10 Tips for Flying with Toddlers

A few weeks ago, I wrote up my 10 tips for traveling with an infant.  Traveling with an infant is great, but flying with toddlers definitely requires that you up your game a bit. They are bigger, louder, more mobile, and more independent.  This list is written with long-haul/international flights in mind, but many of the tips are useful for short trips as well.  For those who will be flying the friendly skies with children ages 9 months – 3 years, here is a list of 10 tips to keep in mind.

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[li_item icon=””]1. Do yourself and your child a favor, buy them their own seat, and bring their car seat along.  I can fly “infant in arms” until the child is about 9 months old, and then I reach my limit. Other people have different opinions, but I have found that after about 9 months, the baby is not as comfortable in my arms for the duration of a long flight.  (Short-haul flights, I can usually tough-it-out until the kid is 2.)  Your car seat must be approved for air travel. We bought the FAA-approved Britax car seat, and it has performed beautifully.  We liked it so much, we now have two of them.[/li_item]

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[li_item icon=””]2.  To carry your car seat, and your kid through the airport, check your stroller and buy one of these.  It’s basically a luggage cart for your car seat.  If your trip is just a one-time thing, beg, borrow or steal one from a friend, but for multiple trips, it is worth the money. You snap the car seat onto it with the LATCH connectors, tilt it back, and pull it through the airport.  It is lightweight, folds flat, and you can store it in the overhead bin, or under the seat. You can also strap your kid into the car seat as you pull it along, but if we have the time, I prefer my kids to walk in the airports. (See #6).[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]3.  Before your trip, go to the dollar store and pick up a few fun toys, games and stickers for the trip.  For our last trip, I bought each child a small pencil bag, and put inside some crayons, colored pencils, and loads of stickers.  I bought each child a new coloring book as well.  When traveling with a toddler, I try to set a “1 toy per 20 minutes” rule.  Meaning, I will get out a new toy every 20 minutes or so, but I will not be the “on-demand” toy factory.  If you expect to be traveling often, make a box of “travel toys”.  Our set of travel toys includes: a set of lacing cards, a set of small dinosaurs, Mini Magna doodle, play-doh, triangular crayons (an ingenious idea – they don’t roll off the tray table!) etc.  The kids know that most of these toys only come out on the plane, and therefore, are more excited to play with them. We also load the iPad with shows they like, and a few games, but most of the time, they want to watch the TV on the airplane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]4.  Buy a set of over-ear headphones for each child. The ones provided by the airlines don’t usually fit little kids’ heads, and ear buds usually bother them. Also, it can be something special to bring out during the flight.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]5.  Bring your own food. MORE THAN YOU THINK WILL BE NECESSARY.  Trying to convince your grumpy, tired 2 year old to eat mystery “chicken mornay” may be a hard sell.  Bring sandwiches that travel easily, such as PB&J.  I bring plenty of small foods, such as cheerios, goldfish, teddy grahams, or box raisins.  The box raisins are super handy because the kids kill a bunch of time trying to fish every last raisin out of the box.  They are also high in fiber, which helps counteract travel-related constipation.  I also bring a few apples and granola bars.  Each child has his or her own water bottle.  We encourage them to drink plenty of water.  Pro-tip:  If traveling with your spouse/partner, split the snacks into two gallon-size ziploc bags, in case you are separated on the plane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]6.  If you have time, let the kids walk in the airport.  This is a handy way to burn off excess energy and get the wiggles out.  It is tempting to strap them into the stroller or carrier, and just get on to the next gate, but then they don’t have any time run about.  If you’re worried about a toddler running off, get a leash/harness, or let them walk part of the way, on the less-crowded concourses.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]7. When you get to your gate, sit close to a window so that they can watch the planes, or off to the side, where there is more space for them to run around (within reason).  If you are fighting jet lag, keep moving.  When we have a layover on an international trip, we try not to sit down too much until we get on the next flight.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]8.  If traveling with your spouse or partner, consider sending one person onto the plane early, with the car seat and carryons (if possible), and then wait until the latest possible moment to board the plane with your child. There is nothing worse than trying to entertain a child while you are still sitting at the gate![/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]9.  Clothing: Dress everyone in easy-on, easy-off, non-fussy clothes.  This is not the time to dress your child in that adorable dress with lace and tulle from your aunt.  If necessary, change into that adorable outfit in the airport bathroom when you get to your destination. I dress my daughter in leggings, t-shirt, cardigan or zip-front sweatshirt.  My sons wear comfortable jeans or athletic pants, t-shirt, zip-front sweatshirt.  Pack each child a full backup outfit, including underwear and socks, in a one-gallon ziploc bag.  Should the worst happen, you just have to reach into your bag, find their ziploc, and take that to the bathroom to change.  You never know when someone might get air sick, or spill an entire orange juice down the front of their clothes.  Pack an extra shirt for yourself as well.  If your child is recently potty trained, have them wear pull-ups.  We flew a week after Liesl was potty trained, and I told her that the pull-ups were her “airplane panties”.  She never had an accident, but it was cheap insurance.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]10.  Be flexible and Have Fun! Set some ground rules, but don’t be afraid to make the trip fun as well.  For example, screen time is really limited at our house, but if Liesl wants to watch Doc McStuffins all.the.way from Dublin to New York, I let her.  They rarely get juice at home, but if they want juice every time the flight attendant offers drinks, juice it is!  If they want to do jumping jacks at the gate, they can.  Or we go out of our way during a layover to find the “really big” planes and watch them take off.[/li_item]


I find that the kids reflect our attitudes, especially in travel.  When things don’t go as planned, if we treat it as a “Grand Adventure”, they will too.  Travel with kids is a lot of work, but given the choice between traveling with kids, or staying home – I’ll choose travel any day!