23 Mothers share their top tips for flying with young children


Sandra Cottam is a Travel TV Host and Travel Writer based in LA. She spends 20 days every month either in the air, on the road or on a cruise ship somewhere between the Caribbean, Asia, Europe and the South Pacific.

Each week I take 4-6 flights, some domestic, some international and I always observe children traveling. Some children are immaculately behaved and others… well let’s just say… not so much.

When I see children acting out in public I’m quick to judge the parents which may or may not be fair. Every child has a bad day and sometimes no matter what parents seem to do some children just have other plans. So when it comes to traveling I wondered if you could train your children to travel well and what strategies you can implement to ensure a
smoother trip.

I pulled together 23 amazing mothers that I know to ask them their honest opinions about traveling (specifically flying) with small children. Each mother currently has or had children under the age of five and flew with them either domestically or internationally, alone or with hubby, with one child or multiple. Some of them managed with military precision and most of them learned by trial and error.

Their answers surprised me, made me laugh and most importantly gave me a stronger appreciation for the sheer amount of organizing and effort that goes into it. From the minute I open my empty suitcase I can pack for a month and be sitting on the plane within 2 hours (travel time to the airport included) and now I know for sure that with children it really
is a much bigger and exhausting ordeal.

I don’t know about you but I’m saving these tips for when we have children. These are some clever mothers!
So here it is…. the truth, tips and tricks from 23 amazing mothers around the world on “flying with little people”.

Samantha Cottam-Warnock, Brisbane Australia
Small packs of play-dough for long haul flights. You can throw it away at the other end. Small containers with Lego or any play sets that use felt or magnets for picture boards and then the in-flight entertainment. I limit that though to certain parts of the flight. Small walks up and down the aisle to stop them kicking the seat in front.

Larissa Mertin, Canberra Australia
Sticker books!!!! Felt boards!!!! And Snap or Go Fish.

Tara Doe, Toronto Canada
Definitely night flights for long distance so their sleep routine is still on target. I always have chocolate buttons for take-off and landing to elevate the ear pressure and or dummy to suck on. I also make sure he’s trapped to the window. Lastly have lots of and snacks on hand – a hungry, grumpy kid is no fun. I only take one or two toys and nothing with sound… it’s annoying to other passengers. I look Liam on a three week trip to England, Denmark and France solo when he was 10 months. It was great! He loves to go on a plane. Since then he’s been to the US and the Caribbean a few times. You can make your kids good travelers,
depends if you are one.

Shanee Catalfamo, Los Angeles USA
Puppy pad changing packs: take a disposable puppy pad, a diaper, a glad bag with 5 wipes in it, a single pack of germ killing wipes and diaper cream. Package them up (1 for each change). We normally pack way too many of these packs but it’s way easier to reach for them instead of shuffling through the bag and look for all these items. The puppy pads also provide a great clean surface. We also take snacks out the wazoo! I hate to admit it but movies on the iPad. Crüe’s Frozen obsession literally saved our last flight home.

Claire Ducat-Taylor, USA
We flew to England from Michigan when Abbeygale was 10 months old… evening flight and I had a little portable music player with her lullabies playing with a blanket over here seat which was pinned to the seat in front – she was happy and enclosed and managed to sleep really well. To help with the ear pressure on take-off and landing I changed her bottle teat to a smaller hole than what she was using, this really helped!

Belinda Nikolaidis, Australia
Play-dough was the best for us, their fave teddy and warm clothes (so cold on the planes at night). The boys both had a small back pack which they kept the play-dough, teddy and some Lego…but the Lego was a pain!

Sojourner Stephens-McLemore, Houston USA
I used to try to keep them up all night and then they were sleepy. Also a downloaded movie on the iPad. However, the most important thing was and is “the look”. They know “the look” means don’t embarrass me on this plane or anywhere because I don’t want to embarrass you, LOL.

Kylie Tragardh, Brisbane Australia
Lots of snacks, iPad with movies, coloring books, wrap up little gifts from a cheap shop and slowly stagger out over flight and use it as a reward.  I actually think flying overnight almost easier as they will usually sleep. Take some chewy lollies (candies) for decent for their ears.
Change of clothes for any spills or luggage gets lost. They’ll need a sweater as gets cold on the flight and make sure they wear shoes to the restroom. When my husband and I went to Fiji 2 years ago we nearly undid our holiday relaxation in customs and immigration on the way home. We had all our bags, a sick baby with a high temperature and two toddlers that didn’t want to walk. We had to line up for an hour with them all whinging and trying to stand there with bags and kids hanging off us. Nearly put us off. If kids are young and outnumbered don’t fly international and max 2 hours flight domestically if you can. Wait until they are older to walk and carry their own bags! LOL.

Peppa Hann, Adelaide Australia
Snacks and entertainment – would change depending on age. The older kids would be fine with movies but the 1-2 year old children most likely would not be able to sit and watch for that long. Well mine couldn’t. Walking up and down the plane, books, drawing, iPad all worked for me.

Ana Martinez, Canberra Australia
One thing that i found really helped (first flight was 14 hours and following one was 7 hours just to get there – same to return home) was introducing something that wasn’t seen/played with/used before. For example I have a no pens or markers rule before they start school so I took those things along and that provided hours of entertainment. Exploring the new toy/object was a bonus. But I think the biggest point missed is being calm yourself and going along for the adventure with your child. Whilst we’re all entitled to enjoy our flight, I don’t enjoy a screaming child as much as the next person. Children pick up queues from adults so being relaxed and accepting you might have some sh*tty moments will make for a better trip.

Emily Jones, Singapore
Plenty of tips… My four children are well traveled and energetic kids. My tips depend on the length of the flight. For example with younger ones, stickers are generally a hit. We take cars for our car obsessed 2 year old but always expect to lose them so none that are significant ones. Mine children also love to watch TV/movies so we take the iPad loaded up with a variety of programming. Lots of walking up and down aisles. Remember, if you are having the flight from hell with one of the kids there is a time limit to it. If a parent wants to go down the drugs route always do a medication test at home beforehand. You could get the “rebound” effect that some children have and there is no way you want to experience that on a flight.the more they travel the easier it gets.  Favorite snacks. I always have food (gluten free meals on planes are often average at best). I never look at the names on our seat allocation. When I fly by myself with all four children, youngest is next to me and the other three usually in the row across. I try and have the eldest (and helpful child) on the aisle and the the middle two work out the window seat between them. I take one carry on with bits and bobs to hand out. The kids are responsible for one bag with headphones in it, maybe a book or some pencils etc. Usually one bag for the three older ones to share responsibility of. One of mine would forget they had it. Oh and headphones! Get the kids some headphones to fit them, those poxy airline
headsets are not made for kids. Life changer! Most of us try, but teach the kids early on not to call for the stewards etc. They will always be lovely and helpful if that call button isn’t pressed a million times for silly things. I don’t know if it is just me, but I feel that my kids fly better when it is just me. They know that they have to wait for things if I am busy, when we fly together we get much more requests for help bouncing around at the two of us.
If you are alone with young kids, think about calling the airline and flagging assistance getting off the plane. I never use it for getting on, but when they were younger and landing with three or four little ones at effectively the middle of the night for them, assistance was a life saver, especially at the baggage claim and through immigration.

Rachel Harvey, Broken Hill Australia
Lollies to suck/chew, or a sippy cups for younger children, or try and schedule feeds for breastfed kids around the ascent and descent; a baby/toddler carrier or something for older kids to sit on if the line up at either end is going to be long (ride on carry on luggage is available); back up battery power for electronic devices; taking them to the toilet fairly
close to the boarding time; food. And if touring, plan some down time (can’t be on the go 24/7 as a backpacker would).

Suzy Holloway, The Netherlands
Make sure you take a variety of things to amuse them. Sticker books work a treat. Walk them up and down the aisle regularly for leg stretching. When all else fails, stick on a kids film and call for ice-cream.

Yessica Bobbio, Sunshine Coast Australia
I have travel with my kids lots of times! When we first move to Australia my daughter was 18 month old and flying from Peru to here was terrifying as I did not know what to expect, so to make it easy for both of us I chose a night flight and followed her routine during the day to avoid as much disruption as I could. I put her in PJ’s on just before boarding the plane and nursed her while taking off. By about 45 minutes into the flight she was sound asleep and remained asleep during the night! And she grew older I stuck to the same procedure.
Now with my son was a completely different story as he was more curious about everything so I walked with him up and down the plane and had plenty of different toys only giving him one at time to surprise him and keep him interested.

Lesley Midwinter, Nantwich UK
We planned well in advance, left home after tea/bath/kids in pajamas and drove to an airport hotel so they fell asleep in the car. We then transferred sleeping children, handed over the car keys and had a stress free morning before our flight. Our kids were 4 and 5, first flight so we made sure we had time for them to explore the airport, watch take-off and landing etc before it was our turn.I believe the extra time was well worth it, it made sure all their questions were answered, fears calmed etc. Trunkis! When we went to Florida this summer the kids rode/pulled their own hand luggage (change of clothes, favorite toy, pencil case and pad) which was perfect in the immigration line.

Caroline Bushell, Oxford UK
A small carry on backpack each containing their favorite small toys. Keep back a ‘surprise’ new toy to produce at a ‘needy’ moment. Keep siblings sitting together – mine would entertain each other.

Meghan Meloni, Brisbane Australia
I think the key to success varies depending upon the child’s age, and even then sometimes with all of the best preparations things still just don’t go to plan. Other times you might be surprised by how smooth things were. Regardless, I think traveling with your children is the
best! Even though it can be hard and stressful you just need to remember that you’re only hours away from arriving at your destination and as soon as you get there all of the hard yards will be worth it!

Emily Mikolayunas Rich, Northampton USA
When I travel with the kids, I always pack the following: lots of snacks – healthy ones as well as a few treats. Lots of little activities, like mini jars of play-dough, sticker books or just sheets of stickers, age appropriate activity books, crayons and a pad of paper, paperback picture books or if they’re old enough, a chapter book ( I always buy new ones for a trip to keep things fresh and interesting), matchbox cars, matching game, mini puzzles, and of course I load up the iPad with games and movies – but this is always the last resort activity. For real young ones, a roll of scotch tape can keep them entertained for a good bit of time. My husband once entertained our young son for at least an hour on an international flight with a stack of paper cups from the bathroom. For little ones a change of clothes and a couple of extra diapers are essential – you never know if they’ll spill something or wet through their diaper. Older (3+) are excited to carry their own small backpack with some of their activities – keep it small though because I usually end up carrying it for some length of time. When I travel alone with the two kids, I prefer to bring the ergo, rather than the stroller, because it’s easier to get on and off the plane (now waiting plane side for it to come off) and around the airport. I always let them run though once we’ve found our gate. Airport terminals can be
great for running around and exploring. I keep the kids together because they can entertain each other. we always get a window seat so they can look out. And on long flights the bulkhead seat can be good because it gives the kids a space to stand up and stretch and for infants, if the plane is big enough they sometimes have a bassinet avail for babies
under six months.

Vanessa McGovern, USA
For kids two and under always spring for an extra seat car seat. When a child is in a car seat they are far more secured & don’t try to get out. I also recently received the coolest carry-on on the planet for my five year old. It has a built in scooter! It’s called the Flyte. There is a
scooter built in to the luggage.

Valerie Bergeron, Quebec Canada
OK – no one seems to want to admit it. Traveling with children under the age of three is a little like going on Fear Factor but worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children and I plan ahead – snack, entertainment, keeping to the routine, I even got new toys for every trip so the toys would be super exciting longer. The things is – you never know what is going to happen; the crying, the terrible two crisis in front of the critical eyes of 150 people in the middle of an airplane, the people who think you can discipline your 18 month old child. The vomit! Why has no one mentioned the vomit – it is a reality when traveling with young children. Or the time we were traveling and my oldest was just getting the hang of potty training, would not for the life of me put a diaper on and had to go during take off…. I’ll let you imagine the rest. My kids are older now and traveling with them is fantastic, maybe because they’ve been used to it from such a young age but my advice to parents that want to travel with young children is to hire a babysitter and leave them at home!

Rebecca Devcic, Brisbane Australia
only done a domestic flight and was with a 10 week old who surprisingly
slept most of the time. I would recommend feeding during take off and
landing. Take a good pillow for them to sleep on (on your lap) and try
book flights at their usual nap times if possible.

Emma Booth, Washington USA
When we flew to the UK last year with our then five and two year old children I think we just plain lucked out. We booked a flight that left close to the kids bed time and they actually slept 7 out of the 9 hours we were on the plane. We were also blessed on the flight home as the plane wasn’t even half full so the kids sprawled out and slept most of the way home too. That’ll probably never happen again so next time I’ll be using all these tips by the other mothers!

Louise Brownlie, Brisbane Australia
Simply put… Each parent should understand the personality of their child/ren. Some are content in confined spaces, some are not. If you have a child who is not… There will be drama no mate mete how well you plan. Attention span? Will they watch a movie for the length of the flight? Are they only good in a routine or will they welcome flexibility? Our eldest will go anywhere beautifully if I’m with her. Our second will sit and watch movies or play in the iPad with no issue. Our third… We will never fly with her! Driving works because we can control the stops and no one else has to deal with the 3 year old! But that’s us. Every child and every family is different. Never predictable. Gotta love them! Lol

What are your thoughts?  Do you have any tips to share?  We would love to know! 🙂