What's the Worst Age to Fly with Kids?

Going on holiday with your kids can be great. Whether you are going to see much loved grandparents or checking out destinations that your visited pre-children, that you can share with them and see through their fresh eyes, it is a whole experience not to be missed.

However, you have to get there first. Travelling with kids can be like all of the worst bits of parenting concentrated and delivered to you in a single shot.

If you have flexibility, then our guide below sets out when flying with kids can be bearable, and when is should be avoided. If it is a trip that you can't avoid, then we have set out some steps you can take to make it easier.

Of course, every child and every parent is different. One child at 2 and a half might be happy to sit for an hour with a colouring book, while another at the same age could be unable to stop themselves running up and down the aisle screaming. You know your child best and how they are likely to respond in a given situation.

What is the worst age to fly with your kids?

Graphic showing how difficult it is to fly with kids at different ages

Cup icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

Here's a schematic showing how the challenge of a plan trip varies the age of your kids. The first 2-3 years are tough, apart from a brief truce from 3-9 months. Once you hit 3 years, it starts getting better and better, and from 5 onwards, you have really hit the prize!

0-3 months

Image of newborn baby

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Flying with a new baby really is best avoided if this is possible. Newborns are generally more susceptible to infections and disease, which means that the cabin of a plane is not the ideal place to be for several hours. Also, they are more fragile at this age, and when you are navigating the departure gates, managing your luggage, handing over your buggy at some point and making your way to your seat, there is a distinct risk of injury. Very young babies also need feeding and changing at very regular intervals, which could be difficult to manage.

Newborns can also be more easily upset by loud noises, bright lights and commotion, which are are unavoidable on a plane. Finally there is yourself to think about - are the weeks after giving birth really a good time to undergo the rigours of flight?

If it is unavoidable?

  • Make sure you have plenty of diapers/nappies, milk powder/bottles (if using), changes of clothes. If a delayed flight is a pain without a baby, imagine hanging around in the airport with a newborn and without enough nappies...
  • Don't forget yourself, make sure you have lots of food/drinks/any medications.

3-9 months

Strangely there is a window between newborn and toddler when flying is actual quite manageable. Your newborn has matured a little (and you have grown into being a parent too) so there is less to worry about in terms of infection and injury, but your baby isn't mobile yet, so you don't have to worry about them toddling off up the plane aisle, or clambering onto the baggage carousel.

At this age, they are also likely to sleep better and for longer which makes life easier. They are also probably still feeding from the bottle or breast, so you can feed them during takeoff and landing to help with the air pressure changes.

9-12 months

Things start to get a bit more tricky towards the end of the first year. Your little one will probably start to be a bit more mobile, and will want to expore their environment, but at this stage most babies have no sense of danger or appropriateness.

This combination of desire, ability and zero impulse control means that you will spend your flight walking up and down the aisle, smiling at strangers or apologising as you fish your tot out from under their feet. You are also getting moving into serious meltdown territory when a forgotten favourite toy can presage a national emergency.

How to survive it

  • At the top of the list, make sure no essential toys/soothers are forgotten.
  • Make sure you have the basics covered - plenty of diapers/nappies, food, changes of clothes.
  • Distraction is key. Ipads/screens are not recommended at this age. But age-appropriate toys, chewy books definitely are.
  • Although it is generally not required by airlines, if funds allow, you might want to pay for an extra seat on longer flights. This will give you the space for sleep and activities.

12-18 months

Image of toddler walking

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

This is definitely the low point for most families. Desire and physical ability have increased dramatically, unfortunately this isn't matched by self-control or good sense. You'll have to be extra vigilant as your child will happily barge down the congested plane aisle, just because it is there. Pity the attractive young lady in the next seat who smiles at your little one when you first sit down. They will learn over the next few hours that most children at this age haven't learned not to stare, nor the meaning of personal space.

How to survive it

  • In addition to the previous list, consider bringing the ipad. Probably not ideal as a main activity for your toddler (you definitely pay for excessive screen time afterwards), but to be used within an arsenal of weapons to keep your child distracted.
  • Make sure you have the basics covered - plenty of diapers/nappies, food, changes of clothes.
  • Bring plenty of activities. Colouring books, toys, finger food.
  • Although it still not required by airlines, if funds allow, you might want to pay for an extra seat on longer flights. This will give you the space for sleep and activities and spare you having to spend the entire flight with a wriggling toddler on your lap.

18-24 months

Finally things start to turn a corner, for the lucky parents or at least those who have girls (gender equality notwithstanding, there is a real difference in early development between boys and girls). Some children will be starting to develop greater concentration and the ability (and desire) to follow instructions, so they'll be able to spend more time sitting quietly, colouring, playing and looking at books with you. They should also be sleeping for longer.

2-3 years

From this age you need to buy a seat, so it gets more expensive. On the flip side, this means that everyone is going to be more comfortable and there is more room to spread out. And by now, things should really be looking up on the behaviour front (although when meltdowns occur, it can be World War III).

On the downside, being on a plane can make potty training tricky. Bladder control is a work in progress at this age, and if you are told 'I need to go' just as the plane is about to land, things are probably going to get messy. The answer (as with many travel-related connundrums) is to lower your standards and stick on a pair of pull-ups/trainer pants before you leave the house.

3-4 years

Image of boy with crayons

Photo by Kristin Brown on Unsplash

Things are really looking up now. Behaviour is getting better, and there is the distraction of in-screen entertainment.

Still ensure that there are plenty of snacks, drinks and activities to keep boredom (and bad behaviour) at bay.

5 years and over

For most families, by this stage you are home and dry, and you can start to relax and enjoy flying again. Congratulations!

You have made it!