Tips for Travelling with Children

I was reading Christopher Elliott’s travel related blog and came across this post about a family that was asked to get off an AirTrans flight after a child refused to calm down. I can understand being asked to get off a flight if a child won’t calm down, purely from a safety point of view but the thing that alarmed me was some of the reactions of other readers suggesting that parents shouldn’t travel with their children.

I’m disgusted with that attitude. Travelling with children can be hard and most parents don’t do it unless they have to, especially over long distances but our world is changing and families are distributed all over the country, and indeed all over the world.

An understanding attitude can help a lot, when I end up down the back of a plane with the families (for some reasons families seem to end up down the back of the plane on flights in Australia) I try to exchange an understanding smile with the parents. I like to think that this helps put the parent at ease so they can focus more on their kids and less on what people around them are thinking.

Nicola and I have travelled with Bella a few times, although Nicola more than myself. In fact when Bella was about four weeks old we flew from Melbourne to Brisbane. She was perfectly behaved but if she decided to scream the whole way there wouldn’t have been much that we could do about it. Anyway, after observing the steps that Nic takes before taking Bella on a plane I offer these tips:

  1. Pack a bag; if you travel with kids you know how much stuff there is to take with you, but take the time to pack a bag full of stuff that is 100% for the child – even better, get the child to pack it. Be sure to include things that can be done on the plane like sticker books and colouring in pencils, and little snacks.
  2. Build the trip up; get kids excited about going on the plane and talk about the things that will happen once they get on board including putting on seat belts and pushing back from the gate and take off. If there is a logical sequence of events the kids are more likely to want to put their seat belt on so that they can get to the push back and take off bit.
  3. Set the rules in advance; don’t make the rules up on the spot. Talk about what is expected of them on the plane including listening what the flight host/hostess wants and doing it. Make it clear that even Mummy and Daddy don’t have any choice in that. In fact if you do it right your kids might actually be telling you to sit down and buckle in ๐Ÿ™‚
  4. Make flying fun; one thing that seemed to work really well with Bella is talking about the bumps of turbulence and landing – now maybe she is just a thrill seeker but we role-played her on our knees. It makes it easier that flying into Canberra is a bumpy ride.

I’m no expert but this stuff seems to work.


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10 thoughts on “Tips for Travelling with Children

  1. Simeon

    Kids are put in the back because the first class people are in the front. Also so when the plane lands people are not held up behind families sorting out the kids and bags.

    Flying back from Canada -> New Zealand I was in the back on all the flights, and there where families on all of them. You right about the smile and nod trick. Also offering to help to carry stuff works also.

    The times I’ve flown into Wellington, with my children we laughed ours heads off. So much so in fact I was getting dirty looks from other adults, who where not so happy with the planes violent movement.

  2. mabster

    Going “meta” for a second, Mitch:

    Did you dictate this blog post? This text:

    “but with roll played her on hour knees”

    … seems like it should read:

    “but we’ve role-played with her on our knees”

    … and that seems like the sort of error a speech-recognition engine might make, rather than a typo.

  3. murls

    Nice tips. Unfortunately some kids are just a reflection on their parents. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just ask the screaming little brats that come into my shop!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Chris

    Helpful tips, Mitch. We’re flying to California in March with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old and we’re definitely worried about the 5-hour flight with them. We did the bag trick when we went out to dinner on our last vacation and it kept the older one busy the entire time and worked perfectly. Thanks for the tips!

  5. Brian


    We travel with our five kids often, and whether we are flying or driving in the car, one of the things we have found is that yes pack their bags, but also we pack a bag for them. This is usually cheapo things from a store where nothing costs more than a dollar (US). Then we wrap them up, and when the kids get obnoxious, we pull out a “present” and they unwrap it and have a great time with something new–kind of like a birthday. We hardly ever have problems. For what it is worth, the kids are between 8 and 2 months old.

    Great tips just the same.

  6. MikeFitz

    Very young children, particularly babies, cannot easily equalize the pressure in their ears and suffer pain on descent. I’ve often seen babies crying on descent and grumpy adults complaining about the noise.

    Tip: do something to induce swallowing (and ear pressure equalization) on descent. Use a small bottle of water for babies or something like a breath mint for children.

    Maureen and I flew across the Pacific when the boys were 7yrs, 5yrs and 11 months. It was hard work, made harder by by an extra 4-hour wait in the departure area due to mechanical problems. (A part had to be flown up from Sydney to Brisbane.)

    The baby cried on descent and this was the trigger for a grumpy old Yank to launch a tirade of verbal abuse at Maureen. He also attacked me, complaining that I had taken the two older boys to the toilet and that they had “occupied TWO toilets AT THE SAME TIME!”

    Fortunately, other passengers leapt to our defence, saying that our kids were some of the best behaved they had ever seen.

  7. JosephCooney

    I’ve done a flight to France with a 1-year-old and a flight to Italy with a 2 & 5 year-olds (both from .au). There’s no-where to run on flights like those, and it makes me laugh that adults complain how hard it is on those kind of trips (like sitting there and reading a book or watching an in-flight movie is soooo hard). The best thing is that when you arrive, you know that in a few days/weeks you’re going to have to do it all over again!

  8. Chris OConnor

    There must be a term for this – something like air-rage, or kid-rage.

    It can be extremely tough for the parents – we had our 2 year-old doing a tantrum coming into Melbourne – and it’s “embarrassing” for us.

    We did most of your ideas – esp. getting him excited about it – the “take-off” especially.

    People seem to forget that THEY were once kids. And probably did the same thing with THEIR parents – or did they NOT travel ?

    I guess their attitude suggests that they still have a fairly “childish” view to some extent (!)

  9. Adam Green

    Great article & advice. We find it very tiring to travel with kids, especially when you need to wait at the airport with them and the plane is delayed. It’s been a bit easier since we bought Trunki suitcases for our two little ones – kids on them (or can be towed) and entertain themselves. It’s definitely a must for parents with kids aged 3-6. You can check Trunki products for kids here.
    If it wasn’t for that magical suitcase our waiting times at airports could be a real nightmare, especially when planes are delayed, so often these days!!!!

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