20 Tips for Flying with Toddlers
Taking a vacation that requires flying? Traveling with toddlers can be extremely difficult and stressful at times. Here are some tips on how to prepare and fly with your toddlers. They will fall far short of guaranteeing a flight that is free of stress and a toddler meltdown but it should get you in the right direction.
1. Pick the right flight and time.
2. Select flights with fewer stops.
You might think that connecting flights gives your toddler the opportunity to run around the airport, but direct flights or routes with fewer stops is always the best option.
Layovers only invite the risk of delays or missed connections, and getting on and off the airplane is particularly harrowing with a toddler in tow.
3. Maximize your chances of getting an extra seat.
Even if you don’t buy a seat for your toddler, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get one. If there are empty seats on a flight, many airlines will try to make them available for families with lap children to use.
The easiest airline on which to make this happen is Southwest. Because of its open seating policy, if there is even a single extra seat on the plane, you will be able to snag it for your child. Just double check with the gate agent and ask nicely.
Other airlines are a mixed bag, as you often need the gate agent to rearrange seat assignments to leave an empty seat next to where your family is sitting. If you want to maximize your chances, book yourself and your spouse or other child into an aisle and window seat (leaving an empty middle seat) near the back of the plane. Those are often the last seats to be filled and may be empty anyway.
4. Use Curbside Check-In
This could be the single-biggest, life-changing tip on the list. While maybe not as much as a baby, traveling with a toddler still requires a lot of extra gear. Umbrella stroller, car seat or safety harness, bigger bags (or worse, tiny luggage they wheel around), etc. with which you traditionally wouldn’t fly. The sooner you can ditch your checked bags without having to wait in the long check-in line, the easier life will be.
Seriously, do not walk by a curbside check-in counter and think life will be better on the inside. It won’t. Budget for the porter’s tip and gladly pay them for the convenience.
5. Split Up When You Board
While all airlines allow parents with children to board first, it’s not always the smartest move. Remember, it usually takes a half hour for everybody else to board and the plane to start moving. That’s a lot of time stuck in your seat with a restless 3-year-old. The better strategy is to have one parent board the flight early to stow the carry-ons, gate-check the stroller/car seat, and, if you’re concerned about germs, disinfect the armrests and tray tables. Meanwhile, the other parent walks/entertains the kid in the terminal until everybody is on board, and then boards last.
6. Plan your flight in 15-minute slots
For a three-hour journey you need around ten activities to keep young kids entertained (as the first and last 15 minutes you can occupy them by looking out the window for take-off and landing). Magazines, a favorite story book, drawing, Snap, and snacks are all good activities to keep them entertained. It’s unlikely you will need all ten (especially if you manage to get them to sleep) but better to have too many than too few.
7. Pack just enough.
Flight attendants urge parents to pack enough essentials for the flight. Airlines don’t offer much in the way of food that would interest a kid and they are limited in what they can offer in terms of comfort items as well.
On the flip side, don’t over pack. It can make for a difficult time in managing all of the items and re-packing everything before you get off the plane.
8. Download some kids’ games or apps
Before you board, download some kids’ games or kid-friendly apps to your smartphone or tablet (make sure to switch it to Airplane mode for the flight).
9. Bring a wide variety of snacks.
For toddlers, food is entertainment too.
Bring a wide variety of non-messy, toddler-friendly food and bring out new items at strategic moments to avoid meltdowns. Double bonus if the food takes a long time to eat.
10. Do layers, skip laces.
Be ready for drastically changing temperatures when flying. Wendy, a flight attendant and mom, suggests you dress your kids in comfortable layers -- preferably without buttons, zippers, or anything that could prevent them from getting to the bathroom in time. The same principle applies to shoes: Avoid laces and opt for slip-ons.
11. Take a pillow
Small children can sit on a pillow so they can see out of the window better, while older children may find sleeping more comfortable with a pillow.
A blanket is also good as its familiarity will comfort your child as well keep them warm if it gets chilly on-board.
12. Gift Wrap Cheap Toys
Obviously, you don’t want to bring an entire toy box but your main objective while flying with a toddler is to keep them occupied. And the more games, toys, or books you bring along, the easier your job will be. In addition to toys they already know and love, take a trip to the dollar store before your flight and stock up on cheap stuff you don’t mind losing or accidentally leaving on the plane. And then wrap them individually in wrapping paper like it was Christmas Eve. Whenever your child gets restless during the flight, break out a new toy and help them unwrap it. Let them play with the paper, then the actual toy, and when the child tires of both, well, there’s always Cheerios.
13. Don’t stress the nap.
Depending on your child, you may or may not get your child to nap on the plane if you are flying at nap time. Some kids conk out as soon as the plane starts moving, but some are simply too distracted and excited by the new environment.
Trying to force a nap may contribute to provoking bigger meltdowns.
14. Bring non-electronic entertainment
Although electronics can be amazing distractions, toddlers have the attention span of fleas. You’ll be lucky to get 5-15 minutes of sustained attention out of a TV show or movie for the under 2 set, so a phone or tablet simply cannot be the only entertainment you bring.
- Days-of-the-week pill case filled with a little treat like Goldfish or M&M’s.
- Matchbox cars
- Post-it flags
- Toys that shake and rattle (a box of Tic-Tac’s actually works well!)
- Bendy straws
- Coloring pads with triangular crayons (they don’t roll off tray tables)
15. Seat kids away from the aisle.
It can be dangerous for them. As the food and beverage cart passes by, little hands are in treacherous reach of hot coffee or water.
16. Acknowledge your fellow passengers
It’s time to channel your pre-parent brain. Remember the way you felt when a mom or dad with a toddler plopped down in the seat next to you? Something within the range of poor luck to total devastation comes to mind.
If you’re sitting next to a solo traveler, introduce your child, try to keep your kiddo within your seat’s limited real estate, and ask if you can dominate the shared armrest. You’re going to need it.
17. Prepare for air pressure.
After passing through security, be sure to stock up on enough water for everyone to get through a possible delay and have enough left for the descent--the most bothersome time for ear pressure discomfort. Have them drink some right after takeoff and then make sure they start drinking again during the last 30 to 45 minutes of the descent. The swallowing helps with the pressure and gives the added hydrating benefit.
18. Walk the aisle. But not too much.
Trying to keep an active toddler in your lap for a long flight is a pretty tough endeavor. Toddlers need to move, so for anything longer than an hour flight, plan to spend some time in the aisle getting a little exercise.
Try to time these walks around the beverage and food service so you can stay out of the flight attendants’ way.
19. Beware of germs.
Wipe down everything and above all else, do not send your kids to the bathroom without shoes!
20. Keep your composure.
There's not much we can do to assuage that passenger who complains the moment your child sneezes or giggles. Here's what you need to remember: As long as you're trying (and what parent isn't?), you've got almost everyone on your side.
Avoid engaging with adults that feel compelled to make comments.
So there you have it… our top 20 tips when traveling with toddler.
How about you? What are your travel strategies with your little ones? Share with us!