Tips for flying with young kids

Tips on flying with kids
Tips on flying with kids

Flying with little ones isn’t easy. The best way to survive, – and, yes, it’s SURVIVAL –  is to set very low expectations as to how the flight will go. Expect the very worst and everything else will seem not as bad, maybe even good.

You may not know what the very worst will be. So here’s one drawn from past experience. It’s about me, flying solo with my 11-month-old son on a long-haul flight (St Louis – Brisbane, 22 hours and 5 minutes) where he refused to sit in his seat for the duration of the flight. To make matters worst, I was in business class and should have gotten the opportunity to enjoy the onboard services, which included a fully reclining flat bed. I spent most of my flight in the area just outside the kitchen doing circles with my then-not-quite-walking son, afraid to disturb the business flyers that paid a premium to sleep. I spent the flight walking my son in circles and distracting him as best I could, counting down the hours to final destination on the flight path displayed on screen. The staff was sympathetic but not that much as to babysit for me. Truly, in such circumstances, you are on your own.

Tips and Tricks

I have flown with the kids since my first born was 3 months-old; both long-haul to the USA and domestic flights. I have had both nightmare flights and great successes, where at the end of the flight, passengers commended me on my lovely kids; which leaves me stunned and speechless. Through trial and error, here are my tips and advice on how to be a cool, calm mummy – ready for any situation which may arise from flying with kids.

Before you go

Traveling with kids demands that you be prepared. A week before you fly, start amping up the holiday chat. Get you children excited by reading books on flying. I have a great lift and flap Usborne Airport book, which I read to the kids. It shows different scenarios at an airport in a fun and interactive way. You can use this to start explaining all the rules about the airport. My rules include:

  • Do not run away – stay close. (My boy is a runner; see “Trapped in an airport toilet’ post.)
  • Listen to mummy and daddy.
  • Be responsible for your suitcase.
  • Do no touch anything like conveyor belts and no kicking seats.
  • Use your manners. Please, Thank You and Excuse me. No screaming or yelling. This list could be endless!

Get them involved in the packing process. I have Liam pack his “essentials” into his Lightning Mc Queen wheeled carry on. He is then responsible for carrying it and making sure all his belongings are in it.  Layla is almost 2 and I don’t think she is quite ready for this responsibility yet. I plan to start at age 2.5

Special requests for kids when booking

Make any requests with airlines or your travel agent when you are booking your ticket. For example:

– request to bring a car seat onboard if planning to do so.
– request for infant and kids meals. If your child has any allergies, note them with the airline. If your child is anaphylactic make sure you notify the airlines.
– request for a bassinet
– request special seating preferences

Ask for an email confirmation with all your requests to print out. When your tickets are issues, double check that all the requests have been noted.

A week before travel, call the airline direct to reconfirm.

Get the right Visas

Make sure you have the necessary visa for traveling to the destination country.

Check out Visa Link, where you can select your passport origin and country destination to see whether you need any visas to enter the country. They charge a hefty fee to process your visa for you, but it’s quite a handy service and is a good starting point to see whether a visa is required. Whether or not you use their services, you can then Google visa’s required for the destination country. Go to their embassy or government website and apply accordingly.

Visas work differently according to each country and to your passport origin. For instance; Australians can obtain an Indonesian Tourist Visa purchased with US or local currency only upon arrival at the airport in Indonesia. For China, you are required to mail payment and passports to the Chinese Embassy for approval prior to travel and for Australians traveling to the USA, you maybe exempt from a visa via the Visa Waiver Program but required to register travel details prior to traveling at the Electronic System for Travel Authorization click here.

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Passports and important travel documents for kids

International travel with kids

All children traveling internationally must have a valid passport. All passports must have at least 6 months validity prior to expiration in order to travel. Most countries around the world also require this.

Have all your passports, visas and important documents, such as travel insurance certificate,  doctor’s consent or customs forms and ID all together in a safe and accessible spot. Juggling kids through an airport is tough so having a single spot from which to pull out these items eases the pain. I have a document wallet in which I place all the documents..

TIP Carry 2 pens

Carry 2 spare pens with you. This comes in handy for filling out immigration cards.

Here are a few tips offered by The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) for Australians traveling with kids, such as registering your details in case of emergency.

For solo parent travelers with kids, although you may be married and taking your kids by yourself on a trip, there are concerns about child abduction, so as a precaution; especially on international trips, it’s best to have a Travel Consent Form that states that the other parent grants permission for the child to leave the state or country.

I found a great sample letter of consent from a Canadian website – which you can customize for your country.

Domestic travel with kids

For kids traveling domestically within Australia, as long as the accompanying parent shows valid photographic ID issued by the Commonwealth (e.g a driver’s license) the child can be identified via a non photographic form of ID issued by the Commonwealth. (e.g. a birth certificate)
Valid forms of ID include: passports, company-issued identification, original or certified copy of a birth certificate or citizenship document (I would recommend a certified copy and leave the original at home), student identification or driver’s licenses. or a document that identifies you issued by the Commonwealth of Australia,  an Australian State or Territory, an authority of the Commonwealth of Australia or an Australian State or Territory. For example, a child’s Medicare or official immunisation record issued by Medicare Australia is sufficient. I have read on various forums that a child’s Health Check – Red Book can also be used as ID. Please check with the airline before bringing this as valid ID for domestic travel in Australia.

In the USA, a valid government-issued photo ID is sufficient for travel interstate. On the rare times the airlines did check ID, we had their passports on hand.  However, they do accept non-photographic ID such as a certified or notarized birth certificate.

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Flying with an infant

Any child age 2 and under is considered an infant and flies free of charge on a parent’s lap. Proof of age will be required at check-in, e.g. a passport or birth certificate (for domestic flights).

Bassinets

On most flights, you can reserve a bulk head seat where there is a foldable bassinet for baby, offered free of charge. These are limited and not guaranteed. Booking in advance can help assure you’ll get one. Keep ringing back and confirming your bassinet prior to travel.

Once onboard, the cabin crew will assist you with setup and demonstrate how to put down the bassinet. For Qantas, the bassinets are positioned in the bulk-head seats along the wall. The Qantas bassinet dimensions are approximately 71cm long, 31cm wide, 26cm deep, and have a weight limitation of 11 kg. I have used these several times with mixed results. Perhaps it wasn’t always ideal because I had bigger-sized kids and poor sleepers. They are shaped like a rectangular cage complete with a safety grid that you place on top. It’s a bit restrictive and my kids preferred to sleep on me. If you can settle your infant in the bassinet, it would mean a few hours of hands-free bliss whilst they sleep away.

Bassinets cannot be used during take-off, landing or during bad turbulence.

As the bassinets are located at the bulkhead next to either the kitchen or bathrooms, there is high traffic, with passengers opening and closing doors.

Different airlines have different reservation procedures. It’s best to phone directly with your airline to request a bassinet. Most adhere to first in-first come policy, so booking as early as you can is advantageous.

TIP with bassinets

My sister gave me this handy tip to bring a small amount of blue tack on board and create a make-shift cover by sticking up each of the corners of the muslin wrap to the bulkhead wall, draping it over the bassinet. It helped reduced the amount of light coming from the toilet doors.

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What to pack for kids

Oh, the days when I could just pack a carry-on the morning of the flight for a weekend away to Europe! Not with kids. With children, planning is key. Have the right stuff and you will be equipped for anything. Here are some tips on what to pack:

Type of bag – cross body

Try to take one bag with all of your essentials. I am a big fan of cross body or over the shoulder bags with lots of zips, pockets and compartments. This way you are still hands-free and, of course, you can never have enough compartments.  With kids ages 3+ you can buy their own wheeled carry-on so they can pack their essential toys, spare clothes and anything you couldn’t fit in your own bag. You also have a little porter. They love playing the part. Liam has a “Cars”-themed wheeled suitcase. Very cute and durable. There’s enough room in it to store the iPad or DVD player. However, be prepared to wheel or carry this in the event they are tired or not cooperating.

The reason why I choose a cross body bag rather than a wheeled luggage bag is that you can take things out quickly without having to stop and unzip it to get to the main compartment. It’s also great to swing over a stroller and good for traveling solo. There are also some good backpacks out there, very practical. Stylish? Hmm…not so much.

Separate snack bag

I also take a separate food bag for favorite snacks, water or milk bottles. Go with one that has a long shoulder strap insulated bag so you can just throw it on top of your other gear, ones with lots pockets. I keep it separated from the main carry-on due to possible spills. It’s also easier to access a separate snack bag than to dig through and find the snack bag located inside your main carry-on.

Snacks I take

Dried fruit, nut-free muesli bars, zip lock bag of dried cereal, single serving packets of chips and biscuits, and a light air tight container with some fruit. Choose fruit that causes the least mess and hassle, like berries, grapes or mandarin oranges. Bananas can squash and apples leave a sticky core. Also single serving cheese portions or small yoghurt squeeze pouches are ideal. I usually pack a small icepack to keep food fresh.

For infants, take along some disposable baby food squeeze pouches.

There are food options onboard, however, some much-loved snacks can appease a fussy eater and keep the kids happy during the flight.

Tips on flying with kids
Tips on flying with kids – if all else fails. Sit them on the floor they seem pretty happy there. Also, there’s my loaded cross-body skip hop bag ready for any situation.

Nappies

Pack the normal amount of nappies (diapers) that you take in your nappy bag and three extra, just in case there are any unfortunate accidents. It’s better to have a few extra than not enough. Currently for Layla, who is almost two years old, I pack one nappy for every four hours of travel then add on three extras. This is a little more than usual, however, with flying she tends to poop more frequently. For infants you may need to adjust that to factor in pooh explosions. (I’m sure you know what I am talking about!) Calculate the amount of nappies from the time you start your travel day. e.g. taxi picks you up at 9am., not the duration of the flight.

Nappy wipes

Nappy wipes are handy for almost everything from a milk bottle leak due to cabin pressure, to wiping down tray tables and cleaning sticky fingers.

Nappy sacks

Don’t skimp on the nappy sacks as well as nappy disposal. They come in handy to store rubbish, soiled clothes, and half-eaten snacks.

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Creams & Ointments

If you pack creams for your kids, be sure they adhere to the 100ml liquids restrictions. There are small sized nappy creams and moisturisers you can get from most chemists. I pack Lucas Paw Paw ointment. It can be used as a lip balm and nappy cream so I don’t have to double up. It is also amazing on wind blown cheeks for the little ones. You can also get some 100ml containers from the supermarket. I’ve seen them sold at Target and at the chemist’s. If you have a Daiso or dollar store they stock a selection of small containers. This enables you to carry a small quantity of your favorite product, which for me  is QV moisturizer. I buy the large pump ones and so can transfer it into the smaller container for carry-on quite easily. It’s so gentle for kiddies.

Have all of the creams, gels and liquid products in a ziplock bag, so you can take it out quickly when going through security. Place nappies, nappy sacks, creams and wipes in one area within easy reach so you can easily change a nappy onboard without rifling through the bag.

Medication

Pack any prescribed medications your child may need e.g. asthma pumps, antibiotics etc. The 100ml regulation does not apply to prescription drugs. However, have the medication clearly labelled with your child’s name or a doctors certificate, just in case airport staff enquire about whose medication it is.

Pack any medication you may need in the event your child get’s sick, such as. Paracetemol / Tylenol, in a ziplock bag.  Fo rexample  I always have children’s ibuprofen (Nurofen) and the syringe dispenser on hand. The reason I pack this, is that it lasts longer (every 6-8 hours) and is smaller in size.

For long-haul flights I carry both Parcetemol (Panadol) and Ibuprofen so you can do a 3 hourly dose of Paracetemol in-between the Ibuprofen. You may want to take a small thermometer onboard as well.

Milk, formula, water or juice bottles

You are permitted to carry milk or water bottles onboard for your infant or toddler. This is exempt from the liquid, aerosol or gel restrictions, providing it is a “reasonable quantity” determined by security. When you do go through security make sure you take out the water or milk bottle and show it to the officer. What they will have you do most times is undo the lid and they do a litmus test on the liquid. Then they have you screw it back on and pack it away.

You can take as much milk formula in powder form as necessary. Here is more information on liquid exemptions when traveling with babies and toddlers.

If your child is on cow’s milk, it’s good to place a few ice cubes in the bottle to keep it cool during transit and stow it in a cool bag with an icepack.

Nowadays, I just pack a half filled water bottle to share with both kids. I usually fill this up after security or ask the cabin crew to top it up when they come around.

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Breastfeeding

If you are nursing / breastfeeding, a nursing cover comes in handy. I used a Bebe Au Laite nursing cover.  Breastfeeding is a great way to settle a baby during the flight. The sucking motion helps to decompress the ears.

Spare clothing

Dress your child in comfortable layers or even their pajama’s on a night flight. Kids love their PJs and it is an association for bedtime. The plane gets cool quickly so pack an extra outer layer or a blanket for the infant.

Pack extra bibs and a spare change of clothes as well. Perhaps you’ll want to include two extra sets for infants, in case of throw up or nappy leakage. In the event you forget a change of clothes, the airports always sell very cheesy onesies at the souvenir stores of the country you are in, which are affordable. I remember buying a very ugly “G’day Australia” onesie with a cheesy turtle on it as I forgot to pack a set of clothes onboard during the “throw up after each feed” phase of my son’s young life.

Entertainment

Pack lightweight, small toys that your kids love. For my son Liam, they were toy cars. I would always buy one new car for him and hand it out during the flight. A couple of small thin books, a small set of coloring books/crayons, or some puzzles or games are great, too. I picked up a fold out re-stickable airport scene which folded down quite compact. This kept the kiddies entertained with sticking and re-sticking for quite a while.

For toddlers, something like a pack of cards in a box or toothpicks in a toothpick dispenser, or a few buttons in a mint tin kept them busy for awhile taking things out and putting them back in.

Whatever toys you do pack, make sure that you spread them out over the duration of the flight. Kids’ attention spans are short and they get bored easily.

An invaluable tool to keep the kiddies at bay is technology. A portable DVD with just 2-3 of your kid’s favorite movies is perfect. Or an iPad or tablet loaded with new apps works, too. These are lifesavers at the airport while waiting for a flight and, of course, during the flight. Make sure you have charged everything before you go. I use Kidz Gears headphones, they’re great so as not to disturb the other passengers and fit little heads properly.

Special treats (bribes)

As flying with kids is about survival, have some sugary bribes as one of your strategies to deal with a flight. I pack lolly pops – ones that last awhile and some favorites. Lollies can also help kids to equalize their ears due to change in cabin pressure on take off and decent. Who am I kidding? They are a powerful negotiating tool for a mighty toddler.

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Umbrella Stroller and / or Baby Carrier

A lightweight umbrella stroller isn’t absolutely necessary but can become your best friend through airports. When we have flown, the airlines have never added it to part of our baggage allowance or charged us. However, it is best to confirm with your airline at booking.

Babyzen YoYo stroller – super lightweight folds down compact

Advantages include:

  • Moving with ease through airports without having to carry baby and carry your bags for a long duration of time.
  • Able to hang your carry-on bags and stow things temporally underneath.
  • During transit, baby has a nice place to rest. Especially helpful if plane is delayed.
  • On solo trips, if you have an infant and young toddler you can use a baby carrier and a stroller to navigate solo.
  • Umbrella strollers are compact and fold easily through security x-ray machines.
  • You then have an umbrella stroller for your travels.
Number 1 selling lightweight stroller on Amazon

Disadvantages include:

  • One additional thing to carry through an airport.
  • Going through security can be challenging enough with kids, bags, liquids and the like. With a stroller you will need to take baby out of stroller, fold stroller, lift it up to place on the conveyor belt for the X-Ray machine, unfold the stroller and repack everything including baby after security check.
  • Often have to wait for the stroller when disembarking or at the “oversize” baggage claim, which always comes through later than the rest of the luggage.

Note – strollers for loan: Some airlines like Qantas can loan an umbrella stroller to use until boarding. This can be a good alternative. They are the very basic variety, which do not recline for sleeping, have a very small canopy and no basket for storage. Better than nothing though. The main disadvantages are that you only have the stroller for the first half of the flight until embarkation. The stroller is not there when you disembark at the point of destination. Also, there are a limited number of strollers for loan and one may not be available, if relying on one.

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Gate Check – checking in your stroller at the gate

You can “Gate Check” your stroller at the gate of departure before boarding your flight. Some airlines allow you to get a gate check tag and ticket at check in. Always ask at check-in and the staff can let you know if this is possible. Some airlines prefer you check in at the counter by the gate. Arrive a little early to get your tag. There are always people queuing up for upgrades or stand-by seating.

The stroller will be given a tag and you fold it up and leave it in a designated spot for the airline staff to stow underneath. Usually this was just before the front door of the plane. However, some request you leave it folded by the entry of the jet bridge.

I have a Britax Umbrella Stroller and it’s been all over the world with us. It was relatively cheap (on sale for $80 US), has a large canopy, is easy to maneuver, has a large storage basket and, most importantly, the seat reclines flat for naps. A full review to follow. You do not need an expensive stroller when traveling. The airlines do not treat them well and it gets put through the works when you travel anyway. My stroller also came with a stroller bag with handle, which I have never used,. but you can carry this and place the stroller inside for extra protection.

USA vs Australia Gate Check

The USA makes it so simple as you can gate check your stroller at the gate of departure and also pick it up as you disembark the plane when you land. No need to wait until you get to baggage claim. Ground staff usually collect your stroller and send it underneath. Often, the umbrella stroller was unfolded and ready to go by the time I stepped off the plane. It’s usually there by the door of the plane or after the jet bridge.

I have chatted to my friends in the UK and you can Gate Check your stroller through Europe and the UK. If in doubt. Ask with your airline.

Baby Carrier

Baby carriers or harnesses are great for hands-free navigation through an airport whilst having baby securely near you. Please see my review of three popular baby carriers in the Reviews section.

If you choose to leave the stroller at home, consider a baby carrier.  I often take both with me, as once you check the stroller you still need to be hands free. Within Australia, it comes in handy once you disembark as the stroller is checked through to baggage claim.

How to fly taking a car seat onboard a plane
My daughter Layla in her carseat onboard.

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Car Seat

Bringing a car seat on board is a great idea and a good way to keep your child safe, and most importantly, secured in one comfy spot. However, it can be cumbersome and require more effort to organize and carry onboard. However, I think it’s worth it. The familiar car seat is a great way to get your child to sleep on a plane and could mean a few hours of in-flight bliss. There are great products to help with this. Check out my Flying with a Car Seat post.

There is also a CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System), an airplane seat harness for kids that has been approved by most aviation authorities to be used as a child safety restraint onboard most airlines. Please check with your airline prior to booking.

The CARES harness is an H-frame seatbelt harness that goes over the seat headrest and tightens around the seat. The child is securely fitted as in a car seat harness with two vertical belts and a horizontal belt that clips across the chest. Much like an H harness on car seats.

I have not used this myself. But it looks like a great device for toddlers. I wouldn’t recommend this for infants. It also has one disadvantage in that there is no support for a child when they fall asleep. They may slump under the horizontal belt across the chest and may be unsafe or require supervision. However, I have not tried this myself to verify if this is the case. Look out for my CARES Harness Review shortly.

Best Age group for car seat

In my opinion, car seats are great for children from about 4-6 months to age 2.5-3. It’s the crazy toddlers that require securing in and where you get maximum benefit. From age 3 onwards kids can sit relatively well without a car seat. For infants the bassinet is the better alternative.

You can buy a CARES harness here (much cheaper than buying in Australia, there’s one company that has the sole rights and can set prices accordingly).

Check-in with kids

Trolleys are the essential item when checking in with kids. Gone are the days of wheeling one suitcase. There are car seats, suitcases, strollers, kids wheely bags and so on, all needing to be carried.

We normally locate a trolley as quickly as possible so we can load all the luggage including car seats and a folded umbrella stroller. I would then have Layla in my harness and Liam would be walking along side wheeling his little carry-on. This works in a solo situation also as you can push all your gear including car seat and stroller with two kiddies in tow.  Obviously, with your partner, you can spread the load.

Car seats and suitcases are normally checked through at the counter. However,  strollers will need to be checked through the Oversize Baggage area.

At the check-in counter you can ask for customs declaration forms. They sometimes have them on hand (they always have some for Business and First class passengers). It’s good to fill these out prior to going through customs.

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TIP strollers on loan

For Qantas flyers. Sometime you’ll see that there are large roll of plastic bags for you to use to protect your stroller or car seat before checking it. Take a few more for other connecting trips on other airlines. They fold down very easy and come in very handy at other airports.

Curbside Check-in for the USA

Once again, America makes flying with kids much easier with the use of curbside check-in. This is a very convenient way to check-in without having to navigate the terminal and wait in sometimes very long queues.  Simply drive up to the curb, unpack your car and you can check in, without having to navigate through the terminal to find your airline’s check-in counters.  Tipping is customary for the handlers, perhaps approximately $2 US per suitcase, but it is well worth it. We use to check-in curbside all the time and then wait whilst the other person parks the car. This meant we didn’t have to navigate a carpark with kids and luggage. Better still, have somebody else drop you off curbside.

The major disadvantage of curbside check in is that it’s not permitted for flights with paper tickets (not e-tickets). Also, it’s hit and miss with international destinations or if you want to change your seating arrangements. For example,. we wanted to change to a 4-row seat instead of two sets of two seats and the curbside handlers could not do this for us. Domestic flights, though, are a breeze.

Security

I must admit, we tackled going through security with military precision. It’s a stressful process, some of these tips may make it less stressful.

  1. As you approach the security lines, pick the line with the efficient single traveling business men who already have their laptops out. These guys are veterans and go through security quickly. Getting stuck behind other family travelers not familiar with the process or tourists that have all the time in the world can mean more precious time stuck in line with kids that are about to go crazy.
  2. Any outer layers that can be put away in bags should be done so now.
  3. Have a parent line up first and put your kids in the middle with the other parent at the opposite end.
  4. Here is the opportunity to re-iterate directions to your kids if they are ages 2+. “Stay close, listen to mummy and daddy, don’t touch the conveyor belt”. Bribes come in handy right here.
  5. As you are within reach of trays, grab at least two. Place one on the conveyor belt. Take out your ziplock bag of liquids and your water bottle. If you are traveling with a laptop place that on a tray.  iPads and DVD players do not need to come out.
  6. If traveling with a car seat, put it on the conveyor first. It might not go through the X-Ray machine, but it allows time for security to do their manual check. Empty your pockets of coins and keys and any jewelry. If you husband has a belt, have him take it off. The aim is to not buzz so as not to have to go through all over again.
  7. If traveling in the USA, take your shoes off and the kids’ as well. I believe a new regulation no longer requires kids’ shoes to be taken off. But if in doubt take them off. Ask once you are on the other side. Australians leave their shoes on.
  8. Remove jackets, cardigans or outerwear from you and your kids and place them on a tray. The aim is not to be pulled up again and have to go through security check again.
  9. Place all your carry-on baggage on the conveyor belt.
  10. If you have a baby carrier on, take the baby out of the carrier. Place the carrier on the convertor belt. (Important to do last as you are now one handed).
  11. If you have a stroller, take the baby out of the stroller. Fold the umbrella stroller and place on the conveyor belt.
  12. By now you should be taking up the whole conveyor belt and no business men are lining up behind you.
  13. Step through the security gate one at a time. Babes- in-arms are allowed to go through with you.
  14. The first parent should be methodically packing away laptops and loose items as well as waiting for the car seat. If security has identified the milk or water bottle, this is where you need to open it for them so they can perform the test.
  15. The second parent should be putting the harness back on or putting the child back in the stroller as well as wrangling loose kids.
  16. Once cleared, find a spot for reorganizing. There are usually chairs to sit children and dress and put shoes on. If your kids aren’t cooperating. Here’s the chance to try a bribe if all else is failing.

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TIP close the lid of the bottle ASAP

Close the lid of the bottle and pack it away as soon as security finishes hovering the litmus paper over the bottle. No need to keep it open. Keep moving.

Solo Travel

If travelling solo, you should be able to go through security very closely together.  The key is to pack away the loose items in the bag first i.e. ziplock bag full of liquids and keys. Keep reiterating to you child to stay close to you. Then unfold your stroller or put your carrier back on to secure your infant. Then, pack away your bags. Security will just have to wait for you to put away everything before you perform the milk bottle / water bottle test. Finally, grab any loose clothing and shoes to be put on later when you’re away from the security gate.

Going through Immigration with kids

For international flights, complete an outgoing passenger immigration card for each passenger, including children. Open up your passport to the photo page and put the corresponding immigration card in. This reduces the time you are at the immigration counter waiting for the clerk to locate your page. That means less time before your kids get impatient and start running amok. It’s all about speed!

When filling out the cards you’ll have another opportunity to re-iterate the rules.

When going through immigration, you line up behind the line and wait until you are called. Then you go forward as a family. The immigration officer will stamp your passport and hand them back..

For Australians travelling to the USA: There is a green customs card stub usually stapled to your passport. Make sure you check that you received one and keep this safe. It is required to be collected upon exit out of the USA, usually by the airline. This stub confirms you have left the country within the right time limits. If you don’t hand this back, it may mean you have “overstayed your welcome” in the USA, violating immigration laws.

TIP more immigration cards

Grab a large handful of immigration cards so you can pre-fill the cards for your next trip. Saves time.

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Tips on airline lounges and kids

Join all airline loyalty programs. You may fly enough to qualify for their airline lounge access. For Aussies here are the links to the most popular reward programs: Qantas Frequent Flyer  and Virgin’s Velocity Frequent Flyer.

I do recommend purchasing a membership if you are going to be flying frequently. Airline lounges are a safe haven for parents with kids. They are a great place to dump your bags and recollect your thoughts in a quiet and safe environment. There are food, snacks and drinks you can help yourself to the all important WI FI and entertainment.

Some offer designated kids areas with toys, computers and books to keep them entertained pre-flight. If your child is tired, there are quiet areas for sleeping.

Lounges also offer showers and change facilities and provide towels and toiletries.

Keep an eye out for my review on Qantas First and Business Class Lounges.

Airport play with kids

Airports are getting in tune with the times. I am seeing more and more airports with kid-friendly play areas similar to shopping centers, where they are fenced in. So if you are at an airport, look out for information or a map to see if there is one available. This is a great way to run out the kids before their flight.

If there are no play areas, going for a wander around the terminal will expend any excess energy. It’s important to run the kids out pre-flight.

I have been to excellent play areas at San Francisco International Airport; apparently they have 5 scattered around the terminals. Also, Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Nashville, Airport have them as well.

Here are some kid friendly airports as identified by Pop Sugar.

Tips for flying with kids
Tips for flying with kids. Run your kids out pre-flight. This is Liam in the Qantas lounge in Sydney.

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Boarding a flight with kids

Prior to boarding make sure you do a nappy change and all the kiddies have gone to the toilet. You don’t want a situation where your 3-year-old needs to go and you are taking off.

Get to your gate a little earlier if you have a stroller to gate check. This is where a baby carrier comes in handy.

If you are traveling with a car seat, bring this to the airline staff’s attention. The good ones usually board you earlier so you have time to set this up.

If you are flying with a lap child, the air stewards will offer you a seat belt and offer to show you how to use this. There’s a loop through which you thread your main seatbelt. You then position your child on your lap facing away from you and secure the belt around your child’s waist.

Airlines in general are very accommodating when young kids are flying and will usually board families early. If you are part of a frequent flyer program, they also board these members earlier; e.g. Platinum Qantas One World Frequent Flyer.

Once onboard with the car seat installed, get the kids seated and unpack the entertainment and snacks or have them within easy reach. I usually have the bag under the seat in front rather than overhead for quick access.

Once settled, this is another good point to reiterate the rules. Explain that buttons are not toys and seats are not for kicking and that there are other people who would like to sleep. Instruct them to use their quiet voices. A bribe may help here. Dont’ be afraid to speak a little louder so that other passengers can hear that you are trying your hardest to control your children. I think passengers are more sympathetic when they know you are trying.

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During the flight with kids

Drip feed the entertainment, toys and activities you packed for the duration of the flight, breaking them up between snacks and meal times. Try not to hand out everything all at once or within the first part of flying. The aim is to keep them occupied and happy throughout the flight.

Whilst I advise to keep your infant in the car seat for the duration of the flight,   remember that kids do get bored. On road trips, you do take toilet and rest breaks. Likewise on long flights. You can take them for a walk up and down the aisle to break up the monotony. If the child is happy, keep her settled in her seat until there’s a problem. Once they learn about the aisle, there’s no going back so save that until absolutely necessary.

Ears

Young kids are not use to the equalizing of their ears built up by the cabin pressure. The change in pressure is the reason for uncomfortable ears, usually during take off and the descent. Here are some tips to help relieve their ears:

Infants

Breastfeed on take off and landing really helped my little ones settle and sleep. Air stewards usually offer a pillow.

Pacifier or giving a bottle of milk or water on take off and during decent helps as well.

Young kids

Try Ear Plugs to relieve little ears:

Ear plugs for little ears

  • Request a cup of ice before take off and landing. Air stewards are very helpful with this. They love ice and the sucking and swallowing helps with the ears.
  • Offer kids a drink during take off and landing may help. It’s actually the swallow that helps relieve the pressure.
  • Lolly pop or chewy lollies (candy) can help alleviate the pressure.
  • For older kids, you can try explaining how to hold their nose and blow. Liam is 4 and still not quite getting this.
  • Try telling your child to yawn or wiggle their jaw side to side.

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Nappy Change

There are certain toilets which are designated baby change cubicles, which will be brought to your attention once your board. If in doubt, ask a air steward. Usually, there is a table above the toilet along the wall that your fold down to place baby on. Nappies can be disposed of in the rubbish compartment.

Sleep

Once onboard. change your watch to the time of the destination country. Usually, airlines are already doing this by offering the meals at certain times and dimming the cabin lights. Feed your infant their meal and get them settled in their seat in hopes of sleep. This may not happen., but don’t stress. Keep them happy with entertainment or toys. Keep them in their seats and sleep may come. Remember, it’s survival so a routine is out the door.

For night time flights, either have your kids already in pajamas or bring a set to change into. This gives them the indication that it’s night time. You can even read a book before bed and tell them it’s time for night-night.

Try and sleep when your kids are sleeping, no matter how tempting the onboard movies are.

Onboard is not the time to sleep train / cry a baby out. It’s not a natural familiar environment. Addressing the need, be it cuddles, food, nappy or distraction, usually does the trick.

Tips for flying with kids
Tips for flying with kids. SURVIVAL. The little ones need cuddles. It’s a big day with strange new things.

Customs

You will be handed customs declaration cards and arrivals (inbound passenger cards) for the destination country before landing. Open up your passport to the photo page and put the corresponding arrivals card in. This helps speed up going through customs with your kids. Usually there is one customs declaration card per family.

Food and drink are usually prohibited in the destination country. If in doubt, declare it in order to save a entire suit case search. Children’s and infants milk and water bottles are exempt. But declare it on the card, nevertheless.

Australia is the most stringent in terms of bringing foreign goods into the country, including plant and wood products, shells, food, drink, and objects deriving from animals. For a full list of declaration items click here.

When you approach customs have your documents in easy reach, unzip and start getting out all the things you are going to declare; which saves time. If your child is old enough. Have them help to keep the occupied in busy queues.

A baby carrier is great to be hands free.

Don’t worry about the other passengers

A word of advice: don’t read the comments in travel forums. There are a lot of angry flyers out there. I am surprised to see people declaring on online forums that kids should be charged extra or have separate flights or shouldn’t travel at all.

Of course, before kids, I would have preferred to be seated next to someone without young children. However, if the mother is doing all she can to control her children and is seen to be making an effort, there shouldn’t be any judgment cast by fellow passengers. On most trips I have taken, you will find very sympathetic people that will give you the knowing nod., acknowledging your effort or knowing what you are going through as they have been through it themselves. I find the business men, who are often fathers, are actually the most sympathetic of all. If they offer to help you carry a bag or help you with a seat and you are travelling solo, don’t be afraid to accept that help.

You will find that you are often the most distraught at your baby’s cry. Other people just seem to block it out as white noise. Easier said than done, but try breathe, relax and enjoy the flight as much as possible.

Have I missed out on any great tip for flying with kids? Would love to know yours. Please comment below.

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27 Comments

  • Thanks for sharing
    I will be travelling from sfo to new zealand and sydney with my husband, almost 2 year old and 4 year old. thoughts on strollers? i was gonna bring my double stroller since its slim but heavy and bulky. since you have 2 what are your expieriences

    • Hi Gina, There are some very fancy (but very expensive) lightweight strollers out there. There’s UppaBaby, Phil & Teds (travel stroller) and YoYo. These apparently fit above the overhead compartment so you’ll always have a stroller at the airport. If you are travelling with your partner you can consider one each. Or the Kmart super cheap very light and portable knock about ones that set you back $20-50.

      My Maclaren double stroller was very convenient but it was way too bulky to take through the airport. It was wide and clunky and wouldn’t fit through standard aisles, making it a nightmare through security. Other double strollers the ones that sit tandem, are great but bulky and really heavy. I’d almost go one stroller and a Ergo Carrier for the 2 year old? Or two single strollers.

      Let me know how you go?
      xo

      • Hi Rene, I was wondering the same thing about a lightweight double stroller (Zoe brand makes one that is only 16 lbs) versus 2 single umbrella strollers. I will be travelling from SFO to New Zealand and Sydney as well, but we will have 9 month old twins. I will also bring 2 carriers for the airport when we have to gate check the stroller. I am mostly thinking about when we get to our destination, as having 2 strollers versus 1 will tie up both parents’ hands.

  • Brilliant blog post thank you Rene!
    I’m travelling to Byron for the first time with kids in a few weeks and these tips are so good. Especially love the tip about the stroller. Thinking I get one of those and leave the Mountain Buggy at home?

    Oh and btw there is a great,free kids lounge at Avalon Airport in Victoria too.

  • Setting off today from Brisbane to Amsterdam with my almost 2 year old, re-read this post. I think I am ticking all the boxes. Still – wish me luck!

  • Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished
    to mention that I’ve really loved browsing your weblog posts.

    After all I’ll be subscribing for your rss feed and I’m
    hoping you write once more soon!

    • Thank you for taking the time to reply. Much appreciated. I’m sorry I have been a bit quiet of late. I’ve been writing elsewhere. I’ll be back soon. Hopefully your RSS feed will have something useful 🙂 Rene

  • Have just come across your blog and love it!! Loving all your tips and even though I have travelled to Bali twice by myself with my daughter when she was 22 mths and 2.5 yrs I am about to tackle it again but this time with her at 4.5 yrs and her crazy younger brother 18 mths! Will be quite interesting with the 2 of them but your tips have really helped. Thanks!!

  • I am so happy that I found your blog!! awesome post!! Its come in very handy since we are going to Taiwan for the very first time to see my family. I am flying with my 3.5 year old and my husband. I have printed this ‘bible’ out and I am just wondering how I should go about travel sickness? She gets car sick quite easily so I am worried about her getting sick in the flight. Is there any travel sickness solution you will recommend?
    Thank you again for your very well written and informative post!

    Monica

    • Hi Monica, thanks so much. I hope this helps. How exciting to goto Taiwan. I’m a big jealous as I have never made it over there and I have a sister in law who’s Taiwanese!

      I am sorry, I don’t have any travel sickness remedies for little kids. However I am a long sufferer of motion sickness in the car and on small boats. Particularly if I read or watch any videos. Planes and trains and cruise ships are usually ok for some strange reason. Lets hope it’s the same for bubs.

      All I can advise you of is to pack in preparation of your child getting sick as there is no hard and fast way to solve motion sickness. Pack extra clothes in case of accidents a water bottle to keep fluids up, some dry biscuits and something sugary to suck on.

      Pack plenty of wet wipes and a few vomit bags, my pregnant friend highly recommends “chuckies” http://www.chuckies.com.au/ I am in no way endorsing this product but thought it might help steer you in the right direction.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help. Please let me know how you go. I’d love to update the page with any tips you find along the way.

      Sending you positive travel vibes! xoxo

    • Thank you. What a great site you have there. I love your tips and always looking for more ideas and suggestion – anything to survive the plane ride!

      I particularly like “Take advantage of any queue jumping opportunities” yes! definately! it makes a big difference.

      Sending you positive multiple long-haul travel vibes for your next trip and looking forward to connecting with you xo

  • Thanks for these fantastic tips Rene. I love your blog!
    We bought the Usbourne Airport book (in French) for our 16 month boy before we left to get him interested in planes, and he loved it!

    We just did a 24 hour France to Vietnam trip with 2 changeovers. Wish I had read your tips in more detail before booking this nightmare journey.
    We booked a bassinet (Singapore Airlines has a big one – takes a baby up to 14kg), but as we didn’t read your advice before the flight, we ended up on a day-time flight…so no sleep-eye for him or us!

    The tips on investigating Airport lounges was a useful. We ended up staying at the Zen hotel at the Singapore airport (have to go through customs) where they allow you rent the ‘nap room’ by the hour. We managed to get 4 hours of shut-eye before the next flight which allowed us to recharge our batteries….lifesaver and I highly recommend this!!

    Look forward to reading other future blogs from you. Love that your sense of humour comes out in your writing. Keep it up!

    • Thank you Jacq’s this comment made my day. So glad you were able to get something out of it. Happy travels and I can’t wait for your feature post 🙂

    • I just came back from what was suppose to be the trip of a life time to Maldives, turned out to be trip from hell. This comment made my day. Thank you and happy travels.

    • Hi Bonnie! I love your blog. Thanks for sharing, so kind of you.I love the SITS Girls. Looking forward to connecting too. xo

  • This is a very helpful and thorough post. I admire those with the muster to travel with young children. I know that there’s no way that I would be able to keep everything together. I’m always surprised when I get MYSELF to my destination with little to no catastrophes.

    • Thanks Nicole! I am barely keeping anything together. I’ve done so many things wrong that I want to share some good baby flying karma. I am very surprised also when I get myself to my destination. Who am I kidding, just to the shops and back is an achievement. Appreciate you kind comments. xo

  • HOW does this amazing post not have 1,000 comments? This is the most well-written, comprehensive Tips page for parents traveling with kids. I don’t even HAVE kids and I found it informative! I fly a couple of times a year and I actually kind of enjoy sitting next to the kid and solo parent. I’m so loaded up with snacks and games myself I usually end up making friends with the four-year-olds ;D One time I wore a flouncy summer dress, bright red with big, white polka dots and the little girl I sat next to thought I was Minnie Mouse. It made my day. Fellow SITS-sister, I salute you – not just for this amazing post, but for all of the traveling you do with your kids!

    • Thank you! This comment made my day, if you know of these 1000 commenters please send them my way, in the meantime can you fly with me and kiddies in your Minnie Mouse dress. Thanks again for popping by and looking forward to reading more of your delicious blog. http://www.glasofwin.com

  • Thanks Mila. Yes I am feeling the SITS Girls love. Jamaica how fabulous. So glad you had a lovely flight, sounds like you have quite the jet-setter there. Looking forward to your posts. We mums will never pack lightly again. I love a chubba bubba. All mine were HUGE. xo

  • What an adorable blog you have! We just traveled to Jamaica with my little 1 year old munchkin who is a whopping 26 pounds! Fortunately, she is a happy little munchkin and was just excited and wanted to see everything…and eventually fell asleep on me for 2 hours. But you better believe my bag was stocked with diapers, napkins, wet wipes, spare onsie and tons of snacks!
    Glad to have made a new bloggy friend! Sits girls are awesome for putting this together!

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