Favorite Air Travel Items for Kids
When you begin to travel often with your kids you start to develop a system. Eventually it even becomes monotonous, and (dare-I-say-it?) easy and fun.
You know what items you need to bring with you. You know the order in which to pack. You know how to pack those items. You know what works and doesn’t work for your system.
And yes, sometimes even though you eventually become a sort of expert on what works for you and your family, every once in a while an innovative and random item comes up that you find at 3 AM during a sleepless Amazon search as you think of your last flight where your kids were doing something they shouldn’t have been, or as often happens in motherhood, during a dream-filled problem solving session. (No? Just me? Am I the only one who wakes up at 3 AM dreaming about a problem and frantically shopping online for the solution?) Many of the items below were a product of just that type of search.
Description and links to all items are below.
- Kids Tray Table Cover: There are so many different kinds of these available online. Some can even be used for both air and car travel. They’re used to protect your kids from not only touching the germs on the tray table, but keeps all their stuff securely in place. In most of them there’s usually a spot for an iPad, some crayons, a large space for coloring/playing, and a few compartments for toys. I like this specific one because it is very lightweight and easy to install—even at 2 AM on a long-haul flight when you’re jet-lagged, haven’t slept in 15 hours, and your kids are impatiently waiting for you to open up their coloring books (I speak from experience on this one). This one also folds very tightly and won’t take up extra weight or space in their carry-on, leaving room for said toys and coloring books.
- Inflatable Foot Rest: This is exactly what it sounds like: a foot rest that can be inflated. Now I haven’t personally used this for my kids yet, but I do plan to the next time we fly Economy, especially on a long flight (this is a true product of one of those 3 AM Amazon searches). Kids legs are very short, so they just awkwardly hang in mid-air from their seats, not making it very comfortable for them to sit or sleep. With this, it can be blown up at your seat, and the size of it can be adjusted. Kids (and adults if needed) can easily raise their legs and even sleep laying down with something like this. This would work great as bed alternative for both babies and toddlers. Genius invention, in my humble opinion.
- CARES Harness: The only FAA approved harness for kids that allows the airplane seat to be used like a car seat with a 5-point harness. I’ve used this for my kids on more flights than I can count, and is one of the items I was constantly asked about by strangers when they were younger. This entire thing folds and fits into a bag as big as my hand, can basically fit in my purse, and is easily installed at your seat. (I have a separate post here detailing how to install it.) My advice is to use a car seat for any babies younger than 1 since this is not approved for use for babies, and for shorter flights the CARES harness is perfectly fine to use for toddlers 1 and older. I used it for my own 1-year old (see post linked above for more information).
- Carry-On Backpack: I’ve traveled with both backpacks and actual carry-on luggage for my kids. And it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re going on a long or short flight, you need a backpack for them. This is because they’re easy to store under the seat in front of them so you don’t have to constantly be opening and closing an overhead bin to grab items. I’ve used carry-on luggage that opens and shuts like a regular suitcase, and while it’s useful, most won’t fit underneath the seat in front of them, so all of their items will have to be removed pre-flight before storing it above and placing in the seat pocket. This makes for a ton of items that can get lost. I also like to “hide” a few items for later on in the flight, which becomes much harder to do when I have to keep reaching above. By keeping the bag in front of them it makes it much easier to grab already stored items when needed, and even allows them to do it themselves, saving you less hassle. If using a larger carry-on luggage a backpack also can work as a “personal item” on flights allowing both. I have three favorite backpacks I like to use depending on their age group, and I’ll link them all here: Option 1 for older kids, Option 2 for preschoolers/smaller kids*, Option 3 for toddlers*.
- Water Bottle: Cabin air is dry, and can make one feel very parched. This is especially true for kids, and the last thing any parent wants to do is constantly be calling over a flight attendant for water. A refillable water bottle is key. And yes, the type of water bottle does make a difference. I learned this lesson the hard way on flights before. I used the ones with the pop up straw before on a flight, and while I love them at home on land, in the air they’re subject to so much pressure during take-off and landing that when I opened them to give my kids water I got splashed in the face and shirt. It wasn’t pretty or fun, especially for the poor (super understanding) woman behind me who also got squirted with water. My suggestion is not to buy a water bottle with a collapsable straw (think of the ones that “pop” open), or if you do want one with a straw, don’t have it fold in itself. Others that I’ve liked in the past include just a standard bottle that rotates open and closed.
- Airplane Pocket*: This is another one of those 3 AM searches for a solution to protect against airplane germs, even after we’ve wiped them down. Enter this airplane seat pocket. It slides over your tray table and acts as both a sanitary tray cover and your own seat pocket, so you don’t have to dig into the one already there that others did, that may or may not have been cleaned. (Newsflash: the inside of the seat pockets are usually NOT cleaned. Let’s be real, who actually has time for that?)
- Sanitary Kit: This is an invention of my own, created way before the Covid pandemic ever started. Basically it’s just a cheapo Ziplock bag filled with sanitary wipes, disinfecting wipes, toilet seat covers, hand sanitizer, and mini garbage bags. Though now with the Covid pandemic I’m adding in extra disposable face masks and rubber gloves. I use Ziplock bags and disposable items because airplanes are germ city. So once the bag has touched dirty surrounding surfaces I can just toss it and keep the items inside clean. And, again, a friendly reminder whether you’re reading this before, during, or after the time of Covid, always sanitize every surface you come in contact with on an airplane!
- Small bag filled with COMPLETE extra change of clothes that goes inside backpack. This means socks, undershirts, everything. In fact, if you can, for younger kids, bring two kits. This means two different full outfits filled in two different small bags. And yah, I once thought I didn’t need all that stuff either—then my kids spilled things on themselves mid-flight and stepped in an infiniti fountain at the airport. Thank god for those extra socks within reach.
- Headphones*: I’ve reviewed these favorite headphones that are still going strong—4 years of travel and 3 months of Remote Learning later—on my Instagram account before. Update: they’re still my favorite.