Top Tips for Keeping Kids Happy on Board
Flying can be frustrating even in the best circumstances; add kids to the mix and you’re often in for an exhausting and exasperating trip. Fortunately, you can learn from the experiences of the thousands of weary parents who have come before you and make the best of flying with children. While no one can guarantee a smooth and silent flight, some smart planning, careful packing, and a positive attitude can help make your flight as pleasant as possible.
1. Pick The Right Time to Fly With Kids
For trips under two hours, the best time to fly is when your children are awake and cheerful. Depending on their age, this may be right after naptime, early in the morning, or in the early afternoon.
Your children should be able to get through a short trip with a minimum of misery, especially if you’ve provided enough snacks and activities to keep them happy (more on that later).
You’ll want your children to be at their most alert and agreeable for the flying experience, since even short flights with kids involve the hassle of going through security, waiting at the airport, and sitting still on the plane.
For longer trips with your children, consider choosing an overnight or “red-eye” flight. This is counterintuitive, but experienced parents will tell you that it works.
Try to pick a flight that takes off around their bedtime. Dress your kids in their pajamas, bring their favorite blanket, pillow, or stuffed animal, and encourage them to fall asleep as soon as the plane gets moving.
The sound of the airplane engine provides a surprisingly soothing white noise, and kids are usually able to drift off while seated. If you’re lucky, you might even get to sleep as well. And, when you arrive at your destination, your kids will be rested and ready to go.
2. Pack the Right Snacks for The Flight
No matter how you travel, savvy parents know that the right snacks can make all the difference in a child’s mood and attitude. When you’re flying, don’t depend on the airline to provide any snacks for your family. Instead, bring along small amounts of healthy, satisfying snacks that will keep your kids going strong.
Don’t fall into the easy trap of bringing sweet treats in an attempt to please or bribe your child. Any short term happiness will soon be eclipsed by your child’s stomach ache, cranky mood, and restlessness. Similarly, avoid chocolate, soda, or anything else with caffeine.
Even if you don’t expect to sleep on your flight, you don’t want your kids to be fidgeting or bursting with energy. Instead, choose snacks that are high in complex carbohydrates and proteins. Whole wheat crackers with nut butter are ideal, as are bananas, pretzels and hummus, and candy-free trail mix.
3. Keep Your Kids Entertained on the Plane
While many flights offer in-flight entertainment, it is often unreliable, rarely child-friendly, and costs money.
Be prepared and make sure you bring your own entertainment to keep your kids quiet and happy. Exactly what you bring will depend on your child’s age, interests, and attention span, but a few general tips apply.
First, make sure you bring your own headphones. You can easily find cheap pairs for a couple of dollars, far less than the airline would charge you if you purchased them on the plane.
Headphones will allow you to enjoy your own entertainment without annoying your fellow passengers. And, if you are provided in-flight television or movies, you can often use your own headphones to enjoy them for free.
There’s more to entertainment than just staring at screens, of course, and even the most dedicated TV-watcher or gamer will need a break. Along with your headphones, smartphones, and tablets, be sure to bring more hands-on entertainment.
Coloring books and crayons, a mini-Lego set, or small puzzles all provide tactile entertainment without making a big mess. For older children, encourage them to take pictures throughout their travels and document their journey in a travel diary.
4. Dress the Family for Comfort and Flexibility
No matter where you’re headed, make sure you dress your children in comfortable clothing that’s made for movement. For little kids, choose elastic-waist pants so they can quickly and easily use the restroom.
For everyone, dress in layers, starting with a soft light layer and working up to a warm hoodie or jacket. Even if you’re traveling to a hot climate in the summer, it can get very cold on the plane, and many airlines no longer provide blankets for overnight flights.
And here’s another clothing tip for flying with kids: whenever possible, dress them in very bright colors. There are few places more chaotic than the baggage claim and security line when you’re trying to keep track of your bags, paperwork, and kids all at the same time.
If your child is wearing a fluorescent orange or hot pink shirt, it’s that much easier to keep them in your line of sight at all times. Some families with multiple children even take it an extra step and dress all of them in the same bright color, which makes keeping track of a group even easier.
5. It’s All About the Attitude
Finally, be a role model for your children when you’re flying. They see and feel your own responses to stress and will react accordingly. It’s hard to keep calm when you’re rushing to the gate, and it’s easy to get grumpy or annoyed while flying, but your positive attitude can make all the difference.
Teach your children that flying is an opportunity that not every child gets and that they should be grateful for it. Explain that they should “expect the unexpected,” so they won’t be distraught if things don’t go exactly according to plan. And focus on the amazing aspects of flying that grownups often forget.
Talk about how fast your plane is going and how far up in the sky it is. Follow along on a map or look out your window and see the clouds below. With the right mindset, every flight is an adventure and an experience they’ll remember for a lifetime.