Are you preparing your kid for a long plane ride? Is this your child’s first flight? Do you need some tips for keeping them calm and entertained?
Don’t worry, your traveling days are not over once you have kids. I will give you my advice as a flight attendant to make it easier for you and the kids. And I’m sure that it will not be as tough as you think.
The key is to plan in advance, get informed about the airline’s policies and to be prepared to deal with your kids.
So, where to begin?
Follow this guide and hopefully you will not have to worry about anything else, except for enjoying your family trip.
What documents do you need if you travel with kids?
If you’re flying domestically with a child under 14 years old, they are not required to show any identification, but they will probably ask you for the birth certificate (US) or the family booklet (Europe) to prove their age. But check with your airline as the rules might vary between airlines.
It’s different if you’re flying internationally. In this case your kid will need a passport and if you are flying to a country that requires a visa, they will also need a visa, or a vaccination if needed.
NOTE: Children traveling with one parent or with someone who is not the parent will need a parental permission that needs to be notarized or done at the police station.
Example: child travel consent form
If there’s no other parent or one parent has sole custody then you will need to prove it with some paperwork (death certificate, custody agreement, etc.).
Can a child fly alone?
- Children from 1 to 5 years old must travel with an adult; they can’t fly with an older child alone or with an UM (Unaccompanied minor service)
- 5-12 year-olds can travel alone, but must request or purchase the UM (Unaccompanied minor service). This isan assistance service offered by some airlines, for children these ages who are traveling alone. They ensure that someone will be taking care of the kid during the whole trip: someone from the airline will accompany your child to and from the aircraft, from check-in to arrivals, including transfers when there are connections, and even in the event of delay.
But you need to check with the airline, because depending on the country, the regulations and age limits may change and some airlines don’t offer this service.
Note: In the US, kids from 5 to 7 years’ old can only take a direct flight, but no connecting flights.
- 12 years old and over: Once the child has reached the age of 12 or 15, with some airlines they are considered an adult. But you can still request the UM service, if it makes you feel reassured. The fees vary between airlines. If you don’t purchase this service, then they will be treated and considered as an adult passenger. So in case of cancellation or delay they will be responsible for themselves.
What ticket to buy for a kid?
Do you have to buy a seat on a plane for a kid?
Absolutely, over 2 years old they cannot be lap children anymore, so they need to have their own seat. Before the age of 2 you can pick. They can travel on your lap or you can buy a seat.
Do kids pay full fare?
If they are under 2 years old and they travel as a lap child, you will normally pay 10% of the adult fare or just the taxes. You may be required to show proof of age for your children.
If they are older than 2 years old, it depends on the airline. In the US, most of the airlines don’t offer child fares for domestic routes, I’m not sure why. If you check international destinations, maybe. In Europe and Asia some airlines will show a discount and most of the low-cost airlines will not, so you will pay for a normal adult ticket.
But luckily, there are still many airlines that offer child discounts. For instance, SAS offers a 25% discount off the adult fare, Lufthansa 20%, JAL 25%, KLM 10%, and Air France 33%. All these tariffs can vary depending on the destination or the airline, so always ask first.
You should always check and try different airlines and different destinations because you might have a good surprise and end up saving 10% to 30% on tickets, especially if you have more than one kid. And another good thing is that they can also earn miles, so you will receive miles like with any other ticket.
After buying the ticket:
- Reserve your seats together if you can. The sooner you do it, the more choices you will have to sit.
- Call the airline to book the children’s meals if they have special meals for the kids. They will love it!
What to pack to fly with kids?
Remember when you pack that you are not packing for a move. I recommend you to write down and make a checklist for everything, even the most obvious things. Those are probably the things that you will forget.
Can kids manage their own carry-on luggage?
Of course! I’ve seen 3-year-olds carrying their own and they love the idea of having their own bags. Plus it’s helping them to be responsible with their own things and it’s helping you to not be so overloaded.
There’s a lot of different backpacks and luggage perfectly sized for little kiddos. Trunki is one of the most popular, and it’s an original suitcase for toddlers especially made for them to be able to pull their own bags at the airport. And if they’re tired, they can just sit down on it and ride. It’s the best-known ride-on suitcase for kids.
What to pack in the child’s own carry-on luggage?
Just keep it light and simple. Make them feel responsible for their snacks and toys. That’s all.
- Food: Pack plenty of snacks, even the ones you think you’ll never let them eat normally. It’s not a normal day, right? So let them enjoy a little and entertain themselves. You can pack the snacks in individual zipper bags or find a lunchbox with compartments and fill it with many different things.Always keep in mind that the flight can be delayed, so make sure you carry enough food because you might not be able to buy anything at the boarding gate or inside the plane.Even if you have pre-ordered a special meal for children from your airline, you should still bring your own food as backup. You never know if they will like the food, or if it’s going to be served at the right moment.
- Fruits or veggies (apple, bananas, blueberries or carrots sticks, cucumber slices)
- Fruit pouches
- Granola bars
- Sandwiches or wraps
- Crisps or popcorn
- Rice cakes or biscuits
- Mini Babybel cheese
- Pack an emergency bag with:Wet wipes
- A change of clothes and a jacket, underwear and socks, in case of spills or accidents
- Nappies or pull-ups if needed
- Toys or things to entertain the kids: Pick one or two that are small and leave the toys that are noisy, big or dirty at home.
- Crayons and a coloring book
- Workbooks, sticker books, pop-up books
- Stuffed animals
- A little puzzle
- Drawing/writing board
- Lightweight toys they are into: cars or a cuddly toy
- Ipad or DVD player to watch their favorite show (also remember to bring earphones and enough battery and chargers)
- Gaming console
You might think that is not acceptable for a kid to spend too much time in front of screens, but this isn’t the right time to limit the screen time, believe me!
What to pack in your own hand luggage for the kids?
- First Aid kit: Better to keep it handy, in case you need it, or in case the checked-in luggage gets lost.
- Painkillers: paracetamol and ibuprofen for children
- Antihistamine: for allergies, reaction to insect bites, etc.
- Motion sickness tablets
- Saline nasal spray for stuffy noses
- Kids antidiarrheal
- Insect repellent
- Sting relief for insect bites: calamine lotion or tiger balm
If your child has any prior medical condition, pack the medicines they need with a letter from their doctor describing their medical condition and the medication they require, or the doctor’s prescription.
And always keep the medicines in their original containers. Your medicine might be illegal in some countries but they can allow you to carry them with you if you have your doctor’s letter and prescription.
If the medication needs to be refrigerated, you can carry it in a travel cooler or an insulated lunch bag at the airport. And during the flight you can ask the flight attendants to put it in the refrigerator or in an ice bucket.
- Kid’s documentation:
- ID (birth certificate or passport)
- Social security card or health insurance card
- Kids travel authorization if you’re traveling alone with the kid or if you are not the parents
Baggage allowance, arriving at the airport and check-in
What is the baggage allowance for a child?
If your kid has its own seat, they can bring the same amount of hand luggage and check-in luggage as an adult, plus a stroller and a car seat for free.
So it’s always advisable to make them carry their own little suitcase. It will make them feel like they are involved in the “getting ready for holiday part”, as they can also pack their own things that they want to take.
Make sure you arrive at the airport early – this way you won’t be to stressed or overwhelmed. For domestic flights you should be 2 hours in advance and for international flights 2 or 3 hours. If you arrive late to the airport, you and your family will probably not get seats together or in the worst-case scenario you can miss the flight.
At some airports you will find family counters, so you won’t need to queue.
Always make sure to double check that your seats are together, you don’t want surprises later. And keep the copy of the luggage tags for you to be able to claim in case they lose or damage your luggage. This label has a barcode and a number to identify the luggage. So make sure you keep it until you get your luggage at destination.
And of course remember to remove the old ones before checking in – you don’t want the staff to send them to the wrong airport.
I have a connecting flight, can I bring the stroller to the plane?
The baby stroller has to be tagged at the check-in counter and put in the hold, unless you have a compact stroller that fits in the overhead compartment.
If you have to check it in, don’t worry; for your convenience you can take your infant in the stroller right up to the plane. Once there you just have to fold it and leave it at the aircraft door to be placed in the hold.
At your destination, they will give it back to you at the aircraft door or it can come out with the rest of the checked-in luggage on the baggage carousel. Don’t forget to ask before leaving the plane.
How to go through airport security with kids?
Many airports have separate lines for families traveling with kids but, if not, don’t stress yourself out if the other passengers are not happy to wait.
Take your time.
If you are traveling with a partner, you can send him/her first with all your belongings and the stroller or the food, and once they have gone through security, you can pass with the kid.
At the boarding gate
OK, you followed my advice on arriving early at the airport and now you still have plenty of time before boarding.
Why don’t you just go to the children’s play area and let them run and play before they get on the plane?
Or you can just watch the planes take off and land to distract them.
Just remember to take them to the toilet before boarding, so you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
Do families with young children have priority to board?
Depending on the airline, but most airlines let families with young children board first.
If your kid is very active maybe you prefer to wait until the end of the boarding. But in this case you should know that if the flight is full the overhead racks might be full too and you will have to leave your belongings in other compartments far from your seat. So I suggest you send someone with the luggage and bags first if you’re travelling with a partner.
Me and my kids have separate seats, can a child be seated by themself?
If it’s a young child, it’s not possible.
If they couldn’t give you seats together at check-in, talk to the agents at the gate to see if they can help you.
If still not possible, board first and talk to the flight attendants.
Always be SUPER polite. They will do whatever is in their hands to relocate you.
Even if they are unable to seat the whole family together they should be able to assure you that each kid is seated next to an adult family member.
Sincerely, sometimes it’s really a big problem for us, the flight attendants. Especially when the flight is full. It would be easier to change somebody’s seat at check-in or at the gate – I don’t know why they don’t do it. They have access to the seat map and they know who is traveling together – we don’t. But it’s OK – we normally always end up finding a way to solve it. Just be patient.
In any case, if you and your partner, son or friend are not seated together, I’d suggest you board first and ask the passengers seated next to you, if they mind changing. If not you will have to wait till the end to find any volunteer.
NOTE: Educate your children
Explain to your kids how to behave on the plane, to listen to what the flight attendants say, to treat the other people with respect. From the youngest ages they should be taught to behave politely and respectfully.
I know it’s very tempting to listen to your podcast and watch the latest release movie once you’re in “vacation mode”, but it’s the parent’s responsibility to look after their kids. I know parenting is not easy and it’s exhausting, but you can’t just do nothing while your kids are kicking the seat in front and bothering the passengers seated around.
During the flight with kids
Are the kids allowed to see the cockpit and meet the pilots during the flight?
Not during the flight, but when the plane is on ground and parked and the doors open, it’s normally possible.
It depends on many things: the airline policies, the pilots, if they have a very tight turnaround, if they are busy…
But if you are lucky some pilots will allow them to have a quick peek, or will even let them sit in their seat to take a picture or explain all the buttons and controls to them.
Always make sure to ask the flight attendant first, as the worst they can say is no. And also ask before snapping any picture, as some of them might not allow you to do it.
How can I keep my child entertained on the plane?
Use all the toys you’ve packed: workbooks, iPad games, coloring books, audio books, movies or DVD’s, surprise them with a new toy…
Give them some snacks – food is always an alternative, and indeed eating during take-off and landing can help them deal with the changes of pressure in the plane.
Pack a surprise for the kid too. Do you know what a flight log book is? Kids will love it and it can keep them occupied.
It’s a book for your kid to keep track of his/her flights and to document all their travels. In each book there’s a section for the captain to fill in the flight’s detail, his signature and a message.
So imagine how excited they get if they receive a message from the captain – it’s a brilliant idea to keep them occupied and a lovely way to record all their travelling.
How to prevent ear pain in kids while flying?
- Encourage your kid to swallow using lollipops, drinking with straws or using a baby bottle
- Blow his/her nose or use a saline spray to clear out mucus from the nose. A stuffy nose can make it more difficult for their ears to equalize the pressure. Also if they have a blocked nose you should use a nasal spray which contains a decongestant 30 minutes before landing. It will also help them with the ear trouble.
- Encourage them to fake yawn or do the valsalva technique.
- Ask the flight attendants if they can bring you something for your kid’s ear pain. There’s not really anything official, but there’s something that they can give you and might work. Nobody is sure why it works, but some people say it does.
So, I will show you a video about what we do to make it easier to understand.
They will bring you two pair of plastic cups. In between each pair of cups they will place a few steaming tissues pushed down in the cup, and they will tell your kid to place it over each ear. The steam coming out from the hot tissues will alleviate the pain immediately. If you’ve tried everything and nothing works, next time try the steaming paper towel in a plastic cup trick.
Always follow the safety rules and teach them to do it too. All rules should be important and are made to keep you safe. So, if for instance, they don’t want to buckle up it’s YOUR responsibility as a parent to keep repeating and reinforcing to them to do it.
Take your children to the toilet before boarding, during the flight and before landing, or make them wear pull-ups because it’s not always possible to go the toilet. And once the seatbelt sign is on for landing, they will not be able to go.
Wait until the plane stops completely and the seatbelt sign is off to let the kids stand up and run. I will never understand why people stand up immediately once the plane has landed.
What if the plane brakes abruptly and you or they get injured?
What if you are trying to get your luggage from the overhead rack and something falls on your head or somebody else’s head?
It happened before and it will happen again. Just think straight, you are not going anywhere until they open the doors and the people from the front of the plane exit. So be patient, it’s only a few more minutes.
Before leaving the plane make sure you have all your belongings with you. Check the seat pocket, and in the overhead compartment. We see every day how people forget their laptop, luggage or even passport – amongst other things!
When you get to the front, is a good time to ask if the kids can see the flight deck – if the crew is nice they will give you a mini cockpit tour.
My personal tips for travelling with your kids
- Always check-in online to book your preferred seats from home and avoid the hassle of queueing.
- Don’t overpack. It’s really way more stressful for you and you will have to put everything through the check-in, security checks and boarding. Really, check what are the essentials you need and leave the rest at home: the feed chair, the extra shoes, the big toys, put the toiletries in travel size containers…
- If you are traveling with kids and you’re terrified of flying, don’t let your children pick up on this fear. Everything you say or every move you make is going to influence your kid.
Once, we had a woman flying with her 4 and 6 year-old sons, that was terrified. And when the plane was pushed away from the gate she started screaming crazily and panicking about the plane crashing. Of course we tried to calm her down, we offered her an herbal infusion or an anti-anxiety pill, but she was not even listening.
The kids obviously were also crying hysterically without knowing what was happening. And it was getting difficult to deal with this situation. We talked to the pilot because she wanted to leave the plane, and in the end we came back to the parking position to disembark her and the kids. When they finally did it, the woman was better and she was feeling embarrassed about her behavior. She asked if she could take the next flight. But can you imagine the trauma that this can cause to the kids? The kids imitate what they see, so make sure you role model the behavior you want to see from your kids.
- If you feel cold, hot, thirsty, sick or if you want to change your seats to an empty row to have more space, ask the flight attendants. They will be happy to help you. We cannot really know if you or your kids were feeling cold during the flight if you don’t tell us. And it could have been solved easily with a blanket or turning up the heating. Anyway, it’s good to always bring socks and a jacket, because it might not be enough.
- Don’t forget any of your belongings and documentation in the plane – always double check that you have everything with you before leaving because it might be difficult to recover it later.
In conclusion, traveling with kids doesn’t need to be an unpleasant experience. With good planning and time management, it will all be worth it in the end.
If you have any doubts, do not hesitate to ask me through the comment section below.
Safe and happy travels!