Flying with Babies, Toddlers and Kids
The idea of flying with kids is probably the biggest single cause of stress for traveling parents. Nobody looks forward to lugging a lot of luggage through the airport with a tired and unhappy child (or children) in tow, and the prospect of keeping them seated, quiet, and happy for hours on end can be terrifying. While we can't promise that your kids won't have a melt down, our travel tips will help streamline your air travel and keep everyone in a better mood! We also have helpful advice for making travel with infants easier.
♡ My favorite travel toys for newborn to age 1, age 1-2, age 2-4, age 5-8.
The first step is to get to the airport early. It is time consuming to get through the airport and security in any circumstances and you wonât be as able to make a last minute dash to your gate as you would without a child (or children) in tow. The extra time at the airport will give your child a chance to exercise (find an empty gate area or ask if there is an airport play area) in between the long car ride and the flights.
- When possible, check in and secure your seat assignment online before you leave for the airport. Donât forget to print the boarding passes & put them in your carryon!
- Be sure to pack your itiniary (including any phone numbers you'll need) and a map of your destination in your carryon. Nothing is worse than struggling to find your hotel with tired children in tow.
- Need help packing your carryon? Check out our helpful Carryon Packing List for Babies, Toddlers, and Kids
Getting to the Airport
Unless you live in an urban environment with good public transportation, getting to the airport can present a challenge. The need to bring a car seat makes it difficult to have a friend drop you off or take a taxi, but it can cost a fortune to park at the airport.
- Consider off-airport parking for short trips. A shuttle will pick you up at your car and drops you off near your airline.
- For longer trips, find a local car service that provides a car seat. They should pick you up at home and drop you off at curbside checkin. The cost usually slightly cheaper than taxi service (in part because the meter isn't running while you gather your last items and lock up the house). If you choose to do this, book well ahead and request a car seat when you book. Call and reconfirm both the time and the car seat before you travel. You will also want to confirm what type of car seat you need. Expect that the driver will not install the seat for you (for liability reasons) but if they do, you should check over the installation yourself to make sure that it has been done properly and the seat is secure.
- Can't find a limo service that provides car seats in your area? Some car services will use your seat and store it until they pick you up for the return drive.
Hopefully you have already checked in online & just need to drop off your baggage. Here are some helpful tips that will make airport checkin with kids easier.
- If the line is long, the open spaces in the airport can be a good place to let the kids run a little while one parent waits in line to check the bags. Remember to stay close in case the gate agent needs to see each of the passengers or check id.
- Donât check your stroller unless you plan to carry your child in a sling. Most airlines will allow you to push your stroller all the way to the gate. Theyâll then check it at the gate and have it waiting for you outside the plane door when you deplane. Some airlines will even let you bring a small stroller on board if there is space.
- Make sure that your stroller has a tag with your name, address, and phone number. If you do check your stroller, consider packing it in a bag as many airlines consider strollers âfragile itemsâ and will not reimburse you for damage.
- If you are travelling with a lap infant in a carrier car seat, consider keeping the car seat with you until you find out whether there is a free seat on the plane that you can use for the baby.
- Check with your airline in advance about baggage restrictions. On international flights, some airlines will allow a lap infant to check baggage, other airlines exclude baby items like a car seat or stroller as part of the parent's baggage allowance.
Flying with Car Seats? Read our the helpful four part series from our Travel With Kids Blog:Part I: Who Need a Car Seat Onboard A Plane
Part II: Checking, Renting and Carrying on a Car Seat When Flying
Part III: Airport Car Seat Carriers (Product Reviews)
Part IV: Travel Car Seats (Product Reviews)
When possible, we avoid bringing our car seats. Checking them worries us (Remember that advice about not using a car seat after it's been in an accident? Baggage handlers don't use kids gloves with car seats or anything else) Onboard, we use a CARES Airplane Seat Harness and we try to use trains and subways at our destination.
Airport Security With Kids
The most important thing you can do to ease your trip through security is to have everything organized in advance. Having lots of loose items, stuff hanging off the stroller and in the basket underneath will make it take forever to gather everything and you will risk leaving something behind.
- Explain to your child exactly what will happen. It can be scary for them to put their shoes and lovey on the conveyor belt and say goodbye to them.
- Put everything on the security belt and remove everyoneâs shoes before you remove your child from the stroller, then wait until you can get your child back in the stroller before gathering up your other items
- If there is a family lane, use it! At most airports, the family lane has extra agents to help families gather their belongings and often there is a little bit of extra space where children can put on shoes.
- Keep your tickets and ID easy to get to until you board the plane. Babies and children are not required to have ID for US domestic flights
- If youâre travelling with an infant, itâs often easiest to get through security with the baby in a metal-free sling. They can sleep without being disturbed, and on my most recent flights I have not been required to remove the baby from the sling. I have been told that this is the new regulation, but it seems likely to vary from airport to airport. Note that you will be required to remove the baby from the sling before takeoff.
- For more tips, check out our Step-By-Step guide to Breezing Through Airport Security With Kids.
- For the latest security regulations regarding children and their food and drinks, visit TSA Travelling with Children
Your kids have cooperated (or not) with a lot of craziness up until this point. Hopefully youâve allowed enough time at the airport that you can give them a break and take care of their needs now. Get them a (non sugary) snack, change diapers or visit the restroom, and spend a little time exploring with them. Now is also the time to wear your kids out so that they will sleep on the plane.
- Many airports have a play area (check the airport's website or ask a gate agent for details), but if yours doesn't there is often an empty gate area to play in. Even though youâre probably exhausted from packing and getting through security you need to resist the urge to keep your child seated or contained in their stroller while you rest. There will be plenty of time to sit down once you board.
- Use this time to pick up any drinks or snacks you will need on the plane. Not all flights carry milk, and airplane tap water is not considered safe to drink (especially for children or babies). Furthermore bottled water supplies can be limited. Buy what you need now.
- If you were not able to get the seat assignments you wanted or want to know whether there is an empty seat available for your lap infant, now is a good time to talk with the gate agent.
- The gate agent can also give you a gate-check tag for your stroller.
- If your child was recently potty trained, put them in a diaper for the flight. You'll be glad you have it if the flight is delayed on the tarmac or if there is turbulence in flight.
- Wondering about nursing or pumping in the airport? Here are some Practical Tips for Breastfeeding and Pumping in an Airport
As flight time nears, stay close to your gate and listen for the agent to announce pre-boarding. It is helpful to get on the plane first and get yourself organized before everyone else is trying to board. If you are able to split up, send one person ahead with the carryon baggage and car seats while the other parent stays with the kids. This way the first parent can get everything organized and ready without the distraction of kids, and the kids get a little bit more time to move freely. The second parent and kids can be among the last people to board.
Once on-board, make sure that you keep any items you need during takeoff or the beginning for the flight within your reach while seated.
If you gate check your stroller, make sure it has a tag with your name, address, and phone number and get a claim ticket from the gate agent. At the bottom of the jetway, collapse your stroller and remove any loose items. Do not expect that the airline personnel will know how to collapse and stow your stroller without damaging it. It is also a good idea to put your stroller in a plastic or cloth bag to protect it from damage. Most airlines consider strollers to be fragile items and will not reimburse you if they are damaged or destroyed.
If you expect your child to sit in their own seat during takeoff, discuss your expectations before the final seatbelt warning. You donât want to be one of the handful of families each year who delay (or are removed from) flights because their child refuses to be belted into their seat.
Flight Delays with Kids
Here are some ideas for dealing with a flight that has been delayed after boarding.
- If the plane door has not been closed yet, ask whether you can let your children walk and play on the jetway. Flight staff are often cooperative (they don't like crying children either.) Try walking your children up and down the aisle.
- Get your children involved in some positive play with the neighbors in front of and behind you. (Peekaboo is hard for even the most stoic travellers to resist). They'll be a lot more understanding when your children have a difficult time later if they've seen them being cute.
- Even though you're frustrated, try not to let your kids know it. They'll only pick up on your mood.
- Resist the temptation to keep your kids (temporarily) quiet with juice or sugary treats, it will only make them harder to manage later. High protein snacks (especially ones that take a while to eat) are a great choice though.
- Engage your kids in quiet play. If they're old enough, try making up stories about why the flight is delayed (maybe squirrels in the cockpit?), where the plane should go instead, or make a list of things you would pack if you were staying at your destination for a year.
- For more ideas, check out our blog article on Surviving Flight Delays With Kids
Babies and young children do not know how to clear their ears to reduce the pressure during takeoff and landing. Unless your child is asleep, you will need to help them. For older children, gum is a good aid. For babies, nursing, a bottle, or a pacifier will work. In addition to helping with ear pressure, milk also acts as a mild sedative, so feeding your child can set the stage for drifting off to sleep.
If your child is tired, consider going through as much of your sleep routine as possible during takeoff (reading stories, singing quietly) and tell them that youâll be sitting for a long time, so this is a good time to sleep. Young babies often sleep well in flight with the motion of the plane and the engine noise providing a very soothing environment.
Set expectations about what behavior you expect before your child gets into trouble. Acknowledge that itâs really hard to sit still for so long and tell them that you know they can do it and that you will help them when it gets difficult. Remind them about all the fun things you will get to do when you land. Here are more Tips for Keeping an Active Child Calm on a Plane
You need to make your travel toys last, so try not to bring them out until your child asks for them or gets bored. Theyâll probably be amused for quite a while with just looking around, talking to the neighbors, and having some one-on-one time with you. When you do get out toys, get out one at a time so that each has a period of novelty. Itâs fun to have some (or all) wrapped as gifts. The wrapping wonât add significantly to your load, but it will provide a little extra excitement and entertainment for your child. When possible, choose toys that work well together. For example, I might start with a Playmobil person and horse. When that gets boring, I could add a stroller, or a wheelchair or a car to the mix.
Not sure what to put in your in-flight busy bag? Check out our helpful tips for:Keeping a Child Occupied on a Plane
Ten Great Travel Toys You Already Have at Home
Our Favorite Travel Toys
In turbulence, the FAA recommends that "Adults holding infants should provide as uniform support as possible to the infant's head, neck, and body, and lean over the infant to minimize the possibility of injury due to flailing."
Baby noses sometimes get stuffy during flight. Consider bringing along some saline drops (available at the pharmacy) and a small syringe. You can drip a few drops into baby's nose during or after the flight to clear things up. Some sources also say that cleaning the nose helps reduce baby's chances of getting sick Others recommend using expressed breast milk (if you have it) because it is non-drying and antibacterial.
Will you be nursing on the plane? Check out our helpful guide to Nursing and Pumping On an Airplane
As with takeoff, youâll have to help your child with pressure in their ears during landing (if they are awake). If you need milk, water, or juice, get it from the flight attendant before the landing process begins.
After landing, it is easiest to wait until the other passengers have de-planed to gather your belongings and children. Despite your best efforts, some of their toys will be scattered on the floor or around the seat, and you wonât want to lose anything. If youâve gate checked a stroller, it wonât be available immediately anyway, so you might as well wait in your seat instead of at the bottom of the airplane door. Best of all, not being part of the crush of passengers exiting the plane will also give your children a chance to peek in the cockpit.Read Our Blog for More Tips and Advice on Traveling With Kids
Helping Your Child Sleep on a Plane
Keeping a Child Busy on a Plane
Ten Great Travel Toys You Already Have at Home
Our Favorite Travel Toys
Practical Tips for Nursing and Pumping On an Airplane
Flying with a Carseat
Part I: Which Babies, Toddlers and Kids Need a Car Seat Onboard A Plane
Part II: Checking, Renting and Carrying on a Car Seat When Flying
Part III: Airport Car Seat Carriers (Product Reviews)
Part IV: Travel Car Seat (Product Reviews)
Our Guest Blogger for this post is Matt from Tantrum Travelsproviding us with his views on flying with a family on Emirates Airlines.
I have always believed Emirates to be one of the top in class when it comes to family air travel, as discussed in our airline review back in May 2015, but when Matt contacted me with his recent flying experience I was quite amazed at some of the service downfalls for his young family. Taking us through the good, the bad and the ugly of a trip from Australia to Malta, via Dubai & Cyprus – with a 2.5-year-old and 10 week old, it’s over to Matt;
We have flown overseas with our eldest child a few times before, but this was our first with Emirates and two children. Our preference was to fly with QANTAS or a code share (as Emirates is) due to frequent flyer benefits. The timing of the Emirates flight to Dubai (9.10pm) suited us perfectly (Big tantrum tends to sleep well on flights) and on the QANTAS website, the connection to Malta appeared direct (whereas in reality, it was Dubai-Cyprus-Malta). It was a great holiday, but unfortunately, the flights are ones we are not going to forget quickly – I’ll explain why:
Booking via QANTAS
In retrospect, the first difficulty in our trip probably stemmed from booking our flights via QANTAS. We did this to earn frequent flyer points and earn status points. What we didn’t realise was how little control QANTAS have over the flight (seating, passengers etc). When we booked our 10 week old wasn’t yet born. We were advised to book for the existing three of us, and add the infant once he was born (as they needed an exact date of birth and name). At about day 2 of age, we were on the phone to QANTAS confirming his ticket as well as confirming bassinet seats on all legs. QANTAS had some difficulty doing this and had us on hold many times whilst they talked directly to Emirates. However, we successfully (or so we thought) added him to our booking.
The mystery of the bassinet seat (not exclusively for infants)
Emirates clearly states bassinet seats are a first in first served facility. This concerned us, as until Little Tantrum was born, we couldn’t reserve his seat, so we made it our mission as soon as he was born to ensure we had one. This included calls to QANTAS as outlined above as well as directly calling Emirates. We called as although you can request seats online, we were unable to reserve seats together with a bassinet seat. The difference, we now understand, is unlike QANTAS who don’t allow customers to reserve bulkhead seating unless they have infants, anyone flying Emirates can book the seat (the first in first served isn’t exclusive to those flying with infants).
Check in (Sydney)
We arrived at Sydney >3hrs before our flight and were quickly served to check in. However, we spend more than 45 mins at the desk whilst the poor attendant needed to make multiple phone calls to correct/add on/repair the incorrect addition of our youngest son to our travel. She was able to provide us with seating altogether and with a bulkhead (bassinet) and advised us this would be the case for all our flight (if only).
Inflight (EK 413 A380 Sydney-Dubai)
This leg, our first, was by far the best leg of our trip. We travelled on a relatively new A380 (3-4-3 seating), it was large, spacious and comfortable. Unfortunately, there are some design flaws in the seating of the bassinet seats on the Emirates version A380. Once the bassinet seat is up (which we had up the entire flight, as Little Tantrum slept the entire way) there is no way to access the entertainment screens as the bassinet obstructs their movement. If the screen is up, it is almost impossible to move out from the window seat to use the toilet.
Also, due to the positioning of the entertainment screens (being folded under the side of the seat), the seat arm rests do not raise. Travelling with a toddler this meant he had to sleep on top of us, instead of lifting the arm rest and lying across us as we have done many times previously. We have been on other carriers where this, and a bassinet have been possible.
That said though, both children slept well, we (the parents) even slept some. Big tantrum watched his selection of Disney movies and was given a bag (which he now takes everywhere) and a great erasable drawing toy – winners.
The meals were no more impressive or bad than any other economy airline, but removal of tray did seem to take a really, really long time (I know this time seems to extend once you have kids on your lap).
Connection in Dubai
We had a relatively brief connection of just over 2 hours, which given how big Dubai airport is, is not that long. We had to change terminals which takes about 30 mins and recheck through security. We were lucky enough to use a lounge briefly and have a shower and clean up before boarding our next flight.
Inflight (EK 107 A330 Dubai – Cyprus – Malta)
On our second leg, from Dubai to Malta we were not given a bassinet seat!!!
We were seated in the middle of the cabin, midway up and my wife felt like passengers were continuously turning around to stare at her as she breastfed our child. We spoke to the cabin crew, who attempted to help, but were unable to move us until after some passengers had disembarked in Cyprus. However, the bulkheads were NOT filled with people travelling with infants or children. This distressed us greatly, as we had gone to great efforts to ensure we had arranged a bassinet seat.
Malta airport check in
Sadly, after a great trip in Malta, the worst of our flying experience was still yet to come…
Check in was smooth and we were given both access to the lounge and our boarding passes or our connecting flight from Dubai. We did immediately note when we received our tickets however that I was seated in a completely different part of the cabin to my wife and children. We asked for this to be fixed (I cannot explain how difficult it is to keep a 2 year old quiet and settled whilst attending to a 10 week old when you are not sitting next to him – and he is constantly wanting to move to the other parent). Unfortunately the flight was full, and we were told there was little that could be done. Another complaint later and I was moved to the seat next to, but across the aisle from my wife which was the best outcome as the middle seats in the bulkhead were occupied by families with infants.
The lounge was small, but comfortable and provided us with a nice selection of drinks and snacks whilst we waited.
Inflight (EK 108 A330 Malta – Cyprus – Dubai)
Our two children had been pretty good flyers but it was this leg that was probably the worst of the four. They were unsettled, Big Tantrum didn’t want to sit in his seat for take-off and Little Tantrum was a bit miserable. They were tried, it had been a big and active holiday. Thankfully one of the attendants gave us an extra infant seat belt and I sat in Big Tantrum’s seat with him on my lap which improved things. There was a delay in leaving and a passenger from elsewhere in the cabin moved into my temporarily empty seat. This upset my wife, who alerted the flight attendants, who said it was unoccupied. We explained it was not, it was only for take-off and showed our boarding passes, but we had to argue insistently for the passenger to return to their seat. Having paid over $2000 for Big Tantrums seat (as he is over 2 years old), we found needing to fight for our seat very unprofessional.
As with the EK 107 flight over, the plane lands in Cyprus but you do not disembark the plane. This means waiting around for about an hour – which is just more difficult with children and also means another take-off and landing to deal with. In retrospect we would investigate more direct flight options next time.
And finally, the final leg: Inflight (A380 Dubai – Sydney)
The last leg of the journey, so close, but yet so far. We rushed through Dubai airport, this time with an even shorter stopover to get to the gate just at the last call for boarding. However, we couldn’t board – as (and remember, we had boarding passes from Malta) Little Tantrum wasn’t on the flight list!!
After some time we were provided with seat – in different sections of the cabin and without a bassinet – by this stage Mrs Tantrum was about to have a tantrum and refused to get on the plane. The ground crew at Dubai were completely uninterested in her cause, though, and made no efforts to try and help us. We were weary, and making the best efforts we could to keep our children well behaved but we needed to sit together with a bassinet.
Eventually, we boarded (with it felt like, the whole plane watching) and a crew member asked Mrs Tantrum if she was alright. She expressed her concern and (he was our saviour) this crew member was able to shuffle some passengers and sit us together in a bulkhead!!
From here the next 9 hours of our 14-hour flight were fantastic. The children slept, the food was good, the space was large – we were happy. But… a passenger on the plane was not okay and Mrs Tantrum got called away to help. After some time, she returned and sadly the news was not good. There had been a death on the plane. The crew were flustered, understandably, but somehow the widow was moved to sit next to us (with 2 children under 3) and my wife felt she had to make small talk for the remaining 3 hours of the journey. I feel this was entirely inappropriate and only increased the burden on us who already felt that we needed to keep our children settled.
All in all, we didn’t enjoy our flights with Emirates, mostly as we felt they didn’t appreciate the increased needs of a family travelling with young children. We don’t think requesting a bassinet and sitting together is a big ask, as it greatly increases our ability to keep our children quiet and therefore the flight better for ALL other passengers.
**More on Flying with Emirates with Kids**
Disclaimer: We did write two complaint letters to Emirates who did not reply, however, we did receive a reply from QANTAS on behalf of Emirates and 10,000 frequent flyer points. At no point was Mrs Tantrum acknowledged for her efforts with the unwell passenger. She did write to Emirates to suggest some improvements
Thank you to Matt for this in-depth review of his Emirates experience. Before taking this flight Matt’s family already had their next flight booked with Emirates Sydney to Scotland, see howTantrum Travels next flight with Emirates went. You can also see more of Matt’s toddler travelling adventures here.
Have you flown Emirates with a toddler or baby? How did your experience fare in comparison?
We are always looking for more of your comments and reviews on international airlines to add to our collection of family airline reviews. You do not need to be a travel writer – or even a writer! – email [email protected] with the details you would like to share and we’ll get your story up in print so others can learn from your experiences and make air travel a more manageable reality for families.
Images and story © Tantrum Travels