8 Tips for Flying With Children

Kids and quality family time go together like peanut butter and jelly; kids and long plane rides ... not so much. Flying with children is never a breeze, but you can minimize the level of turbulence if you play your cards right. Read on for tips on making the trip as easy on your kid—and yourself—as possible.

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Ready for Takeoff?

By Lauren Katulka

If the thought of strapping in for a long-haul flight with your brood in tow makes you want to reach for an oxygen mask, relax! Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, the founder of family travel site Momaboard.com, has circled the globe with her 4-year-old and 2-year-old. Her tips can help ensure your next family flight is as painless as possible.

Come Overprepared

Be aware that electronic devices aren’t allowed from the gate up to 10,000 feet, and prepare to pass the time with books and toys. Try pipe cleaners (for instant animals!), magnet tangrams or free printable board games. Wrap small toys from the dollar store in gift paper and space them out during the flight. It’s like a birthday party on a plane!

Choose the Right Carrier

Liability issues prevent airport and airline staff in the U.S. from handling children, but some carriers are still more family-friendly than others. Bhojwani-Dhawan loves flying with Singapore Airlines and Emirates, which both offer a slew of children's entertainment and kid-friendly meals.

Bring the Flight to Life

Spark your child’s interest in how things work by teaching him about flight. From the airport windows, watch planes take off while you wait to board. Fold a few paper airplanes and talk about the fascinating physics of flight. When you get on the plane, plug some headphones in and listen to the air traffic controllers clear the pilot for takeoff. Your kid will be so enthralled with what’s going on that he’ll forget to make a fuss or kick the chair in front of him!

Tucker ‘Em Out

The airport is one public place where you actually want your kid to run around in public. Run alongside the moving sidewalks to “race” other people. Walk around the airport until you spot every gate. Even better, hit the playground in the morning before leaving for the airport. After burning some calories, sitting (or sleeping!) in one spot for several hours won’t sound so bad—for you or your passenger. The dirty looks you might get in the airport won’t be as bad as the ones you’ll avoid on the flight.

Relieve Ear Pain

Not all kids know how to “pop” their ears to relieve the pain from changes in air pressure. Eating and chewing gum during takeoff and landing can help, but to be sure, try out this method: Ask a flight attendant for two cups and two napkins dampened by hot water. Stick the napkins in the cups, and have your child put the cups over his ears. Voila!

Invent Adventure

The day before the trip, help your child draw a “map” of the different legs of your journey—getting boarding passes, going through security, taking off, and even different segments of the flight, such as flying over the Rocky Mountains or past big cities. On trip day, let your child follow along by putting stickers over each step. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Explain Everything

Make sure your child knows what will happen along each step of the way, and why. Explain the security process, checking luggage, how to board, flight procedures, what he’ll be allowed to carry on, what the airplane bathroom will look like … everything. If you’ve got a preschooler, consider buying a book like Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport to help pave the way for smooth travels.

Just Do Your Best

Parents are often anxious about how other passengers will respond to their children, but Bhojwani-Dhawan insists that passengers don’t expect them to behave perfectly. Instead, they’re more concerned about badly behaved kids whose parents don’t try to improve the situation. “When I board a plane with my 2-year-old and 4-year-old, I typically let people know that I am going to do my best to make sure it’s a smooth flight for everyone around," she says. So don’t get nervous. Employ these tips and relish the family vacation to come. You deserve it!

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