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There’s an article on the Daily Mail website which is making waves across the internet. In it the author, a mother, advocates using anti-histamines like Phengran & Benadryl to drug kids for flights for their own benefit and for the benefit of the passengers around them.

I wholeheartedly disagree that the only way for a small child to fly quietly and comfortably is to drug them. Our son Reuben had been on over twenty flights before he was two. I’ve never felt that drugging him was the only method for him and passengers around him to fly happily. I know flying with young children isn’t easy (three hours sleep on an overnight to Singapore, anyone?) but drugging little children isn’t the answer.


Ten Tips to Avoid Drugging Your Child on a Flight


Here are ten tips you can use to avoid drugging your child on a flight

1. Get your child’s ears checked by a doctor before you fly. Getting your child to the doctor is relatively simple. Ear pain, due to cabin pressure change, is the biggest cause for distress amongst children when flying as they are unable to pop their own ears. Any sign of ear infection can heighten the pain. If your child does show signs of an ear infection, don’t fly. Your travel insurance will cover you to make flight changes due to illness.

2. Talk to children, even if they’re little. Mentally prepare them for a flight. Let them know how long it’s going to be, what’s expected of them, how much fun they’ll have and why they’re flying. Children cope much better when they know what to expect.

3. Physically prepare your children. Let them burn off as much energy as possible preflight. The best way to do this is to move through the airport as quickly as possible and settle at your departure gate. Let them run and play as much as possible at the departure gate, right up until getting on the flight.

4. Choose your flights carefully. Time short haul flights to coincide with nap times if your kids still have them. If they’re no longer napping pick a flight at meal time so there’s a focus to the flight. To avoid baby jet lag, pick long haul flights that fly overnight. Break up long flights. If you have the choice, don’t do extreme long haul flights all in one go. Auckland to London is an extremely hard flight even for an adult. It must seem like an eternity to a toddler. Build in a stop over that allows your family to sleep in a real bed, eat decent meals, get fresh air and burn off some energy.

5. Keep up your normal routines as best you can. When you’re taking a night flight, follow your usual bedtime routine. Put on their pajamas, brush their teeth and read them their bedtime stories.

6. Ask check in staff and cabin staff to give you a few extra seats if the plane isn’t full. It’s better for you and better for other passengers. It’s a lot easier to entertain a small child with a bit of extra space. Other passengers don’t want to sit next to excited or upset children. This is one of my best tips if it’s your first flight with baby as most parents wouldn’t know to ask if they haven’t travelled with kids before.

7. Bring comfort items and activities. Your child’s blanky, binky or cuddly toy is the best antidote to distress from flying. Lavender oil is relaxing. Put a few spots on their blanket or clothes (but don’t go overboard as the flowery smell could irritate other passengers). Pack whatever games and toys you’ll need to entertain them on board. Small cars, dolls, colouring books, stories. You don’t need a massive amount of gear as the flight itself is pretty entertaining and exciting.

8. Avoid sugary foods like the plague. The excitement factor in kids is way up and sugary foods & drinks will only heighten your child’s energy levels. Keep meals as healthy as you can. Don’t rely on airplane meals – bring your own snacks.

9. Mentally prepare yourself. Flying with children isn’t the same as flying alone. Consider it your job to keep your child happy, quiet and comfortable. Expect to bend to your child’s every will on a flight. If you have to take 20 trips up and down the aisles on a four hour flight, just do it. Don’t drink any alcohol.

10. Try your best and don’t despair. Sure, you’ll get judgey looks from grumpy child-free passengers if your kids are screaming but as long as you’re doing your best to soothe, control and entertain them other passengers will understand.

I’m not the only one who disagrees with drugging children on flights. Keryn from Walking On Travels wrote this post last year on the issue of drugging kids on flights.

Do you have any tips of your own to avoid drugging your child on a flight? Leave me a comment below and let me know.


For more information about flying with babies & toddlers check out my posts in the Toddler & Baby Travel Tips section. Read my tips on avoiding jet lag in babies here.

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Showing 18 comments
  • Alyson

    I actually don’t do it the same way as you, I let them fall asleep when th.ey are ready. But I totally agree, I wouldn’t do it. We’ve flown SO much being British expats in Australia, flying has always been fine and I’ve never seen ANY child cause a scene on a plane.

  • Reply

    My toddler won’t nap on planes, no matter how tired. Ever since he grew out of my baby carrier we haven’t gotten to get him to nap. Heck I can barely get him to go to sleep at bedtime on an overnight flight! Thankfully his baby brother still sleeps like a champ no matter where we are. For this reason we don’t work flights around nap time anymore. I just have my tablet to entertain the toddler and make sure we get up and walk the aisles to stretch. Learned the hard way that letting him play games and watch movies for long stretches not only makes him cranky, BUT also causes some potty accidents 😉

    GREAT tips lady!

  • Charli l Wanderlusters

    I really struggle to understand why people love to pump themselves and their children full of chemicals. It seems idiotic to me. Chemicals can not be conducive to good health. Great tips! I’m currently childless and traveling but I’m sure this won’t be the case in a few years time!! Book marking for future reference!

  • Reply

    Great post! I linked to it on a similar post on my blog. We have very similar suggestions on what to do to help your child have a non-medically induced flight 🙂

  • Emma

    You can sometimes take children’s car seats on the plane as long as you book them in early enough and they meet safety restrictions!!
    Life saver on a 15 hour flight with my son who is 18 months slept comfortably!!!

  • Travel with Bender (Erin)

    Great. We dress the kids in their pjs for overnight flights. luckily both my kids still nap. My kids have been flying since 5 months and we never have had any screaming or crying matches with them, thank goodness. We watch movies on the ipad, play games, walk the airplane, eat lots and sleep lots. I actually enjoy flying they are usually the most quiet during that time haha.

  • Reply

    I’m not a mom and fly long-haul a few times a year when going back to visit my family in the US. I am, however, a teacher and have little ones in class, so I understand that a child’s brain and body work differently than an adult’s. I smile and talk to the kid behind me kicking my seat now like it’s not a huge pain in the butt!

  • Joanne

    I agree with the no sleep drugs (for me also!).
    Besides the good article tips, I/we:
    1. ban the inflight /seat back entertainment on night flights, plus
    2. always feed my child before the flight or immediately on-board (before the inflight meal is served) to avoid the anticipation and hunger.
    Great article!

  • Ann

    I’ve never drugged my kids on flights, but I think there’s so much anxiety built up with traveling with kids, that parents are making all the other passengers hate them that the parent who doesn’t fly frequently just assumes the worst. Thanks for your thoughts on this, hopefully more parents will make a choice other than drugs.

  • lola

    gosh. i’ve been so bad to myself the few overseas flights that i’ve had terrible jet lag. i can only imagine how this could affect children. i’d think drugs would just make everything even worse!

  • TammyOnTheMove

    I saw this article too and asked some of my friends who have children and who haven’t to see what they think. Both agreed that drugging is not right and I have to agree. As much as I hate crying children on the plane with passion (sorry, but I am not a mother!), drugging a baby is just not right. Either don’t fly with babies or entertain them appropriately. The photos of Reuben are adorable by the way. He certainly looks very content. 🙂

  • Partha

    This is new to me drugging children during long flights. When my son was young we used to carry small toys and colorful books during flights. I have never thought of drugging.

  • Karilyn

    We were expats in India and had to travel back and forth from the US and Europe at least 2x a year with a child (newborn to toddler years). One tip that I have is to bring a light blanket or use the airline’s blanket to make a little tent over your child’s seat. I usually put my son in the middle seat (without a carseat) and make a little bed for him with pillows and the blankets. When it is time to sleep, even if the lights are still on, i make his tent and lightly rub his back for a bit until he’s out cold. We haven’t done the long flight in a while now, but between about 9 months and 24 months (when we stopped taking the car seat on) this worked great. I would never drug my child or my pets! Our last flight from India to the US was with a 2 year old and 2 cats – all on the plane with us for 30+ hrs of travel!

    • Bethaney Davies

      That’s a great tip Karilyn. Our little one can’t do without his three blankies so we always have them. I do try to shield him somewhat from light but also the IFE can be really distracting!

  • Sarah Appleford

    Hi Bethaney, thanks for your list. My husband and I are starting our nomadic adventure in less than 2 weeks with our almost 2-year old boy Jack. We will definitely use your ideas to make the flight from Melbourne to Ho Chi Minh City as comfortable as possible for us, other passengers and of course Jack. With the toys, we’re going to wrap them up then bring them out one by one. Hopefully that drags out their use and gives him a surprise each time. We’re also going to download movies and TV shows on our iPad. Finally, given we’re travelling at Easter, we’re going to bring a few chocolate eggs onto the flight for our neighbours. Thanks again for your list…

  • Jacquelyn

    Great tips, especially 2, 4, 5 and 7. Our first flight with our babe was when she was 13 weeks. So easy back then–she basically slept! Her next flight at nine months was a little more challenging, but we did all of these things and I’m happy to say it was smooth sailing… err, flying.

  • hotmamatravel

    I follow the same rules. I fly with my kids and have never had to drug them. I however, require a whiskey and coke. I always pack them a bag of new toys and activities so that it grabs their attention during the flight.

  • Katja

    This is a really interesting post – and really interesting comments! I’ve travelled with my kids since they were 3 months old and have never used medication to knock them out. My kids now love flying – I’ve never seen anyone get as excited about a seat in economy as my 6-year-old son. If only I could match his enthusiasm about flying coach! They also love the non-stop iPads and movies that air travel allows them.

    On night flights our rule is one movie and then it’s time to sleep.

    I think what Ann had to say above about the anxiety that a lot of parents feel is so true. However, as one friend who regularly travelled from Australia to the UK with her two small kids said “Just imagine the worst that can happen, if no one is sick, no one has a tantrum, no one screams and no one kicks the person in front of you, then it’s been a successful trip”. Wise words 🙂

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