50 Tips For Flying With Kids

27 March 2017

For the best advice on flying with tots, teens, tweens and in-betweens, go straight to the experts – parents! We asked our Flight Centre Travel Experts, who are also parents themselves, how to ace an overseas or interstate flight with the whole family in tow.

Be prepared before you board. (Image: Getty)

Onboard essentials

1. Bring a compact stroller on board

My best investment was a small, compact stroller I can take on board with me. It saves us precious time not having to wait at the luggage carousel, and means we can hit the ground running when we land.

Kellie Carty, Communications Manager, mother of one

2. Dress them in PJs

Put kids in their PJs for night flights to reinforce that it is sleep time.

Kari Edie, Product Expert, mother of one

3. BYO headphones

The generic airline-supplied headphones are too big for little heads, so bring your own child-size, child-safe, volume-limiting headphones (plus an airline headphone socket adapter) to avoid mid-air meltdowns.

Cassandra Laffey, Publications Manager, mother of one

4. BYO snacks

Don't risk getting on the plane and your child doesn't like the plane food. Have snaplock bags filled with different kinds of snacks (i.e. nuts, crackers, dried fruit and popcorn) that don't make a mess but take time to eat.

Rachel Tipene, Product Expert, mother of one

5. Keep the sleep routine

Make sure their sleeping routine doesn't change with PJs and books on hand.

Megan Lowe, GM Leisure Product, mother of one

6. Have a nappy kit handy

Don’t get caught tearing your carry-on luggage apart in search of the nappy-change necessities — nappies; wipes; a thin, foldable changing pad; and disposable baggies. Have the whole kit ready in a zip-top bag you can remove easily. The changing pad or liner is a key item for air travel, because not every airline offers changing tables in their lavatories — you might have to get creative with where to change your baby. Avoid surprises by asking a flight attendant about the arrangements when you board or early in the flight.

Niki Dart, Travel Expert, mother of one

7. Pack lollipops to pop ears

Have chewing gum or lollipops on hand for take-off and landing to help children with the ear pressure on board.

Shonny Day, Travel Expert, mother of two

8. Use bottles or dummies for babies

Give babies a dummy or bottle upon take-off and landing to help with ear pressure. The sucking motion helps pop their ears.

Casey Quinlan, Travel Expert, mother of one

9. Pre-book kids' meals

Most airlines provide onboard children’s meals that you will need to book ahead. Ensure your consultant has requested and confirmed any children’s meals with the airline before you fly.

Brendan Sawyers, State Product Leader, father of two

10. Feed 'em first

Make sure the kids are well fed before getting on board as meal service takes forever.

Philip Hancox, Supplier Relations Manager, father of two

Come equipped with toys, tech and toddler-friendly entertainment. (Image: Getty)

Airline info

11. Book the newest aircraft

New aircraft, such as the Dreamliner and A380, are much quieter than older aircraft such as Boeing 747s, making it easier for children to sleep.

Brendan Sawyers, State Product Leader, father of two

12. Fly direct

Always fly as direct as you can. We've all done a mad dash from terminal to terminal to make a connecting flight, adding bored, tired and/or irritable kids, all their blankies and carry-on is not ideal. Avoid the stress — fly direct if you can, otherwise think of including a stopover to your trip. Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Etihad Airways all have great stopover deals that are perfect for a refresher and a new experience.

Lana Kneas, Travel Expert, mother of three

13. Fly with a family-friendly airline

Air Canada has great seatback entertainment for children. The flight attendants frequently offered to fill up drink bottles with water, juice or milk, including before descent to help with pressure to children's ears.

Kylasch Lawson, Travel Expert, mother of two

14. The best family-friendly airlines (and staff!)

I find Fiji Airways, Hawaiian Airlines and Qantas are the best with kids. Hawaiian Airlines and Fiji Airways staff are always so lovely with the kids and listen to their endless questions. Qantas also has cute little kids packs that give them something to do.

Amy Mudge, Travel Expert, mother of three

15. Sky-high nanny

Etihad Airways offers families a helping hand with Flying Nannies on all long-haul services. While they won’t take your offspring off your hands completely, these sky-high nannies are equipped with games and activities to keep kids occupied while seated.

Cassandra Laffey, Publications Manager, mother of one

16. Fly with a full-service airline

I recommend flying with Etihad Airways to Europe as not only do they have entertainment for the kids, they also feed them and have a nanny service. You’d be surprised how great it is for both you and the children to have that extra person to interact with.

Lana Kneas, Travel Expert, mother of three

17. Choose your airline wisely

I highly recommend Emirates when flying with kids. The seats are spacious, and they offer amazing children’s meals and age-specific activity packs.

Nataly Hurwitz, Travel Expert, mother of two

18. Generous luggage allowance

Emirates offers parents who are travelling with babies an additional infant luggage allowance of up to 10kg for checked baggage and one 5kg carry-on handbag for infant food and necessities.

Sam Constance, Travel Expert, mother of one

19. Love the layover!

Don’t be afraid to take a break with an overnight stay. Keeping your child's routine means they won’t run out of stamina for your 'adventure days', and will sleep well and adjust more easily to the time difference. Taking time to stop along the way won’t make those long-haul flights seem so long.

Veronica Hollands. Travel Expert, mother of one

Be strategic in your seat selection to allow kids (and adults!) to spread out. (Image: Getty)

Seating arrangements

20. Pre-allocated seats

Where possible, book with an airline that has pre-seating requests so you can choose where to sit as a group.

Brendan Sawyers, State Product Leader, father of two

21. Get them their own seat

If your children are under 23 months and big balls of energy, don’t try and fly with them sitting on you on flights over five hours. Pay extra to get their own seat.

Clinton Hearne, Marketing Manager, father of two

22. Book your seats strategically

For a family of four, try to block out the window seat and the aisle seat, leaving the middle seat empty, or both aisle seats if it's a row of four and do the same for the row behind.  The middle seats on a plane are generally the last seats to be filled and you can usually luck out with some space for the kids to sprawl out.  If people are seated there, they are generally willing to move away into one of your aisle seats in the row behind.

Jason Nooning, Airfare Expert, father of two

23. Let someone else tell them to stay seated

When you get on a flight, the little balls of energy are so excited they can't sit still. Trying to get them to keep a seatbelt on is a futile effort. I simply say "Go explore, check out the plane" while everyone is boarding. Eventually a cabin crew member will tell them to sit down and put their seatbelt on. Kids always do whatever someone else tells them!

Darren Wright, General Manager Leisure, father of two

24. Where to sit

As a mum of three, I always travel at the back of the plane in the last two rows, with two kids in front of me and one beside me so they can move their chairs up and down without interrupting other people.

Amy Mudge, Travel Expert, mother of three

25. Bassinet 101

Be aware; with bassinets you have to pick up the baby every time the seatbelt sign goes on. There will also be other children in these rows.

Libby Mowinkel, Travel Expert, mother of one

26. Check seat allocation with the airline

I always call the airline and ask if it's possible to block the seat between the two of us if the flight isn't too busy so we have three seats with room to spread out and make more mess.

Kristy Bennett, Travel Expert, mother of one

27. Window or aisle?

If your baby or child is still sleeping a lot, the window seat is great to lean on. If your child is quite active, an aisle seat may be easier to get in and out, especially for bathroom breaks.

Casey Quinlan, Travel Expert, mother of one

Breastfeeding, bottles and dummies are best for babies' ears on take-off and descent. (Image: Getty)

Diversion tactics

28. Pre-load your personal device

Be prepared. Bring your own device, and load it up with new movies or TV shows and games to keep them occupied.  Don't rely on the airline’s entertainment. 

Luke Wheatley, Creative & Content Manager, father of one

29. Hack their toys!

Wrap a whole bunch of little toys up with lots of sticky tape.  It takes them ages to unwrap and they sit still.

Kimberley Saddington, Marketing Manager, mother of two

30. Puppet master

We have a puppet that travels with us, which is a great distraction when required.

Megan Lowe, GM Leisure Product, mother of one

31. Pack sticker activity books

When flying with toddlers, pack sticker books. This activity keeps my toddler busy for a good amount of time.

Nataly Hurwitz, Travel Expert, mother of two

32. Create a travel journal

Put together a fun journal and have stickers, postcards and maps for your children to plot their journey. Kids love adventure but feel settled knowing what is going to happen. The journal helps prevent meltdowns from being overwhelmed in new surroundings and overstimulated by all the excitement and keeps them busy at the same time. Throw in a disposable camera for extra fun and you’ll be amazed at how the world looks from their eyes.

Julianne Quirk, Travel Expert, mother of two

33. Make busy bags

For younger toddlers, ‘busy bags’ will save the day. Busy bags contain a reusable, age-appropriate activity that your child can use on their own. They're easy to pull out of your bag and throw back in when done. For my toddler, a laminated road map and toy car, and an empty pepper shaker with pipe cleaners to poke through the holes worked best.

Rachel Tipene, Product Expert, mother of one

34. New toys for the plane

A few months before departure, start buying toys or activities that your child enjoys and will keep them entertained. Wrap them up and pack in a bag to give out one at a time throughout the flight or when they start getting bored.

Courtney Armstrong, Travel Expert, mother of one

35. Cheap and cheerful toys

Save your water bottles from the flight - they make great toys for toddlers! When travelling with our 12-month-old, I filled the bottles with rice and pasta from the supermarket to make sensory toys. This kept her entertained on our travels and meant I could save on luggage space by not having to pack too many toys.

Kellie Carty, Communications Manager, mother of one

Take advantage of power outlets to keep your personal devices charged and ready for the plane. (Image: Getty)

Airport strategies

36. Time your flights just right

It’s all about timing – pick the best arrival time for long-haul flights. It’s better to arrive in London at 3pm so the kids only have a few hours until bed rather than a 6am arrival where you have to keep them going until bedtime.

Andrew Robinson-Taylor, Travel Expert, father of two

37. Know the pram policy

Travel with airlines that allow you to take prams to the gate. Low-cost carriers generally don't allow you to take the pram to the gate and you'll need to check-in prams on arrival.

Belinda McDonnell, Travel Expert, mother of two

38. Track your flight status

Check that your flight is on time before leaving home. Sitting around airports just waiting is no fun (and expensive).

Philip Hancox, Supplier Relations Manager, father of two

39. Check-in early

Yes – we arrive at the airport three hours before we fly out. Yes – we will have to line up many times. Yes – it may be boring at times but it will be worth it!

Andrew Robinson-Taylor, Travel Expert, father of two

40. Airport activities

At the airport, handmade fabric travel mats with small cars are a great way to keep kids entertained while transiting and waiting for boarding, and are easy to roll up and pack away.

Belinda McDonnell, Travel Expert, mother of two

41. Family-friendly airports

If you do have an extended layover in Singapore, Changi Airport is well equipped with kid-friendly facilities including a slide, butterfly garden and cinemas. Other family-friendly airports for transit travellers include Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, San Francisco Airport and Hong Kong International Airport.

Cassandra Laffey, Publications Manager, mother of one

42. Lounging around

If you have access to an airline lounge, make sure you take advantage of the facilities. Kids love being able to help themselves to drinks and snacks, and it’s a great way for the family to relax in a contained area before your flight.

Renae Spinks, Content Writer, mother of one

Find out which airlines allow pram-to-gate access to avoid carrying babies around the airport. (Image: Getty)

Packing tips

43. Pack a change of clothes for two

Remember to pack a change of clothes for yourself as well as the baby – nothing like a long-haul flight with baby mess all down yourself and nothing to change into!

Sam Constance, Travel Expert, mother of one

44. Pack an onboard kit

Pack snacks, spare clothes (including lots of spare underwear for toddlers), wipes, hand sanitiser, pain relief for children (and you!), toothbrushes and pyjamas.

Courtney Armstrong, Travel Expert, mother of one

45. More onboard essentials

When packing your carry-on, don’t forget eardrops, books, iPads with chargers and a comfy travel pillow.

Jason Nooning, Airfare Expert, father of two

46. Pack for comfort

Pack a little blanket or cardigan and their favourite toy for comfort.

Monica Lando, Product Expert, mother of one

47. Pack light, pack smart

Travelling successfully with a baby or toddler means having what you need without being overwhelmed by bulging bags. Be practical with your carry-on. Extra clothes are key, bring a few infant outfits (they’re tiny, after all!) or an extra toddler outfit. Try taking the bulk out of clothing: pack each set of clean clothes in a zip-top bag and suck all the air out. If there is big spill or an accident, you can use the bag to keep the messy clothes contained.

Niki Dart, Travel Expert, mother of one

Don't forget to request kids' meals before you fly, and bring plenty of onboard snacks. (Image: Getty)

When to fly

48. Take flight at night

Overnight long-haul flights are ideal so kids will sleep while on board.

Belinda McDonnell, Travel Expert, mother of two

49. Daytime is best!

Fly through the day! There is nothing worse than going through the check-in process with tired children at 9pm, with the hope they will sleep through the red-eye flight and wake up happy on arrival. It does not happen! Older kids wake up with sore backs and achy necks with attitude to boot, and zero patience for the immigration process at the other end.

Shonny Day, Travel Expert, mother of two

And finally...

50. Pack your 'inner' suitcase

Take some time before you leave to boost your inner stores of flexibility, patience and calm. Make your trip a judgment-free zone, and go with the flow. If your baby is fussy, look around at all the passengers you think you might be disturbing and remember that many are mums, dads, and grandparents. The businessman in a fancy suit might be missing his toddler at home. The elderly couple might be reminiscing about their days of baby travel. A huge part of the crowd knows exactly how you feel and they’re rooting for you. So, take a deep breath and assume the best about your fellow travellers…and about yourself.

Niki Dart, Travel Expert, mother of one

Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.