Skip to main content

Mendo Lake Family Life

8 Ways to Take the Stress Out of Family Air Travel

By Tanni Haas

Flying to your vacation spot can be stressful if you’re not properly prepared. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to make air travel a low-stress experience. Based on my own experiences as well as conversations with other parents, I’ve pulled together a list of some favorite stress-management tips.

Align flight times with your kids’ sleep routines. If you need to fly during the day, reserve a departure time that corresponds with your kids’ naptime. If you need to fly at night, reserve a flight that takes off within the hour of their usual bedtime; the sheer excitement of flying is likely to keep them up a little longer than usual. 

Schedule long layovers if you can’t get a direct flight. That’ll leave you enough time to feed the kids a proper meal, take them to the bathroom, and enjoy the trip at a leisurely pace. Kids may really like hanging out in an airport; for example, a moving walkway can be a tremendous source of fun.

Minimize wait times. Kids often get frustrated and act up when they have to wait in line for a long time. There are several things you can do to deal with this: 1) sign up for TSA’s pre-check program, which will qualify you for much faster security checks; 2) check in online the day before your departure; and 3) print out boarding passes at self-service kiosks in the airport. 

Have older kids pull their own luggage. Even young kids can pull their own carry-on bags with wheels—and they’ll mostly likely have fun doing it. When kids are responsible for their own luggage, they are less likely to over-pack, and you don’t have to feel so responsible for all your family’s belongings. 

Pack snacks, entertainment, and headphones. Most airlines offer free snacks, movies, and headphones. Still, it’s a good idea to pack your own supplies. Chances are that your kids either won’t like the airline’s snacks or entertainment, or they may find the airline headphones to be uncomfortable. If you’re really unlucky, they’ll complain about all of the above! 

Make each kid a flight goody bag. Create care packages like the kind you’d mail them at sleepaway camp. Put in each bag some of their favorite toys from home as well as things you can buy at most convenience stores, such as comic books, crayons, puzzles, etc. They’ll be so much more excited about the flight when they have a goody bag to look forward to.

Bring changes of clothes. Trying to sit still in a crammed space, kids often spill food and drinks on themselves. So bring onto the plane at least one extra change of clothing for everyone (including yourself). Also bring pillows so the kids can lean against the seat, window, or your shoulder and hopefully sleep for part of the flight.

Pee, eat, and fill out paperwork before you leave the plane. Before you disembark, make the kids go to the bathroom one last time and give them something to eat. You may have to wait a long time in immigrations and customs, especially if you’re traveling abroad, and it’s no fun at all if the kids have to pee or are hungry. Fill out the required paperwork while you’re still on the plane: It’s a real hassle to do it later while you’re waiting in line. And remember to always travel with a pen—it comes in handy!  

Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor.