Many of us have been there — seated near crying babies on a long flight with no escape, whether you were the parent or simply a fellow passenger with an unlucky seat assignment.
But traveling alongside kids doesn’t have to be a disaster.
So to help ease the stress of summer travel, TODAY gathered a few experienced parents to share their best tips for flying with kids, as well as how other passengers can help make the ride a whole lot easier, too.
Pack plenty of snacks, toys and books — anything you think might help distract your son or daughter from the close quarters or a bumpy ride.
When Kim Foley MacKinnon’s now teenage daughter was younger, she used to stock up on cheap gifts at the dollar store before flights.
“I’d wrap them up and give her one every hour,” MacKinnon, who lives in Boston, told TODAY. “She was engaged and excited for each tiny thing and it kept her entertained and quiet.”
Take the red-eye
When possible, try to take your kids’ sleeping schedules into consideration when booking a flight. If a red-eye is an option, or an afternoon flight that happens to coincide with naptime, your children might be able to snooze through the ride.
Parents of restless kids, take note of this mom’s brilliant trick to keep her daughter seated on flights.
“Don’t let a toddler’s feet touch the ground,” Meg Nesterov, a travel writer in Hillsborough, North Carolina, told TODAY. “Once we’re on board, we pretended the floors were hot lava and the seats were rafts. Anything to keep from having to walk a toddler up and down the aisles!”
Check your luggage
Sometimes the extra fee is worth it — especially if you’re already lugging strollers, carry-ons and snacks while trying to keep your kids in line during the boarding process.
Befriend your neighbors...
As soon as you get settled in, get to know the people around you.
“I would tell each seatmate that [my daughter] was a great flier, and I would do whatever I had to do to make sure she stayed that way,” said Nesterov, who often blogs about traveling with children. “Just knowing that I cared was enough to allay fears.”
And while it’s not necessary, some parents even go so far as to bring treats like a box of donuts to share with fellow passengers, or offer to buy neighbors a drink if their kid has a meltdown.
... and the flight crew!
In addition to befriending fellow passengers, Dave Blackmer, a father of two in Salt Lake City, always makes sure to greet the flight crew when he’s traveling with his kids.
“These are people you want on your team,” he told TODAY. “You never know who is going to come through to help out when you really need it. Maybe they have an extra toy in their bag. Maybe they have a kid the same age as yours and a special trick that works like a charm to calm down the little one.”
Don’t board the plane first
It’s common for airlines to let parents traveling with young children board the plane early, but parents in the know say don’t do it. Board toward the end of the line to make your children’s time on the plane as short as possible.
Plus, a tip for passengers: Please have some patience
If you find yourself riding next to a rowdy toddler or a crying baby, remember his or her mom or dad probably feels worse about it than you do. And know that a kind stranger can make all the difference for a harried parent traveling with children.
Carrie Kirby, a freelance writer and mom of three in Alameda, Calif., recalled a time she was seated next to a man in business clothes on a crowded flight with her toddler.
“My kid must have been about 18 months, and she was highly verbal for her age,” Kirby told TODAY. “She kept shoving her book into the man’s hands and demanding he read it to her, much to my embarrassment. I assured him that he didn’t have to comply with her demands, but he laughed and read her the book.”
For Kirby, the kind gesture put her at ease.
“It made an experience that could have been a nightmare pleasant,” she said.