Ten tips for flying with kids

By Helen Earley

The captain announces you’ve reached a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, but nothing about this flight feels cruise-like. Your toddler is crying, reason unknown, and your 6-year-old just spilled apple juice all over the seat cushion. 

Don’t panic. Politely ask the flight attendant for a blanket, or even a new seat cushion (they’re attached with Velcro and are extremely easy to swap out). Offer your testy toddler some play-dough and a yummy granola bar. Flying with kids isn’t easy, but having a few tricks in your hand baggage can definitely ease the stress, leaving you to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. 

1. Choose the right flight
Book carefully. If the cheapest flight available includes multiple layovers or an airplane change, it may be better to spend slightly more money and fly direct. If possible, an overnight flight is always a good idea because the kids will (probably) sleep through.

2. Collect miles
Both Air Canada and WestJet allow children to collect air miles, so make sure you sign them up. Note that Aeroplan is revamping its reward program in 2020. Visit www.aeroplan.com to check out the changes.

3. Seat strategically
Not all seats are equal. Beware of the row of seats just in front of the emergency exit since they often don’t recline. The coveted bulkhead (the first row of seats in a section) is great for infants, but on many airplanes, it has less legroom than an average seat. 

For a family of four, don’t automatically book four seats across the middle. Two sets of two along the side is a much better formula, because two people get a window, and no one is stuck in the middle. If you have a toddler who kicks, this is definitely the right configuration for you, since you can position the kicker behind mom or dad, rather than a stranger.

4. Travel light
If you’re travelling with infants or toddlers, bring a small umbrella-style stroller instead of a large travel system. For small babies, a sling or front-carrier is ideal since it leaves your hands free.

Limit hand luggage to one small backpack each, and pack the rest in the hold. Ask children to be responsible for their own bag containing snacks, toys and a change of clothes, but don’t allow them to hold tickets and passports. 

There’s one important exception, and this is the award-wining Trunki, a miniature ride-on suitcase that can really take the pressure off during long security line-ups. Trunkis are available at Nurtured Products for Parenting on Agricola Street in Halifax ($69.95), or if you’re lucky, you might find one on Kijiji for a fraction of the cost (nurtured.ca)

5. Pre-order meals
If you’re travelling internationally with Air Canada, book a free kids meal. They’re more appealing than the regular adult fare, and are served in advance of the main meal service. For flights within North America, the Air Canada Bistro has a variety of snacks at inflated prices. For example, a Kit Kat bar is $3.50 (aircanada.com).

WestJet also offers pre-ordering for flights over 2.5 hours. For shorter flights there is an onboard snack menu, again at a price. A Kit Kat on Westjet is $2.99 (westjet.com).

6. Pack healthy snacks
Of course, you should bring some snacks. Granola bars, fruit, banana chips or even a favourite sandwich are great for airplane journeys, and very helpful in case of a delay. It’s a courtesy not to take peanuts on a flight, due to the high number of people who have allergies. 

7. Choose airplane-friendly activities
Stave off boredom with new toys. Playdough, puzzle-books and word-searches make great choices, as do stick-bots, stuffies, and Rubik’s cubes. A fresh set of glitter-pens and a notepad will keep some kids busy for hours. Lego isn’t a good choice because the pieces can get lost easily. 

8. Bring your medication in your carry-on
Don’t forget to pack a small first aid kit with all your go-to medications. If your family is prone to ear irritations, include a decongestant, or a Vicks inhaler, both of which can relieve pressure in the Eustachian tubes before landing. 

Carry any prescription medication in its clearly labeled original drugstore container, and don’t give the kids any medication they haven’t tried before; 30,000 feet is a bad place to discover an adverse reaction. 

9. Bring kid-friendly headphones
Ear buds can be uncomfortable for little ears, so it’s good idea to invest in a pair of children’s headphones. If your airplane has seat-back televisions, check the volume and connection for your children before they start watching a show.

10. Download before you leave home
Some airplanes have bid farewell to the seat-back television and instead encourage families to bring their own devices. If this is your choice, download any required apps before you depart home. Check with your airline for details.