A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Tips and tricks for flying with kids

Girl drawing on a plane as distraction - Flying with kids

Flying with kids is hard. Bringing activities like art or drawing are good options to keep them occupied.

Flying with kids is already hard, which is why flying with a rowdy, cranky or sick kid is one thing parents try to avoid at all costs.

Dr. Nicole Giles, pediatrician with Marshfield Clinic Health System, has her own tips and tricks to help parents get through any flight like a pro.

The rowdy child

For the rowdy child in your life, Giles suggests getting their energy out before getting on the plane.

“I have seen a lot of parents let their kids run around and play in the airport to let out some of their energy before they get on the plane,” said Giles.

Giving your kids something to play with on the plane such as toys or books also can be helpful.

For younger children, most airplane carriers allow car seats. While this prevents your toddler from moving around, it is also safer for your child.

“The FAA and AAP both state the safest place for kids is in their own seat and in a car seat if under the age of two, following the same rules as you do in a car,” said Giles.

The car seat should be FAA approved, which can be found in the car seat directions or on the packaging.

Informing your child about what to expect at the airport and on the plane will ease jitters and added excitement.

The cranky child

Sleep is important for children, but when they can’t get to sleep on a plane, it can lead to a long night with some cranky neighbors. This is why Giles urges parents to think about the time when booking their flight.

Sometimes if you book a flight around bedtime, it may backfire if your child is in a new environment. They instead are overstimulated by everything going on, they are up past bedtime and you get this overtired child on the plane struggling to fall asleep,” said Giles.

In general, prescription sleep aids are not approved for children and should only be given if prescribed by your physician for a sleep disorder. Occasionally to help prevent jet lag, diphenhydramine or Benadryl® may be an option if your child is six years or older. Giles advises speaking with your pediatrician first as it can cause excessive drowsiness, but some children can get more energetic. Instead she recommends melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. It is a safer over-the-counter option parents can discuss with their pediatrician.

The sickness-prone child

While flying with kids, there are many things that can affect your child’s health.

  1. Ear popping: Giles recommends giving your children snacks or gum during takeoff and landing to help release pressure. For infants, you can do the same thing by breast or bottle feeding them. This may be more beneficial during landing as changes in pressure tend to be more severe.
  2. Motion sickness: Steer away from giving medications to your children for motion sickness, especially under the age of two. Dimenhydrinate, or Dramamine®, may be safe for older children, but can cause excessive drowsiness. Giles recommends first discussing these medications with your pediatrician. Alternatives include sitting near the front of the plane, staring at the horizon and cool ventilated air to the face. Watching television, playing video games or reading books can contribute to motion sickness.
  3. Getting sick: Giles recommends traveling in the morning, which is when most planes are cleaned. If you are concerned about a sick passenger next to you, staff may be able to find you a new seat. Giles does not recommend use of vitamin C as it has not been proven to prevent cold symptoms. Practicing proper hand hygiene (hand sanitizer or washing with warm soapy water) is the best way to prevent spread of germs.

For more information about flying with kids, talk to your pediatrician.

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