This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure
You’re taking the plunge and flying with your kids! This is a huge milestone for any parent. But before you board that plane, there are a few things you should know to make the experience as smooth as possible. Here are our top tips for flying with kids and bonus tips for flying with a toddler or baby.
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.
- QUICK TIPS FOR FLYING WITH KIDS
- Choosing Flights For Family Travel
- Preparing Your Children For Flying
- What to Pack In Your Cabin Baggage When Travelling With Kids Or Toddlers
- What to Pack in Your Cabin Bag When Travelling With a Baby
- Keeping Kids Comfortable While Flying
- On Board Seating For Children
- Take-Off & Landing Tips For Flying With A Baby Or Toddler
- THE BEST AIRLINES FOR FAMILY TRAVEL
- Airline Awards & Recognition
- Family Friendly Airline Reviews
When you ask parents the hardest thing about travelling with children, many will say the long-haul flights are top of that list!
Sometimes you get lucky.
Sometimes you get 12 hours of torture 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 and hacks for flying with kids to help keep your sanity intact when you are airborne.
Plus we share our best family airlines reviews at the bottom so you know which airlines are best for your next family holiday!
QUICK TIPS FOR FLYING WITH KIDS
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of flying with children from infants through to tweens, these quick tips are a great starting point to help you be prepared when flying long haul or short haul with children.
- Make sure you have all the necessary documents. This includes passports (if you’re flying internationally), birth certificates, and any other required identification.
- Check the airline’s baggage policy before you go. Each airline has different rules, so you’ll want to be prepared.
- Get to the airport early. This will give you plenty of time to check-in, get through security, and find your gate. Plus, it will help reduce stress levels for everyone involved.
- Pack snacks and drinks for the plane and airport. This will help keep your little ones happy (and quiet) during the flight.
- Bring along some entertainment. Books, toys, and portable electronic devices can help keep your kids occupied during the flight.
- Be prepared for anything. Things don’t always go as planned when travelling with kids. So be flexible and go with the flow.
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 bag 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 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 have such an impact, although avoiding late-night flights will make your arrival easier.
When flying international with kids, aim to arrive a couple of hours before the local bedtime. This gives you all time to collect baggage, get to your accommodation, find dinner and settle in for an early night.
It will help you adjust to the timezone quicker and minimise the impact of jet lag.
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.
With international flights, timing them so you board a couple of hours before bedtime can be a great option too, especially with toddlers or younger school-aged children.
Your kids will have a better chance of getting some sleep on the plane if it is close to their usual bedtime.
If the bulk of your long-haul flight occurs over your usual sleep hours, you may get lucky and have your kids sleep a large portion of the flight. Winning!
Related Reading: Simple Says to Save Money on Flights
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 the flight part of your trip.
Your goal is to build excitement for them but also give them a chance to express any worries they may be prior to flying.
This is much easier to start this discussion a couple of weeks before your family vacation than it is when you’re due to board and your child has a meltdown and refuses to get on the plane!
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 build their confidence when they 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 they will feel more at ease.
Aim to stay calm yourself too. This will help their experience to be positive.
Related Reading: Best Family Friendly Airports Around the World
What to Pack In Your Cabin Baggage When Travelling With Kids Or Toddlers
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.
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 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 legroom 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 kid’s headset from home to use with the onboard entertainment system as most aeroplane headsets are too big for kids and won’t stay in place.
There’s only so much screen time they can have before they get restless, so bring some other entertainment for them too. There are plenty of compact travel activities and toys that are perfect for plane travel.
We always pack our girls a travel activity pack before we travel. This has been a great option since they were toddlers.
We include some new little toys and surprises, some snacks and activities that they can easily do on board 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!
Related Reading: How To Create Your Own Travel Activity Kits For Kids
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, so they will want familiar snacks to bring extra comfort.
Pack some of your child’s favourite snacks in your carry-on bag just so you are covered in case of those moments.
It can also be a good backup if they decide they hate the kid’s meal on offer too. It happens…
Accidents happen. Whether it’s toilet-related incidents, spontaneous vomit or juice spilled 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 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, warm socks 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 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 nursing cover for privacy.
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 baby’s 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.
Rule of thumb, bring double what you would need for the time spent in transit, i.e. if 24-hours of travel, bring 48 hours of formula, nappies and snacks. This will prevent running short if there are delays!
Read next: Hacks to Get You The Cheapest Flights Every Time
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 long 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 restless and uncomfortable.
Now imagine the same as a kid, but with a shorter patience span. 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 armrests 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.
This isn’t great for you, but less cranky kids is often 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 be given a special infant seat belt that hooks through your own and must be fastened around your infant’s waist whilst in the air.
Flying with a partner or other family members means 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 the infant and a meal tray.
This is definitely something to consider when flying solo as there is nowhere for you to put your infant if you are carrying them on your lap.
Plane Bassinet Seat
Most international airlines have in-flight bassinet 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 limits 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 the hands-free time and extra legroom as the bulkhead seats always offer extra legroom.
This always made hubby happy since he has much longer legs than me, being over 6 feet 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 seats. 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 onboard specifications. This will usually help you to determine that your seat will fit and be appropriate for on board.
It helps to weigh up the pros and cons of travelling with car seats before you leave.
Inflatable Airplane Toddler Bed
If you are flying 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 footrests 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 travel footrest 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’s 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 an onboard bassinet.
Related Reading: Check out our Ultimate family travel guide
Take-Off & Landing Tips For Flying With A Baby Or Toddler
No matter the age of your child, there are certain things to be mindful of during a flight. Especially during take-off and landing. While older kids can easily chew lollies or sip water during this time, babies and toddlers are too little to understand the impact of the cabin pressure.
Giving your toddler a bottle or sippy cup as you take off can help them reduce the impact of their ears popping. The experience will likely frighten them otherwise so be prepared to help them through this.
For babies, if you are breastfeeding, this is a good time to attempt to nurse your baby or alternatively, have a bottle made up ready for takeoff and again for landing to help prevent the painful feeling.
A distressed baby or toddler will have you feeling distressed right from the start of your flight otherwise, so these simple tips for flying can help get your flight off to a good start.
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
- Air New Zealand
- Delta Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
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.
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!
- Flights – We use Skyscanner or WayAway to research, set price alerts and book flights.
- Car hire – compare the best car rental prices.
- Trains & Buses – We book with Omio
- Accommodation – We use Booking.com or Agoda to book most of our hotel accommodation when we travel.
- Travel insurance – Protect yourself and your belongings with Hey Mondo.
- Tours & attractions – Our preferred attraction and tour booking sites are Get Your Guide and Viator. Booking ahead will mean you don’t miss out on popular tours!
Flying with kids can be an overwhelming experience to prepare for, however, with simple planning and being organised before you fly, you can definitely make this experience much more pleasant for the whole family. We hope these tips for flying with babies, toddlers and kids help you have a wonderful in-flight experience before you next family vacation!
Check out these packing lists for travel:
- RV packing list
- Camping with kids packing list
- Camping in winter packing list
- Disney packing list
- New Zealand packing list
- Road trip packing list
- Beach packing list
- South East Asia packing list
- Europe winter packing list
- What to pack in your carry-on bag
Do you have a favourite airline for family travel? Let us know in the comments.
Save to Pinterest