Tips For Flying With Toddlers

Planning on flying with a baby? Read these tips!

Yesterday I shared my traveling tips for those of you lucky enough to have babies. All in all, it was a pretty positive post. Today, my friends, we discuss a more difficult flying age. Toddlers are inquisitive and busy, they are budding walkers and climbers, and they love to move. These traits are outstanding for a day at the park, but are not suited for a day on a plane. Here are my thoughts on keeping everyone (relatively) happy.

In many ways, planning a flight with a toddler is similar to doing so with a baby. You will first need to decide if you’re child (under two) will be a lap baby or a ticketed passenger. If they are a lap child, ask the gate attendant to seat you next to an empty seat (if the flight isn’t full). They will usually attempt to accommodate this request.

Bring a stroller and gate check it. Make sure that stroller folds up easily.

Purchased seat? Lap baby? Now what?

With infants, I recommended bring a car seat. With toddlers, there are several options:
1. Bring your child’s car seat onto the plane (if they have a seat).
2. Purchase a Cares Airplane Travel Harness, which is FAA approved and is suited for kids over 12 months, weighing 22-44 pounds. They retail for about $70 and are about a bazillion times easier install on an airplane than that bulky car seat.
3. Hold your child on your lap if you are poor like me and your little one doesn’t have a seat. We have car seats for both kids at Grandma’s house, so we never travel with seats. Half the time I am alone with both kids, and it would be a nightmare to pack two car seats and two kids through the airport, not to mention securing them on the plane.

If you decide to bring the car seat on the plane, make sure it’s one that’s approved for airplanes, and be prepared for your kid to continually kick the seat in front of them, as the car seat will give them perfect seat kicking placement.

Don’t pre-board.

Yesterday I suggested pre-boarding with your baby. With toddlers, I don’t think this is the best course of action. The last thing you want is more time on the plane.

The exception to this, obviously, is on flights where there are no seat assignments. Southwest allows families with small children to board between zones one and two. You’ll want to do that. Your carry-on will be under your seat (because you paid attention yesterday and know that you don’t want your stuff in the overhead compartment where you can’t easily reach it), so you don’t need to worry about getting on the plane early to ensure overhead compartment space.

Cool kids are still sitting in the back.

Unless you have a tight connection, select a seat near the back of the plane. The loud plane noise will drown out your toddler’s antics, you will be close to the bathroom, you will have better access to flight attendants, and the stream of passengers to and from the bathroom will entertain your kid. On more than one occasion, my two kids and I have had six seats to ourselves because we are in the back of the plane.

Pay attention to layovers.

Try to plan your itinerary with layovers that last about an hour and a half. This gives you time to get your stroller, use the restroom, change a diaper, get some food, get to your next gate, and let your toddler run.

Layovers are great for this age. See if the airport has a play area. When I’m shopping flights, I try to fly through the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport because it has an awesome play structure. It has slides, pay rides, climbing areas, a changing table, and adult seating all in an enclosed area. It’s close to the bathroom and to a food court.

If you get food at the airport, get a kid’s meal. Those plastic toys that come with a Happy Meal have bought me hours of quiet time on the plane.

Pack lots of food.

My kids and I pretty much eat our way through flights. We like: dried fruit, crackers (cheese, graham, animal,) string cheese, sandwiches, carrot sticks, apple slices, and grapes.

We used to bring mixed nuts or trail mix, but with the prevalence of nut allergies, I try to avoid these types of foods out of consideration for those passengers who may have sensitivities.

We avoid foods containing sugar, because a toddler doped up on sugar does not make a peaceful flying companion.

Pack lots of everything.

Like with a baby, you will want to bring more diapers, wipes, and spare clothes than you think you’ll need for your toddler. I ran out of diapers on a flight once, and was only saved by the kindness of another mother on the plane who was better prepared than me. You can sometimes find diapers at the airport in a pinch, but it’s best to avoid that issue all together.

Electronics are your best friend.

Good news! Your child is now probably old enough to watch a movie or show on the plane! Set aside your regular screen time rules, and let your kiddos zone out to a cartoon for however long you need. Even if your kids don’t watch much TV, they’ll be more apt to do so if they are confined on a plane for several hours. Put some kiddie stuff on your iPhone or iPad, or check out the amazing Amazon FreeTime Unlimited if you have a Kindle Fire.

Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is an all-in-one subscription for kids that offers unlimited access to thousands of kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games. It has no ads, no in app purchases, and you can set time limits for each child’s profile. You can sign up for a free month trial, and right before a big trip is the perfect time to check it out!

Don’t forget kid headphones. No one else wants to hear Elmo. Our Kidz Gear headphones have lasted for four years, and they don’t hurt the kids’ ears.

Entertainment isn’t just electronics.

My kids’ favorite plane toys have included: Post-It notes (stick on, pull off, stick on, pull off…), Play Doh, gel window clings (you can often find seasonal ones in the dollar section at Target). and small coloring books. I don’t bring crayons. Instead, I have a retractable multi-color pen for each kid. Less items in their hand means less items to crawl under the seat to retrieve. Colored pipe cleaners are a hit, too. These items are all inexpensive, so when they get lost or broken, it’s not a big deal.


Dress your children for function. 

I often dress my kids in brightly colored shirts and unique footwear on travel days. The bright colors so I can easily spot them if they wander away from me for any reason, and the footwear for an even scarier reason. When a child is abducted, shoes are not usually changed by the abductor. Airports are very busy, my kids are cute, and I want to keep them.

Encourage a nap, but don’t expect it.

You child’s nap time will probably fall during your flight. My kids usually sleep for a bit on the plane, but we are often traveling for eight hours. They have never stuck to their regular nap schedule on a travel day. Do not intentionally deprive your toddler of sleep before the flight to force a nap on the plane. It will backfire. An overtired child is not a happy child, and besides, withholding sleep is just plain mean.

Freedom isn’t free. 

There will come a time in the flight where you think, “I’m going to let Junior wander up and down the aisle.” This is fine, but know this: Junior will not want to sit again. Once your little traveler gets a taste of freedom, they’ll want to continue to cruise. I found it easier to not even let my kids know walking around was an option.Your toddler is going to love aspects of flying and hate being confined. Stay calm, take it in stride, and smile. Bring yourself something to read, but don’t even think about taking it out unless your kid is asleep or in a cartoon coma. Keep the peace with fellow passengers by keeping your child engaged and keeping little feet from kicking seat backs.

Tomorrow we talk preschoolers!

This post contains affiliate links, meaning I earn a few cents from purchases made with those clicks. Thank you! 

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4 thoughts on “Tips For Flying With Toddlers

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