Support for PBS Parents provided by:

  • Arthur
  • Cat in the Hat
  • Curious George
  • Daniel Tiger
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Nature Cat
  • Odd Squad
  • Peg + Cat
  • Pinkalicous and Peterriffic
  • Ready Jet Go
  • Splash and Bubbles
  • Sesame Street
  • Super Why!
  • Wild Kratts
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Bob the Builder
  • Martha Speaks
  • Ruff Ruffman Show
  • Mister Rogers
  • Cyberchase
  • SciGirls
  • The Electric Company
  • WordGirl
  • Caillou
  • Oh Noah
  • Fizzy's Lunch Lab
  • Maya & Miguel
  • Postcards from Buster
  • Clifford
  • WordWorld
  • DragonFly TV
  • ZOOM

Super Sisters

About the Supersisters

Jen, Kristen, and Patience

Three real-life sisters sharing their kids' antics, milestones and adventures through this crazy journey called motherhood. Find out more »

Join the Supersisters!


Join the Supersisters and help spread the word.


See our topics »

Home »

Tips for Quiet Plane Trips with Kids

Posted by Kristen on June 28, 2010 at 7:31 AM in Traveling
Bookmark and Share

The flight leaves at 6:00 a.m. You read that right: 6:00 in the morning. We are traveling on miles so you get what you pay for, as the old saying goes. I asked my mother if she thought I was projecting my airplane stress on my 1, 3 and 5 year old kids. I didn't actually wait to hear her response, because I was already starting to ramble about the possibilities of drama.

This stress of mine was clearly heading down the wrong path. It's a long way to the West Coast from the East Coast, but we are going to have to get there somehow, some way. I took a step back and came up with a whole new plan for the trip tomorrow. We fly a couple times a year. Some of the following things we've had success with in the past and some a new things we are going to try:

Forget the sugar.
Every once in a while we suffer from amnesia and promise the kids a lollipop on the plane if they are good. This can never work out. Trust me. Okay, perhaps it can work out for 5% of the population, but the rest of us will be pulling the kids down from the overhead bins where they are now swinging after getting that lollipop they'd been impatiently awaiting for however many minutes. Bring snacks that chill them out rather than crank them up. Everyone around you will thank you, too.

Try a technology freeze before the trip
. My kids haven't watched television in four days. They are pretty sure they are going to die if they don't watch something soon. I have found in the past that the most effective and silent television-watching occurs in the one to two hours after a long term of total technological deprivation. It's not to say that this will necessarily work, but it is worth a try.

Get rid of that energy. We joke that it would take less time at our airport if we actually walked from home since the terminal is so far from check in. This is a WONDERFUL opportunity for walking ("we're walking, we're walking"). Factor in the extra time, but count yourself successful if you reach your gate with children complaining from the long walk. As a parent, your work here is done.

Stick with tried and true. There are certain things that always hold my children's attention. Certain books will stop them in their tracks and keep them riveted for a solid 30 minutes. There is a certain cartoon that I am sure they can watch one billion times and still they will sit at attention. There is an allure to bringing new things as well, but be sure to have a balance of the new with the old in case the new fizzles instead of sizzles.

Remember that you can only control what you can control
. I think that 16 to 20 months is the worst possible age range to travel on a plane. Chances are your child has recently learned how to walk and would love to practice RIGHT NOW in that teeny aisle on the plane. Do what you can to move around the plane by taking lots of walks, but sometimes you are just going to have to wrangle a cranky toddler. As a person who has put quite a few miles on her carry-on luggage before having kids, I always carried ear plugs. To be honest, I still carry ear plugs. When someone turns around to glare at the screaming baby who cannot be consoled, I think, "why didn't you buy a pair of dollar earplugs?" I'm pretty sure that on one trip, my sister Jen passed out ear plugs to the passengers around her in anticipation of angry stares regarding crying babies. Sometimes babies (toddlers, preschoolers, even parents) cry. The flight will eventually be over. Roll with the punches.

Do the best you can with what you've got
. I've gotten into ridiculously long conversations with parents about traveling before naptime, during naptime, taking red eyes, etc. Only you know your child, and there is still a good chance that your child who acts a certain way every single day is going to act completely different on that plane. If your child sleeps in the car, you might want to bring his car seat. My pediatrician once recommended giving my kids Benadryl for a particularly long flight. I tried it out ahead of time and guess what? My kids are not even remotely moved by Benadryl. It was a sad moment, but good to know ahead of time.

Relax (as best you can) and let it all roll off of you. And share with us your great tips for traveling with toddlers and preschoolers. We can use all the tips we can get.


Naba writes...

I like the advice. I do remember traveling with one daughter by plane alone. I wouldn't think about traveling with 2 or more alone! Good luck. The part about the Benadryl: I heard that a child in daycare had an allergic reaction to it once and died. The school had a problem afterward. That doesn't seem like that good of advice. I am surprised that a preschool would do that just to get kids to sleep.

Jill writes...

I have a couple of ideas to add . . . if there are two adults traveling, buy a two seats together and one seat in the row in front of those. I always found one of the most volatile issues to be the person in the seat in front of us being annoyed by a child kicking the seat. And we all know, it's virtually impossible to prevent or stop a young child from kicking the seat! I also find that using the car seat helps because children are trained to sit in a carseat without complaint for a long period of time. And although most people complain about plane changes, with young kids, they are a blessing. It breaks the monotony, gives the child a chance to move around freely, and even gives you a chance to go to the bathroom. One last thing, again if you are traveling with two adults, is to send one adult onto the plane at pre-boarding to situate the car seat, get toys, books, video player, etc, all set up and easy to access, put other carryons in convenient or desired places, and leave the other adult and child(ren) out in the waiting area, *moving around*, until the last person has boarded and the flight attendant starts to close that door. This minimizes the time on the plane for the kid(s) and gets things ready and organized and easy to get to during the flight.

Bon voyage!

Beth writes...

Wow, great ideas. One last comment from a mom with older kids (17 and 21): This too shall pass.

Ida writes...

I've traveled from coast to coast with small children and I have some advice. First off, bring something for the child to suck on during lift off and landings. The change in air pressure can create amazing pain in the ears and little kids/babies don't know that swallowing helps. So though sugar might be a no-no, lollipops are a good idea for those times. Also, since you aren't allowed to bring your own beverages on board, you should ask a steward upon boarding for drinks for the little ones. It takes them a while to deliver and asking early means you might get the drink before the child starts crying.
Also, if you wouldn't think of driving with your child out of a car seat, please don't fly with him out of one. First off, you child is familiar with his seat and hopefully will treat the plane ride like a car ride. He doesn't wander up and down the aisle annoying people in a car, he's less likely to do it on a plane if he's in a seat he associates with staying put. Besides, its much safer for your baby to be strapped into a seat then in your arms during turbulence.
And the best thing that works for me and my kids, invisible ink pens, such as Crayola Wonder. They are reserved as a traveling treat. They don't leave marks on furniture, but my artistic kids love to draw for hours. Plus they are cheaper to accidentally leave behind on a plane then a Gameboy or some other video game. And when we finally make it to Grandma's house, they have artwork all ready to put on her fridge.

Toni writes...

Tip: Do not miss reading the comments on this story on Facebook.

Toni writes...

Tip: Do not miss reading the comments on this story on Facebook.

Toni writes...

Main tip: Read the comments on this story on Facebook.

mary ann writes...

love the story and the comments too. look forward to more.
my babies, now ages 4 and almost 3, are just 15 months apart and we have done coast to coast a few times and some shorter trips too. when they are learning to walk, yes that is the worst! avoid plane travel! avoid plane travel!
before and after that, it can be really smooth sailing. before they walk they just sleep and sit. after they're done learning to walk, they just want to play, draw, and watch caillou - the usuals.
i think the most important thing is for you, as the parent, parents, guardians whatever, to stay calm and give your stress to the skies! my experience has been that if you're all chilled out, they'll chill out too. like the other travelers haven't ever heard a kid cry or yell on the plane: yours won't be the first or the the last.

my tip: find headphones that your kids find comfy and bring with you. mine do not like the ones on the planes - not comfy for some little heads.
also: i have found that for toddlers one "super awesome" new toy to break out when they are in a good mood beats a bunch of dollar store things. too much stimulation!
happy flying. and it will pass. the more you do it, the more they know the routine and can get through with smiles all around!

Allysson writes...

Bring extra diapers and clothes, even for a short flight. The change in air pressure did a number on my young boy, and he had a couple of explosive BMs! Not what I was expecting, LOL. Also, bring his/her blankie, lovie or whatever they sleep with at home. It has a very calming effect. For children who still use a bottle, have them nurse at take off to alleviate air pressure. One commenter noted that kids often have ear pain while flying. This is because their eustacian tubes are shorter than ours. Older kids can chew gum. I agree that lollypops might work best for those inbetween. If you really think that sugar has a negative impact on your kid, try the sugar free kind (for diabetics) available at your local pharmacy.

Toni writes...

Allyson, have I got news for you. Those sugar-free lollipops? They're sweetened with an ingredient that is also a BABY LAXATIVE. So maybe this explains those little explosions! This is something that any diabetic or nutritionist already knows....Yes, as I said in my comments on the Facebook link, you can bring that little favorite stuffed animal. Are you prepared to lose it? Spend time looking for it and keeping up with it? Your child might be just as comforted by being strapped into his or her FAMILIAR car seat, where they know they are to remain. And they'll be a lot safer too.

Hend writes...


Mary Ellen writes...

Tequila works! Seriously, one time, I brought a small toy in the packaging for the kids to open. It was sort of like Christmas and they didn't notice alll the people coming onto the plane. Of course, I had already opened the package where there was no need for scissors.

Erin writes...

I frequently do overseas flights alone with my 3 and 6 year olds. I give them a small wrapped toy/book/snack every hour that they behave. I also would not recommend flying with a one-year old. Lollipops on the way up and down are a big help.

Recent Entries

Support for PBS Parents provided by: