Tips for Flying with a Toddler

flying with a toddler

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Flying with a toddler can be a little daunting at first.  By planning and being prepared it really is not as bad as it seems.  We have flown with munchkin two times so far.  The first time was when she was about 6 mo. old, let me tell you I was nervous.  I was afraid to be that mom with that kid, you know the one that everyone complains about.  I did a lot of research on how to have the best possible flight before we flew.

The second time she was almost 2.5 and we were doing a last-minute flight to California to say goodbye to my father-in-law.  Unfortunately, he was dying from stage 4 stomach cancer that was not caught until it was too late for any treatment.  We wanted to take Ashlyn down one more time, so he could see her, and she could see him.  So here I am going to share some of the tips/tricks that worked for us and hopefully will help you.

Planning your Trip

Especially if this is your first time flying with your child make sure you plan accordingly.

  • If you can afford it get your baby/toddler their own seat, you will want a window seat.  This is good for a few reasons, one you get more carry-on items if needed.  Two you are not stuck holding a potentially upset toddler the whole trip.  Three you will be more comfortable which means less stressed.  Four if you are taking their car set you can put it in their seat to help them be more secure.  We always take munchkin’s car seat, so we don’t have to worry about renting one or hoping it is in good condition.
  • Consider breaking your trip up into two legs.  Yes, a direct flight might sound good but if your child ends up having a meltdown on the plane it will feel like forever till you land.  Plan for a layover and give yourself a couple hours if possible between flights.  This is helpful for a few reasons.  One you don’t want to feel rushed if your first flight ends up landing late.  Having to get a toddler and stuff off and run to get on another plane will not be fun.  Two if your toddler does have a meltdown on the first leg this will give you time to let them decompress and calm down.  Three some of the bigger airports have a play area and giving your toddler a chance to run, stretch their legs and get off some energy will be a great thing.

Play Area

Before this flight another mother had told me that Sea-Tac had a kids play area.  I got onto Google so fast to check into this … lol.  Turns out they have a nice play area with a family restroom, nursing area, adult seating and lots of toddler friendly things to play on and in.  The area is carpeted with like foam underneath so if they fall they are less likely to get hurt.  The items to play on look like they are hard, but really are more of a hard foam with a shiny coating.  There is a slide, tunnels, things to climb on, activities on the wall, basically anything your child might be interested in doing.

This was great for running off energy and when it got a bit too full for us we went down the hall and found food.  Munchkin is on the small side so when it was just a few younger kids it was fine, but when there came a few more bigger kids we decided we needed a break.

Planning Ahead

Planning for me is huge when traveling.  For me I tend to stress when packing because I am afraid I am going to forget something.

  • I try to have everything packed at least one – two days before our trip so that I don’t have to worry about anything.  To be sure I will go over my checklist and once packed put everything off to the side (packed of course).
  • First thing I recommend is to always check out the TSA website on traveling with children.  Even if you have traveled with them before, always double check that rules have not changed.  There are exceptions to TSA rules when traveling with babies and toddlers so get familiar with them.  I would have the site pulled up on your phone so if for some reason TSA gives you issues you can pull up the site.
  • Second make yourself a checklist specifically for carry-on items.  I recommend this anyway for any kind of travel, but it is even more important when flying.  Airports mark up prices we know so you don’t want to get caught during a layover and find you forgot something important.
  • Third is to take a stroller.  This allow you to have something to put your toddler in while getting from one terminal to another.  Also gives you something to put some of your carry-on luggage in so you don’t have to carry it all.  You can take it all the way to the gate with you, you just gate check it and when you deplane it will be waiting for you.

Packing

So, you have your toddler’s diaper bag/carry-on packed, now it’s time to do the rest of the packing.

  • Diapers – if your toddler is in diapers and you will be at your destination for a few days don’t pack any diapers.  Wait, wait I am not crazy.  When you get to your location buy a small package of diapers this way you have more room in your luggage.
  • Snacks – put your messier snacks in your luggage so you have them.  So, fruit snacks, cheese and crackers, those types of things.  If there is a potential of leakage I would put them in a Ziploc bag to be safe.
  • Activities – activities that are not for the plane trip.  Crayons and a coloring book or sketch pad, I don’t do crayons on the plane because if they drop them it is a pain to get to them with the small space.  A small collection of Legos, make sure they will not be missed if for some reason they get lost, forgotten or damaged.  Maybe go to a second-hand kid’s store and pick up some from there specifically to take with you.  A favorite book or two, especially bedtime books.
  • Toddler Toiletries – brush, hair accessories if needed, toothbrush, sunscreen if going to a sunny location, baby Q-tips, shampoo/body wash (some brands have travel size or just get a travel container from your local store), wash cloth, towel and lotion.  Lotion is good because climates are different and if you are going someplace where it is dry you will want your toddler to be as comfortable as possible.
  • Clothing – take one outfit per day plus one extra (shirt, pants & socks).  Putting each outfit into its own Ziploc bag made things really easy.  This way you can squeeze all the air out, so it will pack a bit smaller.  Also, then you have someplace to put the dirty outfit at night.

  • PJ’s – so depending on where you are going take appropriate type of PJ’s.  We took one pair for every two days.
  • Misc. Items – for a coat we preferred more of a wind breaker type coat.  This way it was light enough for warm days, would work for wet days and we could layer shirts for colder days.  If you are going somewhere with lots of sun, make sure you have sunglasses and a sun hat.  Make sure if they will be walking a lot they have a good pair of walking shoes.  If going someplace hot also take a pair of sandals (don’t forget to put sunscreen on their feet when wearing sandals.  If there is the possibility of swimming take their swim suite and flotation devices.  We use an Aqua-Leisure 1 piece swim trainer that includes the flotation so that she can’t remove it 🙂    Also if you will be doing the beach, water park or pool consider a pair of water shoes.

Airport Tips

The day of your flight is here, so now what?

  • Arrive earlier than you normally would so that you have plenty of time to get through security.  If you are bringing breast milk/formula, juice or anything like that over the allowed ounces they will need to check it and that can take time.  You will also need to carry your toddler through the scanner while they check any strollers or car seats.
  • Make sure you notify them at the start if you have allowed liquids over the approved oz.  Being prepared for the additional screening will make it easier for security.  Put those items in a separate Ziploc bag and into their own bin for screening.
  • While you are waiting for your plane let them watch other planes land and take off.  Explain what is going on.  Then when you are on your plane as you explain, it will make a bit more sense to them because they have seen it.
  • If you are traveling with a companion have them board during the early boarding for families with kids.  Your companion can get the seat set up and everything put away.  You stay in the airport with your toddler till almost everyone has boarded.  This way they are not just sitting around, and they can run off some energy.

Actually Flying with a Toddler

So you are on the plane and it is time to head out.

Before Takeoff

  • Biggest thing and probably the hardest – relax and don’t stress.  I know I must be smoking something right?  Well I am not, kids pick up on how their parents are feeling.  So, if you are feeling anxious about the flight they will act accordingly.  Be prepared and don’t stress, they will pick that up and be more likely to act that way as well.
  • Get them settled into their seat, if you brought their car seat get them buckled in.  If your car seat did not come with pads for the shoulder area get something just for flying.  I don’t support adding products that have not been safety tested with the car seat.  The only reason I suggest something is because your toddler may be strapped in longer than normal and might fall asleep.  The straps might rub your child a bit.  So, for comfort we ended up buying a pair of fluffy socks at the airport and cutting them open.  We used those for our trip home.  I liked the socks because they were not any thicker than a coat would be.  I felt a little more comfortable using them.
  • Point out fun things out the window while waiting.  Loading luggage if they can see, other planes backing out or coming in, etc.
  • As you are boarding encourage them to say hi to the flight attendants.  This is always a nice thing to do anyways.  Especially since many don’t always get acknowledged.  Also, this can help put your toddler at ease.  Sometimes the flight attendants will go out of their way if issues do come up if you were polite during boarding.  I know it sounds weird, but they do remember those things and passengers who are polite tend to stick in their mind.
  • If you brought headphones (we got Explore Foldable Volume Limiting Kids Headphones) go ahead and put them on before the engines start going.   Let them watch a movie or play a game during takeoff and landing.  This helps put their mind on something else.

  • Try to explain what is going on and what to expect as much as possible.  Especially if this is their first flight.  By helping them understand what is going on they will be less likely to be scared.  Hopefully they are excited but once things get going you never know.
  • Ask the flight attendant if they have any wings for your toddler.  If they are too busy by the time you board, ask when they start coming around with refreshments.  They don’t always offer but if you ask they usually have some in the back they would be happy to let them have.  This is especially special if this is their first flight.  It can help them feel special, the ones we got were not the plastic ones I was expecting.  They were a nice metal pin.

After Takeoff

  • Instead of the bottle/pacifier trick many use with babies we made sure she had water in her cup and had her sip on that as we took off and landed.
  • Once in the air try to make sure they are as comfortable as possible.  When they start handing out snacks make sure you get out some of theirs.  Let them feel included as much as possible.
  • If they do end up having a meltdown try to stay calm.  See what options are available to help them out.  Maybe letting them walk up and down the aisle or ask the flight attendants if they can hang out in the galley during food & beverage service.  Don’t assume it is ok to hang out in the galley, that is their “office” and is where they go to have a break and stuff so just ask.  Many times, they will say yes and again being polite is the key.  Maybe the flight attendant will remember your hello at the beginning and be able to offer a treat.  Depending on how verbal your toddler is, they might be able to tell you what is wrong, so you can try and help.  Walking them up and down while you carry them might help them fall asleep if they are tired.
  • If you are lucky they will sleep at least part of the trip if not all of it.  We schedule our first leg of the flight as a red eye.  Specifically, with the hope that she will sleep with it being her normal sleep time.  If we can’t then we shoot for a late second leg with the hope she will sleep.  Also, with the really early and really late flights there is a greater chance of the plane not being full.  This is nice because you might be able to stretch out a bit.  We were having some sleep issues before we flew.  So, we did give her 0.5 mg of melatonin, after consulting her pediatrician, before the flight.  We use Zarbee’s Naturals Children’s Sleep Chewable Tablet with Melatonin, these are 1 mg tablets, so we split them into halves and quarters.  For ease of delivery we grind up the size of pill we want to give her and mix it in her night bottle.

Final Thoughts

Was our trip perfect?  Far from it.  Ashlyn got a little fussy on the planes near the end of the flights where she was not sleeping.  She did not want to stick to any one thing, so we would get her going on one thing and 5 min later she was done and wanted something else.  Definitely did not like being stuck in her car seat for that many hours.  We just tried to stay calm and daddy took a couple turns trying to keep her occupied while I got a breather.  We just looked at it as part of being a parent of a toddler.

While traveling with a toddler can be a little stressful, with the right preparation it can also be fun.  Don’t go into this expecting issue.  Don’t start apologizing to other passengers before there are issues.  Be polite, make sure your toddler is not kicking the seat in front of them.  Really this can go a long way to getting some tolerance if something does come up.  Ashlyn did it to one passenger and when I promptly stopped her.  I let her know we don’t kick other people’s seats, the passenger turned around and thanked me.

Have your toddler use headphones when using electronics so they don’t disturb others.  Especially if they are trying to sleep.  On the other side seeing them get excited over new experiences and the things they see is great.   Things like this make great memories.  The more positive of a plane experience they have the better the next ones will be.  I would love to hear about your experiences traveling with your toddlers.

Doing some road traveling check out 77 Tips for Travelling with Children

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