Flying with Family: 5 Tips for a Comfortable, Stress-Free Flight

This summer, like many families, yours may be planning a vacation that includes flights. In order not to have any nasty surprises at the airport, we’ve put together a shortlist of tips to make sure those flights go as smoothly as possible

A backpack is a great option on board

backpacks for kids on a flight
Think about it. Even little kids can wear a backpack and it’s a great psychological and practical tool. When you make your child autonomous and in charge of their “stuff” on a flight, it can help them settle in to know that they have selected their entertainment when at home. Plus, it makes small kids feel grown up and adventurous. On the practical side, this trick means you can offload some of the essential items onto the kid that needs them. I put my son’s asthma inhaler in his pack and snacks are easily accessible to each child when they’re in a well-stocked backpack.

Stuff that backpack with a few surprises
Cheap, drugstore toys (mazes and stickers are some favorites) are a fun diversion on a flight. We like to stow a few items in the pack for our kids to discover once we’re aloft. A quiet flight can be all about distraction, baby. We have no shame in this department. Plus, the other passengers will thank you.

Keep to the Schedule

napping baby on flight
We’re not talking about the flight schedule here. No, what we mean is do not go against the flow of your small child’s nap schedule. If at all possible, try to book your flights to coincide with the little one’s regular nap time. Or at the very least, don’t book a flight when you know that junior has a hard time (late afternoon, or as we call it in our house, the wilding hours). Are you thinking – but the late naptime flight is cheaper? Girl. Please. You know your child. Unless you’re saving hundreds of dollars – it’s probably best to just pay a little extra and save yourself the headache.

Forget what you’ve heard about screen time
Well, not really. We do limit our kids’ screen time at home. No child needs to zone out in front of a computer screen—except for on long flights. Repeat this one again. And again. It’s okay to let your kiddo watch a couple of movies on a long flight. It does not make you a bad parent. It does make you a more relaxed parent and a good flight neighbor. Confiscate the iPad immediately on landing if it makes you feel better!

And the number one tip that will save you grief at the airport….

Do not assume you’ve booked seats together
This one can be particularly frustrating for parents who arrive at the airport assuming that they will, in fact, be seated with their kiddos. You can’t always make that leap anymore – though, if your kids are under 13 recent legislation has been passed that requires the airline to seat the child next to at least one parent without charge. These days, a lot of economy class tickets are sold a la carte. If you buy any sort of “basic” economy fare, its very likely you bought a seat without a specific assignment. Seat assignments are often sold as an add-on. It’s a very good idea to read the fine print to assure your ticket includes seat assignments if you don’t want a hassle at the gate.

child on a flight

Airlines are not in the business of splitting small children up from their families, but in an era where paying customers are ponying up extra cash to select the seat they prefer – less travelers are interested in swapping seats so your tween and teenager can sit together. If seating as a group is a priority – please save yourself the stress, and just purchase those specific seats.

One final thought. If you do find yourself inconveniently separated from your partner on a flight and she’s got the baby at the other end of the plane – we urge you to heed this one sneaky tip. Relax. Open a book. Take a little nap yourself. Then, at some point in the flight, go and scoop up your kiddo and give mama a real break – a chance to rest, read and have a cocktail. Your baby will appreciate the change in scenery. Your neighbors will have had a break from your lovely peanut (not everyone loves kids, its FINE.) In fact, you may find you like this little trick more than the original plan where you all sit together!

For more tips for flying with infants, read our series, Air Travel with Your Infant.

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