Experts—from pediatricians to flight attendants—share their insider tips on how to have the smoothest air travel experience with your kids.
Flying with young kids is always a cross-your-fingers and stuff all the Goldfish and electronic tablets in the diaper bag kind of trip. And according to actor Chris Hemsworth, celebs really are just like us when it comes to travel with little ones in tow.
The Avengers hunk told Ellen DeGeneres that traveling with his model wife, Elsa Pataky, his 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins was not fun.
"We actually flew from Australia to London the other day, and door-to-door, it's about a 30-hour trip," the Australian-native told the talk show host. "It was kind of like the trip from hell."
To be fair—door-to-door—his kids were stuck in an airborne cabin for 30 hours. What's worse? The dad of three told DeGeneres his kids were under the weather, too.
"They were all sick and literally took turns to scream. One would kinda do it and then look over and be like, 'I'm done, you want a turn?' 'Yep, Wahhhh!'" he said.
Dr. Ashanti W. Woods, MD and board-certified attending pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md., tells Parenting.com that there are a few situations where a child is too sick to travel by air.
"It is important to note that parents of a child with a chronic condition should always be prepared with medicines like albuterol for asthma or an EpiPen for severe food allergies in the event of an emergency during travel," Woods said.
The common cold, which Hemsworth's kids were likely fighting, will certainly make travel uncomfortable but it's nothing some OTC meds and tissues can't control (so be prepared and pack a fever-fighting, pain reducer). Additionally, Dramaine for kids is safe for children ages 2 to 12. It helps with motion sickness on the spot.
Hemsworth admits that the whole cabin wanted to kick his family off the flight, but he said he doesn't know what people expect, joking about putting them in a "suitcase or something?" No, Chris, but try these tips:
Break-up the flight
Gabe Saglie of Travelzoo.com says if you're traveling from the East Coast to a long-haul destination like Australia, break up the flight.
"For families, spend a night in Los Angeles and visit one of the theme parks. Then hop on an evening flight where your little ones can sleep," Saglie says.
And you don't even have to get crazy and hit up a hot spot. The hotel pool and some chicken fingers will do just fine, too.
Use the airport as a gym
Arrive early to save your sanity and consider the airport a great place to wear out a child pre-flight. Your child might like checking out the airplanes and testing out the moving walkways, says Saglie.
"By the time your child gets on the plane, he or she is ready to settle in, read, relax and hopefully, sleep," he says.
Beware of ear-popping
"To help equalize the pressure in little ones' ears during take-off and landing, offer a bottle or feeding," advises Dr. Lisa Thebner of West End Pediatrics. "Children older than 4 years of age can chew gum."
She says one of the most effective ways to help ears from being congested and painful is to clear any congestion with a nasal decongestant spray sold over the counter.
"Used about half hour in the nose before flying can be a real help in preventing any nasal congestion from extending into the ears which can be very painful," Thebner says.
Heather Sanchez, travel expert and flight attendant of 10 years for Hawaiian Airlines, warns to avoid wearing flip-flops on the plane—you should wear socks and shoes during your flight for support.
"Use a duffle bag or roller suitcase as a foot rest and bring extra socks or bedroom slippers for added comfort," she says.
"Staying hydrated is a key factor to avoiding jetlag. Drink 8 ounces of water for every half hour you are in the air," says Sanchez. Plus, resetting your clocks (watch, phone and internal) the minute you board the plane will assist in adopting your new time zone.
Bring along the comforts of home
Saglie suggest bringing your child's blanket, teddy, books and a hooded sweatshirt, which can be nice for napping on chilly flights.
"It's also helpful to know the TSA will allow liquids to pass through security when a child is in tow, though they might test it first. Just be sure to put those liquids in their own clear, plastic bag and put it through the scanner separately," advises Saglie.
Ana Negrete, United flight attendant for 18 years, says not to expect children, especially picky eaters, to love airplane food.
"Pack low sugar snacks in Zip-loc bags: crackers, pretzels, frozen grapes, gummy snacks, dried fruits and sandwiches," she says.
But be careful about packing PB&J as someone on your flight may be allergic.
Take advantage of help
Mary Beth Lavin, a flight attendant with 20 years of experience via Continental and United Airlines, admits she loves to help with babies on long flights.
"Babies are the highlight of my flights, and I love walking them around the cabin for a change of pace and scenery—it's great for them," she says.
Make your baby comfy
"Airlines will provide a bassinette upon request for a child up to 25 pounds, so ask ahead," says Saglie.
Dr. Woods also advises parents to calm a baby on a flight with a feeding—not only to fill their belly up, but as an added distraction, too.
"A well-fed baby prior to the airplane travel is likely to have a longer duration of sleep. If parents can plan to feed the baby right before boarding, their chances of a peaceful flight are greatly increased," Woods says.
"My son and I travel often because I'm co-parenting with his mom and live out of state. He's 3 and chatty. I always make a point of introducing ourselves to the people we'll be sitting with for the next 4 hours," says John R., a well-traveled dad. "I make it clear that I want them to tell me if my son is being … too much."
John says no one has ever complained to him and that other passengers have actually engaged his child and offered to keep an eye on him if dad needed to use the restroom.
"Setting the precedence that you care about your fellow passengers and your kid isn't God or super-special is really important—and it lets your child know what you, as the parent, expect behavior-wise," he says.