Travelling: Flying on an Aeroplane with an Active Child

Aristotle and I have flown on a plane a total of 9 times since he was born. Every single time, he’s been wonderful. He sits down and keeps busy with whatever he has in front of him. Other passengers comment on how pleasant it was to fly with him.

Hercules and I have flown on a plane three times. The first two flights, he was under 2. He slept for most of it and we were sitting in the front row. He hadn’t really discovered his vocal chords yet and he was still fairly easily distracted by a TV screen. The third time was recently and suffice to say that no one complimented us on how delightful it was to fly with us.

What happened?

I was armed to the teeth with distractions but it wasn’t enough. Hercules sat in his seat like there were ants in his pants. I could barely keep his belt on during turbulence (which was most of the flight), I struggled to shush him from errupting into wild laughter and delighted squeals in between his vibrant greetings to his grandfather who sat two rows away. He gave the man in the seat in front of him a back massage with his frequent kicking of the chair back. He bounced up and down in his chair like he was on a trampoline – much to the annoyance of the man who sat beside him.

I finally truly understand how hard it is for parents who have children with the “moving” bug. Until Hercules, I have never had to deal with a child like this and I confess it – he was out of my control. I did my best to distract him – the iPad, the games, the TV shows on the plane, stuffing him silly with food, and the boob. They helped a little but not enough. We did have a full hour of respite when he napped – pity he didn’t sleep longer.

When we finally got off the plane, he was like a kid high on speed. The times I contained him in the baby carrier to stop him from chasing his brother, he was swinging his body wildly from side to side while he sang, squealed, shouted at the top of his voice. When I shushed him, he would play high 5 with my face and neck then arch his back so he could view the world upside-down. If I got too near anything that was “grabbable”, he would grab it or kick it. He ignored all my requests to stop it. When I raised my voice, he would burst into a shrill wail that was probably more disturbing to the peace than any of his singing or shouting.

I know it’s annoying when you’re a passenger having to put up with children like Hercules on your flight. I was one of those passengers once. Being on the other side of the fence has given me a whole new level of respect for the parents who dealt with children like Hercules. Now that I am a parent of a child like this, I finally get it. Some children have a need for movement and when they are couped up in an aeroplane for 7.5 hours, it’s hard to sit quietly in a seat with your belt on – especially when you’re 2.5 years old.

I offer my sincerest apologies to the passengers who have to put up with us. I also appreciate that they were all understanding enough to put up with us without snarling at me for my child’s disruptive behaviour. I really did my best to minimise the annoyance.

Do you have an active child who can’t sit stilll for long? How do you manage long haul flights? Perhaps we can all share some tips. Since I have another flight coming up, I could really use some right now.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

6 thoughts on “Travelling: Flying on an Aeroplane with an Active Child

  1. What a coincidence! After flying with our 28-month old on an 8-hour flight to Brisbane last month, I do empathise parents travelling with young children a lot too. The thought of being in a confined space with an active toddler for that long initially put me and my husband off that we kept postponing the idea until the very last minute. We took the plunge finally and as soon as we finalised our travel arrangements one month before, I started ‘brainwashing’ him with things to anticipate when we go on a holiday. Almost every other day without fail, I would tell him how he would be given a seat in the plane as he’s a big boy like us, he would eat, watch tv, play iPad, puzzles and nap like everyone else. Same for the flight back. Thank goodness he was on his best behaviour throughout the flights (although he kicked the chair in front repeatedly too).


  2. Hi Shen, I know how you feel as 13-hour flights to UK are an annual event for us. Connor is generally very good at travelling so I guess we’ve been lucky so far.

    What I try to do is tire him out in the airport before we get into the plane. I also prepare him for weeks before we are due to fly and download a few new apps onto the iPad (and keep it fully charged!) for the flight.

    Another thing I do is buy a new PJ for the flight. This time it was a brand new Thomas PJ. I keep it secret until the flight, then pull it out, “Ta-dah! Look what Mummy bought you for the flight! Now it’s night-night time in the aeroplane!” I don’t know if it will help Gareth but Connor certainly associates flying with sleeping. I reasoned the appearance of the PJ would help with the sleep association and it’s more comfy than clothes for curling up on a plane.

    Best of luck for the return leg and don’t feel too bad about it, you tried your best.


  3. I am also blessed with a Spirited child (reading raising your spirited child by mary kurcinka was a life saver in terms of understanding her needs) who is extremely high energy and NEEDS to MOVE – every time we use the car seat or high chair we have around 5 minutes before she needs to be ‘freed’. So needless to say, although my husband and I love to travel, getting on an aeroplane is something I will be putting off as long as possible as I know that until she is at least 2years old, it would just be hell on earth for me. If I had to go what I would probably do is tire her out as much as possible, get her to run around, jump etc before the flight so hopefully she has spent some of her extra energy. Other than that I would do all of the things you already mentioned – so goodluck with any future flights!


  4. Mrs Top Monkey – I did upload extras to the iPod and iPad but it wasn’t enough 😦 Luckily the return leg went more smoothly. It helped that Daddy was on the flight, too. And he brought smarties for bribes… That got our boy – you should have seen how quickly he sat down!


  5. cc11 – I should look that book up! Hercules is such a different boy compared to his older brother who could sit down for hours if you just gave him the right activity to occupy him… Hercules, on the other hand, looks like he has ants in his pants half the time…


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