9 Essential tips for flying with small kids

As an expat having lived in America and currently living in Dubai, plus we like to travel as much as we can with our four young kids, we have collected a lot of air miles for our family. And I feel  the one thing I really know a lot about is actually how to fly with kids.

As I get asked quite often if I have any tips for flying with kids, I thought why not do a blog post about how to fly with small children and my 8 essential tips of flying with small kids.

9 essential tips for flying with small kids | Emilia's Journey

I feel like we have seen it all. We took the first flight with our son when was just one month old. We have flown long haul and short haul. We have flown at night and during the day. We have had our kids behave perfectly on a plane and we have had meltdowns and screaming tired kids. We have flown when our kids had a fever and we have flown when they got sick on the plane. We had flights cancelled, delays, we have forgotten a favorite toy on the plane, we have had spilled drinks, we had to carry multiple sleeping kids off the plane, we have waited for hours at airports and we have even had a case where my son had to pee into an empty water bottle while the plane was landing  (no comment :-))

I am sure I have forgotten some things to mention here ;-)

And I know I probably haven’t seen it all, there are things, that might still happen, or you might be thinking just wait and see..

However I do have somewhat perfected flying with our kids.

So these are my 9 most important tips for you:

  1. Pack as light as possible

I used to pack everything in my carry on bag, toys, diapers, wipes, food, spoons, napkins, water bottles, change of clothes for all kids, books and the list goes on.

And most of the time I did not need all of those things. But I had to carry it all, plus the carry on bags of my kids who of course did not want to carry them all the time, plus I usually carry a baby in a baby carrier...

So here is my list of things I put into my carry on bag (which is still heavy, but it has reduced in size over the years)

  1. Nappies/diapers

  2. Wipes

  3. Changing mat

  4. Nursing cover if you are breastfeeding

  5. Milk bottles and utensils if you are bottle feeding

  6. Baby carrier - I always take my baby carrier as you never know when you have to give away the stroller plus it is so much easier to carry the baby (or toddler) around on the plane to entertain or to get them to sleep

  7. Water bottles but empty for older kids

  8. Sticker/coloring book - a really good one is a mix of sticker, coloring and picture book which guarantees for hours of entertainment.

  9. Coloring pencils (only if I know they won’t be available on the flight)

  10. Ipad(s) - these are actually life savers sometimes.. I am not a big fan of iPads but on airplanes (or long car rides) they can be wonderful and there are a lot of great apps and games the kids can play, draw, create music and lots more. It does not always have to be watching a movie.

  11. Thermometer (the last time I actually travelled without one and then suddenly my daughter got very high fever on the plane, so that went back on to my list)

  12. Fever medicine, I usually take suppositories as my youngest does not like to drink medicine and my second son gets headaches often and starts vomiting so suppositories just work better. With medicine it depends on your kids of course, may be yours start vomiting easily so some medicine for that will help.

  13. No change of clothes for the bigger kids (I am writing this on the plane and of course my son had to throw up and all over his trousers and socks…. Still I am sticking to my list as I don’t want to carry so much. This does not happen often and we took the socks off and cleaned the jeans which will dry quickly.)

  14. Change of clothes for the youngest. Whenever I can I would only take one spare set of clothes which would fit everyone in the case of an emergency. I have learned that kids don’t spill on themselves all at the same time and clothes can dry.

    Do take enough wet wipes and diapers

When you still have young children, this is really what you don’t want to run out. So although I always try to travel light, you don’t want to run out of diapers in case your plane is delayed and you definitely need wet wipes for all sorts of things, also for your older kids. May be even to wipe the plane clean ;-)


Me at the end of a long journey…

9 tips for flying with children | Emilia Ohrtmann

This is what I look like on a trip with my kids at arrivals.. Sometimes I also carry a sleeping child.

I won’t deny it’s heavy… And yes a stroller would be ideal. But you can’t always get it out directly when leaving the plane.

So if you have the extra cash - and travel a lot - I can recommend a stroller called Yoyo by Baby Zen, which you can fold very small and take on the plane! It came out a little bit too late for us as we did not invest into it when our youngest was already over a year I think but whenever I see them I wish I had one ;-)


2. Be strict with the carry on bags of the kids

As I usually end up carrying some of bags of the kids as well, I have become very strict on what they take with them. I allow each child only one toy and their favorite cuddly toys for their own carry on bags. Plus an ipad for the bigger ones, who have their own for school, as well as headphones if they have them and a (small) book. Like that I make sure their bags are not too heavy in case someone else needs to carry them.

3. Check what the airplane will provide

We fly Emirates a lot and they are very good in supplying baby food, wipes, toys, coloring materials, headphones etc.

So I make sure we won’t take those things. I also stopped bringing my own food onto the plane unless I know the airline does not provide a lot. Yes, the kids might eat unhealthy for a few hours but I have learned that we always find something on a plane or at the airport that they will eat. If I take snacks they eat them and don’t eat the food on the plane anymore. Or they don’t eat them and I end up carrying them all the time, I have carried snacks with me to our holiday destination and back. So I figured they won’t starve and before they do, they will find something to eat. But it makes my life easier.

Even with baby food, I used to take our own but I realized that if the airline provides baby jars, I would take them, even if my baby only ate the fruit jars for the duration of the journey.

4. Plan your flight time

I know often we don’t have a choice but I do try and find a good time for the flights. I would not fly over night as my kids don’t sleep well on planes. And when my kids were still napping I tried to also have them nap before or after the flight.

5. When you have a baby, feed her during take off and landing.

This is a the best advice I got for flying with a baby to avoid ear pain and it has always worked. Take off and landing have never been a problem for us and although I thought this was an obvious trick I still hear babies screaming during take off or landing. So feed your baby during take off and landing. It’s better to have a hungry baby before the flight than a screaming baby during take off.. I have alway tried to time my feeding times that way.

6.  Try to board the plane later

I know that kids and families are always allowed to board first which is nice for storing all the things. But to be honest that only means I have to entertain my kids even longer while sitting. So I always try to stay outside a little longer so I reduce the time on the plane as much as I can. If you can, you can also split up and have one adult go inside the plane with the carry on bags.

7. Try and fly direct

Whenever there are two options of either flying direct or with a stop in between we try to take the direct flight. I know it’s more expensive but trust me it does save a lot of hassle and stress and usually that is worth the higher price. Having to wait again for take off at the airport, running to catch a plane because you were delayed, getting all the hand luggage onto the plane and off again is stressful. It is much easier just to stay on one plane and the only thing you have to worry about is the entertainment of your kids.

8.  Don’t overthink it and take it easy

In the beginning I used to take on every advice and take so much stuff with me just in case I needed it, I thought about nap time for my kids and I was worried about the food. And where you do need to remember to bring a little more when you still have a baby overall, one day or one flight of not great food or no nap or dirty clothes or playing on the ipad for hours won’t kill you or your child.

9. Try to avoid juices and too many sweets

Every kid is different but I do try and stick to this rule as my kids tend to overreact when they get too much sugar, they are either hyper active or actually get sick. Plus the sugary juices stick everywhere when spilled, water will always dry. I always tell my kids to eat something ‘healthy’ first and then they can have a desert.

Traveling with babies

Overall I can say flying and traveling with a baby is very easy. You might carry some more things but babies are the easiest as they sleep a lot, don’t need much entertainment and they are light to carry. Flying and traveling with toddlers and especially kids who are just starting to walk is the hardest. And I would say from 3 years onwards it gets a lot easier with every year. When the kids are 6 or 7 years old it’s a breeze - well almost :-)

I have realized that we have always figured everything out and we have always arrived. Although there are many not so nice people, there have always been helpful people or flight attendants who have given us a missing diaper, who have helped with luggage or even entertained an upset child. We have always found something to eat at any airport and also inside the plane. And although I am not a big fan of iPads, they are really good on planes ;-)

So take it easy, be forgiving with yourself and your children!

Yes, flying can be stressful but you will survive ;-)

xx Emilia

Short Essential packing list with a baby:

  • Diapers

  • Wipes

  • Changing mat

  • 1 set of Change of thin clothes

  • Nursing cover or big thin blanket

  • Dummy (if used)

  • Bottle (if used)

  • Thermometer

  • Fever medicine

  • Baby carrier

Short packing list for kids:

  • Wipes

  • Thermometer

  • Fever medicine

  • One small toy per child

  • iPad

  • Depending on age of child: one pair of extra thin pants, an extra t-shirt