We're traveling from SF to Paris (direct) with our 20-month old soon. What are tips for surviving the flight and not having everyone hate us?

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    Don't let slightly older children see the wings at landing and takeoff, lest they do what my daughter did: Scream out in terror "The plane is going to crash! The wing is broken! Look, there's a huge hole in it!"
    – afrazier
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 22:22
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    Regardless how it goes, keep in mind that you've paid as much for the trip as everybody else and it's your right to travel with your children! Try to politely ignore passengers that don't think you've got this right. Since you're obviously making your best effort to keep the disturbance low (regardless whether it works), you can truthfully say to yourself that it's not your problem if others are bothered. Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 7:54
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    Do you care if the other passengers hate someone else? I've twice (once successfully, once not) had moms seat a kid next to me while they sat elsewhere. The time the mom managed it, the kid spent nearly the entire flight from Auckland to San Francisco screaming for Mommy. While I hated the kid's mom, the rest of the plane thought that I was the kid's mom, and they hated me something fierce.
    – Dori
    Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 4:27
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    @tomjedrz: That's a terrible idea. Drugging your children. Benadryl will make them uncomfortable, it makes the skin crawl. Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 8:35
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    +1 for actually caring about the other passengers. Too many of my flights have been a pain because most parents don't.
    – TwoThe
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 12:37

14 Answers 14

  1. Buy a bunch of cheaps toy that the child has never played with.

  2. Bring something like a travel etch-a-sketch or some craft things that can be played repeatedly

  3. Ensure he has his midday nap, this usually knocks 2 - 3 hours off.

  4. Try and find other young children on the plane that they can talk to. This works like a miracle.

  5. Portable DVD player if there is no in-flight entertainment.

  6. Plenty of snacks. We bring instant noodles as this is not junk food and takes my son at long time to eat.

  7. Regular (once every 30 minutes) take them for a walk. This is limited in where you can go, but it helps a lot I found. You can take them to bathroom once an hour and every half an hour just take them for a loop either forward or backward through the kitchenette. The flight staff don't mind as long as you are not going into a different class section of the plane.

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    not a whole lot of talking going on at 20 months IMHO Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 7:12
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    For those people aren't clever enough, a child doesn't have to be able to read Shakespeare to communicate with children the same age or older. 'Talk to' doesn't mean to sit down and discuss politics, I could have easily said play with.
    – going
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 22:08
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    I am sorry you found my comment upsetting. I was just pointing out that the OP said the child was 20 months old and may not be able to constructively talk to, much less play, with other children at that age without extremely close supervision. YMMV. Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 22:14
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    @Jeff - I included my answer from personal experience. Having taken my son on 4 x 10 hour flights since he was 7 months old. Having other children there to 'talk to' or 'play with' saves me having to entertain him for most of the trip. There is limited space on a plane and if you bring some toys both children can enjoy each other's company. I don't feel your comment is constructive or accurate. Two 20 month olds have enough speaking ability to play together on a plane.
    – going
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 22:22
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    @JeffAtwood That depends on the 20 month old. My 19 year old (girl) started talking at around 14 months and hasn't shut up since.
    – tomjedrz
    Commented Nov 13, 2011 at 17:09

Here are the best things you can do from my experience:

1) Do whatever you can to get bulk-head seats. These are the seats in the front of a compartment that have a bunch of extra space. This is great for when your child is awake and wants to walk around for a few minutes. It also allows you to stretch, stand with your child, and change diapers much easier if you need to.

2) Pay for a seat for your child (if you can afford it) and bring a carseat. A child is much more likely to sleep in their seat when they're buckled in to a carseat.

3) Bring a bunch of toys (new ones are best as others described because it captures their attention more)

4) Bring a handful of new books.

5) Bring an electronic device that you can play movies on. Turn down the screen brightness so that it lasts longer, or better yet, try to get a flight with power plugs.

6) Schedule a flight that overlaps with their sleep time.

7) Bring plenty of snacks.

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    Not all airlines allow the carseat, so ask first. Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 7:52
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    Also check that your carseat is approved for use on the airline. Probably less of an issue for domestic US travel, but the carseats that are commercially available overseas (eg in Singapore) are often not approved for use on US carriers.
    – JamesF
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 7:04
  • note that some seats might be ok inflight, but not takeoff/landing. That what a BA steward told us - however we were allowed to use our Britax seat. The things he was looking for: Lap belt goes around the frame of the carseat (as in the seat has a path that will allow a lap belt to secure the frame of the carseat to the plane seat). The strap material needs to be high quality - many car seats apparently have material ok for car speeds, not plane speeds (500+ km/h).
    – Ida
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 16:41
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    disagree with bulk head seats: Most planes these seats do NOT have extra space - my avg. height husband was cramped here. In addition, you can't put things like snacks, toys and diaper bag underneath the seat in front of them.
    – Ida
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 16:43
  • Concerning bulk-heat seats: Ask for a bassinet. Those have three key benefits: 1) guarantees a bulk-head seat free of charge, 2) Depending on the child's size - a great place to sleep. 3) During awake/lap time offer a lot of storage place for utilities (toys/feeding equipment/sleeping bag/...)
    – magu_
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 15:29

In addition to @Squidly's answer, we found that it helped to let our son do what he wanted (within reason) and let him climb up the chair and crawl around. People generally didn't seem to mind and he was happy. Had we tried to "make him behave" (by which I mean, keep him in his chair) the flight would have been much, much worse.

Also, book an overnight flight there and an evening flight back so he'll have had a whole day to tire himself out before boarding the plane.


Make sure you have something for them to suck on (pacifier, lollypop, gum if they can chew it) or their thumb - Just in case the pressure causes pain in their ears. My 7 year old has that happen about 50% of the time when we fly, and a piece of gum makes it better within a few minutes.

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    For our then 15-month toddler, we used a baby bottle with plain water. The basic idea is that the chewing and sucking movements allows the cranial canals to align any pressure differences. Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 19:07

As nobody has mentioned it yet, Take care of yourself. A tired jetlagged parent will not effectively parent to a 20 month old.

See also a useful Question on Travel.


Bring lots of toys for your child to play with, books, activities. If you can food. Basically just keep your child busy and entertained the entire flight. Also with that long of a flight you will have to be prepared to find a way for him to nap, if you can get a darker area of the plane that would be good for that. Also movies on a laptop tends to help as well.


We travel with low expectations, and everything seems to go better than expected. Make them run around the airport a lot before getting on the plane. People don't mind b/c they know what you're trying to do.

If its overnight change them into their sleeping clothes and give them clues its time to sleep soon.

99% of other passengers are great. We've had people move seats so we get an extra seat (and they get away from the kid!) And hopefully there will be some other kids nearby, the best distraction ever for a kid.

Good luck.


Pack carefully. Preferably with a cabin bag that has lots of separate, easily-accessible compartments. Don't try to do anything for yourself when the baby is asleep, apart from sleep.

My experience is (so far) mostly with a younger child (3-6 months) and while at that age they're less mobile (and therefore generally easier to travel with) one of the biggest (and most avoidable) problems we had was that all the toys, feeding equipment and changing paraphernalia were distributed across three different bags, stuffed into the overhead locker. Inevitably, whatever you need to placate / clean / feed the child will be stuck behind somebody else's bag, if you can even get up to the locker to open it (as typically the seatbelt light will come on / the drink cart will block the aisle / something else inconvenient will happen five minutes before your child needs something).

Therefore if you can minimise the amount of stuff you need to pack so it will fit into one bag (ideally something that will fit under the seat in front of you) you'll find travel less stressful. We ended up with no possessions of our own in the bag that we had in the cabin, after several trips where I'd over-optimistically packed reading material, a laptop to work on while the baby was asleep, and so on, none of which were any use until after we'd disembarked.


I do not know how old your kid is, but I had to travel 12 hours with my 2 year old and his mother, and this worked well:

-Travel during the night, so the baby is tired and willing to sleep

-Make enough activities before the flight to ensure that the baby get tired enough to sleep well

-Sometimes you can have sits where there is an extra place to attach a baby sleeping chest, so you might ask your airline if they have this as well.


Phenergan may be an option, though consult a doctor first. My daughter travelled to Turkey when she was 18 months. The combination of planes and buses took about 40 hours - of which she slept for about 4. This is not fair on the kid and rather hard on my missus (she travelled alone).

My daughter did not take Phenergan since our daughter and son are in the small number of kids for which antihistamine make them hyperactive rather than sleepy.

My son was 6 months when he went to Japan - he slept the entire trip. Sometimes you are just lucky.

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    I can't believe you are suggesting to drug a child. Horrible. Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 8:38
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    @Dave Clarke - You are aware that Phenergan is an antihistamine, not crack? It has been certified for use with children and babies. I have no problem giving a child's dosage of a child's medication to a child if it helps the child sleep - something that children need. Guess what, I also give my children baby panadol when they have a temperature!
    – dave
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 21:01
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    Firstly, you are using the drug for something that it is not intended to be used for. Secondly, as you mention in your answer, the drug can have undesirable side-effects. Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 22:53
  • @Dave Clarke - All drugs have side-effects (panadol also makes my son hyper), that kinda the point of drugs. Whether something is an effect or side-effect depends entirely upon intent. A parent has to balance risk verses benefit for every medication they offer. Obviously, we spoke to our GP first so I feel our decision was reasonable. jon_darkstar seemed happy to offer valium, not something I'd be happy with. Each to their own.
    – dave
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 23:33
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Just a small tip, big lollypops keep my 2 year old son busy (quiet) for a good 45 minutes. Also a gadgety thing to hold is good. My son loved his sister's pink sparkly hand fan to open and close. DVD players are mandatory, of course.


Stickers. A giant sticker book.

Someone gave me this tip for our first flight when my son was 21 months after they had flown international with their son.


If people will hate you or not depends on if the kid will hate flying or not. My daughter for some reason loves going on a plane, and eitehr sleeps or jumps up and down trying to get the attention of other passengers, which they usually thing is fantastically cute.

I've seen other kids that hate flying, and they will scream and be a pain throughout the whole flight, and obviously everyone will hate them.

So the recommendation here must be to make the flight fun for your kid. And intercontinental flights are long, so that will be difficult. Many other recommendations here for things to bring to keep your kid entertained are good, so I won't repeat them. :-) You know better what to bring for your children anyway.


I don't want to repeat others' tips so just a few that worked for us. So far 3 international flights with 6-20 months old girl. And she is an active child. It's a difficult task to keep her on seat. If she sleeps at all, during 11h flight, we are happy. Flight is an exhausting experience, I have a feeling more for us then for her.

  • If possible, choose your seat to be next to a window and...
  • Try to take a full row only for you and a toddler. Then you can seat next to the aisle and easily control the way in/out.
  • If you got random seat, try to ask staff for a change after take off. It happens that there are empty seats so you could change arrangement.
  • You could try to politely ask a stranger next to you to change a seat if that would give you a full row. Now, this may seem selfish but sometimes a little politeness works wonders. Not to mention that it's win-win for the other passenger, too - no kid around.
  • Buy inflatable airplane bed for kids. You can put it in legs space and it will give your kid flat surface to sleep or play. We have Fly Tot and it works great.
  • Every kid has his favorite totem. Either a toy, or a blanket, or cushion. Our girl hugs her fluffy blankets and a bunny toy all the time. Take it with you if possible. New cheap toys may be fine for a moment, but nothing will comfort your kid better than favorite totem.

It's worth to note, when you travel twice a year, that 6 months is a huge gap for a toddler. They change a lot during that time so you may find some of the tips not working anymore or, maybe, you'll get some new ideas. Every kid is different.

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