A child on his first airplane ride

How to Prepare Young Children for Their First Flight

Flying can be weird and scary. Even grown-ups need help relaxing. But for kids, this anxiousness is multiplied 10-fold, and a first flight can set a precedent for all future travel. Here are some pointers to make your child's first flight a great one!

Communicate

Getting on a plane is a big, weird, scary experience. Nothing helps us deal with fear of the unknown like making it a little more known. Walk your child through what they can expect and how long each part might last. Cover security, boarding, the flight itself, exiting, layovers, turbulence, etc. Talk about things that might go wrong. It may scare them at first, but it will help in the long run. And always make sure to add a fun, positive note to the experience.

Start Early

This applies to several things. Basic manners are a must - poorly-behaved kids aren't going to turn into angels on a plane - but it also goes for flying itself. If your toddler grows up dealing with airports, then you're going to have a kid that knows how to handle flying about as soon as it can handle walking.

Read Stories About Flying

There are many children's books about getting on planes to take vacations or go on adventures. Read some of these to your child leading up to your travel. This will help give them an idea of what to expect, possibly even covering aspects that your kid hasn't thought to ask about or that you haven't thought to cover. It'll also normalize the experience.

Double-Check the Airline Logistics

This is more prepping for you than for your child, but it's still important. Answer questions about whether your child can sit in your lap or needs his or her own seat. (The length of the flight and the age of the kid will be factors.) Figure out your airline's policy about carry-ons and whether things like car seats get on the plane for free or if you'll be shelling out.

Come Prepared

Make sure you have enough food to last the whole trip. You don't want to find yourself counting on airline pretzels. Double check that you have enough activities to last the entire flight - coloring books, toys, movies on the iPad, etc. Just be positive that you have the entire day covered. Don't count on a nap; maybe it'll happen, maybe it won't. It's best to be overprepared with options and contingencies for delays than to be underprepared because you banked on a nap that didn't happen.

Double-Check the Seating

It sounds like a no-brainer, the airline will take care of your kid, right? But you don't have to look too hard to find horror stories about airlines bumping minor children without bumping the parents. They are ridiculously busy, so don't count on them to care. Make sure that your family is sitting together.

Don't Forget How Special It Is

Comedian Louis C.K. has a great bit called "Everything is Amazing and Nobody Is Happy" where he talks about all of the modern-day miracles that people take for granted, such as flying. People complain about how mundane it is and how long they have to wait, but then at the end of it, "you're sitting in a chair in the sky," and it's sort of tragic that it loses its magic after awhile. Don't let that happen for your kids. See this through their eyes, and try and hold onto that. Don't focus on how boring the TSA line or layover extension is. Focus on the part where you're soaring through the air like a bird to reach your destination faster than what would be possible any other way. 

 

Last Updated: June 10, 2016