Flying with Kids Through the Ages

One of the (very, very) few benefits of having a traveling spouse is the ability to take advantage of the frequent flier miles that he accrues through the years. My family has done our fair share of flying on those miles. Our first flight was when my oldest was eight weeks old, and since then, we’ve flown back and forth across the country many times. We’ve racked up our share of travel tips during this time, which I’m now happy to pass along to you!

Infants (under age 1)—Personally, I’ve found that it does not get much easier than flying with a baby. As long as your baby’s ears are not hurting, he/she is typically happy to sit on your lap or be strapped in a front carrier and doesn’t need much entertainment.

Quick tips:

  • For some reason, it’s FAA policy that babies need to be unstrapped from a carrier during takeoff and landing. I got around this by unfastening one strap and holding the baby, then immediately strapping her back in.
  • Some planes have teeny tiny changing tables in the bathroom, but many don’t. Attempt to change diapers before getting on the plane (but expect that the baby will have a massive blowout as soon as you reach 35,000 feet. Because life.)
  • Pacifiers and breasts/bottles help keep little ears clear.
  • Flight attendants are happy to heat water for bottles.
  • Familiar blankets and toys will help older babies stay calm.
  • Pack three times as many outfits as you think you need. Trust me.
For a super fun time, fly with one infant and one toddler. The kids' shirts say "Congratulations! You get to sit near me!"
For a super fun time, fly with one infant and one toddler. The kids’ shirts say “Congratulations! You get to sit near me!”

Toddlers (ages 1–3)—I’m going to level with you: these are tough times. You’ve got kids who are old enough to want to run and play but not old enough to understand why they can’t. They are prone to tantrums but tend not to care that other passengers don’t enjoy ear-piercing screams while trapped in a metal tube. But fear not! You can make the flight more manageable.

Quick tips:

  • This is not a time for concerns about “nutrition” and “screen time.” You are in survival mode. M&Ms for breakfast? Sure. Three straight hours of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” on the iPad? Fine. There is no room for Mom Guilt at 35,000
  • Go to the Dollar Store or the Dollar Spot at Target and load up on some new toys. These will buy you approximately 10 minutes of entertainment.
  • Airlines now allow you to used approved electronic devices immediately upon boarding. Take full advantage and turn that sucker on as soon as you sit down.
  • Let your kiddo take walk breaks up and down the aisles if/when possible. Allowing your toddler to wave and make cute faces at strangers will make those strangers less likely to freak out when he/she inevitably cries at some point.
  • Pacifiers, any kind of drinks, and lollipops can help with keeping ears clear.
  • I’ve tried bringing a car seat onto the plane for my toddlers’ comfort and found it was more trouble than it was worth. Between having to pay for a full seat and having to lug it down the aisle, I regretted it almost immediately. I recommend just letting them sit/stand/jump in your lap.
  • Don’t forget the extra clothes!
  • Disinfect everythingplanes are gross, and toddlers like to lick everything! I like to wipe the seat and tray with a Clorox wipe before we take off.
Bonus tip: just wheel your stroller to the end of the jet bridge, and it will be waiting for you when you get off the plane. Bonus tip #2: those strollers do indeed fit through the doorway of an airport bathroom.
Bonus tip: just wheel your stroller to the end of the jet bridge, and it will be waiting for you when you get off the plane. Bonus tip #2: those strollers do indeed fit through the doorway of an airport bathroom.

Preschoolers (ages 3–5)—As kiddos get older, flying becomes slightly easier. Preschoolers are more interested in books and quiet toys and can hold their attention for longer movies or TV shows.

Quick tips:

  • Try the Dollar Store or Dollar spot toys again. Coloring books and stickers are great for this age. This will buy you maybe 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Keep them eating and drinking! It’s a good time to allow treats that they don’t get at home (my kids love little boxes of cereal when traveling).
  • You can attempt to encourage a nap on the plane by keeping them up late the night before or waking them up extra early. This will either work like a charm or completely backfire. Proceed with caution.
  • Preschoolers are more likely to be able to wear headphones when watching movies. Target sells cute character-themed headphones that my kids love.
  • The bathroom can be scary on a plane (the toilet flush is intense!), and it’s hard to fit you and your preschooler in there. I’d flush after your kiddo is off the potty and maybe even out the door.
  • We fly Delta, which offers pretzels, peanuts, or cookies with longer flights. Some airlines don’t offer snacks at all anymore. Make sure to find out what will be offered so you can bring your own if needed.

Older kids (age 6 and up)—Congratulations! You’ve done it. Your kids are now old enough to sit in their own seats and not scream hysterically or poop their pants. You are living the dream!

Flying with 2 big kids: living the dream!
Flying with two big kids: living the dream!

Quick tips:

  • If I’m really in the mood to live dangerously, I sit my two kids next to each other so they can share the iPad and a headphone splitter, and my husband and I sit together across the aisle. It’s pretty heavenly.
  • Involve them in packing. Let them pack their own favorite toys and snacks so they’ll be excited about having them on the plane.
  • I always pack one extra outfit per kid. Even with older kids, spills and accidents can still happen.
  • Lollipops and drinks help with ear pain. We use a product called Earplanes, which is like a soft ear plug, that helps with the pressure in the plane.
  • My oldest is too big to have me go into the bathroom with her, yet too afraid to go in by herself. Make every attempt to go to the bathroom before getting on the plane!

There is a lot of negativity surrounding flying with kids. I understand that kids can be annoying on airplanes. I also understand that adults are annoying on planes. Kids cry and yell, but adults eat tuna fish sandwiches and talk too loud. We are all human. Don’t stress too much about the annoying things your kids do on the plane! If you’re stressed, they’ll be stressed. Enjoy your families and your trips!

Kristin moved to San Antonio from Baltimore in 2006. Although she had a brief 2 year stay in Fort Worth, the margaritas, breakfast tacos and the kind souls of our residents drew her back for good. She's a third grade teacher and group fitness instructor, and single mom to Molly (2009), Sadie (2011), Daisy (dog) and Charlie (cat). When she has free time, she's either training for a half marathon or on a patio somewhere with a Titos and soda. Favorite Restaurant: Sustenio Favorite Landmark: The Pearl Brewery Favorite San Antonio Tradition: The Elf Movie parties at Alamo Drafthouse