How to Keep Your Sanity on the Airplane When Traveling with Kids

By TripIt

June 01, 2018

If you’ve ever traveled with a baby or a toddler, you know it isn’t easy. Traveling with more than one? Oh boy. Kids have unique needs and as a parent, you have to be prepared for any number of surprises. And when you’re on an airplane, it’s even harder to manage those challenging situations ... you’re in cramped quarters, you don’t want to disturb everyone on the plane and you might not have packed that one toy that all of a sudden your child is screaming for. (Keep reading for airplane essentials for kids that'll help!)

Breathe. Most people are understanding of the challenges parents traveling with kids face and if they’re not, well, there’s not much you can do about it but demonstrate that you’re doing your best to control the situation. I think the thing that irritates people most is when it looks like parents are turning a blind eye to a child’s disruptive behavior. But when you’re clearly doing your best, most people will sympathize and maybe even offer to lend a helping hand.

If you are taking your children with you on a business trip, chances are, you’ve figured out your childcare needs at your destination, while you’re working. (If not, ask for sitter referrals from trusted friends or use someone your hotel may have a long-standing relationship with.) But getting there is a different story if you’re flying without any help.

I’ve talked to many parents who have told me that they just won’t travel with their children... whether for business or not! They’re intimidated by the very prospect and I completely understand... it can feel overwhelming. But after braving about three dozen flights with my one-and-a-half-year-old, I’ve learned some tips and tricks along the way to help both parents and kids keep their sanity on the airplane.

Board the Aircraft First or Last

Many airlines allow families with small children to board the plane first, to give you time to get settled. For some kids, this may be a great idea; it’ll give them ample opportunity to experience their excitement of being on an airplane so that by the time it’s time to take off, they’ll be ready to take their seats. But for other kids who never run out of steam, your best bet might be to let them run off that energy inside the airport terminal so that by the time you board, they’re tuckered out and are hopefully ready to sleep!

Consider Buying an Extra Ticket

On most airlines, children under two fly for free as a lap child on your lap. Sure, the financial savings feel like a win, but sometimes, it’s just worth it to buy that extra ticket. Consider being in a row of three seats and Mom and Dad have two seats and one of them is holding the baby or toddler. A squirmy child is difficult to control and is surely going to disturb the person in the third seat. You may spend the entire flight apologizing for bumping your neighbor or knocking over their drink or any other number of things. On most flights, my husband and I purchased a seat for our son, even though he’s under the age of two, just to give us more space and room for our son to move around a bit. Also, if you’re a breastfeeding mom, you might appreciate that there isn’t a stranger sitting right next to you as you try to nurse your child throughout the flight.

Pack a Change of Clothes

Most parents will pop a change of clothes for their child into their carry-on bag, just in case they have a diaper accident, a messy meal or a spilled drink. But do you pack a change of clothes for yourself? My son projectile vomited on me shortly after takeoff on a recent flight and I wish I’d had a change of clothes for myself... I learned that lesson the hard way!

Bring a Toy They’ve Never Seen Before

I always pack a little bag filled with toys that will (hopefully!) amuse my little one while we’re in-flight. I try to include a few things that he’s never seen or played with before. This doesn’t mean I head to the toy store before every flight. Instead, I find things laying around the house that he can play with, and I love how entertained he is with the simplest things. Sometimes I’ll put some old hotel room keys in the bag or some colorful straws. He makes up his own games with each new item, and I love to see how creative he is!

Load Up Your Smartphone or Tablet

Sure, you don’t want your kid to veg out on a phone or tablet for the entire flight but the reality is, sometimes it’s the only thing that will keep them quiet. (Note: The American Academy of Pediactrics recommends that children under the age of 18 months should have no screen time whatsoever.) If you are going to let your little one indulge, then download educational apps and games and high-quality programming (the AAP suggests Sesame Workshop and PBS’s children’s shows) so that at least their time can be spent wisely and you can feel less guilty.

Products to Pack

Need a few more practical tips to help you survive your next flight with a baby or toddler? Here are a few things to have on hand:

Airplane Essentials for Kids: Baby Change N Go

Baby Change-N-Go

If you’ve ever had to change a baby’s diaper in a public washroom or worse, within the confines of an airplane bathroom, you know just how unpleasant the experience is for both parent and child. My son once tried to LIE DOWN ON THE FLOOR of a public washroom while I changed his diaper standing up because there was no change table {insert mom freak out emoji here}. If I’d had this brilliant product with me, things would have gone differently! This portable diaper changing station hangs from a wall or bathroom stall door and guarantees you a clean place to change your child’s diaper when you’re on the go. When you’re done, just fold it up and stash it in your bag or stroller. Baby Change-N-Go, $80.

Airplane Essentials for Kids: Pacapod Mirano

Pacapod Mirano Diaper Bag

You might think that all diaper bags are created equal but after much research, I found this one to be an excellent choice for the mom who’s always on the go. It’s roomy enough to hold everything you’ll need for your little one, plus your laptop if you’re traveling on business. What I also like is that it has two separate ‘pods’, one for food items, one for diaper items. This way, you can keep those items secure and away from each other so you don’t find any unwanted messes in your bag. Pacapod Mirano Diaper Bag, Nordstrom, $190.

Airplane Essentials for Kids: Doona

Doona Car Seat and Stroller

This is hands-down the best thing I ever used as a parent! I’ve been stopped countless times in airports, hotels, malls and streets around the world by parents asking about this incredible stroller. I simply can’t recommend it enough! This brilliant car seat converts into a stroller with just the click of a button, which means that you don’t have to cart a car seat AND a stroller with you when you travel. The handy Doona does both jobs beautifully. The car seat is FAA-approved so you can use it on the airplane and when it’s time to deplane, simply pop the wheels out and you’re on your way! You don’t need to wait for your stroller to show up planeside if you gate checked it or at baggage claim. It’s so convenient to get around using the Doona; you can easily hop into Ubers once you know how to strap it securely using the seatbelt in the backseat. Doona Car Seat + Stroller, $499

Airplane Essentials for Kids: Kid-Friendly Headphones

Kid-friendly headphones

If you do opt to let your little one indulge in some screen time while you’re traveling, make sure they have kid-friendly headphones so that they don’t disturb nearby passengers. Also, make sure that the headphones have a volume limit so that your little one doesn’t accidentally get his ears blasted! Lil Gadgets Connect+ Premium Headphones, Amazon, $17.99

Airplane Essentials for Kids: Water Wow


If you prefer a more analog way to entertain your child, I like Water Wow reusable activity pads. You fill the markers with water and when your child colors in the activity book, the black and white images come to life in full color. It’s a fun activity that can be used multiple times and the water markers will not leave marks on anything, making it a perfect airplane activity. Water Wow, Amazon, $9.99

Toiletry bag

Don’t forget to pack your child’s toiletry bag in your carry-on bag so that you have quick access to medications or other emergency items you might need. My son’s toiletry bag includes Children’s Tylenol in case he’s running a fever, a thermometer, nail clippers, lotion, sunscreen, Bandaids, toothbrush, toothpaste, diapers, wipes, Desitin, an aspirator and saline drops ... among other things!

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