Top 10 Tips for Flying with Kids

After the carefree days of the summer holidays, one of the ways I manage to get through the first long weeks of January is to set about planning my next holiday! I check the year calendar for all the public holidays that coincide with a weekend so that I can look forward to a few long weekends away. I peruse Pinterest for some holiday inspiration and read blog posts about my Bucket List destinations. I scour the internet for good travel deals and dream about where I’d like to fly to next. I’m sure I’m not the only one! Ironically across the globe people are searching the internet for flights to Cape Town, while I’m looking for flights in the opposite direction…

One of my main goals for 2018 is to take my kids across the border of South Africa so that they can finally get to use their little green, as yet, unblemished, books.

I’m dreaming of Thailand (affordable destination for South African families), or Italy (friends are living there for a year – it would be silly NOT to visit them), or Namibia (our nearest neighbour needs exploring), or Portugal (an affordable European option), or basically anywhere!!! I just want to go.

We’ve been fortunate enough to take our kids to see much of South Africa in the past 11 years, but now I want to expand their horizons. I want to help them take flight with the same passion for travel that I have discovered. I know how beneficial it is to my life and I want to see them discover it for themselves – the wonder of visiting a new world, the awe of another culture, the taste of freedom that comes with exploring a new country, the fascination of meeting people so very different from yourself.

It’s time! Well, I hope it is. I can’t wait to see how 2018 will unfold and what exciting experiences for myself and my kids lie in wait around the corner…

One of the best bits about travelling for me is the moment I step on the plane. Yes, it’s probably the least glamorous side of travelling but, for me, the thrill is still there. Maybe it’s because I only travel internationally occasionally?? That being said, even if I suddenly start travelling much more, I hope I never lose that thrill.

I love plane travel. Yes, if you think about it too much you can quickly freak yourself out, but I don’t. I zone out and switch off. I prop myself up with a good memory foam travel pillow, I get an extra blanket. I find a few good movies to keep me occupied. I read a bit. I snooze. I really settle in.

The only problem is when you flying with kids NONE of this can happen!

Basically flying with kids can ruin plane travel for good… BUT it doesn’t have to be that way! The key is to have a plan (and to avoid 24 hour flights and 10 hour layovers as these can derail best made plans), but if you plan ahead for your plane trip with kids, you can make it much more bearable, and, possibly, even enjoyable!

tips for flying with kids

Travelstart recently asked me to take part in their video sharing a few of my top tips for flying with kids. It features a few other parents sharing their tips too so watch it here if you’re planning a local or international flight with little ones this year –>

In prepping for this video I found that I actually had quite a lot to say… and not all of my tips made it to the final cut so here are some more of my top tips for flying with kids. I hope they will make it a little bit easier for you and your kids on your next flight.


Top 10 Tips for Flying with Kids

1.Plan ahead 

When flying with kids one of the main things to do is plan ahead. Try to book direct flights and avoid long layovers at airports. If possible book your flights out of school holidays and busy travel times. Set an alarm on your phone when you book your flights to remind you to check in online before leaving home. No one wants to be screeching into the airport at the last minute with irritable toddlers in tow only to find out that you’re now going to be scattered across the plane or separated from your co-parent and stuck with all the kids on your own! NOPE. Flying with toddlers is hair-raising enough! Rather check in as early as possible and have your pick of the seats. Try to get a window and an aisle seat if you can and one in between. Kids love to sit by the window (the view should keep them busy for at least 5 mins!) and it will make it much easier to get up and out to the toilet should you need to take them during the flight. It will also make having a sleeping child on your lap easier if you know the person next to you! Another tip is to plan the flights you take around your kids – if they are toddlers and sleep fairly well book a night flight, but rather opt to take day time flights with kids over the age of 5 as they can keep themselves amused with screens for endless hours, rather than spending hours struggling to get a comfortable night’s sleep. Plan ahead and check in ahead – this varies from airline to airline (some can be 24 hours and others 48 hours) so double check this when you book your flights. That’s not to say you can now arrive as the gate is closing! No again. You want to arrive with plenty of time so that you can make a pitstop via the toilet, show the kids your plane out of the window and arrive at your gate with time to spare. Make the whole experience part of your journey – extra time will allow you to do this far more easily and mean you are less stressed too. Kids pick up on their parents’ anxiety, so keeping this to a minimum is key.

2. Prepare your kids

One of the best aspects of flying with small kids is how excited they get about the whole experience – I really do love seeing them having so much fun enjoying something that I have started to take forgranted. For kids this is one of the MOST exciting experiences of their little lives so help them to celebrate it and enjoy it – every step of the way. One of the best ways to prep your child for the flight is to talk about planes and flying for a few weeks before you leave. Read books featuring planes and airports and watch TV shows or movies that depict what they can expect. Once you arrive at the airport explain the process – checking in the luggage, going through passport control, watching planes take off and land on the runway, waiting to board the plane in the queue, stepping on board and finding their seats, strapping on the seat belt and trying out the TV screen if they are lucky enough to have their own! All of these steps are super exciting and can make the whole process much more fun and enjoyable for them if you tell them what’s going on. I know my own daughter likes to know exactly what to expect of each and every day (even when it’s the same), so she certainly wants to be prepared for such a different sort of day! Beforehand talk through potential problems and solutions for during the flight and then while  you are flying check in with them to see how they are doing and what they are thinking and feeling – you might be able to pre-empt a temper tantrum when they aren’t able to express what’s going on in their head.


3. Board last

Most airlines allow families flying with a baby or young children to board first – but this only means that you’ll have longer in the confines of a plane seat to keep kids happy and quiet. And the novelty of being on board a plane will wear off quickly. Rather board last so that they are happy to get strapped in when the seat belt signs goes one, rather than already desperately trying to break free. This way you’ll also not be holding up any huffy passengers trying to get to their seat while you organise everything you need to keep the kids happy during the flight to be within easy reach – the pockets in front of you and under your chairs – you don’t want to be popping up mid-flight to rifle through 4 bags to find the dummy!


4. Pack the essentials

Many airlines provide pillows but these are often really tiny and not very comfortable. I’ve found the best ones are the mouldable memory foam ones – I bought neck pillows from Mr Price Sport and then attached them to the outside of my carry-on bag with a carabiner clip. For young kids you might like to bring along a familiar blanket, toy and (if they the need one) a dummy for the comfort factor. Other essentials to pack include wet wipes, some pain medication (for sore ears or a surprise temperature), baby bottles with milk or formula,


5. Snack attack

Kids get cranky when they’re hungry (who am I kidding – we all do!) but unfortunately kids don’t always realise that it’s hunger that’s making them so hangry. So be prepared with a bag of snacks to fill their bellies if the food service is taking too long. Good options include raisins, grapes, cherry tomatoes, dried fruit bars, granola bars, popcorn, rice cakes, biltong, dried sausage, fruit squeezes, sandwiches, chips, Super C’s. Sweets can be a great bribe but trying to contain a child in their seat once they have eaten an excessive amount of sugar can present a challenge so keep them to a minimum. Remember babies and younger kids really struggle with equalising their ears, especially during descent, so it’s really useful to have something they can suck on hand for that section of the flight.


6. Have a bag of tricks

99% of the time your child will be miserable because they are either:

  1. Tired
  2. Bored
  3. Hungry

We’ve already covered packing enough food, but it’s also NB to pack some exciting new toys and entertainment options that will distract them from their mood. Whenever we travel – by plane, train or automobile – we make sure we have one carry on bag filled with things to do. Colouring in books, crayons, play-doh or putty, white board with markers, Top Trumps playing cards, paper and pens, other small travel games, books to read, sticker books etc. A few new toys wrapped up as gifts that you can bring out when things get desperate can also help to lift the mood. Wrap up small toys that you can present to your child as a reward for being good every half hour or so. These don’t have to be expensive. You can even wrap up snacks or some of the items I’ve listed above!

7. Easy entertainment

Obviously for this modern age the easiest entertainment option is the screen – and this isn’t the time to be a martyr. Just give in! Before leaving home download some new games and apps onto your iPad and pay a visit to Netflix or Showmax and download some music, movies or TV series that they can watch onto your phone or tablet. Remember to pack a pair of headphones per device and make sure they are all fully charged before leaving home. An extra battery pack or two is also a good idea. And don’t forget to pack the normal charger either so that you can charge up the devices for your trip home!


8. Comfort is key

Ensure kids are wearing leggings or tracksuit pants while travelling – no jeans or shorts! Pack an extra warm top in their carry on bag and make sure that this carry on bag for each child is a back pack that they can carry themselves. Wheelie bags are nice in theory, but very hard for small kids to control and when they get tired of carrying them it is a lot card for an adult to wheel around a child-sized suitcase! A back pack is far easier to just throw over your shoulder! As part of your packing make sure you have a change of clothes for each person – kid and adult – juice disasters, nappy leaks, lost luggage all have a way of felling the most prepared of travellers. Every person should also have a warm top, a change of underwear, a pair of socks and wear a pair of good walking shoes – no sandals or slip slops here – too easily lost and not very practical for walking through airports. Not all airlines offer blankets so it might be a good idea to pack a lightweight blanket or a scarf or pashmina for each child to cuddle under when they need to snooze.


9. Make friends

When sitting down in the plane with a child or 4 in tow you might realise that you aren’t going to be the most popular person on the plane when it comes to your fellow passengers, so it’s best to smile and introduce yourself to your neighbours for the next few hours. Introduce the kids too. Then let your new neighbours know that you will be trying your best to control your kids, but to please have some patience while you settle in.  It’s also a good idea to befriend your neighbour if you are a parent flying solo with 1 or more kids – toilet breaks on a plane Obviously keep the peace by disciplining your kids if they start kicking the seat in front of them or banging the tray table. Distraction is the best tactic so get them out their seat (if it’s safe) and head down the aisle for a walk. It’s also a good idea to make friends with your air hostess, she may be able to supply you with an extra snack or drink when you pay a visit to the back of the plane (for the 20th time!!) On long haul flights try to see if it is possible for your air steward to move you to a less crowded part of the plane after take off or politely ask your neighbour to shift down a seat or two so your kids can stretch out and sleep – thus ensuring a more peaceful night for everyone!


10. Take a deep breath

Flying with kids is one of those things that can cause even the most chilled out parent to get a bit stressed…  but it’s worth remembering that this too will pass. Yes, a screaming baby on a 10 hour flight can seem like an eternity, but it will pass. Try to arrive armed with an extra dose of patience and good humour and tag team with your co-parent so that you each take a turn pacing the aisle while the other one gets to take a short breather. As mentioned earlier kids are not immune to the emotions of their parents so it’s best to try to stay as calm as possible during the whole endeavor. Follow the steps above and you should be well prepared for every eventuality, however if  you’re dealing with cranky, hungry kids on the wrong end of the wrong time zone on an overnight flight then all I can say is “May the force be with you” – because that’s bound to take parenting patience to a whole new level.



Travelstart also want to help parents flying with children so they put together this very helpful infographic on the very same topic… plus they’ve written a really useful article too listing everything you need to know about Flying with Children with regards to the correct travel documents or read this post about Flying with a Baby – both are worth checking out if you’re planning a trip with kids in tow!




If you’re on the hunt for Cheap Flights From Johannesburg To Cape Town or any other really reasonable flight deals for that matter – be sure to check out Travelstarts’ website. They always seem to have the best flight deals around!

If you are travelling through busy airports with your kids be sure to have a chat with them before leaving home about these important travel safety tips for kids so that they are fully prepared should you get separated.

If you enjoyed this post please consider pinning it to Pinterest using the graphic below so you can find it again for your next flight or so that others can benefit from these tips too!

This post was done in collaboration with Travelstart.

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!


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