20 Tips for Flying with Kids

20 tips for flying with kids

At the end of this month we are flying with Henry (age 7) and Edie (age 15 months) to Tokyo to visit my parents who are living there for a short time. They are living in the Hiroo neighborhood of Tokyo doing some law work for the Mormon church. Traveling on a long international flight with a 15 month old is not an idea situation but I’ve been getting lots of great advice from friends and family and you all, and thought I’d share a few of them with you today (and please feel free to chime in with your own advice, we’ll need it!)…

1. Request the front row of your section so you can use their baby bassinet if you’re flying international. You’ll have to call to reserve the right row and may have to come early to reserve the bassinet on that row since most planes only have one and it’s first come, first served. (I was able to reserve one on the way back but still hoping to switch things around and get one on the way there as well).

2. But if you can’t do that…when you’re checking in at the gate- if it’s not full, see if you can sit next to an open seat (if your child is under 2 but needs room).

3. Make sure to bring a charger for the phone/ipad for older kids. You do NOT want to run out of batteries in the middle of a Baby Einstein.

4. Choosing an overnight flight and then asking your pediatrician for something to help them sleep a little deeper (like children’s benadryl).

5. Choosing seats as a family that are actually apart, not together. This was an interesting idea. It could help in a few ways: A. It gives one parent a break for a time, B. You may find that one set of seats are next to more baby friendly travellers, and C. It gives that baby wanting to wander someone to visit down the aisle.

6. 30,000 feet is not the time to teach them a lesson or discipline. Just keep them, yourself and the other passengers happy. Which brings me to the next one…

7. Lots of dum dum lollipops! Or any small treat that is both entertaining to eat and sweet.

8. Wrapping toys. I’ve heard this idea a lot. You wrap a few dollar store toys and the kids can open up one every hour or so for a long flight. Edie might be too young for this but it’s a great idea for 2 or 3 yr old I think.

9. Mess free coloring sheets. No possibility they can color outside the lines and onto the tray table.

10. “Look at the in flight magazine & try to find all the puppies”-Love this idea by my friend, Rachel. Edie LOVES puppies.

11. Flashy, spinny toys for tantrums  (like these).

12. Walking the aisles. Over and over and over.

13. Age appropriate phone/tablet games like Peekaboo barn (they have a whole series for littles).

14. Good idea to practice using headphones now so they’re used to not pulling them off by the time you fly.

15. Pack new dollar store toys or books they haven’t seen (maybe trade with some friends!)

16. Bring containers or bags that things can be taken in and out of.

17. Dress them in footed pjs. They’re simpler and easy to change diaper.

18. Bring earplugs and candy bars for your neighbors too.

19. You my be able to fashion a bed at your feet for a little one with blankets and coats (until the bucket seatbelt light comes on…). We’re planning on bringing our soft travel crib.

20. Lower your expectations (you probably won’t read that book on the plan) but have something within arms length to read or listen to if you find yourself with a sleeping baby on your lap.

Any tips you’d add here? Would love to hear your advice!


Very helpful post Liz, and so timely! We’re headed to France as a family next month (the twins first flight, at age 2). I’ve been devouring everything I can find online, and I haven’t seen some of these tips…thank you!

P.S. A couple of more things…
Rule of thumb for intercontinental flights: consider 1 diaper for each hour of travel (it seems a lot but, believe me, it’s one of those “better-safe-than-sorry situation!”) and 2 complete change of clothes for your 15-month old baby (including socks!) and 1 for your older child.

Two things that I always bring on board: a roll of paper towel (yes, I’ve had to use it more than once…) and a couple of plastic bags for garbage to keep the plane clean!

Don’t overload the children with sweets, electronic stimuli, etc.!

We travel between the US and Europe at least once a year. We have two children and they started to fly when they were three months or younger! We don’t use ipad/iphones and we don’t let them watch videos but we are always complimented on how well-behaved they are. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. For a flight this is what I pack for each them: a couple of activity books (or appropriate busy toys for younger children) that they’ve never seen (e.g. huge sticker truck books, books of mazes, etc!); a small pad and a set of 4/5 crayons each; a new book to read together; a meal. About the last item: there is nothing worse than plane food. It’s just plain awful and kids do better when they eat what they are comfortable with: so pack their favorite sandwich, yogurt, fruit, dessert etc. Refuse the airplane meals (yes, that means getting a raised eyebrow from the attendants: just ignore them) so the kids can eat when they want (and maybe sleep afterwards!) and what they like. Bonus: you won’t have to wait an hour to have your trays cleaned-up. Splitting the parents/kids is a good idea especially if the kids tend to argue…It also gives them some change/distraction every couple of hours. Good luck!

I’ve been living in Tokyo for 12 years and I love this city. I also have a blog about it, featuring cool spots off the beaten track. Maybe it’s useful info for your visit 🙂 > http://universotokyo.com

We do a lot of the things you mention: Buy (or trade with friends) cheap McDonald’s toys and kids’ magazines and a few new thrift store books. We wrap the toys in streamers to make it more exciting and time-consuming. Each kid gets a few fun snacks that we don’t usually buy at home. We download a new movie or game for the iPad. I always hide extras in my bag for the trip home so that there are new things for them to discover. Those black scratch art pages are big hits, as well as those invisible ink notepads with the marker that reveals hidden pictures (not sure that made sense).

Hi Liz,
Really stellar list of ideas here! A couple to add based on our experience.
– When you are traveling on overnight or very long flights where you need to sleep, we use liquid melatonin in addition to a dosage of benadryl. I find that the liquid melatonin is much more effective than the tabs.

– Band-aids! seriously. when my kids were little, they loved to play with band-aids. opening the box, unwrapping each one, sticking them all over themselves and you is so good for little fingers to practice and takes them forever to manage and when all you have is time, a $2 box of hello kitty band-aids is a simple sacrifice.
have a great trip! can’t wait to hear about it.

My kids are now 10 & 7 but I flew to Thailand with them numerous times when they were smaller. Do not use Benedryl because it had the opposite effect on my daughter. She was 14 months and I put off her morning nap (we took off at 1) and when we got on the plane I gave her a shot of Benedryl and her bottle as we took off and I thought for sure she would sleep. NO! She didn’t settle down until we were landing in Tokyo! Kept her busy with electronics and walking the aisles but with my next kid I learned my lesson and booked flights that left after midnight. Red-eye flights (and no Benedryl) worked for us.

Take an umbrella stoller with you not a big stroller. They’re great when walking throug airports since you can strap the kids in them so they won’t wander off, especially when clearing customs which can take a while. Also, it sounds strange but take your own disposable diapers. I thought that Pampers in Asia were the same as what we had in the States but my daughter go the WORST diaper rash which made the flight home a nightmare. After that I always packed enough diapers for the whole trip and never had problems with rashes.

Just remember that you have young kids and it’s not going to be perfect but the next time you fly as they get older it will get easier!

We lived in Tokyo for 2 years near Hiroo and I flew with my 3 children who were 5,2 and 11 months old at the time. The best advice I can give you is not to stress to much. I was so stressed every time we flew and every time the kids were fine with no major problems. I love Japan and have many fond memories of my time there. Have a great time!

we live in Tokyo! we love it here! have you been before? you’ll love it! we’ve traveled all over with our three little kids (ages 5, 2, and 11 months). my biggest tip is to not stress! I swear those babies can sense anxiety!!! lol! but also, we like to load new games/movies on our devices that our kids haven’t seen before so it’s more of a surprise for them on the plane. and for our baby, we pretty much just feed him the entire time…Cheerios, crackers, nursing, etc. good luck with the flight and enjoy tokyo–it’s the best!!! (ps. are you parents in the tokyo 1st ward? we’re in the yokota air base ward but we know some people in that area!)

we’ve been all over the world with our kids (africa, asia, europe, s.america).

yes to the iPad, good kids headphones, good snacks and treats, water, notebook and markers or pencil crayons, new toys.


for 1-2 yr olds:
. puffy stickers that they can put all over airplane windows, trays and seats and they pull off super easily at the end of the flight, or as part of the play.
. carribeaners, clips, easy buckles, button flashlights, etc. from outdoor stores like REI/MEC that they can play with.
. sleep sack for overnight.
. ergo or other soft carrier for when things go totally sideways and you need to bounce them at the back of the plane until they fall asleep.

for 2-4 yr olds:
. brain quest flash cards, silly putty, temporary tattoos, little robert munsch books, a bit of playmobil (but not the tiny little things),

for 4-5 yr olds:
. brain teaser toys like: orbo snap and match sphere, card game.
. this is very splurgy, but a shock proof, water proof, sand proof digital camera provides HOURS of entertainment. especially if you’re going on a beach holiday and present the “family camera” to your kid on the plane and tell him/her this is their chance to practice, so they can take pics on the trip.

i think once you have a kid this age, you can rely on iPhone and iPad for videos, apps, etc. we downloaded an app that stored youtube videos on your phone to watch without wifi. we use this TONS. there are stories read aloud, music videos, and any number of random kids youtube videos. this is also great for getting through customs line ups and waiting for luggage and taxis or whatever … when having an iPad out just isn’t practical.

i happen to think discipline is important regardless of where you are and don’t think it’s a great idea to slack off on a plane.

and for our insanely overactive boy, i’m a big fan of the CARES seatbelt that has shoulder harnesses. we’ve just trained him that the plane is like the car… you stay in your seat, buckled in. (except when you go to the bathroom)

Buying good quality headphones for children that actually fit their heads is a must. Some of the cheaper ones break so easily plus are not padded. The Nabi are great. Also, airplanes are not the cleanest places to be. But after a long haul flight and people in and out of the washrooms a small package of antibacterial wipes is a must. After all, where are you going to be changing the babies diaper other than that now dirty bathroom! Believe me, I am not a clean nut but after two long haul flights recently with different airlines neither was even remotely clean. Have a wonderful time, there are some awesome tips by people in the know here.

I brought a few lengths of inexpensive ribbon with me (I actually got the thin pink rope from Home Depot) and tied one end to my kids lovies and most important toys and the other end to the arm of the chair. It saved us from constantly having to bend over and feel for a dropped toy without disturbing the person in front of us. And, it helped us keep track of the toys that would cause emotional meltdowns if we ever forgot them on the plane.

We are from the US but live in Asia so we have made the long trip home many times. I agree with packing light. The fewer things you have to keep track of the better. Our first trip I wrapped all these cute little toys and crafts and the thrill was short-lived. Now we carry Ipads (with special kids earphones, one small notebook per child, and crayon set. My girls also love wasabi tape on a plane. I give them each a couple rolls and they decorate the chairs, tables, walls, etc. They even make tic tac toe boards. Clean up is a breeze. Have a great trip. Japan is an amazing (and clean!) place to visit with children.

I can’t wait to hear all about this trip! It’s one of the tops on our wish list for travel. The flights to Asia can be brutal, but so worth it! I hope you’ll get a smooth one. I’m sure Henry is a breeze and so Edie will have an awesome example. It’s almost all the worry leading up to lift-off that’s the worst. By the way, how old is Henry? I have heard that air sickness can be an issue for older kids if they show any signs of motion sickness.

I have a bunch of family travel tips here: http://www.hitherandthither.net/?s=Family%2BTravel
I think that the one on flying with kids will be most useful–things I’ve learned like keeping one adult off with the kids while the other boards the plane with the stuff (int’l flights: boarding alone can take an hour on those big jets!) Also, if you can’t use the bassinet, it’s a toss whether the front row is worthwhile… especially if they play movies on a big screen. It might be worth asking. Last time they played Maleficent and we couldn’t keep Hudson from staring at it! Plus no stowage and no lifting armrests. But you do get extra leg room…

Anyway, I’m sure you’re a pro at activities, but I came up with some for Cheerios (use same link) that have been great on recent trips (and at the table)–think tweezers.

Good luck! So excited for you!

When we went to NYC from sf with 9 month old on a redeye, we let her fall asleep in the ergo before boarding and she stayed asleep the whole flight!

Yes to lots of snacks, milk, and new toys and books. Looking forward to an update later. We plan on going to Paris when our daughter will be about 2 and 9 months. The flight scares me…

I’ve flown quite a few times with my kids and I’ve got to say that the best thing ever is kid’s headphones. Those airline headphones are gigantic (they’re even too big for me!) so they just don’t stay on little heads. Plus kid’s headphones generally minimise the volume so that even if kids turn it all the way up it’s not going to hurt their little ears.

Speaking of ears, it might be handy to have a few pairs of EarPlanes with you. I haven’t ever actually needed to use them with my kids but I used to use them myself a lot back when I commuted to work by plane twice a week. They really help with the pressure and they come in kid size as well as adult size.

The age limit for the bassinet on planes is usually about 8 – 10 months, although I guess it depends on a baby’s size. Have you checked with the airline that Edie will fit in it? I wasn’t able to use it with my then 1 year old when I flew from Australia to California as I was told she was too old. For that flight I was on my own with two kids (4 years and 1 year) so I purchased an extra seat for my little one and had her sit in her car seat. Sure it cost a lot more but it was the best thing ever for my sanity! She was comfortable and her seat was familiar so she slept really well. Plus the car seat boosted her up high enough to be able to see the screen in front of her. Those screens are great but it can be tricky to angle them just right for little kids.

Even if you can’t use the bassinet, the front row is a great spot to sit with kids as there’s all that extra legroom that they can play in. When I flew from California to Italy with my then two year old as a lap infant this extra space was invaluable. I had an empty seat next to me too which was great. However, I made the mistake of asking the flight attendant if my daughter could sit there seeing as it was empty. She said no and then kept an eye on us for the rest of the flight! I wish I’d never asked and just put my daughter there in the first place. I’m guessing I just got a grumpy flight attendant on that particular flight.

One thing to remember about that front row of seats though is that the arm rests don’t lift up. So if you have a child next to you who wants to cuddle it can be kind of tricky. Depending on the length of a flight I’ll often go for a regular row instead of the front one so we can lift the arms rests up.

When the whole family flies together we always get seats a row apart. My husband sits with our oldest daughter and our two younger ones sit with me. I make sure that we’re only one row apart so we can still share snacks etc. This also means that we can set window seats rather than all sitting together in the middle section on larger planes.

I’ve never given my kids Benadryl before a flight. I’ve heard that it can have the opposite effect leaving you on a long haul flight with a hyped up kid!

My big kids love having their own hand luggage. We have Trunki suitcases which they can ride on in the airport. The kids feel grown up having their own special luggage and Trunki races are a great way to kill time during a lay over. Airports can be pretty boring – except for Changi in Singapore. That airport is amazing!

I love your idea of gift wrapping a few small items for kids to open during the flight. We’ll be flying back to Australia to visit family over the Summer break so I’ll definitely be doing this!

Half of our family lives in the UK, so we’ve done the long flights a few times now. One thing we learned the hard way when traveling with our 3 year old and 16 month old was you are not guaranteed a meal for the little one. Lap children do not get meals if the flight is full. We didn’t know that till our last flight, and so we had one hungry mommy as my meal went to the baby. So pack lots of food just in case!!

We are flying to Israel with our 19 month old twins next month. Its a direct flight and we are bringing carseats for them. I read on another blog that one parent should go on the plane first and set everything up so that the other parent can stay with the kids and let them run around till they get tired.

So happy you posted this. I hope a lot of your readers post more advice. We are really nervous about the flight!

I love that tip about one parent going on first–and the carseat one, yes that’s a great one if they have their own seat for sure

Thank you for these tips! We travel out to Seoul (Korea) all the time, so I think I know that your trip to Tokyo might be quite a challenge.

This book helped a lot (maybe for Henry?):


And since you’re going to have Cheerios on hand… How about the cheerios necklace idea for Edie? :o)

Also, if you’re giving colorful candies to Henry… Sorting by color and drawing pictures to use the candies (let’s say, Skittles) in a picture is pretty time-consuming, too! Haha.

You guys will really enjoy Tokyo. I actually grew up there and Tokyo Disneyland was so fun! :o)

When I travel with my kids it’s tough to keep them occupied but I found these awesome doodle books online and they just love them! They are the perfect size for travel and I love that my kids are fostering their creative side 🙂


My family lives in Asia so we do a lot of long-distance traveling (we were just on a 15.5-hour flight a couple weeks ago). I think travel tips have a lot to do with the kids’ ages. Our kids are slightly older now (3 and 6) and we found it the most helpful to pack LIGHT and rely on the “treat” of technology (like iPads and the seat-front screens). We didn’t need presents and toys. The best thing we did was talk up the flight as an awesome, amazing adventure for months–and promise them that we would 1) let them play with the iPad/watch as many movies as they wanted and 2) not force them to sleep (this was a good one for me–I allowed myself not to worry about them sleeping, knowing they’d be tired regardless). They were SO excited about the flight and it was a success all around. (They stayed up ridiculously late and then crashed for the last 8 hours of the flight–which was awesome.)

We did travel long distances when our kids were younger and toys were a bit more helpful then. We brought Play-Doh–a big hit–and a few small activities like a baggie of Lego and a sticker book. I don’t recommend bringing many toys because honestly, they make for short-lived distractions and are really annoying to corral in your tiny seat. (It is REALLY not fun to have to keep reaching down into the black hole by your feet to pick up the toys that inevitably fall.) The thing is, little kids love playing with things that aren’t toys–they had a perfectly fine time shredding the airplane-provided paper cups, perusing the in-flight magazine, eating and playing with provided peanuts. Also–ice! Our kids loved playing/eating cups of ice, which the flight attendants happily provided.
I would recommend testing Benedryl at home first–multiple times! Our doctor recommended Benedryl for our 1-year-old on that first long flight and she cried for 7 hours, freaking out because she felt “off” but couldn’t sleep. It was a huge mistake.
And while footie jams are awesome for babies, I don’t think I’d recommend them for toddlers because you wouldn’t want them getting the feet dirty/wet in the bathroom. I would, instead, have them wear really comfortable, easy to remove shoes.

I blogged about this subject here: https://soundsandbites.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/traveling-with-kids-lessons-learned/

Such wise advice. I’ve heard that about benadryl too. will definitely try it out beforehand (in fact, just picked up some today!)

I just flew to Mexico with a one year old and 4 year old. Oddly enough, colored band aids and rolls of scotch tape were hits with both kids. Regular stickers are great too and try hitting the dollar aisle of Target. There’s often cuter stuff there than at a dollar store. Oh and always wear a big scarf–it’s great for mini forts, peekabo, nursing and nappping.

A calculator! As a pretend mobile phone, or just buttons to press (no noise). And I second the flashing toys, minimal neighbour disruption but so fascinating. Lastly, if you want your kids to enjoy any tv time and you’re not sure about the fit, take kids headphones – saves putting the ear buds back in thousands of times!

We learnt these tips travelling with two 18month old lap infants and a 3.5 year old on international long haul… (Australia to California!) 🙂

And don’t forget, most likely you’ll never see those grumpy travellers again 😉

Best of luck, hope they are perfect for you x

I need to remember that about the grumpy travelers!! So hard to not stress about what others are thinking and how they’re responding

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