The prospect of flying with a baby and toddlers may be frightening, especially if they’ve never been on an airplane before.
I have four children and have done a lot of airline travel with them, including several international trips.
Through the years I have learned what items are important to pack in the carry-on, and the best activities for kids when flying.
Packing the carryon to keep a baby and young children happy on a plane is a task I have a lot of experience in.
If you’re travelling by plane with a baby or toddler, here are some tips on what to pack (and not pack!) in your carry on bag to tame the chaos, and keep everyone’s sanity intact.
The toddler and older kids enjoy having their own carry on bag too.
When I fly with a baby, I always pack my sling so I can have both hands free and available. Placing baby in a sling at the airport is one of the best practical and safe tips I can recommend.
Limit screen time before your flight, especially in the airport where they can run around a bit, and pull it out at the last possible pre-meltdown second to maximum entertainment value.
Let the novelty of being on an airplane work it’s magic through first.
Consider buying a new movie or show (either DVD or download). Novelty will last longer, even in a new setting. And make sure you have pre-downloaded everything. Not all airplanes have free wifi available.
You’ll also want to invest in kid-sized headphones.
These will work with your portable DVD player, iPad or tablet, smart phone, or headphone jack on the plane’s screen.
They will be much more comfortable and less hassle than trying to use mom or dad’s earbuds.
I recommend over-ear headphones for kids. We’ve used both folding and standard over-ear kids’ headphones. We recommend and use Sound InTone headphones. The folding ones are very convenient for packing in a carryon.
Do NOT buy expensive headphones for young children. They won’t appreciate the sound quality, and trust me – the expensive ones break just as easily.
For the adults, noise cancelling earbuds are always a good choice!
Airports, and some airplanes, have charging ports, but you definitely want back up.
I’ve been using the Anker Portable Charger for over 2 years and it still works great. The USB port accepts any charging cord with a USB on one end, and the portability can’t be beat.
Size Matters. When choosing toys to bring, consider how much space they will take up versus how much time your kids will spend playing with them.
My kids like to pick a few small toys such as matchbox cars, princesses and plastic dinosaurs or animals – we like Wild Republic Nature tubes. I let them fill a small bag with toys.
They can play with these toys on a play mat (read next item) on the tray table on the airplane, their laps in a car, the carpet in the airport, or wherever.
We never bring baby toys. They take up too much room for the amount of attention a baby pays them. The baby is happy to chew on basically whatever we give him. A favorite lovey and a larger toy belonging to his older siblings is good enough.
One toy that we always get good use out of while flying is a travel-sized magnetic doodle board. Fun for anyone over age 1. The kids like to give ideas for mom and dad to draw, then laugh and erase it, and do it again. You can use it for tic tac toe, Pictionary, to practice letter writing, and more.
Pack some paper or a doodle pad and a few crayons or colored pencils. Use a zippered binder pouch for pencils or crayons – they won’t roll away, and will store flat in your bag. You can also fold up paper and put it inside, if you don’t mind it folded.
One of the best uses of paper on an airplane is to draw a little “play place” for kids to play with their toys on.
Draw a farm or jungle scene for them to play with small animals, or draw some roads to drive cars on. This not only entertains the kids while they watch me draw, they can then play with it with their toys, and it can be left behind after.
If you have a pen in your purse, you can also do this on the back of a paper place mat in a restaurant. It’s a great way to entertain kids in a restaurant as well.
Stickers are another item that doesn’t take up a lot of space, but provides tons of fun. And again, you can just leave your sticker masterpiece behind.
Save stickers from junk mail, or pick up some cheap ones at the dollar store.
If you want to get a little fancier, we buy sticker scenes from Amazon and Oriental Trading in various themes and use them for when kids need to sit quietly for a few minutes.
Diapers, wipes and extra clothes are essential when flying with a baby.
Believe it or not, diapers are not generally available for purchase in airport terminals.
Besides toys, electronics and other items to occupy your baby, there are a few other things you need to pack in your carryon:
If you have children under 6, you can choose to pre-board. A benefit to this is that you will find space in the overhead bins, and you can get your children settled before the plan fills. However, it also means you’ll be spending more time confined on the plane.
If you have two adults with your group, I recommend sending one on with pre-boarding to get everything settled, and keeping any wiggly young children off until the end of boarding for some last minute wiggles.
Despite airlines charging for just about everything they can, car safety seats may be checked for free, even if your infant doesn’t have a ticket. You may also gate check a stroller for free. These items are NOT included in standard baggage allowance.
If travelling with an unticketed infant, you may request a bulkhead row, which offers a bassinet for babies under 20 pounds.
Bulkhead rows do not have under seat storage, but it may be worth it if your baby will sleep in the bassinet.
Some airlines also have a sleep seat for heavier children (under age 2) that attaches to the bassinet shelf in the bulkhead row. The airplane sleep seat is basically a bouncer that doesn’t bounce, and it was a lifesaver for our 1 year old on our most recent international flight.
Many airport terminals have a designated area for kids to get some energy out. These range from a fenced area with busy boards for babies in a corner of the terminal, to outdoor atriums.
Ask if there is a play area when you check in. These airport play areas are perfect for letting kids run around during layovers or while waiting to board.
Don’t be afraid to breastfeed in public when flying or traveling. Traveling with a nursing infant is easier in many ways since you always have food available, and can easily calm a fussy baby.
Best Travel Strollers by Hannah from Adventure Travel Family.
Travel Tips for Parents with Young Kids written by Priya from the Glorious Sunshine blog.
Tips to Avoid Jetlag by Ryazan from Everything Zany.