Flying With Kids – Some Basic Tips

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12/01/08 – Flying With Kids – Some Basic Tips

Anyone who has a child over the age of 6 months and under the age of 12 knows that flying with their kids can be a challenge.

While there are no perfect answers for traveling with your kids, there are some basic tips which I have practiced while flying with my kids on transcontinental flights and while observing families in transit.

I think a good place to start is the myth of pre-boarding. Some airlines have stopped pre-boarding families, and while this is irritating, it may not be as bad as you think. For longer flights, or flights on larger aircraft pre-boarding with an excited child can add a half-hour or more to your time on the plane. This is time that your child can be up and walking around in the gate area burning off their energy.

If you are flying on a commuter flight or a smaller aircraft, like a regional jet, Airbus A318 or Boeing 737-400 your boarding time won’t be that long, so pre-boarding may not be a bad option. If you are flying an airline that has no-assigned seats, such as Southwest Airlines (WN) I strongly suggest pre-boarding.

If you are flying a medium-haul flight or long-haul flight or are flying on large aircraft like a Boeing 747-400 or Airbus A340-500, keep your kids happy and off the plane as long as possible. You can ask if you can be accommodated with a lower boarding zone on your boarding pass, but the longer your kid is not forced to stay in their seat the better off you’ll be.

For those of you flying in flights longer than one hour bring your kids favourite snacks. I know this sounds basic and like a no brainer, but I heard kids screaming for a cookie or a cracker often on flights. Yes, the flight should be stocked with snacks, but many are not well stocked. I have been on flights where the only snack is peanuts (and I am deathly allergic to peanuts) which leaves kids hungry. On one memorable flight from Atlanta (ATL) to Los Angeles (LAX), a 5 hour flight. I was in the last row of first class on a flight and the child, maybe 3 years old, in the first row of economy seats behind me was screaming for a cookie, the mother politely asked for a cookie and she was informed that the cookies were “only for the first class passengers.” This really annoyed me and I ended up asking the flight attendant for the snack basket, took out a few packs of cookies and brought them to the mother for her child.

Now since I know this can be a serious problem, and the in-flight crew maybe unable to assist or in some cases unwilling to assist, I strongly suggest packing as many snacks as you think your chid could possibly consume during the duration of the flight.

An occupied child is a happy child, at least this has been my experience. My experience comes from not only flying with my kids, but also frequently wandering around planes on long flights front to back, sort of doing laps, just to kill time.

If possible, try and a choose a flight that offers in-seat power. While I do not generally fly American Airlines (AA), they offer in-seat power on every one of their mainline aircraft in economy (not in every seat, but reservations can tell you which seats offer the DC power outlets in the seat or row). Many other airlines are adding in-seat power to their fleets in economy or their “premium economy” section so keep this in mind when selecting your flight.

With the cost of portable DVDs players dropping, and the low cost and light weight external batteries being easy to find, pick one up and pack your kids favourite DVDs. A few good DVDs can keep a kid occupied for a long time on a long flight. Get your kids some headsets and they’ll be quiet and in their own little world.

If you have a young child consider Crayola’s triangle shaped crayons. I suggest these because they won’t roll off the seat-back tray and onto the floor. This will make your kid happier and cut down on your need to search under the seats for a few missing crayons.

–When to fly–
Flying with kids is rarely convenient to “your schedule,” so consider selecting a long flight that matched your child’s bed time.

Leaving Las Vegas (LAS) for New York (JFK)? Check out the 9:20pm rather than the 7:30am. Headed from London (LHR) to Hong Kong (HKG)? Look at the plethora of flights around 9:00pm rather than those 12 hour flights departing around 12:noon.

Choosing better flight times to allow your kids to sleep can allow everyone on the flight to have a better more enjoyable travel experience.

Make sure you child’s bag is on they can carry on their own. if they have a favourite stuffed animal, make sure it fits safely and securely in their carry on, not with it’s head popping out of the top! If they cannot haul their own carry on you’ll be hauling it along with your carry on and checked baggage and that’s just no fun!

–At The Airport–
Waiting in line with kids is never fun. I have three, luckily one is only currently barely walking, the other two are like puppies, off and running in two directions. I strongly suggest figuring out the costs of a good tip for the Red Caps/SkyCaps at the airport curb side c heck in and having them handle your baggage for you, then have them hand you your boarding passes and go get in the security line.

This is by no means a perfect list for traveling with kids. Everyone’s kids are different, not everyone has the same number of kids (or any kids at all) or kids of the same age, so this is just an overall suggestion of ways to make traveling with the kids easier.

If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them! Comment below or drop me an e-mail at

Below is a photo I shot of my kids Max & Lauren back in April of 2006 on-board Southwest Airlines (WN) Flight 416 from Las Vegas (LAS) to Providence (PVD). We got a Bulkhead with pre-boarding (yes, sometimes pre-boarding is a good thing, especially with an airline like Southwest that has no assigned seats), tucked them in on the floor and they watched movies until they fell asleep.

Happy Flying!

…………oh yea, swing into the magazine shop and pick your kids up a toy plane of the airline they’ll be flying on. They seem to love it!

–Click On The Image To Enlarge It–



  1. Great tips! Just last month I had to fly from ATL to LAX and back with my not-yet-walking 14 month old, and it was quite a chore. She had her own ticket, which meant in addition to my checked bags (checked at the curb), her stroller (checked at the gate), and my carry-on bags, I also had to carry her car seat, since she’s too young to sit in the airline seat without it.
    The flight experienced an unusual amount of turbulence, which meant no unnecessary wandering about the cabin. Diaper changes in the lavatory were tedious (using the lid of the toilet as a changing table). I found myself changing her on the seat when possible, but went to the lavatory for stinky ones.
    I brought plenty of snacks, but the thing that really made for an uncomfortable flight is the fact that she couldn’t just get up and walk around the plane. Our return flight was filled with children, alternating in a chorus of crying. Whenever one would stop another would chime in to serenade us all to our destination.
    If I had anything to add, it would just be to bring as little to carry-on as possible (another no-brainer), and don’t hesitate to ask for help with putting your stroller on the x-ray conveyor while simultaneously holding your infant and removing your shoes, laptop computer and any metallic items. Oh! That’s another one… get as much of that done as possible, before you get to the security checkpoint. I wore pants that didn’t require a belt, and already had all my metal (keys, etc) in my backpack.

  2. My tips…

    Gate check your stroller! It is MUCH easier to run from gate to gate with kids in a stroller, and it’s a great place to nap during long waits at the airport. I will NEVER FORGET the time I was stuck at the Boston airport with my not-yet-walking-but-VERY-mobile 7 month old. I was BEYOND exhausted and we had delay after delay and I had no stroller to put him in just to keep him in one spot because I had checked it.

    Also… once they are mobile… I know it’s expensive, but BUY THEM A SEAT. NO mobile child is willing to sit on their parents lap for an entire flight. PURE TORTURE for ALL involved!!

  3. There are myriad helpful tips on this blog, but the simple ones like SW’s unassigned seating and the triangle crayon tip are extremely helpful! Now I need to go email the link to this blog to all my family and friends who may travel. Thanks, Fish, for sharing your immense knowledge!

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