How to Fly With Kids Without Stress

Let's face it. Flying with kids can be one of those "make or break" moments in our lives as parents when our mettle is tested and we find out what we're really made of.

A bored and whiny or squirmy child. Tantrums complete with crying or screaming. Glaring fellow passengers and exasperated flight attendants. Chances are you've been there, and you don't look forward to going there again.

Is there anything you can do to prevent (or at least reduce) the stress of flying with kids? Could you even make it fun?

The answer is, "Yes." Really. The key is to plan ahead. Pack lots of entertainment and snack items in your carry-on, and prepare your kids for what to expect. Here's a great checklist of things to do beforehand to make your next airplane trip relaxing, and even fun, for the whole family.


Book Seats Together

Young child looking through airplane window
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When making airline reservations, book seats together so that your whole family is sitting in one area and your child’s frequent bathroom breaks don't disturb fellow passengers. Kids like to look out the window, so try to book a window seat if possible.


Build in Extra Time to Arrive at the Airport

Boy on airplane playing with toy airplane
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Alas, gone are the days of pre-parenthood when you could throw your bags in a taxi and zip to the airport just before your flight took off. Rather than suffer the stress of being late getting to the airport with your family (which can spill over into your mood during the flight), give yourself plenty of time to get there, get through security, and arrive at your gate.

Remember, you're doing things on kid time now, so don't forget to allow for their unexpected bathroom trips, the pleas to play airport video games, and...but we'll stop here, or you'll never get off the ground.


Prepare Your Kids for Security Screening

Waiting in line at airport
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Having to go through metal detectors, taking off jackets (and, for kids over 12, shoes), putting precious belongings on a belt and watching them disappear into a dark, unknowable space—it can all be confusing and even frightening for children. Fortunately, you can keep it from happening. Well before you head to the airport, tell your kids what to expect and why it's necessary.

Emphasize that the security check is an important step in flying, and explain that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers are there to help keep everyone safe in the air. No need to frighten them with talk of people who could cause harm; just be reassuring and show that you're entirely comfortable with the security procedures.


Bring Some Movies

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Don't think you have room for a laptop, iPad, or other movie-playing devices in your carry-on? Think again. You'll be grateful you have it. A good kids' movie can easily absorb a child's attention for an hour and a half or more, which means you're unlikely to hear "I'm bored!" for at least that long. (For longer flights, be sure to load several movies onto your laptop or iPad. Consider fairly tame video games, too.) Be sure to pack earphones so other passengers aren't disturbed.


Pack Coloring Books and Other Quiet Activities

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Coloring books, crayons, drawing paper, and markers will help keep kids occupied if they get bored with watching movies. When you're flying out, encourage your kids to draw pictures of things they want to do once you get to your destination. On the way back, they can draw pictures of their favorite memories of the trip or the things they missed most about home.


Don't Forget Books

Young boy reading book
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Bring some great kids’ books along, both in print and on CDs or on your iPod, ebook, or MP3 player. An older child may enjoy reading a book quietly; a younger child might prefer listening to an audiobook. Either way, consider choosing something exciting or action-packed so that your child’s attention is more likely to stay focused on it for a period of time.


Bring Family Travel Games

Mother and son playing together in the plane
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Travel checkers, chess, Scrabble, or any other board game that's compact and has magnetic pieces (because tiny game pieces can get lost) are perfect for airplane travel. And because Murphy’s Law tends to apply to any sort of travel with kids, bringing along some fun family travel games will prepare you for coping with unexpected delays.


Pack Snacks

Children eating on plane
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Your grade-schooler may not be a toddler who needs to eat every couple of hours, but you don't want a hungry, cranky kid on your hands if there are any delays. In addition, bringing along some healthy snacks such as low-fat cheese, crackers, and fruit can help you avoid the high-fat, high sugar snacks that you’re bound to find near airport gates or be offered on the plane. (Remember to buy juice and water after you pass TSA screening since you won't be able to bring liquids through security.)


Bring Lollipops or Gum

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The weird sensation of your "ears popping" due to air pressure changes during takeoff and landing can be disconcerting enough to adults—just think how it may feel for a child. It can also be painful. To minimize the discomfort, be sure to include lollipops or other hard candy for your kids to suck and/or gum for them to chew during takeoff and landing.


Prepare Your Child for an Emergency

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Without being alarming, prepare your child for what to do in case you get separated: Make sure your child knows his or her full name, address, and home telephone number, and tell your child to ask a woman who's with a child for help if needed.

The best way to keep your child safe in crowded public places such as the airport is never to let him or her out of your sight. Emphasize to your child never to wander away without Mom or Dad. (That goes for using public bathrooms at airports, too.) If you’re traveling alone with a child of the opposite gender, use a family restroom.

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