Photo courtesy of Joe Cheung of AsTheJoeFlies.

Despite what you have heard or seen depicted in movies, air travel with toddlers and other young children doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. I know because I’ve been flying around the world with my two daughters since the first born was 5-months old. She’s been to over 20 countries and more than 2/3 of the states now as a 13-year-old.

Here is my Flying With Kids Master Plan and some other Traveling Dad expert travel tips that will not only keep you and your kids sane on the plane, but actually help you both enjoy the experience of air travel with toddlers!

The 20-Minute Segment Master Plan For Managing Flights with Toddlers

To be honest, this might be the most brilliant idea I’ve ever had. Originally shared on my own site waaaaaaay back in 2006 when my oldest was indeed a traveling toddler herself, this 20-minute segment master plan for managing flights with toddlers was the most effective way to enjoy air travel as a family. Here’s what I wrote 11 years ago:

An easy and effective way to survive flying with kids is to break the trip down, mentally, into 20 minute segments. If you have a 2 1/2 hour flight, you really have only 7 twenty minute segments to schedule and occupy your child’s (or children’s) time. A 7 hour flight to Paris? No biggie, that’s only 21 manageable segments to plan. You can do it if you compartmentalize the flights!

This 20-minute segment flying with kids master plan isn’t about using segments to achieve status with an airline it is about achieving sanity while in the air!

When you think of your flight in this manner, as a series of 20-minute segments, it becomes an easy to manage event!

Here are some traveling dad tested tips on segment ideas that will occupy and entertain your kids and not have you lugging a suitcase full of toys around the terminal and don’t require an iPad for the duration of the flight.

(remember: each segment idea has to occupy a mere 20 minutes, anything more than that is a bonus!):

  • A brand new toy or book (nothing fancy or expensive, just something brand new to him or her)
  • Tape – Plain old Scotch tape can be a load of fun for a little one. Roll it up inside itself to make a sticky circle and let them stick it to their nose, your nose, between their fingers…just good old fashioned fun with a 2 inch piece of tape. Boom, another 20-minutes in the books!
  • Magna Doodle (Travel Edition) – A classic toy that our modern kids still enjoy. (Note: really young ones may get frustrated at their inability to, independently, erase their work as the tab to clear the screen can be rather difficult to slide)
  • A Discman/Portable CD player – If you do not have an old one collecting dust somewhere, they can be had relatively cheap to buy in 2017. This is perfect if your child has a particular CD they are diggin’ at the moment (or if you have made a Mix CD of their favorite songs). If they have never used a portable CD player before, the novelty of this ‘ancient’ device combined with the music they already love could carry you and them for two segments. Be sure to keep the volume at a low level and use only the classic earphones with the large, round, padded ear pieces that sit on the outside of their ears.
  • Their favorite book(s) – often a bedtime book, which is essential if your flight will involve a nap or take place during bedtime.
  • For older toddlers/young kids: some brochures/city-location guide books. Allow and encourage your kids to plan a day trip, museum visit, etc. Give the reigns over to them for a period of time (whatever you are comfortable with/have the time for) providing they devise a plan using the material you bring on board. Not only will this occupy a good amount of time, but they will love the chance to be the boss and decision maker. By engaging them in the trip planning you will also increase the chances of them enjoying themselves and going along with something you want to do (reciprocating the favor). For the younger members of your family, use the brochures as a conversation piece to get them excited and interested in what they will be seeing during the vacation.
  • An extra, older smartphone with a decent enough camera. Taking selfies and pictures of you/their siblings/their airplane pretzels/cloud out the window is an easy way to pass at least one 20-minute segment!
  • Crayola Color Wonder Markers (an inventive product that will only write on the special Crayola paper) – This is a favorite of ours. No messes at all and no toxic marker smell. The marker caps make for great, silly kid fingernail extensions. In fact, if your child is anything like ours, the marker caps alone could be their own segment!
  • Usborne Sticker Dress-Up books — I think at one point we owned the entire collection of Sticker Dolly Dressing books. Dream Jobs was a hit because it included a wide range of career possibilities for young girls. But no matter if you have a son or daughter, there’s a cool Usborne Activity sticker book perfect for your kid…and they are only about $8 each.
  • Explore the bathroom of the plane. Seriously, airplane bathrooms are minor engineering marvels how so much stuff from a normal bathroom is crammed into such a tiny space.
  • A nap.
  • A snack.
  • A cuddle.
  • A walk up and down the aisle.
  • Movies on planes are never a bad idea! A standard feature length kid’s movie is good for at least five 20-minute segments!
  • Okay that’s enough from me, you know your kid the best so what will they LOVE for 20-minutes at a time?

Schedule your flights to coincide with nap/bedtimes.

Whenever possible, try to book direct flights during the time of day or night your child might normally be sleeping. In all likelihood, they will keep up the pattern and fall asleep despite being 25,000 feet in the air. Any sleep they get on the plane will serve to cut down the time they must be entertained while awake and will count towards your 20-minute segments!

Photo courtesy of Road Warrior TravelingMom Nasreen Stump

Snap-Crackle-Pop (dealing with the altitude and popping ears)

Alright, you’ve now got the 20-minute segment flying with kids master plan, here’s one more crucial tip to enjoy flying with kids:

Be sure to pack their favorite beverage and/or snack in your carry-on. Not only will the eating and drinking occupy a 20-minute segment but it is also the best way to reduce the impact of air pressure on their young ears. By drinking or chewing they will hopefully not feel an uncomfortable amount of pressure while taking off and landing, which will reduce the screaming, which in turn will provide for a more enjoyable traveling experience for you, your kids and everyone once on your plane.

Flying with kids is no small feat. We've assembled a list of our best tips for making a flight with kids smoother and easier. Read what our team of Traveling Dad experts had to say on the matter.

Finally, be courteous of others but also remember that your child is your #1 concern. If other passengers don’t have noise canceling headphones for traveling in 2017, that’s on THEM not you and your kid. So relax, roll with the punches and have a great flight!