Surviving a Flight with a Toddler

The first time I was going to be flying with Noah as a toddler, I was really nervous. At this point, we had flown countless amounts of times when he was a baby, but it felt very different to be flying with a toddler. Toddlers love to run around, and the idea of having to keep Noah basically still for several hours was freaking me out. When Noah was a baby, I would wear him in a fabric wrap against me for the whole duration of our travels and he was content and would sleep most of the time. As he is getting older and older, the stillness is becoming less and less. 

Now that I have flown a few times since Noah has turned one, I feel prepared to share these tips with you. I have figured out a lot of things that work, and a few that don’t. But through trial and error, I’ve developed a plan for flying with a toddler that minimizes the disasters (we can’t make it all sunshine and rainbows, that’s just not life with a toddler).

Choose a flight that coinsides with nap time. 

Noah's typical nap time is from 1030-12. When booking flights, I try to look for times where the flight will take off just after 1030. The pro to this is that he will then typically sleep for at least the first half of the flight. 

Avoid layovers if you can

If given the choice, I will take a direct flight every time. It is so much easier if you don’t have to get your child off a plane and on another one. But, if you have to take a flight with a layover, make it as easy for yourself as possible. Make sure your layover is around 2 hours, this gives you enough time to eat and let your child run around. Try to find the play area in the airport (both Boston and Chicago have very cool play areas). Letting your toddler play during the layover will get some of their energy out so they can sit during the second flight (or even better, sleep). When choosing a food option, I always pick a place with windows. That way he can watch the planes and trucks while we eat.
Make sure you have a birth certificate for your lap child
I have flown over 8 times with Noah and have yet to be asked for his birth certificate. I am usually unable to check in online without an agent there to visibly see he is under two. It is at the airlines discretion but some will not allow you to fly with a lap infant without actual proof of age. 

Wear your child through the airport

When you are traveling (especially if you are flying alone) you will want both hands available. Wearing your child in a carrier through the airport is a great way to keep your hands free. Now that Noah is bigger, I have an Ergobaby Baby Carrier I will use occasionally and I love it. It is very easy to put him in (even by myself), keeps him secure, and doesn’t result in sore shoulders after about five seconds. Maybe most importantly, Noah loves it too which means that I don’t have to fight to get him in it. Bonus: if you ever have a short layover in between flights and have to run, you don’t have to drag a toddler behind you (and they will probably love riding in the carrier while you run, my crazy child laughed the whole time!)
Bring a backpack for your diaper bag
When you are going through the airport, you definitely don’t want a bag that is constantly falling off your shoulder (trust me, I’ve done it). Get a backpack to use as your diaper bag so you can wear your child in your carrier on the front and have your backpack on your back. This way, your hands are still free and you have everything you need attached to you. And the extra bonus is the backpack balances out some of the weight from your toddler!

Check your car seat and stroller

I have seen some recommendations to take your stroller through the airport and gate check it. Personally, I would rather not have another item that I have to worry about so I check it at the counter. You can check both your car seat and stroller for free at the counter. (Tip: if you have a bag for your car seat, which you should, you can put other items in the car seat before you check it-this is my go to for transporting bulky boots!) Not only do most bags protect our car seat, it also can be worn as a backpack or rolled like a suitcase through the airport which is super helpful.

Hang out by the windows before you board

Toddlers are very curious and love to check out what is going on in their environment. Watching the planes take off and land is fascinating for a toddler. If you stand by the windows at let them watch at your terminal, you have an entertained toddler who is not trying to run all over the airport.
Bring about a million snacks
For some reason, Noah is always starving on flights and he tends to go for options that ordinarily he would turn down. I make sure to have a variety of snacks ready for him so that we don’t have a meltdown over being hungry. Typically, I take several pouches, animal crackers, cheerios, and a sweet treat for those few desperate times. 
Have a drink for take off and landing
For the toddler, not you (OK, maybe one for you too). Drinking something will help your toddler’s ears to pop so they are not in pain. If you are still nursing, you can also nurse on the way up and down to help with their ears. If Noah refuses to drink, I will give in and break out the pacifier. Sometimes he will take it other times he won't. However the swallowing action is crucial to preventing popping ears. protip: do NOT bring a cup with a straw that "pops" up. due to the pressure on the plane when you go to open the covered straw part, it will create a fountain like mess-not what you need. 

Bring extra clothes

In your diaper bag, pack an extra set of clothes for your toddler and for you. Messes are bound to happen and the last thing you want is to be stuck in wet or sticky clothes all day. Honestly, I typically bring two changes of clothes for Noah when we fly. After having it happen once where he destroyed one outfit then spilled water everywhere after I changed him, I learned my lesson. As space in a diaper bag is at a premium, I put each set of Noah’s clothes in a gallon size Ziploc bag and remove all the air then seal (it makes the clothes fit in a smaller space and gives you somewhere to keep dirty clothes if you have to change your toddler).

Have quiet toys

When we get ready for a flight, I try to avoid very noisy toys so Noah doesn’t bother the other passengers. Books, quiet sensory toys, magnetic tiles and puppets are great for flights.
Get the window seat
Having the window seat when you are flying with a toddler is great for many reasons.
  • Watching the other planes before you take off or after you land is super interesting for a toddler
  • Putting the window shade up and down is a great game
  • You will have slightly more room for you and your toddler. While some might think the aisle would be better for space, you will end up getting your elbow or some part of your toddler (head, arm, leg etc.) bumped constantly as people move by. Also, sitting by the aisle tempts your toddler to get down and run.
  • You can use the window for gel clings!

Bring along gel clings for the windows

This may have been the best thing I ever did for traveling with a toddler. Go to Target’s dollar spot or Walmart and get a set of window gel clings. You can then have your toddler stick these to the plane’s window and move them around to make different designs. During one of our flights, these kept Noah busy for 30 minutes straight (which is like an eternity in toddler time).
Anything your toddler can pack and unpack is a winner
For our most recent flight, I brought along a wet/dry bag with a zipper and filled it with Noah's books. At least 40 minutes of our flight was spent taking the books out of the bag and putting them back in. Noah also loved zipping and unzipping the bag. Our bag came from the dollar spot at Target.  I love that the bag can be used for swim suits and dirty clothes while we are traveling (love dual function!).

Bring along felt books

I wish I would have discovered how amazing felt books are earlier on. The books are very light weight and provide a lot of entertainment for toddlers. The felt book we used was also a Target dollar spot find. 

When all else fails, break out the tablet

Noah isn't interested in/ isn’t allowed to watch TV at home but I decided long ago that I would make an exception for travel. Whenever we are going to be traveling, we download a few shows from amazon/iTunes video. If Noah is over all of my other options, I will break out the tablet and let him watch an episode of a show or listen to some songs (hello instant silence).
Bring along toddler safe headphones
If you are going to let your toddler watch a show or listen to music, you will want headphones. Noah is notorious for turning the volume on the phone/ ipad way up. So I wanted to make sure that his headphones had a max volume. That way, even if he turned the tablet volume all the way up, he wouldn’t hurt his ears. 
Give yourself some grace
No matter how much you prepare, accidents can always happen. Go into the trip reminding yourself that even if something bad happens, it will be over in a few hours. Also, as a fellow passenger told me during the horrible flight I mentioned earlier, “no one else even cares, it’s always the mom who is the most distressed about her child crying.” You will quickly learn, a lot of other people have been there before. Other passengers will give you a lot of support if your toddler is struggling on the plane.
All in all, flying with a toddler can be a scary thing. But, if you prepare yourself, you and your toddler will get through it with flying colors. Try out some of my hard earned tips and you should have a very smooth trip. And who knows, maybe you will get comments on how well your toddler behaved after the flight!
Have you flown with a toddler? Do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear how your flight goes if you try any of my tips!


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