Traveling with small children in tow is no picnic in the park. It can be exhausting, messy, back-breaking and can test all of your patience. On the flip side, it’s also so rewarding to see your child’s face light up while taking in a new part of the world. As parents, we know that we should travel with our kids, but we don’t want to burden other travelers that are flying. What if your children misbehave? What if they get out of control or embarrass you? And if you are a passenger without kids, what are the rules when it comes to kids that are out of line? We’re here to tell you that you will experience these things, but follow our etiquette tips below and your flight will be as great as a flight with children can be!

When you’re the parent

As a parent flying with small children, just be forewarned that you will get the evil eye at some point during your trip, no matter how attentive you are to your kids. You’ll have to manage being considerate of others while also thinking of what’s best for you and your kids. In order to keep everyone as happy as possible, try flying during nap time or even taking a red-eye flight. This way you and your kids can get some shut-eye and not spend 3 hours running up and down the cramped aisle of the airplane, driving fellow passengers bonkers. 

If those flights aren’t an option for you and you have to fly during times your kids will be wide awake, make sure to pack your carry-on appropriately. You’ll want it packed to the gills with toys, snacks, more toys and more snacks. It never hurts to bring a couple of “bribery” items, as well. Pull out a bag of M&M’s if you’re nearing a meltdown and you’ll gain yourself a few more minutes of sanity. Or buy a special new toy-game before you leave and pack it somewhere convenient so you can whip it out during the flight. The novelty of it will give you at least a little bit of time to yourself.

Also, unless your child is an infant, you can involve him or her in the vacation process. Explain the flight and what will happen before, during and afterward. Most importantly, talk about the behavior that you expect from your child during this adventure. Tell them it’ll be exciting to watch the planes land and take off, but that there will be boring stretches where they will be expected to sit still and listen to you. And whenever possible, let your kid have the window seat. It will give him something to look at and he won’t be squirming next to a perfect stranger for the entire flight.


When you’re a bystander

Before you start huffing and puffing when you see children boarding your flight, give that family the benefit of the doubt. No parent enjoys long flights with small children, so try to board the flight with a positive mindset and be courteous and kind to any exhausted looking parents. The kids may be wonderfully behaved and may never make a peep the whole flight, so there’s no need to stress beforehand. Remember that most parents will be trying everything in their power to keep little Johnny behaved while in the air so as not to disturb other passengers, but sometimes kids are loud and can’t be soothed. Planes are a new environment and the air pressure may even be hurting their tiny ear canals, so a dose of compassion is always a good thing to have handy on a long flight.

If you find that you’re on a plane with an unruly child whose parents seem oblivious, though, feel free to speak to them (respectfully, of course) to see if they can do anything to curb their child’s behavior. And if you fly frequently and you’d like to minimize the chances of sitting next to a young’en, steer clear of the bulkhead and the back of the plane since families tend to book those seats most frequently. If all else fails, try to remember to pack noise canceling earplugs so you can at least reduce the volume of any nearby cries and just grin and bear it. This flight will only be a few hours of your life and it’ll be over before you know it.