A family with a father, mother and two children standing inside the airport looking out the large windows to a plane on the tarmac. The parents are smiling at each other.

10 Mistakes Parents Make When Flying with Kids (and How to Avoid Them)

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Let’s face it. Flying with kids is daunting. Just thinking about how to get the car seat through the airport, making sure your kids don’t bolt during security, making it to the gate with all the baggage and then surviving the flight?? It makes my heart start fluttering…..but no fear! You’ve got this! Whether you are flying with a baby, flying with a toddler or flying with children, I’ve got all the tips and tricks you need.

Two older children, a boy and a girl sitting inside an airport looking out the windows. The girl has a toy airplane in her hand flying it in the air.

Check out these top 10 tips for flying with kids like a pro. Everything from how to manage all the bags, getting through security without pulling out your hair and surviving the plane ride with ease. You’ll be a pro in no time. I promise.

Hi! My name is Chelsea and I am mom and a fellow traveler. I wrote this post because I want to save you the hassle of making the mistakes that I made over the years. My son and I have flown all over the world, including overnight flights, moving cross country and flying on our own (without my husband). Flying with kids can be a challenge, so I hope this list helps ease your fears and makes sure that you are well prepared.

1. Not bringing a protective cover when gate checking or baggage checking strollers and car seats

I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen hundreds of dollars of baby gear go unprotected when parents choose to gate-check or planeside check their car seats. Even a simple red car seat bag can help protect against dust, grime and drips from getting onto the fabric that cradles your little one. Not to mention that the person carrying that car seat or stroller has no regard for its use and value. Flying with a car seat? Spend a few extra dollars to protect your car seat and stroller!

I recommend getting a padded car seat carrier. We stuff in extra blankets, diapers, and wipes into the bag and airlines don’t seem to mind. Win-win!

The following options include the most basic red car seat bag. This will last you a couple of flights since the fabric is thin and will eventually tear. The second option is our favorite. It’s a padded car seat bag with straps. You can either wear the car seat on your back for transport or attach it to a rolling suitcase.

The third option is another basic travel bag but in black. The last option is great for someone who wants a car seat with wheels that you can just pull on the ground or attach it to another rolling suitcase.

If you want to avoid checking a car seat, you’ll need to purchase a seat for your child and install the car seat on the plane and into your child’s seat. Be sure to review installation guidelines and make sure your seat is FAA approved.

Toddler sleeping on a car seat that has been installed on an airplane.

Strollers should also be checked with a protective bag or a fully padded case. Check to see if your stroller has a bag that is made specifically for it. We traveled all over the globe (20+ countries) with our City Mini GT and the baby jogger padded bag. Check it out below. I’ve also included generic bags that are perfect for umbrella strollers.

Car seats and strollers can be checked or gate-checked for free, just be sure to leave extra time to drop them off.

2. Not wiping down the airplane seats and tray

Not sure if you knew, but planes are barely cleaned between flights and I don’t know about your kids, but my son touches EVERYTHING and then uses those grimy fingers to eat his snack. Throw a pack of germ-fighting wipes into your bag for a nice wipe down when you sit down. Be sure to wipe the seat buckle, tray, tray lock, armrests, and window shade.

Interior of an airplane with three blue seats in each row with red seat belts and white windows open with light streaming inside.

No one wants to get sick headed on a fun trip or headed home. It only takes a minute and my son loves helping. The wipes also work great mid-flight when the line to the bathroom is too long (or during your trip for a quick cleaning). Grap some travel-sized packs below.

3. Not packing a change of clothes for everyone

Accidents happen and let me tell you from experience, they are 99% more likely to happen when you are flying with kids! From spills to sick kids and diaper blowouts. Don’t forget a change of clothes for you as well. I’ve had to change my shirt a few times due to spit up and who knows what else. Even with preschoolers, my son spilled an entire drink on my pants during one of our last flights.

A blonde mother with a blonde baby sitting on an airplane looking out the airplane window.

As for kids in diapers, pack double what you think you’ll need. You don’t want to be that parent that runs out of diapers. We fly frequently, delays happen. Think you’ll need 6 diapers, bring 12. I also recommend putting diapers, wipes and a change of clothes into a gallon size baggie, the airplane bathrooms are tiny. You don’t want to have to bring your entire backpack. Don’t forget to wipe down the changing table too with those handy sanitizing wipes above!

If you want to be eco-friendly, grab a wet bag for clothes that get messy. It’s waterproof and washable so it can be reused over and over.

4. Forgetting snacks…

Don’t underestimate the power of snacks, they cure just about everything, seriously. Great snack choices include fresh fruit, crackers, pretzels, dried cereal, cheese, raisins, applesauce pouches, cucumbers/sliced carrots, goldfish, dried fruit, jerky/beef sticks, and hard-boiled eggs. We avoid nuts since we don’t know if passengers near us will have an allergy.

Two children sitting in their airplane seats with the tray tables down, eating. Flying with Kids.

I also suggest a low sugar or sugar-free lollipop for when the plane descends. Those little ears aren’t great at equalizing and the sounds of cries will stream through the cabin just as the pilot starts the descent. Save yourself the grief and pack some sweets in addition to those snacks. For little ones under 18 months, bring a bottle/sippy cup or a pacifier. If you are traveling with an infant and nursing, moms can nurse on the descent to help little ears.

For older kids, pack their favorite snacks in snack organizers. They can munch away while playing their favorite activities and you won’t have to stress about when the snack cart is going to show up.

5. Not thinking about kids Entertainment

This all depends a bit on the age of your kids, but be sure to pack something for your little ones to occupy the time. It’s not just the flight, but also waiting to check-in, waiting for the flight and waiting for bags. Airports involve a lot of waiting and all this waiting can be a challenge when flying with kids.

Kids under 12 months don’t need anything really. They sleep most of the flights. But for older kids, bring some age-appropriate toys. As my son got older, we would swing by the dollar store or hit the dollar section in Target. I’d pick up a few new toys and wrap them in wrapping paper so they were hidden from view. He would pick one each hour (on long haul flights). We would also bring some favorites.

What do we recommend for toys on a flight? Check out our favorites below:

Flying with a baby? Here are our recommended toys for babies (under 12 months):

Traveling with Toddlers (1-3 years)? Here is our recommended toys for Toddlers:

Toys for Preschoolers (4-6 years)

We are pretty anti tablets and TV, but our son’s tablet has saved us a few times. We recently sat on the tarmac for 3.5 hours before going back to the gate on a US flight. It was past bedtime and he was exhausted….. tablet to the rescue with his favorite shows preloaded. When he was younger we used traditional headphones like these, now we use earbuds that pack small. Check those out below.

6. Not preparing kids

Flying with kids is a whole new experience and it can be scary, exciting, overwhelming and full of new rules. Prepare your kids. Read books about airports from the library, or grab these great options below. Talk about what to expect, what behavior you expect and research play areas in the terminal. It can make all the difference if kids understand the routine and save you quite a bit of grief.

Girl sitting on a plane with braids in her hair. She is reading a book.

7. Forgetting to use the bathroom before getting on the plane

We are those parents that have to bribe our kid to use the bathroom. He’s stubborn, but it’s important. You can spend almost an hour waiting for the seat belt sign to turn off and that’s a long time for little bladders. By the time you board, store your luggage, sit down and get settled, wait for the safety info, get in line on the runway and take off. Then the plane has to get up to cruising altitude and the seat belt sign gets turned off. Trust me, everyone needs to use the bathroom and change all diapers for the little ones.

Father sitting on the airplane with a baby in his arms drinking a bottle of milk. Flying with a baby.

Traveling with a newly potty trained toddler? You have a few choices, you can put them in a “travel diaper” or grab a potty pad to put under their airline seat (and pack extra clothes). We flew two months after we potty trained our son, it was harrowing, but we survived with no accidents.

8. Forgetting your patience

Take a deep breath, you’ll be ok! You’ll survive even if you are a solo parent flying with three kids under the age of 5. Give yourself plenty of time at the airport. Show up two hours early, or even earlier. Ask for help with all the gear. Be kind to all the staff and you’ll be in good hands.

A family with a mother, father and two children standing at check-in at the airport with the baggage carousel to their right.

If you are traveling with multiple kids, sort out the responsibilities before you go to the airport. Who is in charge of what? Try to pack as light as possible. Figure out how you’ll carry everything. Think about going through security.

Flying with a baby? I suggest babywearing all kids under the age of 2. You DO NOT have to take them out of the carrier in security. You’ll go through a regular screening detector and then get your hands wiped and have that wipe processed. Then you’ll be on your way.

For older kids, squish them between two adults. One adult goes through security and then send the kids one at a time. Kids do not have to remove their shoes. Then the last adult joins the group. Sometimes TSA has stickers for the kids. It might be a good reward for good behavior. Just ask a TSA agent once you pass through security.

Travelers pass through the ProVision ATD Image-Free Scanner, a new technology used at security checkpoints which can automatically detect concealed objects made of any type of material.

You can bring liquids for kids under the age of 2. Bottled water, milk, formula, breast milk, apple sauces pouches, etc. Just separate it at security for screening. I put mine in a gallon size baggie to pull it out of my bag easily.

Be prepared to walk a while to get to your gate. Grab snacks, use the bathroom or find a play area. If you have given yourself plenty of time, you’ll make it to the gate with a bit of time to spare.

Flying with children? Families with children under the age of 2 can board early, so heads up if you want more time, especially if you are using a car seat in the airplane. You can read more about traveling with car seats and which is the best seat by clicking the button link below.

Little girl asleep in her car seat on an airplane.

9. Being underprepared for overnight flights

I won’t lie, overnight flights are a beast. But if you are well prepared, it won’t be quite as bad. Try to book a flight that corresponds with bedtime. So if your child goes to bed around 7 pm, I’d pick a 5:30 pm flight. Enough time for dinner and then getting settled.

How should you prep for an overnight flight? Bring everything for a typical bedtime. For us, that’s pajamas, a couple of books, a little pillow, and a blanket. We also have a blow-up pillow that we use to turn the seat into a bed (see link below). Best $20 ever spent!

As bedtime approaches, we start our typical routine and have the blow-up bed ready. (Some airlines say they aren’t allowed, we just blow them up when the staff is busy and cover it with a blanket. It just looks like our backpacks.) 🤷🏼‍♀️ We also bring a thin muslin blanket to make a little tent over our son and off to dreamland he goes. It usually takes a bit longer than at home, but we prep him with the process so he knows what is expected.

Little boy sleeping under a tent made with a blanket on the airplane.

10. Not sharing in the excitement when flying with kids

Flying can be fun! Sure, it can also be a hassle, but go with the flow. Before you board, stand in front of the huge glass windows and watch the planes take off and land. Play eye spy with the luggage carts, food deliveries, and transporters. Traveling with a toddler on a plane can be exciting and an adventure.

A toddler leaning against the window in an airport looking at the planes on the tarmac. The toddler is wearing overalls and a white shirt with curly blonde hair.

Ask the flight attendant if the kids can see the cockpit when you board. Or better yet, have the kids ask! We even buy fun shirts for our airline travels. Check out these super cute frequent flier shirts on Etsy!
Let the kids order drinks, snack boxes and if you are flying overseas, they might even get to pick a toy from the toy box that the flight attendant brings down the aisle.

Check out the safety brochures and play with the light switches and fan knobs. Just watch out for the call button! If they accidentally push it, just push it again to cancel it.

We love bringing gel clings to decorate the plane window. Also, blue painters tape and a black marker to make little roads on the tray table. The tape also works well for taping the tray closed for little ones that love to open and close it! Make flying with kids fun.

Free Downloadable Packing Lists:

Now you are ready to fly with kids! Hopefully, this list has helped to prepare you for the pitfalls of flying. I created this travel with kids blog to help other families to explore the world with their kid. I hope this helps you prepare for your first flight or your hundredth.

Leave me a comment or find me on Facebook or Instagram. Ready to plan another adventure? Head back to my homepage to discover more of our favorite places to travel with kids around the globe.

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