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21 Secrets to Flying with Kids from Flight Attendants and Pilots

Updated: Sep. 08, 2023

Flying with little ones can be harrowing—but it doesn't have to be! We gathered top travel tips from people who are seasoned vets both as parents and as airline professionals.

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kids looking at plane in airport, family travel

Bring a change of clothing—for yourself

“Most people remember to bring extra clothing for the baby but you’ll need some too if there is a major diaper accident or vomiting. It also helps to consolidate your belongings into one diaper bag so you are not fumbling with a whole mess of bags.” —Christie Poulton, flight attendant for 19 years. Now learn more secrets flight attendants won’t tell you.

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Woman holding cellphone in check in counter at airport

Check your seats before boarding

“Make sure you’re sitting together before you get on the plane. Computers assign seats and they don’t know that your child is only two years old. If the plane is full I may not be able to help you. Don’t hold up the boarding process because you weren’t proactive.” —Megan Savage, flight attendant four years.

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cockpit_plane requests

Visit the cockpit

“As a pilot, I can say that most of us don’t mind when you bring the little kids up to the cockpit. As long as it’s not a busy day, a delayed flight or storms, we will let them come in and look around and see things. Avoid before takeoff but after landing is usually a good time.” —Ryan S., pilot for four years. Here are even more secrets about flying pilots wish you knew.

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Cute little Asian 18 months / 1 year old toddler baby boy child wearing blue sweater eating food during flight on airplane. Flying with children, Happy air travel with kids & little traveler concept

Ask to be seated in the front of the plane

“If your child is prone to motion sickness try to avoid sitting toward the back of the plane where the ride is bumpier.” —Christie Poulton. Make sure you also know the best place to sit to survive a plane crash.

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Young mom, playing and breastfeeding her toddler boy on board of aircraft, going on holiday
Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock

Once seated, stay seated

“Once you’ve sat down, fastened your seat belts and gotten settled in, resist the urge to allow your toddler out of the seat to walk around. If you let them get up to roam the aisles they normally lose it when it’s time to sit back down. Not to mention that it’s dangerous to let them wander, even if there is a parent close by. There are many fall hazards and unexpected turbulence as well. With my own kids, I’ve found they did much better on medium/short haul flights if they were never allowed to get up from their car seats except to go to the bathroom.” —Agnes J., flight attendant for 20 years. 

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airplane bathroom
KathKatherine Welles/Shutterstock

No diapers in the toilet, ever!

“Always dispose of used diapers in the trash can and never ever in the toilet! I’ve seen diapers completely render the bathroom inoperative. We once had someone throw a diaper into the toilet on a transcontinental flight and had to block the lavatory off for five hours—only one toilet for 150 passengers!” —Christie Poulton. 

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Make the fun last longer

“Don’t pull out all your tricks at once. Too many times I see parents pull out the snacks and have a movie playing while we’re still boarding. Flying for most kids is exciting. Let them just take it all in for a while. Save the snacks and tablet time for when they’ve actually gotten bored with the experience.” —Keri Kuhlmann, flight attendant five years. These behaviors can get you banned from flying. 

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Airplane taking off from the airport.

Travel in the morning

“For many babies, including my son, flying earlier in the morning is better because they generally sleep on the early flights but the later it gets the more they stay awake. For young children it helps as they’re often less cranky and better behaved in the morning.” —Ryan S. Already planning your next vacation? Here are the best cruises to take your kids on.

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Kids at airport. Children look at airplane. Traveling and flying with child. Family at departure gate. Vacation and travel with young kid. Boy and girl before flight in terminal. Kids fly a plane

Dress in layers

“Cabin temperature can vary widely. It’s a good idea to be able to quickly pull on a sweatshirt or jacket if your child gets cold or take off a layer if they’re warm.” —Keri Kuhlmann

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Adorable Baby Sleeping On Airplane ,Toddler boy sleeping on father's laps while traveling in airplane,Flying with children. Dad and sleeping 10 months old baby, Dad holding son:Shallow depth of field

Pack a soft blanket

“Don’t forget your child’s favorite blanket. First, it smells like home and second, most airlines do not have blankets on board anymore.” —Christie Poulton. Don’t be one of those parents who make one of the biggest mistakes when traveling with their baby.

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Flying with children: two year old baby sleeping in her own car seat setting on an ordinary seat on a commercial airliner. Concept photo of air travel with baby. Natural in-plane lightning conditions
Alina Reynbakh/Shutterstock

Make sure their car seats are airline approved

“If you’re bringing car seats for your kids, make sure they are airline approved. Not all seats will work in airplanes and then you’re stuck with something you can’t use at the gate. Plus kids are used to being confined when in their seats and they are usually happier there.” —Mike Gudmundson, pilot 26 years 

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Baby plastic gyro bowl, plastic cup, spoon, bib.

Use disposable sippy cups

“Having a sippy cup is a good idea as it can help children’s ears and comfort them. We are a big fan of these disposable cups. They work great and if we accidentally lose one on the trip it’s no big deal.” —Christie Poulton

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chewing gum wrapper lying on a white isolated background
Studio KIWI/Shutterstock

Pack lollipops, gum, or pacifiers

“Infants have very small Eustachian tubes which allow the pressure to equalize in their inner ears. This can mean a lot of pain and crying during takeoff and landing because little kids have no other way to tell you their ears hurt. Having something for them to suck on during the ascent and descent, like a lollipop or pacifier, will help lessen the pain—for everyone.” —Mike Gudmundson. Here are 7 more ways to soothe your kids’ ears on your next plane ride.

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family travel by plane- mother wtih two kids in flight

Consider buying a separate seat for your child

“A big problem is when people buy one ticket, designating their baby as a ‘lap child’ to save money. Often they will then put the child in an empty seat next to them but that’s actually illegal. A lap child must sit on your lap. If you’re unsure what you can do, ask the flight attendants, they know all the rules.” —Ryan S.

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close-up stacks of baby diapers

Diapers, diapers, diapers

“Bring more diapers than you think you’ll need because we don’t have any on the plane.” —Christie Poulton

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Christmas background with decorations and gift boxes on wooden board good photo

Wrap up some cheap gifts

“Go to the dollar store and buy a few inexpensive toys (sticker books are a great option!) and wrap them in fun, sparkly, colorful wrapping paper. Then hide them in your carry on bags and reveal them one at a time. Kids love a surprise and unwrapping the gift will add to the fun and keep them occupied longer.” —Agnes J. There are even some road trip games that might be helpful while you’re on the plane with kids.

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glass of milk, a carton of milk on wooden table.

Buy a carton of milk in the airport, after security

“If your child prefers to drink milk, buy a carton from a store in the airport since you can’t bring any liquid through security, even if it’s in a bottle or sippy cup. Most airlines do not carry milk.” —Christie Poulton

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Little child with tablet computer on the lap sitting by the illuminator in the plane

Splurge on entertainment

“Bring as many new toys and activities as you can fit in a carry-on and can afford. New toys are always better than old when you’re a kid! You just spent a gazillion dollars on tickets, $50 or so dollars on entertainment that will keep them riveted for a seven-hour flight is a good investment.” —Mike Gudmundson Mom bloggers shared things that are lifesavers whenever they travel with children.

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waste recycling, reuse, garbage disposal, environment and ecology concept - close up of rubbish bag with trash or garbage at home
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Bring extra bags for your kids’ trash

“Bring baby wipes for quick clean ups and extra plastic bags to dispose of any trash that you create. I can’t tell you how many times parents and kids leave crumbs and trash strewn across their row despite us having walked by to collect trash multiple times over the course of the flight! Think of it like a national park—you pack it in and you pack it out.” —Christie Poulton

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Sugar coated gum drops
Robert Hassenpflug/Shutterstock

Bring sugar

“Kids are all about the snacks. Small snacks, like cereal, will keep them entertained longer. You can try to feed them healthy snacks if you want but often treats make better bribes. Don’t worry, they can go back on their regular diets after they get off the 14 hour flight to Japan! This works especially well on grumpy teenagers.” —Mike Gudmundson.

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Airport sign in Chicago O'Hare International Airport
Natalia Bratslavsky/Shutterstock

Be mindful of their potty schedule

“Make sure they have taken care of all bathroom needs prior to the plane ride and be mindful of liquid intake afterward and its impact on bathroom frequency. It may sound harsh but know that we cannot always accommodate an emergency bathroom trip. This last weekend I had a dad come up to the front just as we were taxiing, telling me his son ‘really needs to go poop and can’t wait.’ I had to tell him no! If we’d let him in the bathroom, we would have had to take a delay, which is a cardinal sin in the airline world!” —Christie Poulton.

Originally Published in 759 Secrets for Beating Diabetes