleep a large portion of the flight. Winning!
Be mindful of arrival times too though. The optimal time to arrive in a new time zone that is drastically different to yours back home is in the afternoon, while it is still daylight, but winding the day down. This gives you time to get a little sunlight at the other end, have dinner and showers then work on getting some sleep so you can adjust as quickly as possible to the new zone.
There is nothing worse than arriving at 5am, when it’s your 10pm at home and having to force yourselves to stay awake until you can check into your accommodation. This was our terrible luck with our Los Angeles trip last year and we ended up going to the movies to kill time and 3 out of 4 of us fell asleep. Okay… maybe I nodded off for a bit too…
Preparing Your Children For Flying
Flying can be a scary experience for some children, especially if they are unfamiliar with the environment and processes. Before you fly with your children, build some expectations with them by talking with them regularly about your upcoming travel and how you will be flying.
Your goal is to build excitement for them but also give them a chance to express any concerns they may be prior to flying. This is much easier to start tackling a couple of weeks or days before than it is when you’re due to board and your child has a complete panic and refuses to get on the plane. Eek!
Depending on the age of your child, you may want to show them books or kids TV shows that feature airplanes and travel. Or if they have any friends their own age who have flown, it can be a great thing to initiate a conversation between them so they know someone little like them has had a positive experience.
On the day of your departing flight, talk your child through each of the processes and steps, from waiting through to boarding, take off and landing. This helps their confidence so they can know what to expect.
Chances are they will still be a little frightened, but so long as you are focused on being reassuring and understanding. You must stay calm yourself too. This will help their experience to be positive.
What to Pack In Your Cabin Baggage When Travelling With Kids
What you take on board can have a huge impact on your child’s behaviour and experience during the flight. This is where the being prepared part really comes in and one of the areas I take most care with when packing. These days we don’t really bother with packing lists, but if you aren’t a frequent traveller, this is something you may want to consider!
Think about how your child typically behaves when they are in an unfamiliar environment and how they manage with sitting still and boredom. These are the types of things that are going to be in full force for your child when they are flying.
While a little movement is allowed to stretch their legs or use the restroom during a long haul flight, most of the time will be spent seated. This is a challenge for most kids! Especially younger children and toddlers!
Our first long haul flight was with a one year old, and lucky for us she was still small enough to fit inside a baby bassinet onboard. This meant she had a bit of her own space and we had extra leg room in the bulkhead seats.
Other flights with our youngest at the same age or younger were not so comfortable There were times we felt we could have been more prepared.
Here is what to pack when flying with kids:
Most flights over a few hours long will have an onboard entertainment system that will certainly help keep toddlers and children entertained for part of their trip. Most airline entertainment systems have a dedicated children’s section with kid-friendly movies, television shows, music and games.
One tip is if you have smaller children, bring a kids headset from home to use with the onboard entertainment system as most airplane headsets are too big for kids and won’t stay in place.
There’s only so much screen time the kids will want, so be sure to bring some other entertainment for them too. We always pack our girls a travel activity pack before we travel. We include some new little toys and surprises, some snacks and activities that they can easily do onboard without making a mess. Mini colouring books and crayons, small puzzles, magnetic toys. Aim for toys with few parts so you don’t end up with a mess all over the place!
There is usually plenty of food provided during flights. Airlines typically offer a children’s meal and sometimes a post weaning meal option, depending on the age of the child. However kids like to snack when they are bored and when they are sitting for hours, they are going to want familiar snacks to bring some extra comfort.
Pack some of your child’s favourite snacks in your carry on luggage just so you are covered in case of those moments. It can also be a good back up if they decide they hate the kid’s meal on offer too. It happens…
Accidents happen. Whether it’s the toilet-related incidents, a spontaneous vomit or juice spilled all down the front of their shirt, kids are experts in making a mess. Never forget the spare clothing in your carry on bag!
We always pack at least one complete spare outfit for our kids in our carry on luggage and often a clean shirt for each of us too. Trust me, that became a rule after being the victim of toddler spew on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Punta Cana. Ewwww!
Always make sure you have warm clothes too. Sometimes the onboard blankets are not quite enough so a jacket and long pants are always a good option to have.
What to Pack in Your Cabin Bag When Travelling With a Baby
Much like travelling with kids, babies need some extra onboard necessities to ensure a smooth trip for you all. There are of course the infant essentials for flying – nappies, wipes, spare clothing… a few sets, and any food or milk related items.
If you are breastfeeding, which is definitely a huge bonus when you are flying, don’t forget to bring a cover if you usually use one, for your own comfort. It can also help babies settle a little better without the bright cabin lights shining on them.
For formula feeding, make sure you don’t forget any of the items you need. The flight attendants can assist you with preparing bottles by providing hot water or similar.
Any of your babies other comfort items are also a must – pacifier, teething rings, baby food, and any medication they may require.
While it is best to be prepared with your own supplies, it is good to know that most airlines do carry spare nappies, wipes and baby essentials just in case you do run short on board.
Keeping Kids Comfortable While Flying
Most of us know how uncomfortable it can get when flying. Especially with long haul flights. As technology advances, the distances of the long haul flights are getting longer, which means more time in the air and in those squashy seats! Unless you are lucky enough to be flying first class, chances are you are going to be pretty darn restless.
Now imagine doing the same as a kid. They may have more space to stretch their legs and move about, but they aren’t skilled in sitting still for long periods.
You can help your kids stay comfortable while flying by ensuring they are wearing loose fitting, comfortable clothing that keeps them warm enough during the flight.
If your arm rests are adjustable all the way up, this can help as it means smaller kids can lay across you to get better sleep during long flights. Not great for you, but less cranky kids has to be worth the discomfort of being a human pillow.
Quick Tips For Onboard Comfort
- Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing
- Ensure they are warm enough
- Make sure they don’t get too hot
- Stay calm, patient and understanding
- Have a special toy or comfort item from home
- Stay hydrated
On Board Seating For Children
Depending on their ages, there are a few different options for seating for younger children. For your children over 2, you are required to purchase a seat for them on the plane and this is usually 75% of the adult fare. They do not require any extra seat restraints, although you do have the option of bringing your own toddler booster seat for plane travel for younger children.
Before the age of two, you have the choice of having them sit on your lap, utilising an onboard bassinet if they are under a certain age and weight, or using a booster or car seat on a seat you purchase for them. So how do you choose the best option?
Infant on Lap
Long haul flights with a child on your lap can be an extra discomfort you would rather avoid, however it is, of course, the most budget friendly option. You will usually be given a speciality infant seat belt with threads through your own and must be fastened around your infant’s waist whilst in the air.
Flying with a partner or other family members mean you can take turns holding the infant to give yourselves a break during the flight. This is also helpful during meal times when there isn’t much room for infant and meal tray. Definitely something to consider when flying solo as there is no where for you to put your infant if you are carrying them on your lap.
Plane Bassinet Seat
These are pretty much genius! Most international airlines have in flight bassinets seats fitted in bulkhead seats. They clip to the wall and fold down into a hanging bassinet in front of you. They usually have a strap across the top for safety, however you will need to take your infant out during turbulence and of course during take off and landing when the infant bassinet is usually packed away.
On board bassinets are limited in quantity. If you want to ensure you have access to one when you fly, it helps to book this at the time of booking your flights.
The weight limited on the bassinets differ with each airline, however usually around 10-12kgs, which suits most babies up until the age of 1, if not longer. We found both our girls were still small enough when they were a few months past the age of one, so we enjoyed the option as long as we could!
The other bonus is you get hands free time and extra legroom as the bulkhead seats always offer extra leg room. This always made hubby happy since he has much longer legs than me, being over 6 foot tall!
Airplane Car Seat
You can take most car travel safety seats and booster seats on board for use on the airplane. To use a car seat for an infant under the age of 2, you will be required to book them a seat. Children under the age of 2 do not require a seat booking. This becomes an optional expense. Children over the age of 2 require their own seat. You have the option of taking a travel booster seat for airplane travel on board.
To find the best car seat for airplane travel, check the website for the airline you are planning to fly to confirm on board specifications. This will usually help you to determine that your seat will fit and be appropriate for on board.
Inflatable Airplane Toddler Bed
If you are flying long haul with toddlers and young children, you may want to consider an inflatable aeroplane footrest, which essentially fills the gap between the seat and the seat in front. This allows your toddler or child to stretch out and sleep horizontally on the plane.
Inflatable travel footrest are not approved for all airlines. Do your research before you travel to make sure you choose the best inflatable travel footrest. You need to ensure the plane bed for kids is allowed on board with the airline. The best way to do this is to call their customer service before you fly.
We have travelled with a Plane Pal before and while the concept is great, we found it to be unnecessary excess carry on luggage overall, as we like to pack extremely light. Although at the time our kids were quite young and did not need a lot of room to get comfortable.
For older kids, this is worth looking into further, as it may be the key to getting them a restful night sleep or even helping you keep your legs elevated during flight. This can be helpful if travelling with a baby and not having access to a onboard bassinet.
THE BEST AIRLINES FOR FAMILY TRAVEL
There are a huge number of airlines travelling to every destination, so finding the best family friendly airlines can be tricky! Once you become a parent, it becomes much more than just getting the cheapest flight or the best deal. You want to know you’re going to have great on board comfort while still being in your budget!
Airline Awards & Recognition
Each year there are a number of awards and recognition given for airlines globally. These awards are of course a great starting point when determining a quality airline to travel with your family.
The SKYTRAX World Airline Awards are a prestigious set of awards determined by a global passenger satisfaction survey. This keeps voting free of bias based on entry fees or the like, as it is free to be nominated or attend the awards ceremonies. Check out the latest SKYTRAX winners and categories annually. The World’s Best Airline in 2018 is Singapore Airlines.
Airline Ratings provides an alternative airline recognition, with awards based on a strict criteria in relation to comfort, innovation, safety and value across the different passenger classes. View the latest Airline Ratings winners and reviews on their website. Air New Zealand took the top spot in 2017 and 2018.
Family Friendly Airline Reviews
While this list is by no means exhaustive, we have been putting together our family airline reviews based on our personal experiences over the past few years, flying different airlines around the world during our travels.
We will be continually adding to this list as we complete new reviews and experience different airlines in our future travels too so we hope this becomes a growing airline review resource library for you for your future travels.
And of course, we will keep updating the individual reviews with our experiences too as some of these airlines we do travel with often.
Our Airline Reviews
Airline Reviews From Others
Soon we will be adding more airline reviews from other family travel bloggers in the near future so pop back soon to see the latest reviews and experiences.
- Basic Economy comparison – American, Delta & United Airlines
- Emirates vs Etihad Comparison
- Thai Airways business class review
- Vietnam Airlines economy review
- VietJet Airlines economy review
Hopefully our summary of the best airlines with kids and our top travel tips for flying with babies, toddlers and children help you to simplify your next long haul, or short haul flight experience. We know how the unpredictable can happen when travelling with kids. These tips will help you choose the best airline for flying with kids and to minimise the onboard stresses!
Now you can book your flights with confidence, knowing your next long haul flight with kids will go a lot smoother!
Do you have a favourite airline for family travel? Let us know in the comments and if you want your airline review featured, we are happy to include it in our round up too!
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