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23 Sanity-Saving Tips for Airplane Travel with Kids

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

How to have smooth and (mostly) stress-free airplane travel with your children.

Traveling on an airplane with kids can feel like the epitome of walking on eggshells... making sure conditions are just right to ensure they don’t sass a surly TSA agent, have an accident during take off, or lose it when everyone on the plane is asleep. In addition, you have to make sure you have your travel ducks in order for that many more people. Sigh. It can be a mile high nightmare.

However, with thoughtful prep and effective contingency plans, your air travel can feel more relaxing than relentless. And you won't have to hand out an apology letters and $10 ($20?) to everyone in a 12-seat radius of your littles.

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1. Book flights that coincide with sleepy time.

If you’d rather not deal with a fidgety child on an airplane, select flights that overlap with your child’s naptime, or are in the air at night. To support them in falling asleep in such a foreign environment, replicate their nap or bedtime routine as much as possible, by packing their pajamas, lovie, favorite sleepy time books, and any other tools you use to get them to snooze land.

Ensure you’re also able to get some sleep by packing earplugs, an eye-mask, your own pajamas, and some lavender essential oil, or other soothing scent. In addition, you can download a relaxation recording that supports sleep.

2. Reserve a ticket for every member of the family.

Red, European passport sitting on top of a map, next to a compass.

Even if you have a child who is under two and will probably fly for free, you still need to reserve a ticket for them, just not a seat. And if you’re flying international, the bub will need a passport. You probably already knew all this, but it’s worth a mention.

3. Select seats in the back, near the bathrooms.

Not only is the back of the plane safest in a crash but it also has bathrooms, that most kids need... a lot. This seating choice minimizes long in-flight commutes and might even allow you to send the kiddo on a solo bathroom adventure. And added bonus, it’s usually easy to get seats together at the back, as many travelers covet seats as far forward as possible.

4. Organize your travel documents in a waterproof folder.

 A white table with a clear, waterproof folder with travel documents and a notebook on top of it, next to a gold watch and rings.

Prevent the need to shuffle through numerous bags and wallets when you need to show passports, or other travel documents, by collecting passports, flight confirmations, birth certificate copies, visas, or anything else you’ll need to get from point A to B, in a waterproof folder that securely closes. In addition to facilitating easy retrieval, if you make sure to always put documents back in the folder after use, you can help prevent misplacing these crucial items.

5. Ensure all passports are valid for at least 6 months after your return flight.

For example, if your return flight is scheduled for August 1 and your passport expires on December 1, many airlines won’t let you on the plane. Save yourself a serious travel kerfuffle by triple checking that all passports are good to go for at least 7 to 10 months after your return flight. And know that kiddo passports expire in less time than an adult’s.

6. Check the airline’s policy on diaper bags, car seats and strollers.

Bed with a striped blue sheet on it, in addition to a brown leather diaper backpack, baby shoes and sunglasses, a wooden rattle, and diapers and wipes, all being prepared for a trip.

While almost every airline does not charge to check a stroller or car seat, and doesn’t count the diaper bag as one of your carry-ons, it’s still wise to double check on their website so you’re not met with surprise charges on the day of travel.

7. Be smart with carry-ons.

As adults usually end up carrying most of the kids’ stuff, it’s wise to select carry-ons that are easy to carry, and can be attached to other carry-ons. For example, swap your purse for a backpack (or put your purse in a backpack), use bags with wheels, and select bags that can be attached to the ones with wheels.

8. Load a bag with new-to-them entertainment supplies.

Flat lay with brightly colored toy cars, blocks, trains, Legos, and a monkey stuffed animal for airplane travel with kids.

Kids love novelty, at least when it comes to toys, books, art supplies and other kid stuff. To wow out your littles, and distract them from the fact that they have to sit still for X hours, bring a backpack filled with new small toys, coloring books and other goodies that aren’t messy. If you don’t want to spend a lot on this endeavor, utilize thrift stores and used bookstores, which offer “almost new” options that are usually in excellent condition.

9. Bring a baby carrier, or stroller.