Surviving the Plane Ride with Kids


Walking down the aisle I’m incredibly aware and self-conscious that everyone is looking at us.

People are staring, some with nervous glances, some with smiles, some avoid eye contact altogether. I can see it in all of their faces… they are all hoping and praying that we don’t stop in front of them. Or even near them.

We reach our destination. I look nervously around and see the defeated look on the faces of those around us.

This is what it’s like walking onto a plane with three small children.

Travelling with kids is a huge decision to make. It’s a double-edged sword. You want the experience for your children and to expose them to other cultures, ways of life, and to reconnect with family who are far away. But you have to get there. And sometimes the means of getting there terrifies people to the point where it’s not worth the trip altogether.

I am not an experienced flyer, nor am I an expert on this subject, but I have taken my children on long plane rides a few times. I’m always nervous, but my mentality is even if the kids behave horribly, it’s only going to be horrendous for those few hours. As long as the trip on the other end is worth it, I think it’s something you should take the chance with.

I do a lot of planning to prevent a horrible flying experience for my children, my husband and myself, as well as other passengers on the plane.

Here are a few of my tips for flying with little ones.

  • Check with the airline to see if they have a kids program. Many of them do and you get little perks. It may be a free extra treat, a special flying badge, or free headphones for the kids. It can make them feel special and important while flying.

  • If you can, plan the time you’re leaving to be nap time if they are young enough. I try really hard to plan long flights at bedtime or nap time. Or you can adjust their nap schedule for the days before to match my flight time if possible. It may give you a couple of hours of peace on the plane and can also help with the adjustment of jet lag if that factors in.

  • My personal flight motto is unlimited snacks and screen time. It’s rare that this much screen time is a reality for my kids, but we make sure that we have favourite movies and games downloaded on the iPad/tablet ready to go in case they don’t have an in-flight movie the kids want to watch. We also make sure to have a few episodes of favourite TV shows downloaded. You can do this right from Netflix and it will save right on your device.

  • As for snacks, no sugary snacks. I make sure that we have things like nuts, crackers, dried fruit, bars, and a few treats here and there. I will also buy fruit and veggie cups in the airport to take on the flight. The last thing I want is to have a kid who is hyped up on sugar, exhausted, overstimulated and confined on a plane. It’s all about finding a balance.

  • Make sure they’re drinking enough water. As an adult on a plane I am always aware how dehydrated I get. I like to make sure we have extra water for the kids. I encourage them to drink every so often if they aren’t drinking well on their own. It will help with crankiness and it has proven to help with jet lag. And don’t forget to stay hydrated yourself.

  • As for medicating your child for a flight, I think it is a personal choice. If it’s something that you would like to do, I encourage you to make sure what you are wanting to use is actually safe and effective for your child. You don’t want them to have a reaction. Or you don’t want it to have the opposite effect.

  • Once they are old enough, I think preparing as much as you can prior to the travel day helps. Explain how the day is going to go, how early they will have to get up, what the plane is like and that they can’t move around as much as they would normally. I like to tell them the rules of the plane repeatedly leading up to the date, as in wearing the seatbelt when the sign is on, not kicking the chair in front of you, listening to the flight attendants at all times, no yelling, whining, or fighting with each other, etc.

  • I also have several conversations to make sure they are aware of respectful behaviour around other people.

  • I pack their own carry-on with a few of their favourite things. I always pack a small blanket, stuffy and a couple of toys. We also pack their special headphones for the trip, an extra change of clothes as well as pyjamas. I also pack some new things and activities for them to do, either a colouring book and pens, a few small toys, an activity book, or a few new books to read together. It helps to pass the time and gives them something to look forward to.

  • I also think one of the reasons our travel days have been so successful is that my husband and I really try to pick our battles. I let some things slide that I normally wouldn’t just to avoid tantrums on the plane.

Happy travelling!

Sarah Byrne