18 Tips for Flying with Toddlers

Airplane travel with kids isn’t easy. With many of our family members living far away, my two-year-old has already flown eight times. After getting lots of great tips from friends and family about airline travel with a toddler, as well as doing my own research, I thought I’d give you all a recap about what worked well and what didn’t.

Taking a toddler on a 9+ hour flight from Chicago to Hawaii was no easy decision for me. I flew solo with my daughter several times before she learned to walk. But once she began crawl I have never flown alone without another adult with me. Each stage is different, but it does seem to get easier as they get older. Traveling with kids between the ages of 1 and 3 to me are the HARDEST ages. Ultimately, it came down to this: bringing her wouldn’t be convenient or easy, but I really wanted to experience Hawaii as a family.

So I knew going into it that we’d have our work cut out for us. Our game plan: keep her happy and relatively quiet at all costs.

See previous post on Packing.

18 Tips For Flying With Toddlers

Tip #1: Check-in luggage – After we got dropped off at the curb at the airport, we barely had enough hands to get everything and everyone to the check-in counter but we made it. We checked in all the things that we didn’t need. We could’ve checked in the stroller and the car seat, but instead we opted to bring them, more on that later). I checked my big rolling suitcase (full of anything we didn’t need on the flight).  Just make sure your luggage isn’t too heavy or you will get charged. Another good thing to know: You don’t pay extra to check strollers or carseats – and it can be done either at the check-in counter or at the gate.

Tip #2: Security – Once I got through check-in, we had to get through security next. Here’s the order by which I got through security:

  1. I had my daughter in the stroller, my backpack/diaper bag, and her carseat on my back. I prefer the carseat bag that you carry like a backpack.
  2. Put carseat bag on the conveyer.
  3. Pull laptop out & put in the bin.
  4. Pull out liquids if you have any. Personally, I wait to fill up drinks after security.
  5. Put diaper bag on the conveyer
  6. Take off my shoes (which are slip on) & put them in the bin.
  7. Fold up the stroller
  8. Hold daughter
  9. Walk through metal detector
  10. Unfold stroller
  11. Put daughter in stroller (she hates this and wants to walk but too bad)
  12. Put laptop in backpack
  13. Put shoes on
  14. Diaper bag in the stroller or in front of me
  15. Put carseat bag on my back

Yahoo, we made it through security!

My daughter weighs 28 pounds so while I could put her in a carrier I would rather she’s in a stroller. I prefer taking the stroller through to the gate because it frees your hands to wrangle all your stuff.

Tip #3: Bathroom – I try and do diaper changes/potty trips before I get on the plane. This doesn’t always help, but I try to get as many out of the way before I even board. Speaking of…go to the bathroom before you leave the house. I limit my coffee or fluids for me before and during the flight. If possible, I wait to get on the plane to have something to drink.

On the Plane

Tip #4: Gate Check – Before getting on the plane, gate check your stroller. If a flight attendant doesn’t give you a gate ticket before they start boarding seek them out to get one before boarding begins so you don’t hold up the line.

Tip #5: No Early Boarding -Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but unless you have frequent flyer status, parents with children do NOT get to board early anymore, at least on the airlines I’ve flown lately. Many people advise getting on early (those who need assistance or with small children etc). I didn’t need any space in the overhead bin, so I was one of the last on the plane, so my daughter spent as little time as possible stuck in her seat.

Tip #6: Choosing a flight time – When we first flew, I thought picking a time during or close to nap time would be the best, since then she could just nap on the entire flight and be rested when we landed.  In theory, this would have been great, but I quickly realized my child is over-stimulated by new things, people, etc. and so she was even more awake!  So don’t rely on the idea that your kid is going to sleep on the plane. Also, if I have the option I always choose a direct flight. Yes, a direct flight is often more expensive then a layover somewhere but when I get on a plane I like to know that when the flight is over I’m at my destination. I don’t want to get off a plane and get on another one just to save $100 bucks.

Tip #7: Carry on everything you need, but check as much as possible. Keeping track of your child is easier that way. Only bring what you need in your carry on bag. I pack all items I will need on the plane in a backpack that fits under the seat in front of me. I use a backpack diaper bag when I travel, so it’s out of the way and not falling off my shoulder. Entertaining a two-year-old on a plane can be a bit of a challenge. What you bring really depends on your kid, and what you are comfortable lugging around. I typically fill the backpack with:

  • Tip #8: Presents – My daughter loves to get presents so I make sure that I have a couple of new toys and books that I pull out for the first time at strategic moments, she’s more interested in something new and exciting. Many experienced parents say to bring enough so kids have something new to open every hour. We have a 9 hour flight. Each direction. That’s a boatload of stuff but I’d rather be prepared. Aside from a stash of the usual crayons, paper, books, please consider the noise factor. I don’t bring anything that will give me or anyone else nearby a headache. My parameters are that they have to be quiet, simple, small and lightweight.
  • Tip #9: Bring Electronics: Flying is not the time I worry about how much television or computer my daughter is watching, those rules get thrown out when we travel. We have an iPad that I loaded with her favorite TV shows, and we bring a portable DVD player, along with headphones. I bring both an iPad and DVD player just in case the battery runs down I have an alternate ready to go. Oh, and if your kid doesn’t use headphones, make sure you get them used to headphones before you fly (I learned this lesson the hard way).
  • Tip #10: Bring something for your kids to suck on during take off and landing: When she was a baby I just gave her a bottle to drink on the ascent and descent to help with ear pressure, some women breastfeed. As she’s gotten older, I also bring lollipops.
  • Tip #11: Extra Clothes: Be sure to pack enough diapers, wipes, and an extra outfit or two. I also pack an extra shirt for myself in a ziplock bag for emergencies, because they do happen.
  • Tip #12: Food and Drinks: Bring sippy cups or bottle to fill with water. Snacks are also a must. Plan on bringing enough snacks to last all day — through flight delays and long queues. You know what your kid will eat. Avoid stuff that can get squished in your bag.
  • Tip #13: Blanket: Bring a “blankie”. It’s always cold on the plane and if she is going to nap she will want it. I also keep an identical blankie in her suitcase just in case!

Tip #14: Bring the carseat on the plane – Not everyone agrees on this but I prefer to bring the carseat on the plane for her safety and comfort.  Plus, my daughter would run the aisles if I let her so that is why I bring her carseat. If you have an active two-year-old like me, and any leg of your journey is over two hours….that’s my breaking point. Restraining a flopping, screaming toddler until the pilot turns the seat belt sign off gets old. FAST. If your kid sleeps in the car seat while driving, then chances are they have associated napping with car seat. Carrying the seat through the airport and down the narrow aisle of the plane will be a pain in the ass, there’s no way around this. Another alternative that many people swear by is the CARES Harness which is FAA approved. I’ve never used it because I think my daughter respects her carseat more.

Tip #15: Row Selection & Seat Placement. Try to buy a seat towards the back of the plane – that way, you’re near the bathroom, you have fewer rows around you and won’t bother people. If you do decide to use your car seat – FAA regulations require you to place the car seat on the window seat only, you cannot place the car seat in the middle or aisle seat.

Tip #16: Be willing to let others help you. Lots of parents travel on planes and do understand your situation. On the plane I would rather get some help from a kind stranger than struggle alone because I was afraid to ask. Ask for help. If you just ask, most people will be willing to get something for you, hold your kid, or help put away your bag. My daughter befriended two high school girls and she sat on their laps for nearly an hour.

Tip #17: Last but not least, don’t sweat the other passengers. If they want to hate you, that’s their problem. Just be as considerate as you can. Trust me, I don’t want my daughter crying anymore than anyone else. I think other passengers are much less likely to become annoyed if you are obviously making an effort to keep your child under control. I have some sympathy, but not a lot, for travelers who complain about kids on planes. We all have our own reasons for traveling. As long as a parent is trying, I don’t mind if their child is crying, noisy etc. It’s parents that think little Suzy is adorable when she runs up and down the aisle hitting passengers and do nothing to stop her that pisses off everyone.

You’ll Be Fine

At least that’s what I kept telling myself.  Just remember that you can make it through anything if it only lasts a day. And don’t panic. It just saps your energy and transfers to your kids…kids will pick up on how you feel.  Flying with little kids is always an adventure!

Tip #18: Frequent Flyer – One last tip…I enrolled my daughter in the frequent flyer programs for our airlines now that she requires her own seat. If I’m paying the fare, I want the miles! For children, some airlines require a special form that you must fill out so it takes a little more time to process.

These are my tips – what are yours? 

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