I’m not gonna lie… flying with a toddler isn’t exactly a walk in the park, most of the time.
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 little one in tow. Flight attendants are often really supportive and helpful, but it can still be stressful juggling your little one, plus any other kids on your own.
And trust me, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of toddler air travel, while travelling the world (I blogged about it on 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:
#1: 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.
Or, plan so that you have a meal there before you leave. It works every time for me – it’s way less stress worrying about making the flight.
#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.
#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.
There are the cabin checks by flight attendants and other 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.
#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.
#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. Here’s a cute Play-Doh starter set.
#6: 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 won’t 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.
#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.
#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.
#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 won’t have to worry about climbing over the person sitting next to you, when your toddler wants to walk the isle for the millionth time.
#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.
#11: Choose Seats Wisely
If you have a fairly mobile toddler, you may want to choose an aisle seat, so you won’t 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.
Going for regular walks can help bored little ones, just try and time them after the flight attendants have finished their service.
Bonus tip… always be kind and considerate to flight attendants. Most of them do want to help and can make a big difference between a bad flight and a good one to ensure a good start to your family holiday.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#15: iPads/Other Devices As Last Resort
While we try to minimise screen time, 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 screen time your everything solution, especially in the hour or two before you want them to go to sleep. Screen time keeps their brains active and it disrupts 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 toddler’s favourite movies or shows.
Using A Car Seat
While this is not a common practise in Australia compared to other countries, some airlines allow for an aircraft compatible car seat to be used during flights. Make sure the car seat is certified for airplane use and check ahead of time that your airline allows for approved child restraints. According to the FAA, the CARES Child Safety Device is the only harness-type restraint they approve of, which is designed for children weighing between 22 and 44 pounds. Booster seats are not permitted.
Did These Tips Help?
Don’t forget to bookmark this list so you can come back to it later – print it out and put it on the fridge or in your suitcase to remind yourself of what you need to think about and plan for your exciting upcoming trip. Enjoy!