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Flying overseas with the family? Here’s how to look after your kids on the plane

A woman with her daughter and a model airplane.

So you’re taking your children overseas: woohoo! Whether it’s a vacation or long-awaited visit to relatives, there’s plenty to look forward to once you get there.

But how do you survive between takeoff and landing? Especially during the pandemic, when stress abounds and rules must be followed? It can be hard on the kiddly-winks to remain confined, tired, and confused for so long. But there are strategies for making the journey more bearable – for them, and for you. 

Here’s how to keep your kids happy and healthy on a plane. 

Wanna keep your family covered? Scroll to the end for a quick guide on family travel insurance.

Accept your fate

Collage of a zen mother meditating.

Look, planes are horrendous sky crates full of germs and other people. They can be crowded, noisy, and cramped, and by the end of an eight-hour stretch, we all just wanna go to bed. But all of it becomes doubly worse if you go in with the attitude: “This is not how it’s supposed to be.” 

Instead, practise acceptance by telling yourself and your children, “This is where we live now.” These seats are where everything happens. We eat, sleep, laugh, and play here. Acknowledge and validate any frustrations that come up – for you and your little ones – and do what you can to make things as comfy as possible. Beyond that, let go of your expectations. 

After all, bad experiences now will just be funny stories later.

If they’re old enough, explain what’s going to happen

A little boy wistfully looks out an airport window.

Kids thrive when they know the schedule, rules, and expectations of what lies ahead. They don’t need to know the detailed itinerary, but helpful warnings about things can give them some time to prepare. “We’ll fly to Singapore, stop for a few hours, then catch another flight.”

Have an airport game plan

Parents dash through the airport with a baggage cart.

If you’re travelling with a partner, come up with a plan for how to navigate airports ahead of time. Divide and conquer, and embrace the buddy system. Put one person in charge of holding onto the kids while the other holds onto travel documents like passports. You can trade roles anytime or assign jobs how they suit your family.

Prams can also be useful corrals once you’re at the baggage carousel. Running around can be fun for the littlies, but sometimes it’s good to just stay put in the chaos of people and luggage. Get in and get out!

HOT TIP: Getting lost at airports is easy to do. Establish some family finding rituals in case your children wander off, like staying put if they realise they’re lost, special whistles to find them, or how to ask staff for help.

Get cosy & comfy

A little girl sits her teddy bear on the plane seat next to her.

Bring sensible things that feel familiar and homey. Whether it’s favourite blankies, pillows, stuffed animals, or pyjamas, spend a little time building yourselves a little nest. Invest in some comfortable face masks, too, if your kids are old enough to wear them.

RELATED: Best way to pack your luggage

Favourite snacks

A little girl eats snacks on the plane while watching the seat screen.

Hungry generally means hangry, especially once the novelty of being on a plane wears off. Pack some favourite snacks and make sure to include a variety. The pressurised cabin actually worsens our ability to taste and smell, so foods that used to be winners can become off-putting once you’re airborne. (Fun fact: this is why plane food is the Absolute Worst!)

Sugar and salt can be tempting snacks, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with a treat in a special situation. But keep in mind you will also get dehydrated easily on a plane. Drink plenty of water and ask for fruit (they usually stock apples in the back for hungry tots).

If your child has any intolerances or allergies, inform the flight attendants ahead of time so they can work with you.

Manage plane sickness

A woman sees the doctor with their daughter about plane sickness and nausea prevention.

If your children are prone to air sickness, pack some bland foods like rice cakes or crackers to keep little tummies full and un-irritated. A good rule of thumb is if they get car sick below, they’ll probably get nauseous on a plane, especially during turbulence and as they get older. Ginger ale, apples, apple sauce, and bananas make good inoffensive foods for when they feel a little crook.

Also, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your paediatrician beforehand for some anti-nausea ear patches or children’s tablets. Even urban legends like wrapping bellies with butcher paper or pressure-point wrist straps are worth it if they work. No such thing as a placebo effect here!

But if worst comes to worst: better out than in. Stock up on sick bags and blast their faces with fresh cold air from the overhead vents. They’ll be okay.

HOT TIP: Keep them hydrated if they do start throwing up. Dehydration is bad for you and can make nausea much, much worse. If drinking water proves a tough sell, consider bringing a stock of Hydrolyte or other effervescent tablets to keep their electrolytes up.

Favourite activities

A little girl gets out her favourite journal with the help of her mother and older sister on the plane.

Whether it’s games, books, shows, arts, crafts, or more, bring some of their favourite pastimes to enjoy on the plane. Whatever sparks joy! Make sure to keep some boundaries around excess screen-time, too, since overdoing anything can leave eyes tired and moods cranky. 

HOT TIP: Now is NOT the time to try something new. Embracing the cosy and familiar will help lessen everyone’s stress. Introduce new hobbies and foods once you’ve landed. If you need to expand your or their coping skills, practise new things well before the flight – not during.

Walking breaks

A woman leaps, stretches, and meditates in a collage.

Don’t just sit! While it’s tempting to remain in your little bubble, if the seatbelt sign is off, go for a little walk up and down the cabin. Do some stretches in the galley and let your tot show off those new light-up shoes they got for Christmas. Nothing like movement to get rid of the irrits and swelling! Frequent bathroom breaks are awesome, too. 

HOT TIP: Compression socks ain’t a myth. They’re a handy investment!

Change of clothes (and plenty of nappies)

A mother packs a suitcase with children's clothes, diapers, and toilettries.

Hate that post-plane feel? Don’t wait until you reach your hotel to change: bring pyjamas for the plane and a spare change of clothes for once you land. This will help you all stay fresh while also keeping with a routine, since jammies can be a signal to sleep. 

If your little ones aren’t potty trained, nappies are a no-brainer. Even having a spare change of clothes can help deal with little accidents on the plane, too. 

Pack a laundry bag to separate worn clothes from fresh ones in your luggage. 

HOT TIP: Don’t change your baby on the seats or tray table. There’s a dedicated station in the toilets for that, ya gremlin.

Pack medicine and sanitiser

Mother and child on a plane with COVID face masks on.

Even before the time of plague, planes were gross, filthy places. It’s not really their fault – with so many people, it’s impossible to keep things sanitary all the time. Bring some wet wipes and inoffensive sanitiser to keep your cosy bubble clean. You don’t have to overdo it with weapons-grade bleach every five minutes, but just a little pandemic mindfulness can go a long way. 

All kinds of bugs and greeblies abound abroad besides COVID-19, and if you’re travelling for the first time in a few years, your family’s immune systems might be pretty naive. Pack a few stock standards like children’s Panadol for emergencies and any other medication they need. 

HOT TIP: Vitamins don’t prevent viruses, that’s a myth. (They are, however, still good for you). Just wipe down your hands before touching your face and wear masks.

Bring chewing gum and water

A little boy holds his ears and drinks water on a plane.

Sore ears can be a trial for little ones! Bring some chewing gum for takeoff and landing to help their ears pop. If not, frequent swallowing, decongestant tablets, and warm towels should help do the trick. 

Babies can be especially sensitive to pressure changes. Do what you can, but it’s okay if there are still tears. You’ll be on the ground soon.

Take advantage of airport layovers

Kids lie on coloured asphalt with an airplane shadow in the background.

If it’s within your budget and itinerary, consider building at least one layover into your travel plans. This can break up the journey into manageable chunks, gives y’all a sense of progress, and reward your efforts on the plane with a much-needed break. 

RELATED: Safest travel destinations (according to Smartraveller)

Mind your bags

A stack of blue suitcases on a pink background.

Unattended bags usually won’t be covered in any lost or stolen luggage claims – even if you were just looking the other way! Keep an eye on your bags, and if your kids are in charge of their own, make sure they understand how to look after their belongings.

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing

Collage of a parade of people walking through the airport.

Part of acceptance is just controlling what you can. Other people may glare when your child melts down – or worse, offer unsolicited advice – but in the best possible way, it’s none of your business what other people think. They’re living their lives, you’re living yours. All you can do is stay calm and manage what you can. You got this!

HOT TIP: That being said, a little chocolate bribery can go a long way with your seat neighbours.

Bring a sanity kit for you, too

Collage of a woman blowing heart kisses into the sky.

Remember the oxygen mask rule? Make sure you’re okay, then attend to your child. Whether it’s bringing treats for yourself, having a sneaky cry in the toilets, or a small duty-free wine splurge, pack some coping mechanisms in your carry-on, too. Your family is going to make some wonderful memories on this trip and you’re doing great just to get them there. Go easy on yourself!

Consider family travel insurance

A plane flies off into the sunset.

Good travel insurance can be a massive sanity-saver, especially if you find the right policy with all the inclusions, value, and perks you want. Travel insurance can help cover emergencies like:

  • Emergency medical expenses if you or your kids get sick or injured.
  • Public liability in case you damage something. 
  • Flight cancellations or delays. 
  • Lost or stolen luggage. 

Even better news: most policies automatically cover children under age 18, so it's like the little ones fly free! (T&Cs apply).

You can check what’s included in your coverage by reading the product disclosure statement – and be sure to avoid these five common travel insurance mistakes.

Kids can already be expensive, though, so if you don’t have a lot of wiggle room in your travel budget, have a read of our cheap travel insurance guide to see if a price-efficient policy could work for you. 

Good luck out there! And bon voyage.

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Compare family travel insurance - last updated 26 May 2024

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Evlin DuBose
Evlin DuBose
RG146
Senior Money Writer

Evlin, RG146 Generic Knowledge certified and a UTS Communications graduate, is a leading voice in finance news. As Mozo's go-to writer for RBA and interest rates, her work regularly features in Google's Top Stories and major publications like News.com.au.

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