Flying With Children

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Most people worry about flying with children. I used to, but now I don’t know why I ever did. We’ve done it many, many times including flying the seriously long-haul UK to Australia routes with kids. It holds no horrors for me and hasn’t for years.

No, my children are not angels, far from it, but flying has always been OK, often it’s been great fun.

In the early days I missed out on a fair bit of sleep, but that goes hand in hand with parenthood.

We’re past that stage now, the children are 9 and 7, they love it, so do I. Here are some thoughts and tips on flying with children.

kids on a plane kids from world travel family travel blog
My kids on a plane flying to adventure. Not the sort of plane you were thinking of, right? I just thought I’d introduce ourselves, we’re very real people. This post is about flying on regular airlines, not small planes like this. Not many kids have done this!

Flying With Children, Our Tips

Flying with children is OK, so long as you and your children are prepared and everyone has realistic expectations.

It can even be enjoyable.

Tips and thoughts on flying with children, below.

Budget Airline or Full Service Airline?

Most of this post refers to flying with children on long-haul, full-service airlines.

Budget airlines are great for short flights, but any flight of any length, with kids, will be much better enjoyed on an airline that provides food, drink, and seatback entertainment.

Nobody loves budget flights. Budget seats are uncomfortable, there are no movies to enjoy and food has to be paid for or pre-ordered, comforts are few.

If you possibly can, book a full-service airline.

For any flight longer than 5 hours you should really consider if the cheaper seats on a budget airline are really worth it.

Particularly if that flight is at night and you’ll be losing sleep.

Prepare the kids for the flight

I love flying! It’s a very rare opportunity for me to sit, chill, do nothing and have lovely people bring me food and wine.

Budget airlines are an altogether different experience.

What’s not to like with a full-service airline? Try to tell the kids how great flying is before you leave, for weeks beforehand if necessary.

Don’t tell them they’ll be on a plane for ages and they’ll have to sit still etc. Focus on the positives, lots of food, lots of TV, looking out of the window at the ground below, and being up in the clouds.

It puts them in the right frame of mind to have a happy flight.

We flew on Singapore Airlines recently, there were drinks and snack available throughout the flight, between meals. All we had to do was ask the cabin crew and food and drinks would appear.

This service is not confined to Singapore, we’ve seen it on other full service airlines.

Babies’ Air Cots, Bassinets and Slings

My worst flight ever was when my son was 11 months old and small enough to have one of those air cots that fit onto the bulkhead, but still a fairly mobile active tot.

It was unpleasant. Every time there was turbulence (which was often) I had to get him out of the cot and attach him to my seat-belt, waking him up in the process.

I was constantly worried that he’d fall or climb out, shrugging off the strip of velcro that lashed him down.

I had a much better time flying with a baby the second time around. I opted to hold my second child all the way to Australia from the UK at the same age.

A fabric sling/baby carrier helped a lot. I have used these slings on many airlines including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Blue, and South African, but some airlines won’t allow it. I was banned from using it on Jet Star.

In-Flight Entertainment When Flying With Kids

On full-service airlines, you can pick from dozens of recent movies and TV shows in the air, not something that happens to me on the ground and it’s rather a luxury.

Kids can be totally blown away by this, being in full control of their own viewing, no compromises needed. Sometimes they can play computer games on the plane too.

On budget airlines with screens for hire, we do tend to buy them access sometimes, now they’re old enough. Particularly if a really great movie that they’re longing to see is available.

It’s really not so expensive when you think about cinema prices. 

There is no Mum nagging them to turn screens off in the air, I let them watch until their bodies tell them it is time to sleep.

Tiny tots won’t be sucked in by the screens unfortunately, for the early years mum and dad have to handle entertainment.

I became blessed with an elder child who read voraciously, so short-haul budget routes with no TV screen weren’t an issue, and I just talk to, read to, or played games with the little one.

These days they both read in no movies are available on a plane.

Before the advent of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books, we did, once, take a portable DVD player with us on the flight. This gadeget bought us a couple of hours but battery life was limited.

I’m not a fan of these things generally, ours broke quickly and I was glad when it did.

These days of course there are phones, we can download movies from Netflix or other suppliers and have plenty of movies or TV shows to keep us entertained on even the longest flight.

In general I’d rather interact with younger children or entertain them in some other way for at least part of the flight, so for little ones I’d pack reading books and maybe a game.

\Of course, nowadays everyone has a tablet or phone and you could easily pre-load a movie or two for your child to watch. Don’t forget to pack a headset for him.

When they were too small to zone out in front of TV, things were harder. Then you have to take a few distractions, we used to find stickers were good, little ones get hours of fun out of stickers.

No chance for Mum to watch a movie when flying with the tiny children, you’ve just got to bite the bullet and give them your undivided attention for most of the time. After all, that’s all they really want.

Lots of walking up and down the aisles, talking and jiggling, makes for happier toddlers.

A lovely lady once took a shine to my 11-month old on a 10-hour flight and played with him intermittently all the way to London. I loved that lady.

Sleeping on Planes For Kids

I don’t worry too much about what time they get to sleep on a plane, their body clocks are going to be all over the place for a few days after flying and we will rest as needed on arrival.

Kids can, of course, sleep very comfortably in economy class on a good airline, so can I, mostly.

The new seats that many airlines have are great, but I’m short, for once I can pity the 6 footers and not envy their endless legs.

My elder one has a “cuddle pillow” that had to come with us, it was bulky but made for a comfortable flight for him. He has his own little backpack to carry it.

I had to learn to chill and accept the fact that it would be absolutely filthy and dragged all over every floor or surface he could find.

My younger child managed with the airline pillows, but usually one or both of them ends up with their head on Mum’s lap.

I still sit between them on flights, it makes for a much better journey.

Stop Overs at Exotic Airports with Children

We once had 6 hours to kill, in the middle of the night, in Hong Kong airport. I was dreading it.

But, hang on,” We’re in China Mum! ”  How exciting is that!

So several hours of exploring the shops and restaurants, watching a man making noodles, looking at displays on Chinese art and culture, playing in a nice little play area, and finally watching cartoons in the departure lounge and we were still all smiles and on our way to London.

Every now and again your children totally surprise you.

I know a lady who booked a room at the airport, on the same flight. Her children had no plans to sleep, it was a disaster.

You may be able to gauge how well rested your children will be after flying part of the way and predict their needs at the stopover airport. But it’s tricky, excitement usually wins over sleep.

Now they are older we’re able to take tours from layover airports sometimes. Check out this wonderful layover tour we took in Belgrade when flying back from Bangkok on Etihad.

Flying and Eating with Kids

We are grateful, in our family, to not have any serious food intolerances, so on planes, it’s a  food jamboree and I only remove the seriously toxic-looking stuff.

I avoid the children’s meals whenever possible, they always seem to have the most junk. I usually order them the adult vegetarian option as airline sausages are pretty dire.

I actually quite like airline food, I always request the Indian vegetarian menu.

Many airlines offer this, most people don’t know about it and many wouldn’t want it, but it suits me. I get some funny looks as I’m obviously not Hindu, but I love it.

I never wake the children up if meals arrive while they are asleep, nothing worse than tired, grumpy kids.

They obviously need sleep more right at that second and you can save them some food for later or go see what the aircrew have to offer as snacks.

Everything you could need food-wise should be on the plane if you’re flying full-service.

I don’t take my own snacks on planes as the kids love to get extra goodies from the air stewards and stewardesses.

Cabin crew will often have nuts, pretzels, juice, even sandwiches and ice cream on long haul flights.

Cabin crew like quiet children so are often more than happy to hand out food.

My children look forward to those little foil trays of food at meal times very much, they are a big part of flying for them.

Babies are another matter, I’ve done it, flown for 24 hours with a child that still needed bottles. It’s not so bad really, cabin crew are very helpful and provide hot water to make up bottles as needed.

Child Travel Equipment

Equipment, such as pushchairs, strollers, prams, car seats, and travel cots do not normally count as part of your baggage allowance, you can take as much as you like.

Sometimes you can keep your stroller right up to the point where you board the plane, it makes life so much easier. We always take our own car seats.

You can sometimes hire them with rental cars, but I like to know I’ve got my own, good quality one, with me.

My elder child is now 8, we still take a car seat with us, even to countries where they are not required by law. For instance, they are a legal requirement in the UK, not in Florida.

You need to check laws at your destination country before you leave.

Children and Hand Luggage

Take as little as possible! Getting up and down to the overhead locker while you are flying is no fun.  

Having loads of junk in your seating area is no fun either.

I avoid taking many toys, the children don’t play with them and invariably drop them all over the floor for Mum to pick up.

Ditto those gift bags most airlines hand out to children, I try to avoid those, there’s rarely anything any good in them and I’m not a fan of polluting through plastic junk.

I take snacks and drinks for the airport, but I make sure everything is consumed before we pass through to departure. Regulations sometimes ban any fresh fruit, dairy products or drinks being taken through to your destination.

I allow the children to take one special cuddly bear each when we are flying, any other toys they want to take are kept to a minimum, lots of negotiation is involved.

I take children’s paracetamol with me, in case of unexpected fevers arising as we are flying over Central Asia. So far, I haven’t needed it.

I also take some sweets to chew to help with ear pressure equalization at take off and landing. Again, we haven’t had any problems there.

Quality airline bathrooms usually have antiseptic hand wash and moisturizer, should you need them. I do still pack the baby wipes and hand gel, I’m unable to function without them.

I don’t pack a book for me, it’s frustrating if I want to read and don’t get the chance, so I just don’t bother.

Nappies/diapers, yes, obviously, fact of life. I’ve changed nappies in the air, balancing a baby on a plastic shelf in a tiny cubicle, it’s less than ideal, but it can be done.

Wedging one or more children between your knees as you wrestle with a dirty nappy is even harder. Those baby wipes are great for cleaning all surfaces that the children may touch.

We did once have a clean underwear incident seconds before we boarded a flight to Johannesburg, Luckily there was a bathroom in the departure lounge.

Some departure lounges don’t have bathrooms, make sure the children visit the washroom before you get to the gate, you never know how long you may be there.

Now that the children are completely trained I take maybe 1 spare set of clothes between the two of them in case of major spillages.

If you take duty-free purchases on-board, please don’t drop your bottle of spirits on the head of the lady sitting beneath your chosen overhead locker. Yes, it was me, it hurt!

Airport check-ins, security and waiting for luggage

These are hard work sometimes, for me they are the worst part of flying with children.

Singing or talking or playing talking games with the kids can help to keep them in an orderly queue.

Giving them their own jobs and responsibilities can help a bit too. But, whatever way you look at it, it’s not easy.

Seat kickers and screamers

Yes, it happens. I find it happens more when other children are around and my two constantly want to be turning around and standing on chairs to see what the other kids are doing.

It makes mum’s life harder, I have to keep sitting them back down.  

So please don’t play peekaboo with the children in front of you, most parents don’t want their child with their feet on the seats, looking over the seatback, please don’t encourage it.

I watch for any potential seat kicking from the moment we sit down and try to stop it straight away, before it has a chance to really start.

Screamers can be taken for a walk, fed or otherwise distracted, fingers crossed it doesn’t happen to you.

It’s Not Just The Kids!

My children are mostly fine now, they get so much easier as they get older and are cool with flying. They are in no way as irritating or offensive as the lady we had to endure all the way to Bangkok.

She thought it was amusing to throw things around the cabin and talk loudly for everybody else’s benefit.

Including swearing loudly in front of half a dozen or so children in adjacent rows.

Or the lady who insisted on hanging her feet over the back of my seat flying to Perth. Sometimes your fellow passengers are difficult, it’s not always the children!

A quiet, discreet word with cabin crew can often help, they did stop serving complimentary beverages to the passenger once I’d had a chat.

Perks of Flying with Children

You often get priority seating, ie. you board the plane first which is very exciting for the kids, a big empty plane, and lovely air crew smiling at them.

We are sitting down, hand luggage stowed, and looking at the magazines before the rush starts.

At airports, you are often ushered through fast track lanes too. (Bangkok is great for this!)

With tiny children you often get bulkhead seating. More leg room!

If there are any empty seats on the plane and some poor chap has been seated next to you and the kids, they usually move away. That’s a win.

Letting a bit of the kids’ joy and excitement at the whole flying experience and the miracle of seatback entertainment rub off on you can put a smile on any face. It really can be fun!

I wrote all of the above a few weeks ago, since then I bumped into a friend who recently flew from Cairns to London with her two children. She had a bad time, she struggled for almost every second. I really felt for her.  What must we be doing differently?  It could just be luck. As I mentioned, my children aren’t close to easy, one is a ball of energy and erratic impulses but flying seems to go OK for us.  Maybe because I talk up how great flying is beforehand and get them keen on the whole concept?  Maybe it’s just down to the individual child? Do you have any ideas? We can learn from each other, what are your experiences of flying with children?

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

16 thoughts on “Flying With Children”

  1. Hi, those tips are awesome and really helpful! By the way considering transportation laws, lugging car seats can be a nightmare! Did you know that Kidmoto can solve that problem for you? Ditch the car seats when flying with a baby! A life-saver, I promise! 🙂
    You can learn more at

  2. So do you have any particular tips on kids sleeping? I’m planning a first big trip with a 2yo and 4yo. Younger is freshly sleep trained with Susan Urban’s methods from her book and now she falls asleep basically everywhere with no problem. But the older one is at fighting sleep phase now and I’m pretty nervous about that.

    • Hi Helen. We just let ours sleep when they were tired, and we always knew when they were tired because they got cranky. One of them would just go off to sleep, no problem, the other I’d hold and walk up and down until he fell asleep, it was the only way I could ever get him to sleep. He’s almost 18 now, we got through it. All babies are different! Best of luck.

  3. I wish i could have read you post earlier, last year traveled with two kids ( 8 years and 2 year) it was a nightmare for me although it was only 6 hours flight but horrible experience for me…..ill follow your tips next time

  4. This is so helpful thank you. I wish I had found this sooner. I am a mother of three and I’m so interested to read more of your world schooling adventures.
    I hope it’s okay to share a great video on YouTube/ this is to show your kids before they fly to prepare them for their first time travelling. It shows them what to expect and what’s expected of them- read books, look out the window, snack time and watch a movie – they even use the on board toilet! It’s fun for kids to watch (it has Emma wiggle/Peppa pig things the little ones love) and they get a feel for what it will be like on a real airplane! Just search “flying with kids Emma Peppa” or here’s a link ????

  5. I love it when people play peekaboo over the seat back! Maybe it should be a matter of ask first. I imagine it depends a lot on the individual parents/children involved. But please don’t just stop I need that peekaboo!

    Very much agree about the book – I’ve done that before and it’s better just to write it off at the start. That said, we are now getting to the stage where if the whole family travels together, we can take turns slipping in a quick read – so I ended up taking a book on our last trip. (Then I ended up reading it out loud to my six year old – lucky I didn’t pack a steamy romance or anything.)

  6. We are doing our first flight with mr13mths next week. Only from syd to perth, but hoping it will not be a nightmare lol! Off to fiji in august, so we are hoping he will learn to love travel 🙂

  7. There are some great new ideas here. We’ve done dozens of trips around North America including several coast to coast, but we’re doing our first transatlantic flight in 8 weeks and I’m pretty nervous about how my four and five year old will do. We usually rely on the Ipads instead of in flight entertainment. The controls on the planes are usually pretty clunky and hard for small fingers to control and there are often only one or two channels with anything appropriate for kids. With the Ipad we load up a dozen or so movies and television shows that we know they will like and let them surf to their hearts’ content. We do fun little interactive games like Toca Teaparty and Toca Hair Studio together. We also load games like memory and Monopoly Jr to play with the kids. (No lost pieces that way!) Hopefully our long flights go as well as yours!

    • Hi Deanne, I’m seeing over and over that flying in the US is a very different experience to global long haul. You will be extremely pleasantly surprised by the movies, TV shows , music and games on the big carriers ( Emirates, Cathay, BA, all the big guys, the planes are incredible), it’s a different experience all together. Have a great trip!

  8. Lol I can totally relate! I do the USA trip To Australia a ton. I’m looking forward to the Dreamliner making a debut in our neck of the woods. Hopefully, it’ll soon be going to the UK from Australia too. Do you go through Dubia on the Emerites?

  9. Other than the underwear incident, it sounds like you really have worked hard to make flying peaceful and easy for your family. I love to hear families speak so positively about traveling experiences. I think expectations have a lot to do with how our kids respond to travel.

    • Hi Jessica, thanks so much for commenting. The underwear incident was a classic, just as they called us to board from Jo’burg to Perth. Always expect the unexpected when travelling with kids! Alyson

    • I don’t know if we’ve worked hard Jessica, travel is just so important to us that we had to find a way to make it work. We stopped for a few years, when we first moved to Australia and the children were small, but the pull of Asia is too strong for us, we have to be out exploring. Before we fell into homeschooling and the amazing freedom it gives us we thought we’d be stuck for the foreseeable future, but, we’re not, so we’re off. Thank you so much for stopping by, this is a very new blog, it’s nice to have some friendly company! Best wishes, Alyson.

  10. Most childern seem to go to sleep after take off I’ve found and also most are very well behaved I think so I agree, no excuse not to fly with children. Mind you I never did a long haul flight with mine but your two looked wonderful when they lept into my arms at Heathrow last September after 26 hours i think it was.

  11. This was great to read, it’s given me some ideas on what to do & not to do.
    We are heading off on our first overseas trip with our 4 year old next month. He’s used to flying already, we’ve done a number of interstate trips, starting when he was only 5 months old.
    I’ve told my son that it’s a long plane flight but because he knows what flying is & I’ve told him he’ll have his own movies & games – he’s very excited. I’m focusing on us having a good experience.

    • Hi Helena, thanks so much for commenting, I’m sure you’ll be fine, we always have been, just sit back and relax and enjoy your flight. I don’t know why flying goes so horribly wrong for some families with children, maybe it’s down to expectations. I usually prepared myself for the worst and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome! Have a great trip! Alyson


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