Flying with a Toddler: The Ultimate Guide to (Almost) Stress-Free Flying

Flying with a toddler can be a stressful experience – trust me, I’ve been there. However, there are many things you can do to make the experience must less painful. Here are our top tips for flying with a toddler that will hopefully prevent some stress.Tips for Flying With a Toddler

Tips for Flying with a Toddler

So, I admit, when I wrote this post about flying with a baby, I thought that people with toddlers could benefit from it as well. And while I still think some of the advice in there is applicable for both babies and toddlers, after being on four flights with Jack over the past month, I have a new opinion:

Flying with a baby? Easy. Flying with a toddler? I think I’d rather get my teeth pulled!

Don’t get me wrong – Jack didn’t cry the whole time or anything. No, on the contrary, he was very happy. He loved interacting with the people around us, and in fact, insisted on them playing with and holding him. So, as long as we let him walk around as much as he wanted, eat as much as he wanted, kick the seats as much he wanted,  and open and close the window as much as he wanted, things were great.

Well, obviously, he couldn’t do these things the whole time! Even though he wanted to, I wasn’t about to let him eat two whole containers of puffs over the course of two hours. He couldn’t just walk up and down the aisles, especially when we were landing, like he wanted. And kicking the seats? Yeah. I tried to prevent that as much as possible (I still feel bad for the girl in front of us on one of our flights who Jack woke up by bopping on the head.) It also didn’t help matters that I have a total flying-phobia, and I was pretty much terrified the entire time we were flying.

Some of these tips are similar to the ones for babies, but I’ve tried to make this more geared toward toddlers. If you have any tips, I’d love to hear them as well!

This post has been updated as of June 2018. I have now had many successful flights with toddlers, and we’ve survived and learned each time!

Flying with Toddler

Flying with a Toddler

Get Their Own Seat

I truly wish we could have been able to afford to get Jack his own seat. On one of our flights, we were lucky enough to have an empty seat in our row, so Forrest sat in the aisle seat, and I sat by the window. Jack loved being able to sit in his own seat, and we had so much more room. Obviously, if your child is over two, you don’t even have the option of not buying your child their own seat. I know a lot of airlines give discounts for minors, so I would look into that as well.

If your child does have their own seat, bring their car seat! I feel like we would have had a lot less trouble getting Jack to sit still if we had his car seat with us.

If you don’t want to bring your car seat with you, I highly recommend the CARES Kids Fly Safe Safety Harness. It is FAA approved, and we’ve loved using it. It slips right over the seat and turns the seat belt into a five point harness.

Snacks

This goes without saying — bring snacks and, if your flight is long enough, a real meal. The only reason I think I made it off the plane with all my sanity was because of the limitless supply of snacks we had. While I don’t normally believe in letting Jack eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants (though he does try to get me to!), desperate times call for desperate measures!  He was obsessed with eating anything he could find in my bag, and I was just too tired to say otherwise! If you are worried about your child eating too much, just make sure to bring healthy snacks.

snacks

Make sure you put all snacks into clear, plastic bags. While not all airports are particular about this, the one we fly from most (Denver International) will individually check each and every food item that is not in a see-through container for explosives. We learned this the hard way as they scanned 10 fruit snack bags and 15 granola bars.

Bring a Stroller

If your toddler is small enough to be in a carrier still, this might still be a good option. However, I found that it was a lot easier this time around to put Jack in his stroller. He’s a little bit bigger than the last time we flew, which made me more tired as we walked through the airport. I was able to still put things in the basket of the stroller, and we were quickly able to maneuver through the airport. I definitely still recommend gate checking your stroller. That way, if you have a layover and your child needs to sleep, they can sleep in there, rather than you having to find a quiet place for them to lay down.

Plus, if you have little hooks for bags on your stroller like we do, you can totally use them to help carry luggage. I’m not kidding, this was a life saver, because we had more bags than it really made sense for us to be able to carry.

ontheplane

I sat next to someone on a flight a few times ago who told me she always used something that pretty much turned a car seat into a stroller. I thought it was pretty cool. I think it was something like this. But even better (and less expensive) are these straps that you can attach to your carry on, and it will carry your car seat and the baby!

Pack a Survival Bag

Aka, load up your diaper bag! I think we technically had like five personal items, but I was cleverly able to disguise them all into one, thanks to my diaper bag. We put Jack’s little backpack in it, that was stuffed full of his snacks, water, diaper, and wipes, my laptop, our iPad, wallets, food, and everything that you could possibly thing of.

I have a really great diaper backpack now that has tons of spaces and storage. I love using it for flying, and it was from Ethan and Emma. However, I really like my Peke*Buo bag which is nice for quick diaper changes.

Where to sit

If you are flying with an airline where you can pick your seats ahead of time, definitely be picky about where you sit. And, if you don’t initially get the seats you want, check back regularly. I personally like sitting next to the window, because it entertained Jack every now and then. Also, sitting by the aisle may make it more tempting for your little one to escape, and make it easier. Try and find a row that has at least one empty seat, especially if you aren’t buying a seat for your child. This will give you more room to spread out, and your child (and you!) won’t feel as crowded.

Personally, I liked being closer to the bathrooms, because when Jack needed to have his diaper changed, we were able to get there quicker. However, this also made it a bit noisier. So it’s really up to you! Some airlines offer extra leg space for a minimal fee, so this might be something to look into as well. Just think of your options and priorities when selecting a seat.

Also, remember that if someone is under 16 years of age, they cannot sit by the exit. So, don’t sign up for a seat next to exit if your toddler will be with you!

You should also keep in mind that if your child is using their car seat, there are more limitations on where that can be as well.

Gate Check Bags if Offered

If your flight is full, the gate attendants will more than likely ask for volunteers to have their carry-on checked at the gate, to be picked up at bag claim at your final destination. This happened both to North Carolina, and then back to Denver, and we volunteered right away. It made it SO much easier to board, carry our personal items, and, of course, carry Jack. Our carry-ons usually just have clothing and shoes, so it is never a big deal for us to do this, and it truly made me a lot less stressed out, knowing I had fewer bags to worry about.

Plan Flight Around Naps

When we flew with Jack when he was under a year old, I thought it was great to fly during his nap time, or at night. He went to sleep SO easily! However, we quickly found out that he would not sleep on the airplane on any of our flights — even the flight that got in close to midnight. Luckily, a few of our flights landed right when it was time for Jack’s nap, and he fell asleep in his stroller almost as soon as we put him in. So if you can schedule your flight right after your child wakes up, and to land shortly before a nap or bedtime, I think that is the best.

Layovers

This kind of goes along with the nap thing. While I really don’t like layovers, they turned out to be our saving grace. I don’t know how Jack would have done if we had to have gone from one flight to another. On both legs of our trip, we had a four-to-five hour layover in Minnesota, and it was definitely needed. Not only did Jack fall asleep, but when he woke up, he could run around and get his energy out. We were able to get something to eat, and just not feel all cramped like we were in the airplane!

Entertainment

Bring a laptop, iPad, or any type of electronic device that can be loaded with movies or videos. We purchased the Internet on our flights, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to stream Netflix. However, I did randomly have two Sesame Street videos that were 15 minutes each that I pulled out in my most dire of moments, and they actually did a great job of entertaining Jack for awhile. I only wish I had thought to download more!

If you don’t have some kind of electronic device, bring books, coloring books and crayons, or any other small toys that you think will keep your child occupied. I wouldn’t recommend bringing something that can be easily thrown (or maybe it’s just Jack that enjoys flinging items every which way) or rolled, or anything too messy (play dough is probably out.) You know your child best though — anything that keeps them occupied at home will likely work on the plane.

Take Advantage of Family Perks

Not all airlines still offer family boarding, but I know that at least Delta and Southwest do. With Delta, they allowed anyone with children to get on first, and even though we had pre-assigned seats, this was so helpful. One time, we missed it, because Forrest was off buying some food, and it was kind of miserable getting on the plane. I was pretty much hitting everyone with Jack’s feet and the diaper bag as I moved through the aisles. When we were able to get on first, I didn’t have to deal with that!

Just keep your ears open before boarding, because the gate attendants should indicate whether or not something like this exists.

Technology is Your Friend

We do our best to be vigilant about screen time – but when we are on vacation, it’s all about survival. So yes, we definitely use the tablet on long flights, and it helps immensely. You can now download certain movies and TV shows from Netflix, and there are lots of ways to bring along your favorite shows.

Kindle Fire Tablets for kids are great options. Very kid-friendly, and they have amazing warranties!

Be Patient

This is something I kept having to tell myself on our flight. There was one point where I was about to just break down! There was turbulence, and Jack just wanted to keep getting down. He would scream whenever I held on to him, and at that point, we’d been up since 5 AM, hadn’t eaten anything, and I was feeling sick. Needless to say, I was at my nerve’s end. At this time, I just had to tell myself the flight would be over soon, Jack didn’t understand he couldn’t really walk around, and that I needed to be patient. It did help a little bit to give myself those little pep talks (well, along with me convincing myself we weren’t crashing.)

These next two tips are from my friend, Brenna, from Life After Laundry:

Bring a Security Item

Bring your child’s security item, like if they have a blanket or stuffed animal that they sleep with. Eli {{Brenna’s son}} has this little lion that he sleeps with every night. He is super attached to it, and we only give it to him at bed so he doesn’t carry it around and lose it. For something big like a an airplane flight, I would be sure to take it with us, as it would make a world of difference having it with us. Not only would he feel better, but because it is a night time thing it may trick him into being sleepy. That is a huge maybe, but regardless I would have to have it with us.

Comfy Clothes

This is big, especially if they are potty training. I would make sure to put him in comfortable pants that were easy to get up and down, so that we aren’t fighting with clothes when we are already in a hurry on the plane or between flights.

And, before we left on our trip to North Carolina, I turned to Facebook. Here are some of the responses from some of Clarks Condensed’s readers (with my commentary in italics):

Kristalyn: Stickers have been keeping Kynzie occupied for long periods of time lately! I absolutely LOVE this idea for a sticker book from Mother’s Niche!

Brittany: Someone once offered me earplugs when I was sitting in front of them and I thought that was really considerate. Not that you have to or anything, but her kids could scream! So it was definitely useful!

Cassie: Give him Benadryl…and don’t feel bad! While I don’t typically agree with giving someone medicine to calm them down, I felt that trying Benadryl might be okay to use a small amount of, especially because I’ve heard it helps with ears popping. See this next comment for how I feel about that now..

Mary: Sometimes Benadryl can have the opposite affect and instead of making a kid tired they will have a ton of energy. If you have a lot of different things to keep him  entertained and snacks he should be okay. Every time I travel I make a survival kit with crayons, coloring books, stickers, and snacks. It got us through a 12-hour car ride with no crying.

Emily: Bring a new toy/book/crayons/etc. That will excited him.

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4 Comments

  • These were great tips! We're flying to Portland OR in 2 weeks with our almost 2 year old and I'm way nervous! I also have a serious fear of flying to top it all off. The advice about where to sit was great to hear and I'm certain I'm going to be giving in WAY more than usual when it comes to snacks. One of my clients is a flight attendant and he said that snacks were key - more than anything else.
    • I'm so glad you found them helpful! I hope that you trip went well (or goes well, I'm not sure if you left yet!) Snacks are definitely key -- don't feel bad if you give your kid more snacks than they usually have. It is so worth it.

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