Flying With A Toddler – 15 Tips and Ideas

Flying With A Toddler - 15 Tips and Ideas

I’m not going to lie to you — flying with a toddler isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

It can be downright traumatic at times, especially if you haven’t put any thought and preparation into your upcoming flight.

Rest assured, sometimes you’ll get lucky and have an enjoyable, relaxed flight with your toddler.

In which case, you’ll totally feel like doing a happy dance right there in the isle, all the way up to the cockpit and back.

But if you’re a parent who doesn’t want to leave flying with a toddler to chance, then you must read on.

You’ll discover my very best tips for air travel with a terrific toddler in tow.

I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of toddler air travel, while travelling the world for Around The World + Kids.

With twelve months of flights and changing cities and countries, you quickly become an expert on toddler flight survival 101.

There have even been occasions where I’ve had to fly to another country on my own, with all three children. But lucky for me, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it sounds, because I had learnt from previous flights.

So on that note, up, up and away we go!

15 Tips and Ideas For Flying With A Toddler

Thankfully, there are lots of things you can do to help make your flight more comfortable, for both you and your toddler. Here are my best tips for parents:

Toddler Flight Tip #1: Always Get To The Airport Early

If you’re not organised and don’t have plenty of time up your sleeve, it’s a surefire way to get yourself frazzled before the journey has even begun. When your journey starts out stressy, it tends to stay that way for the whole trip. And as a parent of a toddler, you would know by now that a frazzled parent equals a toddler who knows they can circle for the kill. It’s stuff nightmares are made of.

Don’t put any extra undue stress on yourself. Make sure you have plenty of time to check in, get something to eat, change a nappy and do all the other random and unplanned things that tend to occur with a toddler on your hip. Whatever time you think you need, add an hour.

Toddler Flight Tip #2: Burn Energy Before The Flight

Especially after having to sit still during the ride to the airport, your toddler will need to burn pent up energy.

Even if it means walking lengths of the airport — or doing 1,000 laps of the travellator in our case — it will pay off. Toddlers need to get their wiggles out, and it’s much better for that to happen at the airport than on a plane. One their action and adventure cup is full, they’ll be ready for some quiet time.

This is especially important if you’re flying internationally, as you’ll have to get through extra lines of people at security checkpoints, customs and then boarding the plane.

Toddler Flight Tip #3: Be The Last To Board

You’ll be a glutton for punishment if you hurry to board the plane with your toddler. Not only will they loathe waiting patiently impatiently in line, but you’ll have to wait for everyone else to board after you too.

Then there are the cabin checks and processes on top of that — it’s too much to ask for a toddler who has an attention span the size of a small sardine. He can’t help it, it’s how he’s wired right now.

Toddler Flight Tip #4: Have An Activity Bag Ready To Go

These are a godsend. Before you travel, pack a small backpack full of activities ready to go.

Ideally, you’ll want new and exciting toys and games for your toddler, as undiscovered fun will hold their attention for much longer than the old toys they’re used to.

Sticker books (with loads of stickers) are awesome, as are colouring books and other crafty things. Don’t go crazy spending lots of money and buying a swag of toys, because it’s the simple things that seem to work the best.

Toddler Flight Tip #5: Playdough – Do Not Forget It

I love playdough. Because toddlers love playdough. We’re able to burn a few hours thanks to this genius invention.

Squishing and squashing is not only great sensory fun, but a parent’s best friend on a plane. Do not fly without playdough.

Toddler Flight Tip #6: Make Sure You Pack Plenty Of Snacks

A hungry toddler is a cranky toddler. Parents of toddlers will know they tend to be fussy eaters too.

Make sure you have plenty of snacks on board that your toddler will love.

Try to opt for healthy snacks which wont result in sugar highs and crashes, which means avoiding sugars and processed foods. Tubs of yoghurt (full fat is better than low fat, less sugar), banana, apple, a peeled boiled egg and cheese squares are ideal, nutritious snacks that most toddlers don’t mind eating.

Almonds pack a nutritional punch, if your toddler is old enough to eat them without choking. There are plenty of healthy snack ideas out there, so prepare some before you go. Plan to have more snacks than you think you need, else it’s expensive to buy snacks on the plane which aren’t that appetising.

Of course, don’t forget to pack plenty of water for you all to drink, and take sips regularly. Water will help prevent fogginess, fatigue and dehydration.

Toddler Flight Tip #7: Pack Lots of Baby Wipes

If a toddler is about, you’re guaranteed to have messes and spills.

It totally sucks having to deal with sticky messes or regurgitation of food, with nothing on hand to clean up. Make sure you have a good sized pack of baby wipes in your inflight bag, because when you pack one of those convenient 10 or 20 wipe packs in your bag, you’re tempting fate. There are never enough wipes for the messes your toddler will manage to make.

Here’s another benefit of extra wipes that you probably didn’t want to know: you can give the plane tray table a wipe, because it’s recently been discovered to be one of the dirtiest items in a plane. Faecal matter – yuck.

Pack a few more nappies (and scented nappy sacks) than you’ll expect to use too, in case of accidents or delays.

Toddler Flight Tip #8: Breastfeed If You’re Still Feeding

Changing air pressure when taking off and landing can be harsh on little ears, causing tears and upsets. Breastfeeding can help.

In fact, if you’re on an overnight flight, breastfeeding can even help your toddler sleep better. It’s that little bit of comfort while somewhere unfamiliar.

If you’re not breastfeeding, consider your toddler’s ears and find something healthy they can suck on for take off and landing.

Toddler Flight Tip #9: Get The Extra Seat For Your Toddler

As soon as a toddler is two years old, they must have their own seat.

At first thought, you might think it sucks having to pay for an extra seat. But, at around 2 years of age, you really do need the space. Either for your carry-on bags during the flight, for your toddler who decides she wants to sit on her own, or for when she wants to climb all over you and make you feel claustrophobic.

It’s worth the extra cost. Especially if it means you have the whole row to yourself, so you wont have to worry about climbing over the person sitting next to you, when your toddler wants to walk the isle for the millionth time.

Toddler Flight Tip #10: Share The Load

It really helps to employ teamwork when you have a toddler. If you’re flying with your partner or older children, they can help to shake boredom up a little. They offer someone new to engage with, and can give you a break from not having any personal space. Make sure you do tag team, so you don’t lose your mind.

If it’s just you on the flight, don’t panic, you will manage. But use any help you can. There are often a few people on your flight who will happily engage with your little ones, especially if they see you’re on your own. Another help is children are usually always seated up the back of the plane, so it offers an opportunity for little ones to interact.

Toddler Flight Tip #11: Choose Seats Wisely

If you have a fairly mobile toddler, you may want to choose an isle seat, so you wont disturb people getting in and out all the time. In an ideal situation, hopefully you have at least three seats (window, middle and isle) so your toddler can get a mix of scenery outside, isle time and one for jumping in between. However, isle seats may be much easier for parents of toddlers.

Toddler Flight Tip #12: Consider The Timing Of Your Flights

We struck gold on our very first international flight. I picked a flight which was close to midnight, and this worked out so well for many reasons.

Firstly, we could get to the airport early, relax and have dinner. It was a bonus that my father and his partner came to join us for the meal and see us off. Not only because we totally loved seeing him and were going to miss him for a year, but it provided some entertainment and distraction for our toddler.

After dinner, we checked in our bags and slowly made our way through the international terminal. By the time we had to go to the gate, our toddler was ready to pass out — we literally boarded the plane and she fell asleep breastfeeding. She slept until we arrived very early in the morning. I didn’t sleep so well, but it was so worth it.

Lunchtime flights have always been the worst for us. The hungry and tired combo which is often found at this time of the day resulted in the biggest meltdown we’ve experienced, to the point I was waiting to be kicked off the plane. Our sweet spots seem to be early in the morning for shorter flights, when she’s fresh, rested and happy, and overnight for longer flights.

However, there are no guarantees your toddler will sleep overnight on the plane. Hopefully if you’ve worn your toddler out sufficiently and if they aren’t going through any rough patches, they will be fine. But you know your toddler best. Sometimes it can be a bit of trial and error. Long flights (around 6 hours or longer) during the day can be the biggest challenge. That’s when you need the most tricks in your toolbox, and an alcoholic beverage service. Whoops, I didn’t really say that.

Toddler Flight Tip #13: Pack A Change Of Clothes For Your Toddler — And Yourself

In case you end up with spills and messes all over you (it happens), you’ll be far more comfortable if you have a change of clothes to get into. An accidental foot to your cup of tea or elbow into your dinner (I’m writing purely from experience here) can happen if you have a toddler.

Pack light, comfortable and easy to change clothes. Forget looking your best, opt for comfy and you’ll feel so much better.

Toddler Flight Tip #14: Don’t Let Any Glares Get To You

Air travel has become much more common amongst families with younger children. This is because airlines have become much more cost effective and competitive, so it’s easy to take off for a while with the kids.

As a result, you may come across less than pleased fellow passengers from time to time. Your toddler may have a hard time travelling and others may make you aware of their displeasure. But, there is nothing you can do. You need to get from A to B in the best, quickest way that you can.

Toddlers are toddlers, no matter what country you come from. They all have the same behaviours and development. When we flew to Vanuatu, a poor Ni-Vanuatu mama in front of us had a toddler having a melt down. As strange as it sounds, I felt reassured that it doesn’t matter where we come from, how we raise our kids or how good of a parent we are – all toddlers are developmentally the same.

Focus in on your toddler and don’t let your anxiety get the better of you if people around you are upset. It won’t change anything. Remember, your toddler isn’t trying to give everyone a hard time. She is having a hard time. You’ll be off the plane before you know it. You wont regret showing your toddler love and comfort, but you may regret being a frazzled, anxious mess, trying to silence your toddler for the sake of someone else. Your toddler will respond to one better than the other.

Oh, and the biggest meltdown we’ve had on a plane that I mentioned earlier? A couple of days later, we discovered two new molars in her gums. So be kind — you never know what your toddler is going through that they can’t vocalise.

Toddler Flight Tip #15: iPads/Other Devices As Last Resort

When all else fails, we do offer the iPad. Especially on long flights, when you need an assortment in your toolbox. We have a range of puzzle, counting and alphabet apps, as well as a few of her favourite movies and games. After all, as adults, we can’t expect to be entertained on a 10 hour flight, staring into the seat in front of us. So it’s okay to use an iPad or other devices if you need to. Just don’t make it your everything solution. Especially in the hour before you want them to go to sleep. Screens keep their brains active and disrupt sleep patterns. Your toddler may have a more peaceful sleep if their mind is at rest, snuggled up to mama or dad. Pack a sleepy time book for when your toddler is showing tired signs.

Before you leave for your trip, see if you can find some new and exciting educational apps to introduce to your toddler on the flight, as well as your toddlers favourite movies or shows.

Did These Tips Help?

So, did these tips help you? Or do you have any other tips for flying with a toddler? Let me know in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to bookmark this list so you can come back to it later — print it out and put it on the fridge to remind yourself of what you need to think about and plan for your exciting upcoming trip. Enjoy!

 
Last Updated: October 20, 2015

CONTRIBUTOR

Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a writer, doula (trained in 2005), and a mother of three awesome children. She's passionate about informing and educating fellow thinking parents and parents-to-be, especially about all the things she wishes she knew before she had her firstborn. Kelly is also passionate about travel, tea, travel, and animal rights and welfare. And travel.


8 comments

  1. I’m concerned since I didn’t see you mention that you should ALWAYS buy a seat for your infant or toddler and bring their car seat.

    1. This article is about tips for coping with a toddler on board — keeping them entertained. Not the practical things of travelling with a toddler. However, we’re travelling the world with our toddler (2.5, almost 3) and we didn’t bring or buy her a seat. Currently in Vietnam, babies and toddlers ride on motorbikes with their parents. The taxes on cars here are huge as the government doesn’t want them to have cars (infrastructure can’t support it). But, if you feel that it’s essential to buy or bring a car seat, great stuff, do it! πŸ™‚

    2. Never knew a toddler should be in a car seat on a plane. It is either on the parents lap, or at the seat alone while taking off and landing. Until 2 years old, you may take them the whole flight on your lap but this isn’t preferable.

  2. Hi Guys,

    I am cabin crew for a major long haul airline. And all of these tips hit the nail on the head as to what you can do to make the flight the most comfortable for you and your little one! Firstly can I assure you, when you have someone complaining about a child on a flight, we are 100% on your side. And although you may not see it, we usually shoot down their complaint with a sarcastic remark leaving them feeling microscopic! Remember, if we don’t have kids ourselves we all have nieces or nephews. And we would not tolerate someone speaking like that about them so won’t tolerate someone giving you a hard time because your little one is tired.
    If I can offer one nugget of wisdom. It would be with regards to food! You know your kid, we don’t. You may have ordered a kids meal that will usually be macaroni cheese or chicken fingers, but we don’t know he only eats pizza or doesn’t like cheese. And unfortunately our hands are completely tied as to what we have to offer. If it has not been loaded, I can’t get it. Restrictions through security only apply to liquids, gels and creams. You can bring any food through you want excluding soup/ jelly. So please please please, help us help you and bring on something your kid will eat if you know they are fussy. Of visor il heat it up for you, provide tomato sauce and get cutlery. But please don’t blame us of starving your child for 8 hours when you know they won’t eat cheese, veg, beef, fish, pasta or Mayo and turn up with no food.

  3. Hi Kelly and Sean thanks for your information regarding toddler travel, I will certainly be your tips to use next time we travel, we are just back from a flight and I can tell you I have been debating to ever fly again. I really think your spot on about boarding last, unfortunately for us the airline was so keen to get all kids on first and having to try and make your child sit on your lap is a nightmare we had all the stares and people commenting, my poor girl had a nightmare of a time going up, once we were in the air and could let her free it was no problem, however I think the extra seat is a definite for future, and thanks Sean for backing everyone up who is travelling with kids as it can be far from easy. We flew from Australia to Europe in February when she was 15 months and it was great no problems at all actually a dream I’m glad we got the timing right there, now she is 19 months and we took a 2 and a
    half hour flight what a difference nightmare for us all, so thankyou for your posts I appreciate everything written and hopefully will not have anxiety next time we decide to fly.

  4. # pack the new toys as present , when the toddler starts fidgeting give a new toy. Usually I get the stewardess to give him telling the pilot was very proud of his behavior.
    # usually when traveling with kids and family, I let my husband to board with all paraphernalia before – hence o settle all bottles, blankets , toys in the proper place and I will board last w the toddler. By boarding at last as family usually is hard to get space on the compartment above your head – hence we normally have more stuff than most of people.
    # blue tag and paper. If you happen to be seated in the first roll your toddler can stick stickers on the paper on the wall. They feel powerful and you contain them in that space.
    Hope it helps!

  5. Thank you for the tips. my daughter is 2 and incredibly hyperactive and we are now going to endure a 22 hour flight in jan 2016 which is from the UK to malaysia which also includes transferring from singapore to malaysia, another thing im not looking forward to is we have to stay on the plane for an hour as we have a drop off point at munich πŸ™ hopefully some of these tips will ease half of the flight.

  6. this was very helpful because I have a 2 month old who is a pooper. we’ve been on at least 3 flights in 2 months and I always made a mistake I hope this helps lol. we leave in two days for that 6 hour flight on delta.ο»Ώ

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