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Flying can be a hassle for people of any age, with long security lines, flight delays, uncomfortable seats and rude passengers all playing a role. But traveling with little kids takes these minor inconveniences to stressful new heights.
Keeping babies and toddlers comfortable, entertained and well-fed for the duration of the flight is no easy feat. And it definitely requires parents and caregivers to plan ahead.
In the past, we’ve asked parents to share their best tips for flying with little ones. This time, we posed the question to a different type of expert: flight attendants. Below, they share their insider knowledge with the rest of us.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
1. First, make sure your ticket fare allows you to select your seats ahead of time.
“Never purchase tickets that are assigned at the gate when traveling with a young child. This will increase the likelihood of possible separation inflight.” — Brenda Orelus, flight attendant and content creator
2. Then, choose your seats wisely.
“Take the time before you travel to check the airline’s website to see what they offer those traveling with infants and children. Review websites like Seat Guru to review your aircraft’s seat map to spot the best place for you and your little one’s needs.
For example, try to sit close to the toilets with baby-changing facilities. If traveling on a non-U.S. airline on a long-haul flight, there is a good chance the airline will have seats reserved with bassinet access, but you need to book early to get those.” — Jay Robert, flight attendant and founder of A Fly Guy’s Cabin Crew Lounge
3. Check in for your flight 24 hours before departure.
“You want to remember this one, so set the alarm on your phone to remind you to check in exactly 24 hours before departure. This ensures you all sit together and don’t have to scramble at the last minute to switch seats.” — Deanna Castro, flight attendant and founder of Future Flight Attendant career center
4. If your flight isn’t full, you may be able to move to a less crowded part of the plane.
“On the day of the flight, chat with the gate agent to see how full the flight is. Let them know the reason you are asking. If the flight is underbooked, ask if there is a chance to move to an emptier part of the plane to have more room for a baby or toddler.
If your child tends to be vocal on flights, you will disturb fewer passengers if seated in the emptier cabins. On wide-body aircraft, people often book all the front seats, leaving many seats open in the back. I usually find parents with kids and move them to these seats, but not all crew will be so thoughtful, which is why a chat with the ground staff could be helpful.” — Robert
5. Know you can bring your own formula, breastmilk, cow’s milk, water or baby food on board, and don’t rely on the airline to supply it.
“[These] are exempt items, so you can bring those drinks for your baby or toddler through the TSA checkpoint.
Parents often ask for milk for their babies and depend on the flight attendants. When in reality, it may not be an option to get milk onboard the aircraft because flights aren’t catered with milk as a beverage option. So instead, the milk is for coffee and tea, and we don’t get enough to give out the little milk cartons for drinks.” — Castro
6. If you’re breastfeeding, you can do that at any point during the flight.
“Nursing moms: Please feel free to nurse however you feel comfortable. We flight attendants will support you in any way. If you would like to nurse in the galley, please ask the flight attendants ahead of time so we can secure the galley and inform you of the best time to do so.” — Orelus
7. Pre-boarding is an option for families with young kids. But it may not be the right move.
“Pre-boarding with infants and small children seems like a good idea until you consider you are adding at least a half hour of sitting time to their energetic, short attention spans. If you are traveling with two adults, send one ahead for the pre-board to set the seat up, while the other stays back, letting the little one burn off energy in the gate area.” — Robert
8. Cut back on screen time before the flight.
“Hear me out on this one. I wouldn’t have my kids watch any TV or movies for a few days leading up to the trip, and then they would gobble up the screen like it was the most delicious and fascinating thing they had ever experienced.” — Castro
9. Consider buying a travel stroller if you plan to fly a lot.
“If travel is a priority for your family, invest in a travel stroller to make your life easier on the move. Choose a stroller that folds quickly and easily, is lightweight, and, most importantly, fits in an overhead bin on the airplane.
Keeping the stroller with you on the plane gives you peace of mind that you will have it at your destination because if you check them, there is a chance you won’t or it will arrive broken.
The YoYo2 stroller from Babyzen is the most popular choice I see on flights! If you have a seat for your baby and want to bring a car seat or restraint device on the aircraft, check the label to see if it is approved for air travel.” — Robert
10. But if you’re using a regular stroller, a stroller bag is probably worth your while.
“That expensive stroller you have? It will never be the same once you check it at the gate. I don’t know what happens, but it gets dirty, scraped, snagged, and perhaps will even have holes when you get it back. A stroller bag will protect your stroller.” — Castro
11. Pack a bunch of snacks.
“You can bring various (non-liquid) snacks for your children and separate them into small portions in separate bags because they will inevitably spill! I enjoy snacking myself because I’m in a much better mood to travel with little ones when I’m not starving.” — Castro
12. Give your little one something to eat or drink during takeoff and landing.
“The pressure often hurts babies’ ears. They cry but cannot tell us it hurts. However, my son’s ears would bother him when they shut the aircraft door from that small change in pressure. So something to drink or snack on upon takeoff and landing is critical in minimizing ear pressure.” — Castro
13. Dress your kiddo comfortably and in layers.
“Airplanes are chilly. A sweater, layers and a blanket can help your little one stay warm during the flight, especially if seated by the window. That’s always the coldest seat in the row. And the more comfortable the kids are dressed, the happier they will be, making it easier to fall asleep.” — Castro
14. Don’t forget a change of clothes and extra diapers, just in case.
“Remember that flights can be delayed and connections missed. You could end up stranded without checked bags, so pack your carry-on to reflect that possibility and include an extra set of clothes, diapers, etc.
I always recommend parents keep at least one change of clothes for young travelers as they often get sick and throw up or they’re not able to use the onboard toilets due to turbulence and have accidents.
Organize your carry-on bag with packing cubes to have easy access to what you need. For example, make a comfort pack with travel blankets and pillows; an entertainment pack with activity books, e-tablets, chargers, headphones, etc. I use bags that are colored so I know which color goes with what.” — Robert
15. Make sure you have enough toys and activities to keep your little one occupied.
“It would be nice if airlines always supplied kids with something to do during the flight, but that’s only sometimes the case. Think of anything you get from the airline as a bonus and not your child’s only form of entertainment.
You can download a fun game beforehand and bring some books and toys. Toys can drop on the floor, so sanitizing wipes are pretty handy to keep on hand. If you don’t want to carry around books, you can download some Kindle books in advance. It’s much more convenient when you already have a mountain of gear traveling with kids.” — Castro
16. Toddler headphones can be a lifesaver.
“Not only is it annoying to be seated next to someone who isn’t using headphones, it’s also airplane policy to use them when listening to electronic devices.
Volume-limiting headphones are fabulous for kids to protect their hearing. A noise-canceling feature is a bonus so your child won’t wake up from a loud PA message or noisy neighbors.” — Castro
17. For long-haul flights, consider flying foreign airlines rather than U.S. carriers.
“When traveling on long international flights, consider swapping to fly with foreign airlines as they tend to be more child- and baby-friendly than U.S.-based airlines. For example, airlines like Turkish, Emirates, Etihad, and Singapore have amenities to make travel easier and actually fun for little ones.
These airlines provide baby bassinets and give kids toys and activity packs to keep them entertained. They feature tasty kids’ meals that parents can preorder, and their entertainment systems have channels designed for young passengers.” — Robert
18. If you’re planning to use electronics to pass the time, put a portable charger in your carry-on.
“Bring a good power bank if you depend on your child’s electronic device to keep them occupied. Sometimes there are not enough outlets on the plane, and a power strip can be super helpful with all the outlets, USB and USB-C ports. However, some rows may not have power or be inoperable. In that case, a good power bank can be a lifesaver.” — Castro