First time flying with a 3yo

Joseph Andrew Hunt

Drew's Dad Joe
Sep 11, 2018
My wife and I will be flying to Miami next month to cruise on the Magic with our 3yo son. This is our first time flying with him and we are a bit nervous. He will have his own seat, he might just be turning 3 but he’s the size of a 4yo, but we are concerned he will wiggle out of the seat belt. My wife wants to buy a booster seat for the airplane but we are not sure if that is allowed. Anyone have a experience with this?


Living the Dream
Feb 12, 2017
Most (all?) booster seats are not FAA approved. If you have a 5pt harnessed seat that is FAA approved (check for a sticker on the seat somewhere) you could use that but we’ve traveled loads with our kids and while they do wiggle, crawl on the floor, and unbuckle etc everything works out. We try to keep them distracted with coloring books, reading to them, and small toys.


Saw what you did and knows who you are.
Apr 9, 2011
My wife and I will be flying to Miami next month to cruise on the Magic with our 3yo son. This is our first time flying with him and we are a bit nervous. He will have his own seat, he might just be turning 3 but he’s the size of a 4yo, but we are concerned he will wiggle out of the seat belt. My wife wants to buy a booster seat for the airplane but we are not sure if that is allowed. Anyone have a experience with this?
You can also buy adapter kits that will secure your child to the seat similar to a car-seat harness.

We used this for years and it was a lot easier than hauling a FAA-approved restraint seat around.
  • TortoiseTaughtUs

    Sep 18, 2018
    We also had good luck with the CARES harness. A couple of times I got weird looks from the person sitting behind my son because you have to lower their tray table for a second to install it, but other than that it's great and you can use it until the child hits 44 lbs. or 40" in height.


    DIS Veteran
    Aug 16, 2014
    We used the CARES harness for years with my eldest who was a Houdini with a plain seatbelt. But my youngest is less wiggly, for him, we give him Gravol to combat motion sickness that he is prone to, which has the added benefit of making him a little drowsy so he usually sleeps at least an hour on a flight. Once he’s up and active we take turns walking down the aisle with him as needed. Have a great trip!


    DIS Veteran
    Aug 27, 2012
    Another recommendation for the kids fly safe harness. And not because a kid will intentionally wiggle out, but because in the event of severe turbulence, a regular seatbelt will NOT hold them down and they will bounce right off the ceiling. You can google for reports.

    I would focus as well on the ears if this is your first flight. Three will be too young for your child to be able to clear his ears on his own. Bring lollipops and even gum. We have used earplanes for air pressurization with great success - but they have to be in before takeoff and stay in until you land or they won’t work. They are usually sold at drugstores near the motion sickness meds.
  • Van Houten

    Aug 15, 2012
    CARES is a good option, and some folks rent them out (check ebay) - so you don't have to make that investment if you are not flying often enough. We bough one when our kids were little, and used it many times - it's good for take off and landing (don't forget to explain that this is how real pilots buckle themselves in :) ), but don't expect the child to sit motionlessly the entire flight.

    The harness does take a bit of time to set up and remove, and you will need some cooperation from the folks sitting behind the child, so that the belt does not block their tray table.


    DIS Veteran
    Feb 5, 2012
    I think the most important thing is preparation: Flying for the first time is exciting, especially for small children.

    Wiggling on your seat as a kid is usually a sign of being excited, restless or anxious. If you can, go with him to an airport, have a walk around, tell him what is going to happen when and where. What happens to your suitcase, what is a flight attendant. Show him videos or photos of the inside of the plane, that there is a little kitchen, there are bathrooms, etc. What are the rules on board: stay seated during taxi, take off and landing, and when the 'fasten your seatbelt' sign is switched on. But that (if needed) he can go to the bathroom / walk around in between these periods. Then he knows he needs to stay seated for at least 10-20 minutes (depending on the airport / gate/ runway) at the beginning and end. He's probably too young to understand the concept of time, but if you for example bring a tablet with short videos of about 10 minutes, then you can tell him, after one or two videos the signs will be switched off.

    When children know what to expect, they are usually less restless / anxious. Be careful not to protect your fear on him. When you tell him 'this is going to be scary', he is more likely to be scared. I would explain about the pressure on his ears (maybe he knows this feeling from riding through tunnels, or maybe when swimming?), but would be careful to explain things like turbulence or air pockets.


    DIS Veteran
    Apr 3, 2014
    Another vote for ears- lollipops or gum. When our kids were little, the yawning, swallowing to pop ears was difficult. Their little ears hurt. It may not happen with your little one, but being prepared will make things a bit smoother should the need arise. Have a great trip!


    DIS Veteran
    May 14, 2015
    We have flown regularly with my son since he was a baby. Sitting still for an entire flight can be hard for smaller kids. We pack a few new small toys or books each trip to entertain him. Things like color wonder books, color forms, small trucks and flap books have worked well. We also pack snacks and items to help with ear popping as others have said.

    Basically we entertain and interact with him for most of the flight. It's a bit tiring for us, but keeps him happy and contained.
  • lolomarie

    May 3, 2013
    What we do to combat boredom which results in the wiggles is not boarding during the family boarding. We send 1 parent on the plane to wipe down every surface with Lysol wipes (haven't gotten sick since implementing this, prior kids would always vomit 1-2 days after flying) while the other waits with the kids. While waiting I encourage running, jumping, spinning, the works. Then, near the very end of boarding the second parent with the children board the plane. Late enough that we're near to last, but not so late that people shoot us daggers! Lol. Good luck with whatever you choose.


    DIS Veteran
    May 17, 2010
    We've flown with our kids since they were little. First kid was 20 mths on her first flight (from NH to CA!); second kid was 10 mths on her first flight (NH to FL). You'll get through it!

    For ears, once they were old enough--I gave them Kellogg's (or other brands) fruit chew snacks--the ones in the granola bar aisle that come in a variety of characters/shapes. Generally the kids just needed something for when the plane is descending--that seems much worse on the ears than takeoffs! If they already have a cold, shortly before the flight, give your child whatever you'd normally give for a stuffy nose and some pain reliever.

    Carry-on bags--pack TONS of stuff. Pack an extra shirt for everyone just in case of spills/bodily fluids... (And lots of wipes!) For an easy activity--I used to pack a quart size ziploc bag with a memo size note pad and lots of stickers--it used to keep them occupied. Remember the trays are small--so small activities are great. Little activity book packs, and if they still make the Color Wonder stuff--that's great if you're worried your kid will color off the paper...or Invisible Ink Books. Depending upon the length of the flight...I'd also suggest electronics (above 10,000 ft) with headphones/earbuds so you don't annoy other passengers with the sound. Basically--bring a bunch of new things that he's never seen that are only for the plane rides. (I've even wrapped up some stuff in wrapping paper and have them open them on the plane/or in the car when we've done long road trips.) And let him bring a 'lovey'--blankey or stuffed animal, something to comfort him!

    For prepping your kid before the flight--take out some books from the library about planes (preview them before you read them to your son! A quick search on Amazon has good reviews for "The Airport Book" by Lisa Brown, "My First Airplane Ride" by Patricia Hubbell, and "Maisy Goes on a Plane" by Lucy Cousins.


    DIS Veteran
    Mar 5, 2007
    Booster seat isn’t allowed, but you could bring a normal car seat if you think he won’t kick the seat in front of you.

    These are pix from my son’s first carseat-free flight. He was 3.5. On the way to Disneyland I used his Roundabout, but going home our flight was cancelled at the gate and we were shunted to an almost full plane. I decided I didn’t want to deal with the carseat and gate-checked it. He was fine. He worked out that the seatbelt was for his safety, and he wore it the whole time.


    He felt very grownup and proud of himself.

    And he’s now 14 and is still a stickler for seatbelts, even on planes. It bothers him to see people not buckled in mid-flight, and he’ll remind me if I forget when returning from the bathroom.


    Earning My Ears
    Aug 30, 2017
    Believe they only allow full car seats. We've flown with our 3 daughters back and forth to Japan (usually a solid 16 hours of travel, including layovers) and other places since they were infants, but never used a car seat. We've had good flights and bad (mostly good, especially as they got older). The seat belts can cinch pretty tightly.

    The best advice I can give you is to try to make sure he gets plenty of sleep. If you can schedule a nap before the flight, even better. The only time we had issues with our kids not wanting to cooperate with the seat belt (or sitting in their own seat at all) was when they were tired and cranky.

    My wife also usually brings something new for the kids (a small toy, new snack, new coloring book, etc.) and shows it to them prior to the flight, and lets them know they can open and play with the new item once they are in their seats and their seat belts are buckled. That usually gets them excited to get on the plane and get settled.

    Carrie in AZ

    DIS Veteran
    Mar 18, 2003
    We always brought along FAA approved carseats from Britax and kept our girls strapped in. It reminded them of their time spent in the car and they usually slept for large portions of the flights. Snacks, toys, and stickers -- just try and make the best of it! Good luck!


    Obsessed with WDW
    Nov 3, 2011
    First of all - don't panic and don't be nervous. Kids can sense your unease and that stresses them out too. Treat it as a fun outing but explain the rules. Just like riding in a car, we have to stay in our seats, blah, blah, blah. I've been flying with my kids since my daughter was 3 months old. 3 years old is much easier! Just be matter of fact about it. This has always worked for us.

    The CARES harness is an excellent option and so much easier than installing your full car seat on the plane. If your son is the size of a 4 year old, I don't recommend doing the car seat. His legs will be crushed by the seat ahead.

    Pack lots of antibacterial hand wipes, tray wipes and lots of snacks. Use those electronics (with headphones!) like they are going out of style. Movies, games, whatever will keep his attention. If he likes to color, bring lots of paper and extra crayons - they roll everywhere when dropped and you may not be able to retrieve them. I always had to hide my snacks and ration them because my son would fuss and want to eat everything he knew I had. LOL! I've also carried some small new toys with me and offered them as a reward for excellent behavior part way through the flight. You know what motivates your kid so just use that to your advantage. Good luck!


    Jul 14, 2015
    I don't recommend full carseats.
    It moves your child's feet to a point where he will inevitably be kicking the seat in front of him.

    We've been traveling very regularly with our boys since they were infants. They always did very well with their seatbelts.

    Once they were old enough that screens held their attention, we stopped bothering with the zillions of toys, etc.
    We do bring lots of snacks, and always a water bottle. They also get soda as a special treat from the drink cart. (My kids are generally deprived, so a soda is a special treat.)
    Snacks always include junk that I don't normally buy. Once again, a treat.

    We don't sit at the gate and wait. One parent stays at the gate with carry on luggage, the other explores the airport with the kid.
    There will be enough sitting on the plane.


    Apr 24, 2018
    Booster seats require lap and shoulder belts. Airplanes only have lap so there are no FAA approved boosters.

    How are you getting from the airport to the cruise port? If you'll need a car seat anyway, just use it on the plane. Here's a good list of seats recommended for travel.

    We have a Go Go Babyz Mini Travelmate. Strap the seat on and pull the kid through the airport. It's great.

    My kids have never had a problem with their ears but I pack raisins and fruit snacks just in case.

    Lisa F

    is a very wise woman
    Feb 22, 2000
    everyone seems to have the physical aspect down but I just wanted to say when I flew with my kiddo when he was very small, the name of the game was snacks and distraction. I do not in general use food as a distraction but on flights all bets are off.

    Also it's a good time for a movie or a whole bunch of shows in a row that your child loves. Again I never really let the tv babysit my kid but for flights, anything that makes it go smoothly is ok by me.


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