Travelling with children can be stressful and hard work. Add standby travel to that equation, and you can have a recipe for disaster.

Pilot wife and mum of 2 (and now guest blogger on StaffTraveler) shares her top tips for surviving non-rev travel with young children.

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When traveling standby, the general rule is carry-on bags only if you want to arrive at your destination with all your luggage at the same time.

Flying with children can make this a little harder, so the key here is; Know your airlines carry on limits and make the most of them.

Travel made simple lists the carry-on allowances for over 150 airlines.

If allowed, take a larger carry-on for items you’re not likely to need while on the plane and have a smaller backpack or handbag (personal item) for everything you want to have close at hand.

Place the smaller item under the seat in front of your children for easy access even when the seatbelt sign is on.

If you’re going to have to carry most of the items yourself (because your children are too young) then definitely consider taking less than your allowance. It’s hard enough wrangling kids through the airport, let alone everyone’s bags as well.

On that note, invest in a good baby carrier. Being able to wear your baby whilst still have both hands free is invaluable. You will need to take them off to clear security but other than that, having the option to strap your child to you means one less thing for you to worry about.

The type of items you may wish to consider packing in your under-seat bag includes:

  • Change of clothes: use a snap-lock bag or packing cube to hold everything you’ll need for a nappy change. Include things like, wipes, nappy cream, change mat, full change of clothes and maybe an additional jumpsuit, plastic bag for wet items and a couple of nappies. This means you only need to grab one bag to take with you and you’re prepared for whatever you discover once you get there. For longer flights, you may want to pack two bags like this. For a 4 hour flight, usually, 2 changes of clothes and six nappies are sufficient. This may vary depending on your child. When your child is toilet training or newly toilet trained, it pays to take a couple of nappies along just in case. You never know how long you might get stuck with the seatbelt sign on and while I never advocate changing a nappy in your seat, if it’s the difference between an accident and quickly whipping a nappy on them, then I know which one I’m going to choose every time.
  • Snacks and non-spill water bottles – even if there is food provided on the flight, you can guarantee the kids will be hungry before the food arrives. You also don’t know how long you may end up waiting in the airport and you don’t want to waste all that money you just saved by flying non-rev on overpriced airport food that your child probably won’t eat anyway! If your child is still breastfeeding or using bottles, take your boobs or a bottle and whatever milk or formula they drink. The airline will not have enough milk to make up a bottle for you, but they can provide hot water. Chewing or drinking during take-off and landing can also help them equalize their ears.
  • Devices: even though some planes have in-flight entertainment these days, it’s not guaranteed they’ll be working, or have your child’s favorite shows. Having a phone or tablet that you know has movies and apps to keep them busy is invaluable. Also, check with the airline before you fly if you need to download an inflight entertainment app.
  • Headphones: if they haven’t used headphones before, let them practice using them a few times at home before you fly.
  • Chargers: even for a short flight, non-rev means you never know exactly how long you may be traveling for. Make sure you take your chargers, any adaptors if traveling overseas and even a portable charging device. Consider taking a powerboard to allow you to charge more than one device from one socket.
  • Medicine: In addition to any regular medicine your child needs, it’s also a good idea to take some kind of pain relief. Don’t forget to take the dosing device as well, you might also want to take some pain relief for yourself too, just in case.
  • Toys: obviously you don’t want to cart the entire toy chest with you. However, a few gems will help keep your children entertained if they tire of electronics.

Alternative entertainment options – whilst a lot of will happily watch in-flight entertainment it’s working and available, non-rev travel means you never know exactly how long you may need to keep them occupied in the airport for as well. And even most kids will eventually tire of the same shows on repeat.

Depending on the age of the kids, there are some great toys and activities out there which are perfect for flying. A couple of our favourites are any of the water paint books. Preferably look for ones that come with an all in one paint brush so you don’t have to worry about spilled water.

The colouring books that use magic markers rather than the ones with coloured ink are also good for reducing mess.

Activity books with a range of different puzzles and challenges are good as kids get older.

Avoid anything with too many pieces as you will be forever picking them up off the ground.

For more toys that are perfect when flying, check out SkyFamilies

Spare Clothes for You!

If you’re not taking all your luggage as carry-on, then make sure you have at least one change of clothes for you as well. Kids are notorious for spilling food, drinks and all kinds of bodily fluids and there’s every chance some of it will land on you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re travelling with your children

I read another post about traveling with kids which said – expect to do everything yourself. While that’s a good attitude to have, because people won’t always offer, it’s not always realistic depending on how much you have to juggle.

Some people will offer to help before anything is even going pear-shaped. Remember what these people look like. Things might be all peachy right now, but you might need them later on. I have had wonderful people both on the plane and off help out with lots of things. You don’t have to do it alone, and some people really want to help make things a little easier for you.

If no one has offered their services and you’re finding yourself needing a hand, look for someone who looks empathetic, a crew or staff member or anyone at all in a crisis! Sometimes people are reluctant to offer their assistance but will happily help out if asked. I have heard stories of people who have had a bad experience when offering. Please also remember even if you don’t need or want help, decline politely, so you don’t spoil those kindly souls for the rest of us!

Food and Drinks

If your flight provides a meal service, you may want to ask if the children can have their meals first. I usually ask the crew when they’re doing the first drink service so as not to disturb them when they’re trying to get ready for take-off. Be super polite and just mention that you find it easier to juggle everything if the kids can have their meals before yours arrives if that’s at all possible, please. It allows you to get them sorted without your tray table in the way and means that once your meal arrives, hopefully, you may be able to eat it in peace.

If the kids have drinks other than their water bottle, ask the crew to pour them a small amount. The less fluid, the less damage when it invariably spills.

Same for your own drinks –try and secure the can or bottle in the seat pocket and only pour a couple of sips into the glass at a time.

Crying (not you…the kids!)

This point may be a little controversial, but bear with me. It happens, kids cry, and as any parent knows, sometimes, there’s not much you can do about it. There are a few different ways you can handle it. If at all possible – and it probably goes against your instincts – relax. If you’re getting stressed and agitated, your little one will pick up on that. Unless it’s some full-blown screaming, you would be surprised how well the sound of the engines drowns out a crying child. Lots of people also wear noise canceling headphones these days so you’re probably not upsetting as many people as you might feel you are. Obviously try food, drinks or other distraction techniques, but otherwise just calm and cuddle your little one as best you can.

The other reason kids tend to cry is because they need to sleep.

Sometimes you just have to push through that initial crying stage so your child will sleep like…well…a baby.

Bassinet seats are great if you get them but your chances when flying non-rev are slim. If you don’t get a bassinet seat or a spare seat for younger children, then you may want to use your baby carrier to keep them safe (and asleep!), and you can keep your hands free.

Help On Arrival

If you can arrange for someone to meet you at the gate or baggage carousel, it’s definitely beneficial to have an extra pair of eyes and hands when collecting your bags and juggling all your luggage, children and related kid paraphernalia. Make sure you let them know the logistics of standby travel so they understand that the time you need them at the airport could vary wildly.

As far as advising them if you made the desired flight or not, don’t promise a text message after you board as you never know how chaotic getting seated and settled will be. I prefer the “if you don’t hear from me, assume I made the flight and text me just to make sure”. If I don’t respond it’s a fair bet I’m on the plane.

Login details

If possible, have your staff travel login details available so you can make changes to your booking and check loads as required without having to ask gate staff.

If you can’t check loads on your company site, use the StaffTraveler app.


Given the challenges that standby travel can bring, you’re probably more prepared for the unexpected than most passengers. Use this knowledge to your advantage to help you stay calm and relaxed.

When things are rapidly going south, there’s often not a lot you can do about them anyway so try and go with the flow.

If you’ve planned well, then unexpected events should only be a minor blip on your radar, and you should be well equipped to handle them.

Being stressed only makes the whole trip more unpleasant, and remember the most unpleasant experiences in the moment will probably make for a funny story after it’s all over (hopefully) so breathe, relax and enjoy the journey!