How to Handle Virtually Any Travel Nightmare When Flying With Kids
On This Page
From a well-stocked diaper bag to a ready-for-anything first aid kit, you already know that being prepared is the best defense against the unpredictability of parenting. So, it’s no surprise that harnessing that same level of preparedness is also key to successfully navigating the often erratic world of family travel. While, sure, there’s no way to sidestep all travel snafus—like lost luggage or flight delays—there are plenty of ways to make each family travel speed bump less chaotic. Here, how to handle almost any travel problem like a pro!
Speed Bump: Getting Expressed Milk Through Security
Solution: Know your rights!
To help you through security, it’s a good idea to transport your baby’s milk in clear, translucent bottles, not plastic bags or pouches, which may not be able to be screened by Bottle Liquid Scanners. Either way, inform the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer that you’re carrying expressed milk, formula, or related accessories. In the United States, expressed breastmilk, infant formula, and baby/toddler food, including puree pouches are not only allowed in your carry-on baggage, they can be in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces. (They’re considered “medically necessary liquids.”) This okay-to-fly rule applies to cooling accessories, like ice packs, even if they’re slightly melted, too.
It’s also within your rights to refuse to have your infant formula, breastmilk, or baby food X-rayed or opened. Instead, the TSA officer can take alternative steps to clear your feeding supplies. While these are the official TSA rules, arrive at the airport with this info printed out or screenshotted from the TSA website in case a security agent gives you a hard time. Don’t hesitate to ask to speak to a supervisor or request a passenger support specialist if needed.
Speed Bump: Ouchy Airplane Ears
Solution: Offer a bottle, paci, or lollipop.
Have you ever noticed that babies often cry at the beginning and end of flights? That’s because the air pressure in the cabin decreases during takeoff and increases during landing, both of which cause a pressure imbalance and ear pain. To help restore equilibrium, have your baby suck on a bottle, pacifier, or breast about 3 to 4 minutes after the wheels go up—and again when the pilot announces that descent is imminent. Have older children suck on a lollipop at the same intervals. Swallowing and sucking are great air pressure equalizers! (Learn about common choking hazards before handing over that lolly!)
Speed Bump: No In-flight Screens
Solution: Bring your own entertainment!
Did you know that not all airlines offer in-flight movies, TV, games, or music? For example, Spirit Airlines has no in-flight entertainment and some airlines like Alaska Airlines and American offer streaming, but it’s only for your own device. Even if your flight is supposed to have seatback screens, you can’t bank on them always working! So, it’s best to check ahead of time and come prepared. That means, packing chargers (wireless if your aircraft doesn’t have in-seat charging), headphones, and whatever tablet your kiddo might use. (Be sure to preload your devices with kid-friendly entertainment.) For some good old fashioned analog fun, steadily ration out a stash of quiet and mess-free games and activities, like Wikki Stix, inkless coloring, maze, or reusable sticker books…or check out these 21 toddler travel toy options.
Speed Bump: Mid-Flight Restlessness
Solution: Have a surprise ready for the middle of the flight.
Even the most well-behaved toddler or big kid can be struck with a case of ants-in-the-pants about halfway to your destination. Sitting still is hard…and boring, even if there are a zillion channels and games at your child’s fingertips. Keeping this in mind, plan to unearth a fresh, fun toy or activity mid-flight, just as the novelty of air travel wanes. This will help break up the monotony of a long flight and inject some excitement into your kiddo’s journey.
Speed Bump: No Food Served on the Plane
Solution: Pack snacks.
Don’t bank on your airline offering meals and snacks. For instance, United Airlines refrains from serving complimentary snacks on flights under 800 miles long—and they don’t offer meals for purchase unless the flight is 1,500 miles or over—and even then, food is not a guarantee. That’s why it’s always a good idea to bring your own TSA-compliant snacks from home. For items like yogurt, hummus, and peanut butter, that means nothing larger than 3.4 ounces. (Gel ice packs are a-okay as long as they’re frozen solid when screened, with some exceptions.)
Speed Bump: In-Flight Temperature Changes
Solution: Dress in layers.
No matter the weather outside, it’s a good bet that the temperature inside your airplane is on the cool side. It’s been reported that flight crews keep airplane temps cold, in part, to help stave off fainting and air sickness. (Heat worsens that queasy feeling.) To keep your family comfy on board, dress in layers, ideally sans buttons and zippers for easy-peasy bathroom visits. Consider keeping a thin blanket in your carry-on, too. Got an infant? Pack a Sleepea Comforter Swaddle, too. The super-soft 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton shell is lightly insulated to give your bub the extra warmth they need on a chilly flight.
Speed Bump: Potty or Puke Accidents
Solution: Use waterproof bags and disposable training pants.
Accidents happen—even at 40,000 feet! If your child vomits, seal their soiled clothes in a plastic bag and trash their used airsick bag in the bathroom. If you’ve got an in-flight diaper leak or a potty oopsy, head to the changing table in the bathroom, place dirty clothes in a zippered wet bag, and dirty diapers in a plastic bag to dispose of in the restroom. (On a small regional plane with no changing table? Ask the flight attendant for the best area for a diaper change.)
To help prevent nausea and vomiting, avoid greasy pre-flight food, choose a window seat over the wings where the plane will feel most steady, and keep your bub distracted with some of the quiet toys you brought on board. To help sidestep diaper leaks, change your bub right before you board and make sure their diaper sits just under their navel. Once fastened, you should only be able to slide two fingers between the waistband and your little one’s belly. There should be no gaps at the leg elastic. If your tot has recently graduated to undies, there’s no shame in reverting back to disposable training pants for the flight.
Speed Bump: Airplane Tantrums
Solution: Use Toddler-ese.
Dr. Harvey Karp’s signature tantrum-taming advice works just as well in the air as it does on land! That means, the best way to nip toddler tantrums in the bud is to pair the Fast-Food Rule with Toddler-ese. Instead of rushing to quell their cries with “it’s okays,” you validate your tot’s big emotions with short phrases and repetition all while mirroring about one-third of your toddler’s feelings with your tone and gestures. (“You’re mad! Mad! Mad!” or “Candy! Candy! You want it…now!”)
This works wonders to help frustrated kiddos feel cared for and understood, which’ll quiet a meltdown. To avoid tantrums in the first place, make sure your bub is well rested and well fed before boarding. When on board, consider “gossiping” about what a good job your mini jetsetter is doing to your travel partner or a friendly passenger. (“I’m so proud of how well Oliver is behaving on the plane!”) When kids overhear whispered compliments, they're more apt to believe them and replicate the praised behavior. (Learn more about encouraging good behavior with gossiping.)
Speed Bump: Trouble Snoozing
Solution: Set up a familiar environment.
While sleeping on a plane is not the easiest, bringing key elements of your little one’s nighty-nighty routine on board can make in-flight ZZZs a reality. Dress them in PJs before boarding, read your go-to bedtime story, offer snuggles, fly with your tot’s favorite lovey, and turn on your travel white noise machine to help block out unfamiliar sounds and help your bub get into the sleepytime mindset. (SNOObear is a lovey and portable white noise machine, making it the ideal travel companion for your tot.) If your plane is bright, consider creating a “tent” with a light blanket or nursing cover. Simply tuck the blanket in the tray on the seat in front of your child and then somewhere on their headrest.
Speed Bump: Lost Luggage
Solution: Use a tracking app.
Yay! The flight to your desired destination was a success…now, where’s your luggage? If your checked bag does not meet you at the carousel, try not to panic. If you placed your own Bluetooth tracker, like a Tile or Apple AirTag, inside your luggage, you can monitor your bag’s whereabouts via an app. Forgot that step? See if your airline offers a mobile baggage tracking service. (For example, United, Delta, and American Airlines all offer that service.) Next, immediately file a claim at your airline’s baggage desk, advises the U.S. Department of Transportation. Know that your airline is required to compensate you for “reasonable, verifiable, and actual” expenses that you may incur while your bag on the lam. If your bag is officially lost (still missing five to 14 days post-flight), your airline is responsible for compensating you for your bags’ contents, within certain limits. And if it’s your car seat that’s missing, know that your airline should be able to provide a loaner while they track yours down.
Speed Bump: Delayed Flight or Missed Connection
Solution: Expertly pack your carry-on.
Ease the sting of absent luggage, delayed flights, and/or missed connections with a skillfully packed carry-on bag. That means, stashing the following in your on-board bag:
Change of clothes for the whole family
Baby swaddle and/or light blanket
Lovey and paci
Extra diapers and wipes
Gallon zipper storage bag or wet bag
Extra infant formula, if applicable
Empty sippy cup
Meds (fever reducer, antibiotic ointment, etc)
Small toys, activities, books, and/or preloaded tablet
More on Traveling With Babies and Toddlers:
- Dr. Harvey Karp on Stress-Free Flying With a Baby
- How to Fly With SNOO and More Travel Tips
- Helping Kids With Jet Lag
- Top 10 Tips to Babyproof Your Vacation
Have questions about a Happiest Baby product? Our consultants would be happy to help! Submit your questions here.
Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.