Temper tantrums are hard enough on land. Worrying your kid might have a meltdown at 30,000 feet is enough to make you want to skip air travel altogether. Fear not! We’ve collected 20 of the best air travel hacks to make flying with kids easier. Read on for our top travel tips, and get ready to plan your next vacation.

Book an Early Morning Departure

It might be tough to get the kids out of bed before the sun rises, but if you want an easy flight experience, it may be worth it. According to research, the first flights of the day (those that take off before 8 a.m.) are the least crowded and least likely to be delayed—and if you've ever been stuck at an airport terminal for too long with a batch of antsy kids, you know how important both of those factors can be. 

Another bonus: Early morning flights are also less likely to experience turbulence (thunderstorms, for instance, happen later in the day).  

Find the Best Seat on the Plane

Want a seat near the wing? Need to be next to a bathroom? Check out SeatGuru.com before you book your seats to figure out which seats will work best for you on whatever airline you're flying. Just enter your airline and flight number, and you'll get a diagram that rates each seat based on whether it reclines, its proximity to the restrooms, etc. (this may be especially important for newly potty-trained tots). Flexible with your plans? Use SeatGuru to find a flight with upgraded amenities, such as in-flight entertainment, bassinet seats or USB ports.

Helpful Hint: Got a wiggly traveler? Go for the front row of coach class, where your seat will usually face a wall, instead of the seat back (so those antsy little feet won't be kicking another passenger's seat the whole flight). 

Get a Seat with a Bassinet

Did you know most international flights offer bassinets that attach to the wall of the front row in coach? It's true ... and it's amazing! To secure one of the few seats on the plane that offer this perk, book your seats way ahead of time by calling the airline directly and requesting the bassinet seats. The bassinets make a great napping and tummy time space and are available for babies up to about a year (though age and weight limits vary per airline). Check out this post from FlyingwithaBaby, which compares bassinet seats (and rules for them) for almost all major airlines.  

Bring Pain Relief, Just in Case

The last thing you want when you've just reached cruising altitude is to hear the sad wail from your little one that can only mean one thing: something hurts. To help any in-flight ouchies (such as ear pain, which is common during the winter when kids have constant stuffiness), bring a bottle of infant or child Tylenol or Advil (plus the measuring cup that comes with it), just in case.

Use Disposable Mats on Airplane Trays

You don't want to know what might be lurking on the tray table where your one-year-old just plopped his pacifier. Keep those yuckies covered with a disposable like this one. That way, when your kids pour their pretzels out of the bags (because you know they will), you can rest assured knowing the table is clean. 

Stash Extra Pacifiers in To Go Dressing Cups

If you don't want your extra pacifiers collecting dirt and grime, grab a few extra to-go dressing cups the next time you eat out. Each one is a perfect fit for your kiddo's gear. 

photo: Air France

Pre-Order a Kids Meal

The last thing you want on a long flight is to find out the "kitchen" has run out of food—or that the choice of food is unappealing to your kids. To make sure your kids get something kid-friendly to eat, be sure to order a kids’ meal ahead of time. Not all airlines have specialized child or baby meals available, but many do—including Delta, American, United, British Airways, Emirates, EVA Air, Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, LufthansaJapan Airlines. Specialized meals (there are also allergy-friendly meals, vegetarian meals, etc.) are only available by advance reservation, so make sure to check with your airline long before your flight takes off.

Helpful Hint: Alaska Airlines (formerly Virgin) doesn’t have full kids’ meals, but it does let passengers pre-order meals and snacks ahead of time to make sure you aren't left without your snack of choice. (This is super-important if you're going to be sitting near the back of the plane, which generally gets served last.)

Sit in the Back of the Plane

Normally, we'd tell you to avoid the back of the plane (it's bumpier, and the restroom line can back up into your personal space, especially after mealtimes), but if you're toting a newly-potty trained traveler, the back—near the lavatory—is the way to go. Sitting in the rear of the aircraft also means you're within easy reach of in-flight amenities (you can usually get cups of water or seconds on snacks), and you'll have a bit of room to stretch your legs should you be rocking a nearly-snoozing child.

Tether Important Toys

Your kid won't travel without her favorite lovey, but you know that doll is bound to end up on the dirty airplane floor. What's a parent to do? Strap one of these handy tethers onto your kids' important items to keep them from falling onto the ground (or getting lost). Note: You can attach one end to your child's wrist (or yours) if you can't find any other place to loop it. 

Pack Carry-On Items in Separate Clear Bags

When your wiggly tot needs to get to the bathroom, pronto, digging through your carry-on to find diapers and wipes needs to be a lightning-fast feat. To make grabbing-and-going easy, pack all your child's essentials (diapers, change of clothes, snacks, etc.) in individual clear bags. You can use travel-smart packing cubes like these or just use gallon-sized Ziploc bags.

Helpful Hint: Bring extra Ziploc bags in case you need a place to put soiled or wet clothes.

Bring Triangular Crayons

Coloring is a no-brainer way to help pass the time on a long flight. To keep crayons from slipping and sliding off of the fold-down tray, bring triangle-shaped ones that will lay flat.

Pack Surprises to "Unbox"

There's a reason toy-unboxing videos are the top-watched videos on Youtube: Kids love surprises! So give yours a whole bunch of them to open during the flight. You can buy a bunch of small toys and wrap them up like birthday presents, or just fill plastic Easter eggs with tiny treasures your child will love (this set on Amazon is a good one if you don't want to make them yourself). Sure, the toys will probably only last a few hours, but that's all you need!

Helpful Hint: Want something a little more dimensional? Buy or make an airplane busy box that's filled with games and wrapped gifts to keep kids busy on long trips.

Check the Car Seat

Don’t feel like lugging your toddler’s car seat but need something more than the airplane seatbelt to keep your little wiggler in place? Try this safety harness that straps onto the airplane seat to create the same sort of five-point harness your child is used to, without the bulk. Because it holds the child's chest area as well as the waist—the same way a car seat seatbelt does—the FlySafe harness can help restless kids fall asleep easier on a plane. It is designed for kids that weigh 22-44 pounds and is small enough to fit in your purse. 

Use a Folding Travel Desk to Keep Things within Reach

If your child likes to draw or craft her way through a long flight, a fold-out desk like this one is the perfect way to keep all those art supplies within reach and off the airplane floor. There are pockets for all the things your child needs, and it folds up easily for easy carrying to and from your destination. It also works to cover that infamously dirty tray table.

Get This Suitcase That Doubles as a Lay-Flat Bed

JetKids has invented what may be the coolest travel gadget for kids: The JetKids By Stokke Bedbox works as a scooter suitcase in the airport (your kids can roll themselves or be pulled by you) and transforms into a lay-flat bed for babies and toddlers in-flight. At $199, it's a pricey purchase, but considering the peace of mind you'll get knowing your little one will snooze the flight away, it may be worth it. 

Read our in-depth review of the BedBox here

Bring Lots of Lollipops

Hear us out: If your kids are having trouble popping their ears during takeoff and landing, sucking on lollipops can help. It also helps during temper tantrums and meltdowns (You're on a plane: You do what you have to do). Don't be afraid to offer them to the harried parents a few rows up—it works like magic. 

Use These Free Bingo Printables

If the power on the tablet runs out, and you're up for a family game, whip out a few air travel BINGO cards and start scanning the aisles for your winning items. See a beverage cart? Check!! Hear someone sneeze? BINGO! You can make your own cards or try these free printables from Mom It Forward.

Conquer Achy Ears

The frequent flyers over at Nourishing Little Souls picked up this hack from a flight attendant for when their little ones’ ears pop en route. Simply pour steaming hot water onto paper towels and stuff them into the bottom of two cups. Then, hold the cups so that they’re sealed over your kid’s ears. Any pressure disappears in a flash.

Make In-Flight Snack Time a Game

Tots love to open and close things, so take a cue from Leafy Tree Tops by stretching out the mid-flight snack by stashing their favorite nibbles—goldfish, granola, raisins—into a day of the week pill case. They'll get a kick out of popping open each compartment and picking out their treats inside.

Turn Any Cup Into a To Go Cup

Keep in-flight juice messes to a minimum by covering open cups (like the ones flight attendants hand out) with a piece of Press n' Seal. Stick a straw into the top and ... voila!

photo: Keiko Zoll

Use a Tablet ... As Much As You Want!

If endless episodes of Dora The Explorer or a few hours of Minecraft is all it takes to keep your little jet-setter happy on a cross-country journey, let it happen. When it comes to screen time on an airplane, we say there are no rules. Quiet kids = Happy plane.  

Helpful Hint: If you're downloading movies to the tablet, don’t forget a jack splitter so your kids can watch together.  


21 Amazing Packing & Travel Hacks to Try on Your Next Trip

The Best Compact Travel Gear to Simplify Your Holiday Trips

13 Gadgets That Will Change How You Travel with Your Kids

—Melissa Heckscher

Feature photo: Paul Hanaoka via Unsplash