12 Tips for Surviving Plane Travel With Young Children
You have a flight coming up! You’re going abroad! This is exciting stuff; you must be counting down the days! No? …Uh, you have kids. So instead you’re fretting over how you’re going to keep them happy, entertained, well slept, well fed, and clean for the duration of the flight, plus achieve all of this without annoying every other passenger on the plane!
Don’t panic, it really will be ok. I can honestly say that every one of the 25 mostly long-haul flights my 2-year old has been on to date has been a breeze, but we have learnt a few things along the way.
Here are some tips to ensure your journey is as stress-free as possible.
1. Think ahead, way ahead!
For short-haul trips, book a flight that coincides with nap time if possible. Try to avoid naps on the journey to the airport and with any luck, your child will sleep on the plane.
For long-haul journeys, you can gamble with the overnight flights. On the one hand, it could be ideal if they sleep, but on the other hand, you risk keeping other passengers awake if they cry all night. Personally, I prefer to take the risk and book overnight flights. So far so good! On a recent flight from San Francisco to Auckland, my son slept for 9 hours straight, curled up in my arms! He’s NEVER done that in a bed!
2. Choose your seats wisely
Whether or not you book your child a seat for themselves will largely depend on their age and your budget. Children over 2 require their own seat but under 2s have the option of travelling on the lap of an adult.
Travelling on your lap is obviously the cheaper option, and what we always chose to do, even for long-haul flights.
For infants under 6 months (height and weight dependent), you may have the option to book a bassinet seat for yourself. Avoid paying for the extra seat but still have somewhere to place your baby while they sleep. Regardless of whether you need the bassinet, these seats have extra leg room so I advise going for these anyway; the extra floor space on which to play and place a few toys will be valuable!
If you choose to book a seat for your child, consider whether you would like to take his car seat and strap this to his seat for the duration of the flight. Not all airlines allow this and not all car seats are suitable, so check whether this is an option with both the airline and seat manufacturer.
3. Use your baby luggage allowance
If you book your child their own seat, they will have the same luggage allowance as you. If you plan to have them on your lap, they won’t have a separate hold baggage allowance, but you can take an extra carry-on bag for them. You are also typically allowed two items of baby equipment in the hold (pram, stroller, car seat, travel cot etc.).
I strongly advise buying bags for these items to avoid damage, and pad them out as much as possible (hint: you can get away with a lot here – we have previously strapped a backpack-style baby carrier to a stroller and bagged them together, and filled our car seat bag with enough clothes and cloth nappies to fill another suitcase!).
4. Pack your hand luggage for all eventualities
Take loads of nappies, wipes and multiple changes of clothes (including a change for each adult). Consider the possibility of nappy explosions, spit up, leaky boobs (hopefully only if you’re breastfeeding or pregnant, otherwise a trip to the doctor might be in order!), spilt drinks, dropped food and teething slobber, all from the squished confines of your economy class seat (yes, all these have happened to us). No one wants to spend a long flight covered in this delightful array of fluids, and your fellow passengers won’t thank you for being smelly and underprepared either!
I recommend having a large wet bag to store any dirty items mid-flight; I love Planet Wise bags as they are both leak- and smell-proof.
Even if you don’t experience any of the above embarrassments, what happens if your flight is delayed, your luggage is lost, or you have an unexpected stopover? All of these things have also happened to us. Thankfully, I have always had enough nappies and clothes to see us through.
5. Leave more time than you think you could possibly need
Before my son was born, neither me nor my husband had ever missed a flight. I am rather ashamed to admit that we have now missed several! Everything takes twice as long when you have young children in tow, so don’t forget to leave extra time.
Despite missing these flights, we have never had to fork out anything to get the next one, so no harm done. If you do find yourself running late, try not to worry. Speak to staff at the check-in desk when you do arrive, play the baby card, and they will usually be happy to help as much as they can.
6. Take a sling in your hand luggage
Getting through the airport at either end will be much easier and quicker, and a you’ll have both hands free to carry bags and dig out passports and boarding passes.
Airports are also busy, chaotic, noisy and brightly lit, and therefore likely to be overstimulating. Even adults find airports stressful! Keeping little ones close is the best remedy for this and will help protect against the dreaded grumpiness that follows overstimulation.
If you’re using a soft carrier, you won’t be asked to remove this at security, but they are likely to take swabs from your hands and the sling itself. They are testing for bomb residue since there have been reported instances of carriers being used to disguise suicide bombs. This only takes a couple of seconds and won’t hold you up at all.
7. Do a nappy change just before boarding
Aeroplane toilets are generally pretty horrible at the best of times. Now picture that cramped, smelly, urine-splattered cubicle with the addition of a wriggly child and changing bag. The on-board toilets are equipped with a changing table, but it’s about the same size as the tray they serve your food on, so you will need an element of acrobatic skill along with cat-like reactions to successfully change a nappy with minimal mess whilst also preventing your octopus-like child from touching every disgusting surface they possibly can.
Ensuring she’s wearing a fresh nappy for boarding, and that it’s the most absorbent nappy you own, will prolong the wait before this inevitable germy ordeal.
8. Take loads of snacks and drinks
The last thing you want is a hungry baby! If your little one is already having solid food, bring some healthy snacks, as well as food for any meals they would usually have during the flight. If they are sitting on your lap, they won’t be given their own in-flight meal (though it doesn’t hurt to ask if they have a spare!).
Remember that you can take any food or drink for a baby or toddler through security, including milk. Security staff may just ask you to taste some in front of them. There may also be a ‘click and collect’ milk service available from your departure or transfer airport, so if you are bottle-feeding, this may be worth checking (Boots offer this if you are flying from the U.K.).
Klean Kanteens are ideal flight companions. No spills, no burns, no disposable cups and no need to keep the lap trays down – just stuff them in the seat pocket. We make sure we always have a Kid Kanteen for my son, an insulated one for water, which gets filled after we’ve gone through security, and a wide neck insulated one for coffee, which can be filled before departing and then refilled during your flight. Klean Kanteen canisters are also ideal if you need to take a meal on board; not too bulky, leak-proof and I recommend the insulated ones for any hot food.
Planet Wise sandwich bags go everywhere with us filled with my son’s snacks. I suggest getting a 2-pack so that you can keep one for fruit, raw veg and any other ‘wet’ snacks, and one for nuts, crackers, sandwiches and other ‘dry’ snacks. They’re easy to clean, water- and odour-proof, and easy for toddlers to unzip and help themselves.
9. Feed your baby during take-off and landing
Whether you’re breast or bottle feeding, the sucking and swallowing motions will help clear their ears. Feeding will also offer comfort if they are feeling a bit unsure about the unfamiliar environment and loud noises. This also applies during the flight, of course, but you will hopefully find that after take-off the engine hum will help them drift off to sleep.
If your child is no longer having either breastmilk or formula, you can offer water, a dummy, or encourage them to make yawning motions to help her ears pop.
10. Bring out toys one by one
Take a few small activities to play with and plan to bring them out one by one over the full length of your flight. Toys, stickers, books and colouring books are all good options. The smaller the better and for the sake of your fellow passengers, don’t bring anything noisy! Avoid toys with lots of parts that can easily be dropped and lost in the seats, as well as anything that will hurt if lobbed at another passenger!
You won’t need to take too much though; you will likely find that a few passengers and staff are willing participants in games of peekaboo, and if your child is mobile, they will love exploring up and down the aisles. Don’t worry about allowing them to do this; having a confined baby or toddler trapped in his seat will be much worse!
Here are a few of our favourite (and very much tried and tested!) toys for travelling. Rather than categorising these according to age, I recommend selecting items based on your individual child’s development, interests and current play schema. With the exception of any toys with small parts, which I have noted clearly, these are all suitable for any age right from infant to adult, but may be played with differently by different people.
- Tegu magnetic blocks are a firm favourite, both with my son and my husband. For toddler and engineer, the possibilities are endless! We have an 8-piece and a 6-piece pocket pouch, plus a set of 4 wheels. These are small and light enough to make them practical for travel, but diverse enough in terms of colour and shape to provide options for imaginative building projects. The wheels are an essential component of our collection as my son loves vehicles. The sets come in convenient felt pouches so individual blocks don’t end up buried and hidden at the bottom of your hand luggage.
- The Grimm’s mini rainbow is the smallest of the rainbow family. A pocket-sized version that’s ideal for building, stacking and creating imaginative structures in confined spaces.
- Our four Plan Toys dino cars have been taken on countless adventures! These Dinos are the perfect size and shape for little hands to push up and down plane aisles, around the boarding gate, or along restaurant tables while waiting for a meal. Ours have also been out for competitive races along tree trunks and are taken to graze on park lawns, so you may find that your Dino companions accompany you on day trips during your holiday!
- Also by Plan Toys, we love the nuts and bolts. My son had developed a determined fascination with our Klean Kanteen bottle tops, insisting on twisting the lids on and off himself, and these seemed the perfect solution to potential spills and toddler frustrations at the lid being too tight. Screwing and unscrewing the large pieces on the bolts allows him to practise this skill without getting soaking wet, and can be played with anywhere. They are also designed in a way to allow imaginative play: we have built people and flowers with ours, and my son loves making comedy noses!
- If your child likes threading toys, I highly recommend the Haba number threading dragon and the Bajo lacing fox. The dragon features ten numbered beech wood pieces, making it suitable for both younger toddlers and those already developing their counting skills (note: although the pieces are chunky, I probably wouldn’t give this to an infant).
The fox, with smaller holes and two shoelaces to thread and tie, is more fiddly and therefore better for slightly older toddlers, pre-schoolers and primary-age children. They’re both fabulous toys for developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor control.
- Lanka Kade’s rubberwood puzzles range from just two or three pieces to large numbered and alphabet sets. The smaller sets are compact, lightweight and ideal for plane travel. The largest we have taken on a plane is the ten-piece numbered gorilla, which I store in a little drawstring bag so pieces don’t get lost.
- We are big fans of Holztiger and Ostheimer wooden figures but, unless your child has one that’s a particular favourite, they are a bit too heavy to be practical for travel. We love Green Rubber Toys as a much lighter alternative. Their realistic animals are suitable from birth, made from durable natural rubber and non-toxic paints, and, with no holes to collect mould, they can also be used as bath toys at your destination.
- Plan Toys tins are great for older toddlers, pre-schoolers and primary age children (note: contains small parts). There are six different tins available; we have only tried the mini balancing cactus. I recommend this one while you’re waiting to board rather than on the plane, as pieces are likely to get lost if it topples. It can be played with individually or with others as a game of ‘who can add a piece without making it fall?’
- ÖkoNorm’s crayons, colour pencils and modelling clay are always a hit for us while travelling. The clay does get in fingernails, so have some cloth wipes handy, but it’s a great artistic outlet that’s practical for confined spaces, and can be stored and reused. The ‘stubby’ crayons are ideal for the littlest of hands just beginning to explore mark-making, and there are even beeswax-free options suitable for vegan families.
- I am a massive fan of the Bajo vehicle range, and my son loves them too, which is a bonus! They’re sturdy, small enough for hand luggage, easy to wipe clean, and come in a lovely range of bright colours.
The aeroplane and monoplane are of course good choices for plane travel, as little ones love mimicking take-off and landing while you sit in the departure gate watching the real planes outside, and similarly, my son took his helicopter when we flew in a real helicopter. The mini cars take up no space at all, and, along with the cleverly designed race car that can also make turns, are fun to push up and down the plane aisles or across lap trays. Beep beep!
- Sophie the Giraffe came everywhere with us for the first 6 months of my son’s life. She’s perfect for early travellers who have their first teeth breaking through, and they will delight at her squeak when she’s grabbed or chewed.
If you’re travelling with an infant, I recommend taking Sophie, a Lanco teething toy (which we sadly only discovered post-teething, but will definitely be using next time!) plus a couple of clutching/grasping toys and you’ll be set.
- There are so many wonderful options for enticing grasping toys designed especially for little hands. Have a look here and pick a couple of your favourites. Personally, I love the texture of Grapat, the robustness of Bajo, the fun of Haba, the lightweight wood of Grimm’s, and, well, everything about Plan Toys!
- A soft doll with removable clothes is easy to stuff in a bag and will keep the next generation of parents engrossed in caring for their baby during the flight (particularly if you have a younger sibling to attend to and an older sibling who wants to copy everything you do!). Haba and Peppa dolls are both good options and both have a fab range of additional outfits.
- Heimess pacifier chains. Although we’ve never used a dummy, these are equally useful for securing a couple of toys. They can then be clipped to your seatbelt so toys don’t end up on the floor every few seconds, and then to a pram or carrier when you arrive at your destination.
11. Take some treats for yourself – you might need it!
A favourite chocolate bar (I love the Raw Chocolate Co range). It’s rare to find a scrummy free-from treat while breastfeeding through multiple allergies and, as they’re also free from refined sugar, they’re also guilt free! A book or magazine you can get lost in when your little one finally does fall asleep, a pack of cards so you and your partner can enjoy some (slightly cramped!) one on one time. Whatever it is that will help you relax and make you happy, take it!
12. People are generally kind, so don’t panic!
We have been ushered through security, brought to the front of long lines, and we have never had a single negative comment on any of our flights (we’ve never had an upgrade through, even at 36 weeks pregnant, so don’t get your hopes up about that!).
Babies cry as a crucial form of communication and people know this. Everyone can see that you’re trying your best; offering milk or snacks, walking them up and down the aisle, bouncing and rocking until your arms might just drop off, and distracting them with every trick you have up your sleeve, but nothing’s working. It’s ok. No one will hate you, and if they do, you’re never going to see them again, so I wouldn’t worry about it!
Have a safe flight and a wonderful trip making memories to cherish!
We would love to hear any other travel tips you might have as well, so drop us a comment below…