One of the most common questions I hear about flying with children is “what is a good age to fly with my child?” Each child is different, so you should think objectively about your child’s temperament and personality, but that is often hard when you are booking flights months out — your kiddo could well change things up on you before flight time. Here are a few guidelines to help you plan your adventures.
0-3 months: I know there are parents who will disagree, but I don’t recommend flying at this age unless absolutely necessary. Often, babies are colicky and sleep at the oddest times, which can be hard on everyone aboard a longer flight — especially parents. Plus, new parents are stressed and moms may still even be recovering from childbirth. Finally, infants may be susceptible to all sorts of basic germs that thrive in crowded places like airports and planes, and it is no fun finding yourself on a trip with a sick newborn.
3-9 months: A great age to fly. The biggest challenge at this stage is for first time parents who are still just figuring out how to be parents. The babies are actually quite easy, but the parents often don’t know it because everything about parenting is still so new! Babies will still sleep a lot and aren’t that mobile at this stage. Your baby will still be nursing or taking bottles regularly, so you can feed on takeoff and and landing and avoid ear pressurization issues.
9-12 months: At about the time your child starts to crawl, things get a bit more challenging. If your child is active, he or she may want to spend the flight squirming out of your arms and crawling in the aisles. It is at this age that I highly recommend that parents start buying a seat for their little ones (for longer flights especially), so that you can put them down in their car seats for a nap or just to rest your arms.
12-18 months: Once your child starts walking, all bets will probably be off unless you are blessed with the chillest of children. One year olds are still too young to understand and follow instructions, so discipline is ineffective. Distraction and maybe bribery are your only tools! Walk the aisles with your toddler, hang out in the galley when you can, and bring a variety of snacks, books, and toys to deal with a short attention span.
18-24 months: Things will continue to be a bit of a challenge. But it is at this age that you will be beginning real discipline with your child, so you may be able to register some successes. You may also be able to start using an iPad or DVD player for distraction, in short intervals.
2-3 years: A true light at the end of the tunnel! At around 2 years old, our daughter finally started developing a more sustained attention span and we could begin to rely on electronic assistance like an iPad or DVD player to give us a bit of a break on long flights (a word of warning – boys may be a bit later to turn this corner). Hopefully, your methods of discipline will also begin to be much more effective at this age, so your toddler will begin following instructions like staying seated on command.
The hardest thing at this stage will be potty training — you won’t be able to take your child to the bathroom at all times and toddlers who are just learning can rarely wait as long as a taxi and takeoff when they have to go. I recommend avoiding starting training if you are going on a flight soon afterwards. We waited until our daughter was fully trained on land for about 4 weeks before braving a trip in the air (sans Pull-Up).
3-4 years: In comparison to the three years before, flying is a breeze! My daughter will sit still and watch a whole movie, gab with the flight attendants, and show concern for (and often entertain) younger children in the cabin when they are fussy and tired. I’m still prepared with all sorts of distractions, but I find that I often don’t need all the supplies I’ve brought along.
4 and up: I have no personal experience with this age yet, since my daughter is just 3 1/2, but I can imagine it only gets easier. Most kids I see that are on planes at this age are quite well behaved and perhaps the only major issue is when they kick seats in front of them (often just because of the length of their legs in comparison to the airline seat size).
Update: This post was written way back in 2012 when I only had one child. My daughter is now almost 6 and we’ve added another little one to my family, so I have lots more experience to offer! Check out my updated post: Best & Worst Ages to Fly with Babies and Kids.