When I launched this blog nearly two years ago in the summer of 2012, one of the first posts I wrote was the Best & Worst Ages to Fly With Your Child. And it is has proven to be one of my most popular ever, probably because there are a million traveling parents out there who worry about whether they will survive and whether they will bother others with a fussy infant or tantruming toddler. To complicate matters more, it is very hard to anticipate how your infant or toddler will behave on a flight when you need to book plane tickets months in advance. This is especially for a first time parent where every day presents new and unanticipated changes in routine and habits.
Now that my daughter is 5 and I’ve added another baby (who has a much more mellow temperament) to my traveling family, I have some more insights to offer about the best and worst ages and stages for air travel. Here’s my new and improved guide for each age and stage.
0-3 months: I don’t recommend flying at this age unless absolutely necessary, particularly for first time parents. 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 most mellow of children. One year olds are still too young to understand and follow instructions, so discipline is ineffective. Distract, and if needed, bribe. 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 continue to be challenging with a fully mobile but not yet rational toddler. It is at this age that you will be beginning some discipline with your child, so you may be able to register occasional successes. You may also be able to start using an iPad or DVD player for distraction, in short intervals. This age is often easier with girls than boys, as girls tend to develop verbal skills to express frustration a few months earlier than boys.
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. Hopefully, your methods of discipline will also begin to be 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! After her third birthday, my daughter would 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. You should still be prepared with all sorts of distractions, but you may find that you don’t need all the supplies you’ve brought along.
4-5 years: Even better! Most kids will have a year or two of preschool under their belt at this age and will be accustomed to listening to authority figures and following rules. And most will love TV and movies enough to be entertained for hours with an iPad or in-flight entertainment system (limits on screen time don’t apply, in my opinion, on planes!). The only major issue we had at this age was (completely inadvertent) seat-kicking. Little kids of this age have legs that seem to be just the right length to bump up against the seat in front of them. Watch for this and encourage your child to sit cross-legged if this is an issue.
5 and up: If you’ve been traveling with your child regularly, most kids will be travel pros by age 5. Cranky moments will happen when kids are exhausted from travel, but they are much more manageable. Our daughter was almost perfectly behaved on a 13 hour flight to and from Hong Kong at this age.
Once you reach that promised land where you can watch an entire in-flight movie with a child seated quietly next to you, all is well. Until, of course, you have your next child and start the process all over again!
Happy baby & toddler travels…
Saturday 16th of May 2020
Thanks for your informative article. This is really useful for the parents especially who want to Fly With Babies. Can you suggest me a good baby carrier for my baby. Her age is 4 months.
Sunday 16th of February 2020
Yea, we flew with our little guy when he was 7 months and then 10 months and had no problems... in fact it was pleasant even! However.... we tried to fly with him when he was 18 months and from the minute we stepped in the airport it was a total nightmare! All he wanted to do was run around and play with everything. He thought the airport was so cool like a giant playground. I would stop him from running away as we had to wait in line for TSA and he would and thrash and scream and thrash and throw himself on the ground. Then he would calm down and attempt to run away. This kept happening! He wouldn’t give up. We actually got in the plane and he was screaming and thrashing some more because he was upset because wanted to go run around and play more and since he was 18 months we didn’t buy him his own seat to save money! Also it was so easy the last time we flew we didn’t really think it was necessary! We had just been fighting him for 2 hours of nonstop screaming that we asked to leave the plane before it took off. We had to have a layover in Atlanta and I didn’t think that we could all sanely make it through the rest of the day. The airline gave us credit for another flight that we have to use. It just made me feel like such a failure as a mother. It was weird because he doesn’t usually act like that.
Anyhow, we are attempting to take another flight at the end of May when he’ll have just turned 2 years old. We need advice on what we can do to better prepare him! Obviously we bought him his own seat. But where can I practice waiting in line??? Getting through TSA with him was a nightmare. I mean, I guess I only really take him grocery shopping and Target where he is strapped in a cart or a stroller. I have noticed that he does throw a tantrum when he is playing outside and I say it is time to go inside. I have to carry him in and he flails around. How do I stop this behavior??? What can I do to practice???
Saturday 9th of June 2018
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Friday 13th of April 2018
Thanks for sharing helpful tips for Best & Worst Ages to Fly With Babies & Kids ! i love Kids love this post also !
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