How to build a sleeping tent on a plane when flying with kids

My child is asleep on a plane in the seat next to me. I look over at him and smile at this small miracle. His little brother is sleeping on the seat behind me with his dad. This may be the biggest miracle of all.

My boys have never slept well in cars or anywhere else but their beds. Somehow, we are able to convince them that they have to sleep on a plane when we take international flights. I don’t sleep a wink. Then again, I can’t fit in a tent on the plane either.

As we settled down after dinner on our flight from Washington, D.C. to Paris, the lights were still on throughout the plane. Even worse, I couldn’t get the TV to turn off in front of Dek. There was definitely a glitch in his system, even while we tried to watch movies together.

I knew this kid was not going to shut down with so many distractions. He was used to a pretty dark room, sound machine and nothing else but his brother whining about having to go to bed in the next room.

Build a sleeping tent on a plane

Thankfully the natural plane noises took care of the sound machine part of our sleep routine. Anyone seated behind the engine has more than enough white noise to help them block out the ambient noises of their fellow passengers.

After the seatbelt sign went off, I started collecting blankets. A mom has to do what a mom has to do when she is on a plane with a few hundred people who are eyeing her children nervously.

Will these kids keep them up all night on their flight? Not if I could help it! One blanket was all it would take to build a tent around each of my boys.

Tent-on-a-plane-002

HOW DID I BUILD A PLANE TENT? SIMPLE.

  1. Tuck the top of your blanket into your child’s headrest.
  2. Lay the bottom of the blanket across the open tray table*
  3. Close the tray table and click it shut over the blanket

*Alternative- if you know the person in front of you, tuck the 2nd end of the blanket into their headrest. It shouldn’t bother them.

Flying with Babies Can’t Last Forever

Voila– instant tent and darkness. We got this idea years ago when Ty, my three-year-old son, would not go to sleep unless he was in the ErgoBaby carrier. He was getting bigger and we knew we couldn’t walk the entire flight just to get him to sleep.

My husband found an empty row a few seats back and built two blanket walls around him. As a baby, he couldn’t see what was going on. My husband was able to put his arm near enough so that he could catch Ty if he fell, but not so that Ty noticed he was there.

It was like a cozy little crib. We have tried some version of this ever since. And yes, the boys have seatbelts on while they sleep.

Flying with Kids

As we watched our boys fall asleep in their tents, my husband and I looked around at our fellow passengers. OK, so maybe they didn’t applaud. In fact, I probably would have shushed them all if they had.

The boys were finally asleep. Anyone who woke them up would feel my wrath.

There were a few other kids on our flight, including a six-month-old baby girl. I saw her dad walking the aisles with her wrapped up in a Moby. She was fast asleep.

Oh how I remember those days when we couldn’t sit down. Hopefully they will find their own version of a tent for her soon. The parents might not get any sleep (I sure can’t sleep on planes!), but at least we won’t have cranky kids to deal with at two o’clock in the morning on our flight.

Have you ever come up with a crazy idea to get your kids to sleep in strange places?

tent on a plane

16 thoughts on “How to build a sleeping tent on a plane when flying with kids”

  1. Paige Conner Totaro

    Brilliant! Just brilliant.

  2. Katja - globetotting

    This is so clever! i can’t believe that I have never thought of this before, I always hate how some airlines can take SO long to turn off the lights, particularly on night flights. I will be trying this soon 🙂

    1. Night flights really are the killer when it takes them HOURS to turn down the lights!

  3. The Educational Tourist

    What a great idea! We did this on our last long flight to Spain – my son and I both slept better under the tent. Wonderful!! You do what you have to do, right?
    Natalie, The Educational Tourist

    1. TOTALLY! We have to use our imaginations when we fly with our kids so we all make it across the pond for sure!

  4. Elaine Schoch

    Totally going to try this on the next flight. Thanks!

  5. sharon

    I just came across this post while preparing for our yearly translatlantic (and a few other oceans) flight with our now 6yo. Even though I’ve been using variations of this since my daughter was in her carseat on the plane, it’s still encouraging to see I’m not the only one! As i say, whatever works (we’ve started using this on occasion in her room, but that’s another story!)

    1. Hooray! Another crazy mom building a fort on an airplane. We are about to head back to Europe, and I was remembering how we did it last time. Whatever works is definitely the way to go!

  6. Ann

    What size blanket / material is it made of? We are headed to Europe this Spring and I’m hoping my 5 year old will sleep! (He doesn’t normally sleep on the plane, but that was before I heard of the tent idea!)

    1. We just use the blankets provided by the airline. Normally international flights do still give you a blanket, but a 5×7 blanket will be more than enough for a tent. Something light weight and dark will do. You want it to be able to pack up really small if you are carrying a blanket on yourself. Let me know how it works out! We generally put our boys by the window and put a blanket up between us now so they can’t see all of the TVs on around them after the flight attendants dim the lights. They are used to sleeping on planes now so this one barrier is enough for them… thank goodness!

  7. Rochelle

    THANK YOU for this!! We are flying home to the States in a week from Japan with our 2 year old twins and 1 yr old on a 6PM flight! They are great sleepers at home.. in the dark and sound machine. This will be great! Thank you!

    1. I’m so glad it helped! Fingers crossed you survive the flight and the jet lag! We’ll be thinking of you all!

  8. Lisa

    Love this idea, going to try with my three year old who is very hard to settle at the best of times! Just wondering what position they lay in or do they just sleep sitting upright? Stupid question but I’m really worried about our night flight, bought a fly legs up for my girl but then found out they are prohibited on Virgin Atlantic 😩

  9. Gilya

    Thanks for this! I just used your tip twice- on the way to the US and back from Israel- 11 hour night flight! Our 2 year old slept for 9 hours!!! Our 6 year old slept 7.5!!! It’s the best tip I have ever come across within the flight tips / traveling with toddlers – easy, cheap and works wonders!
    We used the airline blankets for the tent and brought small blankets from home as an extra- which was lucky because it was really cold.
    So, if I had to summarize the golden flight with kids tip it would be – keep nighttime routines as best as possible, build a tent and – enjoy the movies on the flight- I watched 3!!!!

    1. WAHOO! I just did it again for my 7 year old. It really helps block out distractions, even at older ages when they need it most. And yes, I get to watch movies then too 😉

  10. Jandie

    This is absolutely brilliant!! I’ve never thought of it before. We have two adopted kiddos from Thailand, so coming home with two year olds who barely knew us on a 16 hour flight was a challenge to say the least. Here we are a few years later, getting ready to make a trek across the pond with a 5 & 8 year old and I’m researching tips on getting them to sleep and avoiding jet lag as much as possible. Thank you so much for this!

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