Air Travel with Kids: Survival Tips for Parents and Fellow Passengers

Fri, Dec 06, 2019 @ 08:12 AM Dawn M. Smith Travel Tips

There aren’t many more stressful, frustrating, and flat-out anger inducing situations than being trapped on a plane with a screaming kid for hours--for both the parents and passengers. 

I know firsthand. I have been the child-free traveler reveling in my quiet alone time on a long awaited flight to a tropical destination, only to have it ruined by loud and unattended children.

I have also been the terrified parent praying, hoping, and bargaining with the powers-that-be that my child would behave her 18-month-old self for four hours secure in a car seat tethered to an airplane chair. Did she really need to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa?

It’s horrible to be in either position. 

Misbehaved kids on planes and in restaurants are in the news a lot lately, mostly because they pit adults who paid a lot of money to enjoy their meal/trip and expect to be unaffected by other people's kids versus those adults who are of the mindset,

“Hey, we like to eat too, and not always at places that serve nuggets of food" or “What can I do? It’s an emergency and we need to fly to Omaha fast!”

Crying kids on an airplane is such a stressful phenomenon that volumes have been written on the best ways to keep kids happy and quiet. Lists of the best toys and infant lap holding techniques are readily accessible. Children who fly on planes is a controversial topic, so much so, there is a movement building for child-free zones on flights or routes that are flown without kids on board at all.

Personally, I think the airline industry can support both types of fliers: family-friendly and those who prefer to fly minus the kiddos.

Speaking of controversial, parents should be aware that just because you purchase tickets adjacent to your underage child, there is no federal law that mandates airlines keep those assignments. After the gate agent denied my pre-purchased seat assignment next to my 8-year-old daughter, I had to beg an understanding fellow passenger to switch seats with me. The airline refused to intervene, even though it was their change in the size of the airplane that caused the disruption.  

Amid the holiday flying chaos, the chance for child/parent separation runs high. Do your best to avoid this by purchasing your tickets as early as possible and check in to your flight as soon as the option exists. Airlines tend to bump or relocate those in economy seats who have checked in last.

Although daunting, there are techniques to ease kids into behavior that will not result in the entire plane load of people shooting hateful looks your way. There are also a few things passengers can do to alleviate some distress.

Air Travel with Kids Survival Tips

Air Travel with Kids: Survival Tips for Parents & Passengers

Tips for Parents Flying with Children

1) Come prepared.

Make flying a fun thing for your kids, a special adventure with snacks and screen time! Even the longest flights filled with Goldfish and Gummi Bears does not equal a lifetime of bad habits and tooth decay. New books, games, and cheap toys that can be thrown out are some of the tricks I have used successfully.

Air Travel with Kids 2

2) Give yourself time and more time.

Right now, TSA is hated about as much as the DMV, so plan for car seat loading, line waiting, and diaper changing at the airport.

3) Flight attendants and nearby passengers are not your babysitters.

Do not expect them to manage your kid. If they kindly offer, take them up on it for a few minutes and catch your breath.

4) Be respectful of others traveling.

This is their vacation, too. Or it might be a trip to loved one’s funeral and they aren’t in the mood for your kid climbing their seat backs. Your job as parents is to have eyeballs on your kid at all times. It’s super hard, to be sure, so weigh exactly how important this airplane trip is. Can it wait until they’re older?

Tips for Fellow Passengers

1) Show some kindness.

Loading a suitcase in the overhead compartment for a parent with a young child, diaper bag, and giant sack of snacks in each of her hands will elicit grateful smiles. Just maybe you’ll be on JetBlue’s next free flight promotion, in a cosmic karma kind of way.

2) Dig deep to find the patience to endure.

If you see a parent busting their butt to keep their kids entertained and still, they are doing everything they can. 

Air travel with kids

3) Noise canceling head phones.

They never hurt anyone.

4) Be respectful of others traveling.

Buying an airplane ticket does not entitle you to make ugly remarks or horrible faces to families with kids. The trip might be unavoidable. How horrible would you feel if the baby was headed to a children’s hospital for treatment of a dire diagnosis?

Honestly, it comes down to respect and compassion from both parties. Simply put, treat each other how you’d like to be treated. Infants likely do not need to vacation in Tahiti, and solo travelers can’t expect popular routes to be morgue quiet and Goldfish crumb free.

The military has not yet embraced this child-filled controversy, so read up on Space-A travel to make the most of the cheap but entertainingly unreliable mode of transportation for your next vacation!  

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