Flying With Young Children: The Ultimate Guide

So you’re thinking of traveling with your children? Whether it’s your first time or you’re looking for things to go a little bit smoother next time around, we’ve got you covered. From what to do before you book and what to expect when you arrive at the airport, to tips for making your flight more comfortable, you’ll find all you need to travel happily with your children in this ultimate guide. 

two girls with luggage
Here’s you’re ultimate guide to traveling with children. Photo: Air Canada

Before you book

Going on vacation always sounds like a good idea, but when you have children, things can get a little bit more complicated. It’s no longer just your wellbeing and luggage you’re thinking about. You have to be proactive about making your trip positive for your children.

Following these tips before you book your trip will help you feel prepared.

Girl gets ticket from BA staff member
The more prepared you feel, the smoother things will run. Photo: British Airways

The most important question is, of course, has your child got a passport? Every child must have their own passport for international flights. Applying for your child’s passport happens the same way it does for you. Make sure you have passport-sized photos and have filled out the necessary paperwork for the application. You’ll also need a copy of their birth or adoption certificate and any valid passport they may hold from another country.

Once you’ve got your child’s passport, you’re ready to start thinking about where you’re headed. If you’re not too bothered about the destination, you may find it useful to check out our recommendations of top kid-friendly airlines. You’ll find the article here. With a dedicated service tailored to your young ones, you can be sure that you’ll be looked after on your next trip. You may even get some rest!

Child on trunki at airport
Some airlines have services that help you fly better with your children. Photo: Getty Images

Making your booking

When flying with your children, it pays to look out for things that will make your trip smoother. Some things to think about include:

  • How does this flight fit with my child’s routine?
  • Can I and should I pre-order meals?
  • Where will my child sit?

The last point depends on your child’s age, as well as your preferences for them. Children up to 24 months can usually fly on your lap for no extra cost. However, in the interest of being able to move more freely, you may opt for a bassinet option on your flight. Check with your airline to see what age and size restrictions apply.

You may also want, and sometimes need, to book a separate seat for your child. While this option is paid, there are a few benefits. Firstly, your child’s seat will likely come at a reduced airfare. That can make your holiday that bit more financially friendly. In addition, when your child has their own seat, they’ll usually be allowed to take their own hand luggage where others cannot. (More on this later.)

Son with mom on AA flight
Will your child have their own seat? Photo: American Airlines

Packing for the airport

You might think that your work here is done, but being organized in your packing will save you lots of time. First and foremost, you’ll want to think about how you’re going to travel when you’re away. Will you need a stroller? Will you need a child’s seat for your rental car? These are important considerations because you’ll need to know what you can take with you and where you can check things in.

As a general rule, strollers and car seats are free to check-in. You can take your stroller all the way to the gate, where you’ll then be asked to leave it in the hold. You can reclaim your child’s stroller on arrival from the baggage carousel or as it’s removed from the aircraft. Be sure to check with your airline for their policy.

You’ll also need to check what luggage allowance your child has. For a child that remains on your lap, in most cases, they will not be allowed extra luggage. In some cases, you will be permitted to take up to 10kg of extra cabin baggage with you.

Air Canada daughter and dad
How much luggage can your child take? Photo: Air Canada

For children that have their own seat, they will likely be able to take their own luggage with them. However, restrictions will apply based on their airfare and the airline. Check with your air carrier to make sure you’re not over-packing.

If your child is allowed a cabin bag, here are some ideas of things you might want to pack:

  • High-protein snacks.
  • Pencils, pens, paper, and coloring books.
  • Storybooks.
  • Games.
  • A soft toy.
  • A spare change of clothes.

For the rest, what you pack is up to you.

At the airport

One of the golden rules of air travel is to get to the airport early. The earlier you’re there, the easier it will be for you to arrive at your gate on time without the stress.

Family check in for lufthansa
Does your airline offer family check-in like Lufthansa? Photo: Lufthansa

Some airlines now allow you to check-in your entire family online. If you’ve done this, you’ll only need to drop your hold luggage before heading to security. If you haven’t, don’t worry! Depending on your airline, you may be able to use family check-in, which gives you priority access as a family. Again, it’s best to check with your airline and airport. This is not an option for all travelers, but if you’ve arrived at the airport early, you should get on fine with the standard boarding procedure.

You’re nearly there! Just one more hurdle before you’re on your way to the gate: security. Now, going through security does not need to be stressful, but you might just need to be a bit more prepared. Ensure that all your liquids are in a sealed bag and are under 100ml. When it comes to liquids for young children, including milk, formula, and baby food, you’ll be exempt from the 100ml allowance, although security officials may test these foodstuffs.

And you’re through and well on your way to starting your vacation. Remember that if you have your stroller, it will be put in the hold when you board. Look out for family priority boarding at the gate and settle in for the trip.

mom and child at Denver International
Remember: you can take your stroller with you to the gate. Photo: Getty Images

During your flight

By now, you’ll have most things covered. Your child will be in the right seat. They’ll have snacks to stop them from getting hungry and things to play with to keep them amused. One more thing to be wary of is how your child will react to flying.

They may be nervous. It might be worth talking to them about their worries to put to bed some of their fears. Alternatively, try distracting them and make their trip exciting instead.

Another concern may be how they adjust to falling air pressure. To prevent their ears from popping, encourage them to drink lots of water, suck on candy if they can, and yawn frequently.

Mom and daughter on plane
There are ways to keep your child calm during your flight. Photo: Getty Images

Additional tips

Every trip with your child might be a different experience. You can never fully predict how things are going to go, but you can do your best and be prepared. Some other considerations that could help ease your trip include:

  • Talking to your child before you fly to help them manage the experience.
  • Finding out if your airport has family-friendly car parks.
  • Thinking about where to book your seats if you have the option. (Sitting at the back might mean you’re closer to toilets, but sitting at the front may give you and your family more room).

Finally, if you’re looking for that extra special experience, some airports around the world cater to kids better than others. Airports like Munich have playgrounds for children while Changi Singapore Airport has a butterfly greenhouse and boasts a tropical ecosystem. What does your airport have?

Let us know if you have any other tips for parents traveling with children in the comments section. 

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