Small Kids and Planes … the trick is to stay calm and be prepared

air travel with kidsTraveling with small kids? Here’s what to carry on the plane.

A few years ago, we took a family vacation to Turks and Caicos. My twins were about 15 months old. The girls were 5, 7 and 9. The flight home was meant to take about 3½ hours. We ended up on the plane for 12. I was ill prepared, as were the flight attendants. You want to see angry people? Lock them on a plane for a day with very few provisions, lots of kids and not a lot of information. I learned my lesson and now, when I travel, I am as prepared as an eagle scout.

For germ control:
Boogie wipes – I just discovered these little wet tissues. The name is kind of gross, but they are great for plane travel because the recycled air is extremely drying.

Hand sanitizer – Use before, during and after the flight to ensure a healthy trip.

Disinfectant wipes – Planes are turned around very quickly at the gate, and you have no idea who was in your seats before you. Your kids will be squirming and rubbing their little hands and faces all over their seat for hours. Take a few moments to de-germ.

In case of an emergency:

Benadryl – An allergic reaction at 35,000 feet can be really scary if you aren’t prepared.

Tylenol – If you have a child who has a hard time taking medicine, consider bringing a suppository.

Plastic bags and Extra wipes – You never know what you might have to clean up.

A change of clothes, for you and your kids. Children are messy, even when they aren’t cooped up. Spills and accidents are bound to happen.

For fun:

Playdoh – One jar of modeling clay in your child’s favorite color can provide hours of fun.

Paperback picture books – Bring one of their favorites and one they’ve never seen.

Crayons  and Blank Paper – Coloring in the lines can be frustrating in turbulence. Stick to free draw to avoid whining and crying.

Toddler sized headphones – I have made the mistake of bringing only ear buds and then spent hours holding them in little ears. Bring smaller headphones you’ve tried at home and know will fit. None of the DVDs you bring or movies on the plane will help you if the kids can’t hear them.

For comfort:

Soft blanket – Most airlines don’t offer blankets and pillows. Remember a sleeping child makes everyone happy.

Their “thing” – Whether it’s a blanket or a special toy, remember to pack it in the carry on and not in your checked baggage.

Mind your clothing – If your child is small enough to still sleep on your shoulder, wear something he will want to rest his head on.

To eat:

New snacks — Leave time for a quick stop at a shop near the gate. Look for snacks you know your child will like, but hasn’t tried before. The novelty adds to the distraction.

Something to suck on – Repetitive swallowing during take off and landing will help to prevent ear pain.

Pack two sippy cups or bottles.  One is bound to get lost.


Toys that make a lot of noise.

Small things that can get lost between the seats and create drama.

Foods that present choking hazards.


Don’t show them all your cards at once. Space out your tricks, so you don’t run out of options before the plane lands.

Make your children self-sufficient travelers as early as possible. The sooner they learn to hold their own carry on and pack their own entertainment, the happier your vacations will be.

Keep your eye on the prize. The plane will land eventually no matter how many dirty looks you get from fellow passengers.

Remember, regardless of how difficult the journey, a family vacation is a wonderful gift for everyone.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Doctor, mom of five and founder of Tips From Town.


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