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Flying with children: 20 top tips for keeping kids happy on board

Going on holiday with infants, tots, tweens and all in between in 2019? Don't miss Skyscanner's advice on how to fly with kids.
Family jumping for joy at the beach

Perhaps you are jetting off somewhere nice and warm with the kids. If not, you probably have your summer holiday booked and are very much looking forward to it… But if you are flying with children you are probably already worrying about how to keep your offspring happy. Here are Skyscanner staff’s top tips on how to survive a plane journey with a screaming baby, a terrible tot or a ‘difficult’ child.

20 top tips for flying with children

1. Teach them the wonder of flying

Flying with children

Flying is fun; flying is amazing. Remember that your little ones don’t commute to work on budget airlines, so they’ll actually be quite excited about going up in the sky. Long-suffering Skyscanner CEO Gareth Williams advises: “Don’t forget that flying was once wondrous. To them it still is, so point out the small houses, the clouds, the setting sun…. And if you’re desperate, get them to count how many passengers are on the flight (I kid you not – it worked a treat). If you can, get a visit to the cockpit. Even adults enjoy it. Your kid may decide to be a pilot, which is fine, until they dream up something else.”

2. Play pilots

A smiling child wearing a plane made out of cardboard

Oksana Ermolaeva, Skyscanner Writer, Russia tells us: “My daughter used to be afraid of flying. To cure this condition I played role games with her. Let your child be a pilot or a flight attendant. Play everything that normally happens on board. This really helps to avoid pre-flight and in-flight panic.” This mightn’t work if they want to play at being a drugs smuggler. If they do, you should probably take them to see a psychologist.

3. Consider others when flying with children

Flying with an infant

Gabriela Wawszkowicz, Skyscanner Test Engineer, and others, suggests following the example of the parents who handed out bags of sweets to fellow passengers on their flight as an advanced apology in case they cried and disturbed anyone. Parents of potentially unruly toddlers might like to pen a message along the lines of:

“To the person sitting in the row in front of us, you are probably already aware of our presence. You did your best to avoid us in the rush for seats, but you were the last to get off the bus and we’re afraid you drew the short straw. We apologise for the behaviour of our darling Jocasta. She may look sweet when she wants ice cream, but as you may experience, she’s a little sod when she flies. If she kicks the back of your chair and you get lifelong back pain, please don’t sue us.”

Or you could just hand round a bottle of sleeping pills.

Traveling with children on a plane

4. Be a good nurse / doctor

Sounding like he speaks from unfortunate experience, Mark Logan, Skyscanner COO says: “Always pack more sick bags than you think you’ll need for the drive to the airport in the hire car. And don’t pack away all of their clothes – for the same reason. Also, ensure that you bring your European medical cards. In my case, with three children, there’s a statistical likelihood that I’ll need it.”

5. Keep it simple

Three children looking at a calculator

Every parent will have their tried-and-trusted, simple yet effective game that keeps everyone occupied. Sheena Nayar, Skyscanner Purchase Ledger Administrator, says: “Easy games like I-Spy are the best. We also have the number plate game for on the way to the airport – use the last three letters to make a sentence, eg. JLS – John likes sausages. We also play the alphabet game where you have to choose a subject – usually football players in my house – and everyone has to come up with a name for each letter.”

6. Take care of the bear essentials

Collection of teddy bears

Skyscanner Chief Strategy Officer Bonamy Grimes has a clever solution for that desperate moment when nothing seems to work to make it all better: “Stock up on toys, but make sure you hold back a favourite teddy that you bring out on the plane, and keep one in reserve for the way back.” There is always the risk of losing a cherished companion in transit, which is heart-breaking, so whenever you buy them a soft toy, buy two and if the worst happens, substitute New Porky for Left-On-Plane Porky.

7. Hold your baby above your head!

Brian Hills, Skyscanner Senior Manager, Business Intelligence advises: “The best position to calm our baby down is holding her above my head. It’s good for the arm muscles, although the flight attendants don’t like me doing it on take-off!”

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8. Make sure the price is right

Both Brian and Oksana advise checking the ticket prices for infants as you may be charged more for your baby than yourself. Oksana says: “You may be surprised that some airlines force you to pay up to 75% for a ticket without a seat. This happened with me and my one-and-a-half-year-old son. In this case you don’t save money! Buy a normal ticket. At least you will get extra space – that is really valuable.”

Why pay more than you need to on travel? From booking flights to fine dining: find out how to save cash on holiday.

9. Book early when you travel with kids

Woman holding a tablet

If you are flying en famille, or holidaying with your extended kin (sharing a villa with your sister and her five kids?), you’ll be struggling to all sit together if you leave late to check in. So check in online as soon as it opens. Unless you don’t want to sit anywhere near your sister’s five kids, that is.

10. Be a slave to the (circadian) rhythm

A girl sleeping on a plane next to her father

If at all possible, choose flights at a ‘normal’ time, i.e. when your kids are more likely to fall asleep. Although this could backfire as they’ll be so excited that they won’t want to sleep and will get all tired and bratty, which will be a great start to the holiday.

11. Take a break

Two boys holding a suitcase

This may seem a little leftfield, but it so makes sense. Oksana says that for her kids, several transit flights work much better than one long-haul. “Kids have time to move (run, jump) in airports, which they can’t on board.” Probably best not use this tactic if they don’t like the take-offs and landings, or have a habit of getting lost in airports.

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12. Take a toilet stop

Skyscanner Project Manager Kevin Hall is keen to stress making sure your wee ones use the toilet before take-off. Of course, as with most advice concerning children, this is easier said than done. “I don’t need” turns quickly to “I need’. Sheena warns against giving them too much fluids, ‘or they will be up and down to the toilet all day’, which will be annoying for the person in the aisle seat if they’re in the window seat on the plane. This is sensible advice for adults too. Drinking five pints of lager before getting on the plane is dangerous, especially if you’re held up during taxiing.

13. Tell the police

A young child on a plane

Skyscanner PR Manager and mother-of-two Mary Porter has loads of tips on flying with toddlers. Our favourite is: “Warn young children of the ‘Aeroplane Police’ who are looking out for badly behaved children. I am not suggesting you scare them out of their wits (and admittedly we never did explain what the Aeroplane Police actually do when they catch a naughty child). However, it proved hugely effective in stopping my toddler climbing over seats, playing with the fold down table, kicking the seat in front and all the other things that passengers around you really love.”

14. Milk it

Gareth W (Skyscanner CEO) also has some good tips on feeding. “For infants, give them their milk bottle at take-off and landing. For two reasons: i) they have to be belted in and this will distract them, and ii) it equalises pressure.” Milk-carriers beware: Brian H has fallen foul of the liquids rule: “One of the worst things about flying is having to taste pre-made baby milk at security – yuck!”

15. Gadget it

Girl with a tablet on a plane

Kevin suggests an iPad (or similar device) to keep them entertained so they can play games like Temple Run, Go Cart and of course, Angry Birds. Oksana says an iPad is really helpful on long-haul flights. “Don’t be afraid of your child becoming gadget-addicted. It is just a flight – let kids do what is interesting for them even if at home you limit the time they spend on a computer or playing games.” As parents know only too well, ideals go out of the window in the face of a child in a tantrum.

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16. Keep them fed

Piles of colourful candy

Like an irascible cat which hasn’t had its morning Whiskas, a hungry child will damn sure let you know about it. So, until the in-flight meal is served, fend them off with snacks. We won’t get into a debate here – obviously mainlining Haribo is not good for them, but unless they have a soft spot for grapes, it might be the only thing that works.

17. Keep them comfy

Two grils sleeping on a plane

An impractically-dressed child is an unhappy child, or something, so ensure they are attired comfortably. Take an extra layer of clothing that can double up as a pillow so they can blissfully drift away, dreaming of dinosaurs.

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18. Keep them busy

Kids looking at a tablet on a plane

As those flying with children more often know well, a bored child is a pain in the rear. Here are items for keeping the terrors from the perils of boredom:

  • notebook and pens or pencils: for younger children (to draw damning portraits of fellow passengers?)
  • book (or Kindle)
  • iPod/ headphones – if music be the food of a happy child, play on
  • sudoku (for infants)

19. Keep them medicated

In the unfortunate event of your child being poorly when you fly, have handy an emergency stash (no more than 100ml obviously) of mother’s little helper: Calpol (for them, not you!). Ear drops are a winner for coping with altitude change too.

20. And finally….take care of yourself out there

Parents flying with children check in at the airport

While pouring all your efforts into project managing your offspring’s in-transit behaviour on-board, do not take your eye off your own ball. Take care of yourself and the rest will take care of itself. If you are in good form, you’ll be far more able to cope with the inevitable tests thrown at you by your errant charges.

So, pack your passport, give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and read our article on how to avoid those common mistakes that can ruin your holiday before you have even taken off.

Little boy on a plane

*Updated May 2019. Information correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.

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