How to Fly with a Toddler

I’ve just returned from visiting my parents. Corralling a toddler alone on multiple plane flights is quite exhausting. Surprisingly, it didn’t go to bad. He only had one tearful meltdown and only a handful of fussy moments.  Most of the time he was just go-go-go. Tiring but unavoidable.

A few of the flights themselves were pretty annoying. On one, the flight attendant insisted that he be strapped in before we were anywhere close to take off. I bought him a seat so that we’d have some room to maneuver but held him during take off and landing. He’s big for his age but still to small to be safely strapped into an airplane seat.

On most of the flights, the attendants were reasonable people. But on this one they were annoyingly persistent. Trying to strap in a squirmy, tired toddler for the 15min it takes to go from the terminal to actual take off let to our one melt down crying fit. Every other time I let him play around in his seat until take off and then held him. He did fine.

So, what have I learned from this experience? How can you benefit from my troubles? I’ll give you a rundown on some things that I thought were helpful but like all child rearing advice, it’s completely useless. Kids are all different and parents are all different. These may give you some ideas but that’s about all their worth.


Bring Food (That they’ll eat)

Having snacks always available helped. Especially when you’re stuck on a plane for 5+hrs because of delays. During the first flight, I didn’t bring nearly enough snacks, and some of what I did have he spilled in the terminal (Cheerios everywhere!). But on the way back, I took a bit more variety, including Animal Crackers which my Mom had introduced him too. These were his new favorite food. We normally try and avoid most sweets but for a plane flight, it was great having something he wanted that he would snack on and was portable.


Video Entertainment

A few years ago I made fun of my sister for having a DVD player in her car for her kids. While I still think that’s a little excessive for mundane trips, video entertainment is great on a plane. I downloaded an episode of Sesame Street to my phone and that helped me through a good portion of the travel during both ways.

I’m definitely thinking about getting a tablet now, just to make the next flight I take with him even easier. The phone worked but a bigger screen will be nicer and allow for more toddler appropriate games. The only real downside is he wouldn’t wear headphones. Not sure how well he could hear but it must have been enough.


Pack Well (w/ Ziplock)

While traveling with a little one, there’s a lot you need and a lot you might want.  It can be tempting to try and carry on to much.  I brought a backpack and nothing else, paying the bag check fee just so I didn’t have another bag to keep track of.

In the backpack, I had to cram in clothes, diapers, toys, food. To avoid a giant mess I made judicious use of ziplock bags. Diapers and wipes went in one. Spare clothes went in another. Toys got their own bag as did food. This made it incredibly easy to reach into the backpack and take out just what I needed.


Accept your Fate

During the whole experience, if you’re the only parent, you won’t be doing anything but baby wrangling. Accept that from the start. I got lucky and he slept some. But even then I was holding him preventing me from doing anything else. Its not like at home, there’s no point where he’s playing by himself or napping and giving you a few minutes of peace. Accept it before you leave and it makes the 10hrs+ of travel bareable.


Strollers are your Friend

I highly recommend bringing a stroller. I originally  thought I wouldn’t want to mess with one in the airport. But even though he can walk, he doesn’t really walk where I want him too. Most airports are huge and a 25lb+ toddler gets super heavy after a short time.

It also allows you the freedom to do the things you need to do without worrying about the kid running who knows where. Such as preparing everything to go through security. Or checking in. Or buying food. Or peeing.

You can gate check the stroller when you board the plane and get it back when you land. Don’t have to worry about bringing it aboard and you have a way of confining the little speedster when you need. During the times we were waiting to board, I let him run around. Keeping him from running into crowds was exhausting. I can’t image having to do that the entire time.


Buy a seat

This ones a bit controversial. You can save a lot of money by sitting a less than 2yr old on your lap. And in point of fact, they really need to sit on your lap because they’re to small for the seat belts. But buy a seat anyways.

Even when you confine your gear to one bag, you still need a place to let the child play. And the ability to access your bag. Trying to keep a full backpack at your feet, with a toddler in your lap and a stranger right next to you for 4hrs+ would have been hell.

Having a seat for him allowed me to keep the bag at his feet, since he doesn’t need feet room. He had the seat to sit in and play. Being next to a window is highly recommended as well. Confines him on the opposite side from you, so he’s not bothering anyone. And gives him  a window to look out of a shade to play with.

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2 Responses to How to Fly with a Toddler

  1. Beth says:

    After having done a fair amount of car travel with my own short stack, I’d already caught on to the virtues of bringing snacks (lots and lots of snacks) and the Sesame Street videos/tablet games, however not having flown with her before, probably would have not seen the wisdom of investing in her own seat, nor would I have known that bringing a stroller is actually fairly easily done in regards to boarding/disembarking. (I always wondered about that one). The image of you trying to get yourself and him through security was pretty amusing. Thanks for the tips. Mine probably won’t get to fly until she’s old enough where all of the above no longer applies, but you never know if there any more short stacks in our future… 😉

  2. Coleen says:

    I know the unexpected 8 hour layover I had in Baltimore would have been pure hell without the portable DVD player and my girls were 4 and 7. Some airports have small areas set aside for kids to play in. Ask any airport worker and if you have a long delay go hang out there. At least the other people hanging out there will be a little more understanding of your situation!