Air Travel with Child

Tips for keeping your kids happy while traveling on a plane

Traveling by airplane can be fun and exciting, but it can also be bothersome for kids if not handled correctly. Children can be confused and frightened by the unfamiliar routine of airline travel. It is the parents' job to prepare their child for the experience so they will find it an enjoyable and fun adventure.

The FAA has a brochure advising parents to use a child restraint system (CRS) that is approved for airline use. The label on the car seat or other CRS should specifically say "this restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft." If your child's weight is over 40 pounds, they can use the seatbelt provided in the aircraft seat.


The Transportation Security Administration advises parents to explain the security screening process to their children ahead of time, so there won't be any surprises at the airport. It's important to tell your children what they can expect and what you expect from them. Explain that it is against the law for kids or adults to joke about a bomb. Let them know that everything needs to go through the x-ray machine, including dolls, toys, jackets and sometimes shoes. Let them know these items will be given back to them on the other side of security. They also need to understand the importance of having respect for other passengers. This means no kicking seats and to use the "inside voice" when speaking.

Snacks and drinks are helpful to not only pass the time, but chewing and drinking can help with air pressure on little ears. When my niece was young, my sister would always have plenty of gum for her daughter to chew during takeoff and landing. Bring books, travel games, crayons and paper for drawing, and anything that will help occupy the time. Be sure whatever you bring will fit into the carry-on bag – also, ensure that the bag really is a carry-on bag. Airlines have been getting fussier about the size of the carry-on bags lately.

If your child is old enough, give them a watch or a stopwatch and let them calculate how much time is left in the flight. One thing I liked to do was to get a map showing the city we are flying from and the city we are flying to. I would mark both cities and draw a line from one to the other. Then put little tick marks at the half way point and the quarter points. When the flight crew announces the travel time for the trip I would write the minutes at the appropriate tick marks. I found this would eliminate the "are we there yet" questions because the child can gauge our progress. It can also help identify the cities, mountains and lakes outside the window since these are usually listed on the map.

Another good idea is to bring a change of clothes. Wear comfortable clothes for the flight and change into the "looking good for grandma" clothes a little before landing. This provides a distraction and prepares your kids physically and emotionally for arrival.

By Will Maguire