10 things I wish I knew before I traveled on a plane with kids

Travelling tips for children on planes

Travelling with children can be incredibly rewarding, but there is potential for things to go pear shaped, especially when it comes to flights. To help you get to your holiday destination with the minimum of fuss, we’ve compiled a list of 10 things that we’ve learnt through experience, to ensure your flight is a peaceful one.

1. Pack a change of clothes for adults and kids in your carry-on luggage.

You may have already packed a spare set of clothes for your kids in case of spills and toilet accidents, but it’s a great idea to pack a change of outfit for yourself too. Kids can become unwell or suffer motion sickness unexpectedly, which may involve them emptying the contents of their stomach onto the nearest thing – you! It can also come in really handy if your luggage is temporarily misplaced by the airline.

2. Request a child’s meal before you fly and pack extra snacks.

Airline food is not renowned for its quality or quantity, so it’s a good idea to pack some healthy snacks in case your child refuses what is on offer. Most airlines will also allow you to request a child’s meal (but remember to put your request in at least 24 hours before you fly). This is usually something more to their liking – such as spaghetti and meatballs with a juice popper – as opposed to a meat curry and soft drink. Gluten free, vegetarian and other meal options can also be requested for children or adults. These meals are usually served first, so that your little one with a grumbling tummy doesn’t have to wait for the full meal service. Some budget airlines do not provide meals or snacks in the ticket price, but these can be purchased separately on the flight. Carry cash to pay for your items, or pack your own healthy snacks.

3. Allow ample time for check in, bag drop, security checks and customs.

Some airports are vast places and navigating them can take a lot longer than you expect, especially with little ones in tow. Always allow plenty of time to check in yourselves and your luggage, pass through security and complete the customs paperwork, if travelling internationally. Ensure that you have no prohibited items in your carry-on luggage, as this will cause unnecessary hold ups at security. Filled water bottles, nail scissors, nail files and liquids of more than 100ml (even medicinal liquids or liquid baby foods) are not allowed. There are some exceptions – such as formula or breast milk for an infant – but check the rules with your airline before flying.

Some medications may require an accompanying letter from your doctor if you need to travel with more than 100ml in your carry-on luggage, or if they are a restricted drug in the country you are travelling to. Sterilised water for baby formula is allowed, and airline staff can refill bottles with boiling water on the plane. If you need to take food for your baby, most airlines will allow it, but may make you taste it before boarding, as a security measure.

4. Pack a charged up tablet and noise cancelling headphones for kids.

Horror of horrors, you board the plane to find there is no screen in the back of the seat, meaning no television shows, movies or games to keep your little ones amused for the entire flight! If you have one, pack a tablet such as an iPad that is fully charged and has your child’s favourite shows, movies and games already downloaded onto it. Check out our list of kids podcasts, that provide some variety on long trip (just make sure you download them for offline listing). Another great tip is to purchase noise cancelling children’s headphones with an adapter (available on eBay) to make them two-pronged so that you can use them on the aeroplane and in your own devices. Purchase headphones that are also sound limiting so that they can’t be turned up too loud. Most airports have somewhere you can recharge devices, in preparation for your flight.

5. Relax your routine and follow your current time zone.

When travelling with children, it is best to not enforce your home routine on the plane, especially when crossing time zones. Allow your children to sleep when they’re tired, but don’t force sleep if they are wide awake and excited! Sometimes it’s best to just go with the flow, even if you think they “should be” sleeping or eating at certain times. Take their pillow and special toy/blanket to snuggle with – sometimes these familiar touches of home will help calm them and soothe them off to sleep. When booking flights across multiple time zones, try not to book one night flight after another. Your kids will probably sleep for one of the flights but be wide awake and disturbing other passengers on the other night flight. Once you arrive, follow the local time, without constantly referring back to home time. This will allow you to beat the jet lag more quickly.

6. Take measures to alleviate a build-up of pressure in little ears.

The passages in children’s ears are smaller than adults, and when ascending or descending in the plane, a build-up of pressure can cause severe ear pain in children, particularly if they have a cold. Breast or bottle feeding can help prevent babies from experiencing pain, and older children can get relief by chewing on lollies. There are also specially designed children’s ear plugs and ear drops, available from chemists, to alleviate ear pain when flying.

7. The low down on car seats, strollers and baby bassinets.

Not many people realise that (with permission from your airline) you can take a car seat onto the plane for your child to sit in. Of course, this means that you must have a separate seat booked for your child, and the car seat will need to be safely secured. This can be a lot more comfortable for small children and can help them sleep on the plane. It also means you don’t need to hire a car seat if you are picking up a hire car at your destination.

Another option is you can take a CARES safety harness on board, which is already pre-approved by most airlines. Don’t forget, children under the age of two fly for free, providing they sit on an adult’s lap. Strollers can usually be taken right to the departure gate to make getting around the airport easier. If taking a baby on a long flight, there are a limited number of baby bassinets available on most aeroplanes – be sure to book the seats which access them well ahead of time.

8. Pack an activity pack for each child to open on the plane.

Not all children will be content watching television for the entire flight. When they start getting fidgety, open up a pre-prepared activity pack. You could include books, drawing paper and pens, modelling clay and other craft materials like pipe cleaners, travel sized games (such as Uno, Connect 4 or Guess Who) and perhaps a new toy that they haven’t seen before. Most airlines also issue a free activity pack for children.

9. Prepare for any airport stopovers.

If you have a stopover at an airport on your way to or from your destination, research the airport before you go. Most airports have websites which tell you about the facilities and shops that are available there. Some airports have children’s play areas, showers, lounges and even gardens. Other airports, however, have very little to do, and it can be an excruciating part of your journey. In this case, it might be a good idea to pack an extra activity bag for your children.

10. Take a first aid kit on board the plane.

In your carry-on bag, be sure to pack a personalised first aid kit. Include paracetamol (for adults and children), a thermometer, hand sanitiser, wipes, tissues, band aids and any medications that you or your child may need (such as Ventolin for asthmatics).


We wish you a pleasant flight!

If you are travelling to or from Brisbane International Airport, read our tips to help you navigate it with your kids.

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