5 tips to handle a tantrum on the plane

Air travel is without a doubt one of the fastest and easiest ways to get from point A to point B. Unfortunately, if you’re traveling with a child who decides to throw a tantrum at 30,000 feet, there’s no sending them to their room, letting them blow off some steam at the nearest playground, or even a corner store where you can buy a Popsicle to distract them. Although a temper tantrum in mid-air can be embarrassing and frustrating, there are things you can do to (hopefully) put a quick stop to them. Here are some of our tried and true methods for handling a toddler tantrum and dealing with a crying baby on the plane. Hope they help.

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1. Focus on your child (F from our Be F.L.E.X.I.B.L.E. philosophy).

When your child is freaking out on an airplane, it’s easy to get overly worried about what others are thinking. After all, before you had kids, you were probably highly annoyed by a crying baby on the plane. But resist the temptation to pay attention to the baby haters. In the midst of a tantrum, it’s important to focus on your child. Focus on what will make things easier for you and for them, and forget the rest. 

2. Check the basics.

Air travel is convenient but can be uncomfortable. Think about it. You’re confined to a small chair. Air pressure can make your ears ache. You can’t easily get up to use the bathroom, and there’s no such thing as fresh air. Even for an adult, these things can become intolerable, especially if you’re on a lengthy transoceanic flight. If your baby starts crying on the plane or your toddler starts decides to act out mid-flight, make sure you check the basics. When is the last time they ate? Do they have a dirty diaper? Are they bored? Perhaps their ears are hurting.

You can quickly mitigate these types of temper tantrums by planning ahead. A few days before your flight, swing by your local Dollar Tree and pick up about $10 worth of toys and trinkets. Stash them in different parts of your carry-on. When you notice your child becoming restless, surprise them with a new, never-before-seen toy. Or, if they’re old enough, let them go on a little scavenger hunt through your bag until they find their new treasure. Each new toy can buy you between five and 20 minutes (hopefully more) of tantrum-free flight. 

Also, be sure you pack a variety of your kids’ favorite snacks and drinks. They’ll be thrilled to see SpongeBob fruit snacks, especially if they’re not used to having them all the time. If you have a crying baby on the plane and you believe achy ears are the culprit, you can present a bottle, pacifier, or breastfeed, all of which are known to reduce ear pressure while in flight. Older children can have chewing gum or hard candy if they can eat them safely. These might help, too.

If they’re still in diapers, do diaper checks and changes regularly.

Pro tip: Bring a changing pad and turn the seat back tray into a makeshift changing table. Even better, if you’re traveling with a partner, plop that baby across your laps and suddenly you’re the changing table and the diaper changer. Finally, check out our article on the best travel bassinets to find portable bassinets many of which turn into changing pads on the fly!

3. Work with your partner to soothe a crying baby on the plane.

Traveling with a partner makes things a million times easier. If you have a fussy baby and are traveling with multiple kids, one partner can walk around the plane with the crying baby while the other parent stays back and watches the children. Similarly, one parent may be an exceptional storyteller while the other might be your child’s favorite coloring buddy.

If you happen to be traveling solo with your child, it might be a good idea to sweeten up the people sitting directly next to, in front of, and behind you. Goodie bags with earplugs, snacks, and a few other inexpensive but thoughtful trinkets, along with a note, might deter any nasty looks if your child decides to throw a Lego at a neighbor’s head.

4.  Be strategic when booking your flight.

The best tantrums are the ones that never happen. If possible, try to fly when your kid is likely asleep. You can accomplish this by keeping them awake for at least two to three hours prior to boarding. Bring your child’s favorite blanket, stuffed animal, pillow, and book. That way, as soon as the seatbelt light goes off, they can sprawl out across you and your partner’s lap. 

Also, think about booking the right seats. If you have a toddler who likes walking around and exploring, an aisle seat where they can easily get up and down might be a good option. If you have a newborn and you’re a breastfeeding mom that would prefer a little privacy, a window seat might be a solid move.

And next time you travel, be sure to try our Plane Seat Hacking Strategy which can give you extra space on the airplane without having to spend more money. We talk about this strategy in detail in our book, so be sure to check it out.

5. Keep them busy.

As we said, the best tantrums are the ones that don’t happen. By keeping them entertained, busy, and distracted, you can lessen the likelihood of a plane panic attack. Pack some of your child’s favorite toys, games, coloring books, devices, and snacks. Sure, you’ll look like the crazy bag lady or man, but it’s worth it in the name of a calm flight, isn’t it?

After you have kids, it can seem like your days of freedom, fun, and adventure are over. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Equipped with a ton of patience and the know-how, you can travel with your young children and it can be a pleasant experience. In our years of traveling with our young son, we’ve dealt with our fair share of tantrums and have figured out some things that actually work to keep your baby from crying on the plane and your toddler from totally flipping out. If you want to get back into traveling but are scared at the idea of a tantrum at 30,000 feet, read our book for the inspiration and information you need.

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