20 travel tips for people flying with kids

Flying with kids can be an exciting, fun experience for the whole family. Or it can make you feel so frazzled you actually wind up looking like your passport photo. Especially if it’s your first time flying with the whole family.

Want to avoid feeling like you need a vacation from your family vacation? Here are some tips for taking a vacation with kids to help make family travel run smoothly, whether you’re on a long-haul international flight or a quick domestic flight. No matter the ages of your children—infants, toddlers and beyond—we’ve got you covered. 

Key takeaways

  • Flying with kids can be fun and exciting, but it might require some planning.

  • As you’re deciding what bag to check or carry on, find out whether items like diaper bags count toward the number of carry-ons you can bring.

  • Organizing documentation like passports, tickets and security clearances well in advance can help make your trip smoother.

  • Keeping your little ones occupied throughout the flight can help the time pass more quickly.

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How to pack for a flight with kids

A parent and child pack for an upcoming trip.

Packing for air travel can sometimes be difficult when it’s just you flying. Add children to the mix and you might feel buried in baggage. Worry not, here are some ideas to help you pack when flying with kids of all ages:

1. Think snacks. Pack plenty of snacks and light meals to keep everyone’s stress levels down. Most food can be taken through security and is fine with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Consider packing both healthy options and sweets for a distraction when needed. 

2. Check it. Decide in advance what can be checked and what you’ll need on board. Kids can be a lot to keep up with, and the fewer bags you have to carry, the better. For the most part, airlines won’t charge you to check a stroller at the gate. Which means one less thing for you to keep track of during your flight.

3. Carry it on. Things like diaper bags are usually not counted as carry-on bags. Double-check with your airline to be sure, though. You’ll want to bring those extra pacifiers and wipes. Especially since wipes can also be used to clean surrounding surfaces. 

4. Bring a snuggle buddy. Airplane seats can be less than comfortable. A favorite stuffed animal or doll can go a long way toward helping your child nap. Just be sure to keep a close eye on it. Losing a favorite companion could be heartbreaking for your child.

5. Chew, chew, chew. Pack some gummy candy or gum to help when children’s ears are popping as the altitude changes.

6. Think about extra clothes. If temperatures will vary throughout your trip, bring clothing options. For example, if you’re leaving New York for the Caribbean in December, you’ll need to be prepared to peel off some things along the way. Remember, life is messy. Drinks will spill, snacks will scatter and kids might get airsick. But bringing a change of clothes can help you be prepared.

7. You’re better safe than sorry. Pull-up diapers can be a lifesaver. Even if your child has outgrown them, they can help prevent accidents if you’re stuck on the plane or there’s a line for the bathroom.

How to prepare to fly with kids

A child watches a screen and has a snack during a flight.

With babies, even a quick trip to the store for milk can turn into an adventure—think about your child’s last public meltdown. Now picture a tantrum at 10,000 feet. When it comes to infants, having a plan in place goes a long way toward making traveling easier. Here are some tips for how to prepare to fly with kids:

8. Don’t forget the paperwork. There can be a lot of documentation to complete before you fly, especially if you’re bringing children. If you have an international flight coming up, everyone will need a passport, even young kids. It can take up to 13 weeks to get a passport, so try to plan ahead. And be sure to review all the requirements before you apply.

Even on domestic flights, you may need proof-of-age documentation, like a birth certificate. Or you might also choose to purchase travel insurance to cover canceled flights or other unforeseen issues. If you’re uncertain about what you need, check with your airline before flying.

9. Choose your flight wisely. Price, convenience and availability can all factor into your choice of which flight to take. When you’re flying with a small child, you may want to consider whether the plane has changing tables. You may also want to check whether you’re able to fly with a child on your lap—and whether you really want to do that.

You might also consider whether you’ll be able to choose your seats so you can be sure to sit with your family. And remember, if you’re an eligible Capital One cardholder, you can book your flight with Capital One Travel to make planning easier. 

10. Ward off jet lag. If your travel involves multiple time zones, tackle the inevitable before you leave. Start adjusting everyone’s routine a few days in advance. By the time you land, your body will be much better prepared to cope with the new schedule.

11. Be sure to check in on time. When you check in can affect everything from when you board to whether you’re able to select your seat. Check-in is usually 24 hours in advance of your flight, so don’t leave it to the last minute. And if you’re planning to check bags, be sure to know weight and time limits to plan your arrival at the airport correctly.

12. Practice makes perfect. Talk to your kids about what they’ll be doing as they go through security and board the plane. Yes, amazing views, tray tables and peanuts are all fun parts of flying. But waiting can also be a big part of the trip, so setting expectations will help on the day of travel.

13. Prepare for the bathroom. Help your child understand the airplane bathroom. It may sound silly, but plane lavatories can be tricky. They’re small, you’re only allowed to go at certain times and the toilets are startlingly loud. Your child reaching bathroom independence pays off, since helping them in a tiny lavatory can be a comedy of errors.

Tips for going through the airport with kids

A parent and a child walk through an airport gate.

The airport can be a stressful environment, with so many people coming and going, rules to be followed and announcements blaring. Here are some tips for getting through the airport with your little ones:

14. Arrive early. Schedule extra time—lots of extra time. Every family is different, but it’s generally a good idea to plan on getting to the airport two to three hours early to get everyone and their assorted carry-ons through security. Some airlines will even allow families with small children to board early.

15. Plan ahead for TSA. Even though children aren’t separated from their parents during screening, airport security can still be intimidating. Children under 12 go through a modified, less-stringent screening process. And they won’t need to remove their shoes or light jackets. If you have TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry and your child is under 12, they can accompany you in the expedited screening lane.

16. Take a breather in an airport lounge. Once you’re through security, you can usually take a breather. See if you’re at an airport with a Capital One Lounge or one of the many participating partner lounges worldwide to unwind.

Tips for flying with younger kids

A toddler digs into activities while sitting on an airplane.

You made it to the flight. Now you just need to take off and get where you’re going. Flights can be exciting for kids, especially if it’s their first time. But they can be scary too. Here are some tips for keeping your kids safe and happy on a flight:

17. Celebrate independence. Make a big deal about them having their own seat. And remind them that while their seat is their very own, the seat in front of them belongs to someone else—so no kicking. 

18. Be mindful of tiny ears. Altitude changes when flying are especially tough on babies. Giving them a bottle or breastfeeding during takeoff and descent can help. If you’re traveling with an older child, a solid nose pinch while keeping their mouth closed and trying to exhale can help regulate ear pressure.

19. Embrace distraction. Pack a few new books or some crayons as a surprise. Or come prepared with game ideas. I Spy, 20 Questions, Would You Rather and 6 Degrees of Separation are fun challenges the whole family can get in on. Electronic devices stocked with downloaded movies and shows are also great for passing the time. Just be sure to bring chargers and headphones, as well as backups in case anything gets broken or lost.

20. Buckle up. Most airlines allow children 24 months and younger to sit on parents’ laps for no extra charge. But unexpected turbulence can cause injuries. After all, if everything else on the plane is legally required to be secured, you probably want to make sure your most precious cargo is wearing a seatbelt. When in doubt, ask your flight attendant. You can also check with your airline to see whether it offers free or discounted tickets for infants.

Flying with kids in a nutshell

Flying with kids doesn’t have to be stressful. A little bit of planning can go a long way. Keep these tips in mind next time you and your family fly and you can help make the trip a little easier for everyone. So get to planning. Adventure awaits.

And remember, booking with Capital One Travel can help you save money on thousands of trip options and earn bonus rewards for booking.1

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