The subject of flying with toddlers and babies was in the news again recently as a result of Japan Airlines’ introduction of a new tool which enables passengers to see where a family with young children is sat, and so avoid them.

Despite the obvious flaws in the tool, it nonetheless serves as a good opportunity for us to revisit – and expand on – the tips we’ve previously shared on how to keep kids happy on a plane. This time, we’re also thinking about the parents and the other passengers.

Flying with toddlers is never the easiest thing in the world. Whether it’s an annual family holiday in the sun, or a long-haul flight to somewhere further afield, the prospect of flying with kids invariably gives rise to questions like what if the kids play up for the whole flight? What if they won’t stop crying? What if the other passengers complain about us? Thankfully there are ways to mitigate any potential ‘mid-flight meltdowns’ and so, based on our own hard-learnt experience, here are Netflights’ 21 top tips for a drama-free flight.

We’ve split these up in to general tips for flying with toddlers, and tips that apply most to those long-haul journeys.

General tips for flying with toddlers

  1. Get the kids involved

It depends how old your kids are for this but, instead of just dragging them about the airport, try and involve them a bit. Tell them what airline you’re flying with, let them help search for the check-in desk at the airport, show them your flight on the departure board, does it say ‘go-to gate’ yet?  The more you involve your child, the more engaged they will be.

  1. Make flying special again

A 6am flight to Alicante might not seem like the most magical experience for an adult but think back to when you were a kid, when flying was amazing! You might not be able to get in-flight flightdeck visits anymore, but ask when you board if it’s possible to poke your head in there with your little one, and you may be in luck. Flying with toddlers is more fun for everyone if they’re excited about it.

  1. Don’t just book the cheapest flight

We know sometimes there will only be one flight to choose from, or you may be watching your budget, but if you have a choice in what time you can fly then don’t penny pinch and get a flight that fits in better with your child’s regular sleeping pattern. Having to wake your little one up at 3am to be dragged to the airport is just not a good way to start the day.

  1. Look after their ears

Kids are affected by pressure variations more than adults so always make sure they have something to suck, chew or eat. If they’re old enough then giving them a boiled sweet to suck on is a good idea, or if your child is younger, then make sure they have a dummy or a bottle that they can get some comfort from.

  1. Pack them a flight bag

If they’re old enough then make sure your kids have their own bag that they can carry around. Not only will it teach them a bit of responsibility, you can also pack their bag full of fun distractions! Stickers, colouring books, crayons, games and suction toys that stick to the window are all great ideas. Also make sure you pack in there a comfortable blanket, a small travel pillow and any special teddies.

  1. Be ready

Keep your backpack under the seat in front of you with the most frequently used items on hand at the top. When you’re flying with toddlers, it’s important to pack enough small toys to keep them occupied. A new toy every hour works well to keep them entertained.

  1. Charge your tablets

Most short haul airlines in Europe feature nothing in the way of in-flight entertainment so make sure your tablet is fully charged and you’ve brought a pair of headphones for them too. Get yourself a bunch of movies downloaded that your kids will like and if you usually have any screen time restrictions for your kids then you’re going to want to very much relax those!

  1. Pack your own snacks

Kids can be fussy eaters and buy-on-board choices are limited. So plan ahead and pack something that you know they will like. Low-sugar snacks like crackers, crisps, sausage rolls, fruit and so on are great. Just be mindful of customs restrictions on bringing in fruit or veg at your destination – if in doubt, leave it on the plane and the crew will dispose of it. And remember to avoid foodstuffs that are sticky, or going to melt – unless you have a steady supply of wet wipes (see point 11).

  1. Bring a change of clothes

In-flight mishaps happen and you’re going to want to be prepared. Your best bet is to bring a change of clothes for every single person travelling in your group, including Mum and Dad. Pro-tip –back each person’s in a separate Ziploc bag labelled with their names. This way, it’ll be easy to grab the clothes when you’re dealing with the emergency plus the bag doubles up as a great place to keep any wet and soiled items.

  1. Take wet wipes

We needn’t say more about this. Wet wipes are the single greatest thing you can bring if you want to reach your destination in a hygienic and at least semi-presentable state.

  1. Stock up on Calpol

Temperatures, aches and pains, general crankiness – Calpol will save you! As well as the traditional bottle, you can also get small sachets which are particularly handy for when you’re flying so take a few, just in case.

  1. Pack peace offerings for fellow passengers

It might seem odd to imagine it right now but if the kids are playing up and you’re feeling really bad about it, if the person in front has been kicked more times than you can count, buy them a drink from the in-flight bar. It’ll go a long way to alleviating your guilt and will get that passenger on your side, more or less.

Tips for long-haul flying with toddlers

  1. Tire them out at the airport

If you’ve got something like a 12-hour flight coming up, then you’re going to want the kids to burn off as much energy as possible. Lots of bigger airports have play areas so make sure you let the kids use them.

  1. Fly at night

Where possible you’re going to want to try and keep to your child’s natural sleep cycle so if you’ve got the option, then take a night flight. You’re going to have to deal with the jetlag when you land whatever the case but at least this way they’re more likely to get some rest and be less of a hassle in the air.

  1. Split the kids up

No, we don’t mean give the kids a seat next to some poor unsuspecting stranger. We mean that if you’ve got a few kids travelling with you and you want them to behave, then it’s best to not sit them next to each other. By parking an adult in-between them, you’ll keep sibling rivalry issues to a minimum which, as you get further and further in to a flight, usually start to rear their ugly heads.

  1. Watch that seat map

Keep an eye on that seat map in the days before your departure and try aim to keep a middle seat free by, for example, selecting an aisle and a window seat. Sometimes you will get lucky and nobody will sit in the middle and if that happens then you get the added bonus of some extra space for one of your kids to stretch out and sleep.

  1. No infants on your lap

Infants under the age of two are allowed by law to sit on your lap and don’t require their own seat, but we’d advise against this. Flying with toddlers is hard enough without you both getting hot and bothered. The better option is to spend a little extra, get their own seat and bring your child car seat with you that you can safely strap in next to you. Your little one then gets their own familiar space, which they are far more likely to go to sleep in. You can also try and reserve a seat that has a bassinet point on the bulkhead in-front, these are limited and you may be out of luck.

  1. Walk the aisles

Get up and let your kids stretch their legs for a bit. A change of scenery will always do them good and will help stop them getting fidgety. On widebody planes it’s even easier as you can walk down one aisle, through the galley and up the other aisle. This of course also helps keeps the blood circulating which is important for all of us.

  1. Order a child meal but bring your own too

You’re going to be able to order a special child meal for your little one which is usually a much bigger hit than giving your kid an adult meal but as we all know; kids can be fussy! Whilst the airlines do their best to cater to kids’ tastes, it’s also a good plan to bring your own snacks onboard, like we mentioned before, so that you’re not left in the position of a kid on a long flight refusing to eat anything at all!

  1. Don’t forget about yourself

We know flying with toddlers is a handful, but remember to breathe and take some time out for yourself as well. You’re going to be in a much better state of mind if you don’t over-stress yourself and are well rested before and during your trip.

Also don’t forget to leave enough time to get to the airport and don’t drink too much the day before you fly. It’s simple things like this that, if you can do, will leave you much better positioned to deal with any hiccup that might get thrown your way as you’re seven miles high over the Atlantic.

Weighing up a long-haul family holiday, but not sure where to go? Read about the best family destinations outside Europe.