Flying with toddlers is terrifying for some parents. Travel can be stressful and exhausting when you’re on your own but throwing a child into the mix can multiply those factors five fold. Here are some easy tips for flying with a toddler in tow to make it less difficult.
We’ve been on at least 50 flights with our kids since they were babies. Not to mention the buses, trains, cars, tuk tuks, minivans, ferries, speedboats and cruise ships. We’ve got this traveling with toddlers thing down to a fine art.
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Tips for Flying with a Toddler
How to Pick the Right Flight
One of my biggest tips for travelling with a toddler on a plane is to pick the right flight.
Search for fares based on departure time, not just price. You can do this on most airline sites and sites like Momondo and Kayak. Sure, keeping costs down is important but I would gladly pay an extra hundred dollars for a flight that travels through the night versus one that travels though the day. Trying to occupy a wormy, squirmy toddler for a 12 hour day flight is extremely difficult.
Night flights work great for small children and they’re one of my top tips for traveling with a toddler. They’re small enough to sleep comfortabley in an airline seat or across your lap. Getting the bulk of the flight out of the way while your child sleeps means you’ll be able to watch a film in peace and hopefully catch a few hours sleep yourself.
For shorter flights, pick a flight that travels during nap time (if your child still naps) or meal time so that you’ve got something to do for at least a portion of the flight.
Check your airline’s policy on travel with children. Most good airlines will keep a seat free next to you if ask. They’re aware that managing a toddler on plane rides is never easy and will help if possible. Two seats with the arm rest up is the perfect amount of space for a toddler to stretch out and sleep soundly. Request a spare seat at check in and reiterate this to flight attendants when you board. If the flight isn’t 100% full they will oblige.
Stopovers aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Breaking up a 12 hour flight into two six-hour flights can make air travel with toddler a lot more manageable. If your child has recently learnt to walk or is generally just a bundle of energy, having a few hours to charge around a departure lounge can be enjoyable. Be wary of stopovers that last more than two or three hours though. If you’re planning a super long-haul international travel with toddler (like New Zealand to the UK) break up your trip for a few days in the middle instead of powering through two or more back-to-back long haul flights.
Which Airline Seats to Pick
Bulkhead seats are great for the extra legroom and space to play. There’s no passenger seated in front of you so no seat to kick or recline on top of you. There’s downside of bulkhead seating though.
The arm rests don’t raise as that’s where the TV is stowed during take-off and landing. In a four seat configuration, the middle arm rest MAY raise. This is where you want to be as it’s the easiest spot to lay a toddler out to sleep at night and have enough space to play and move around during the day.
The other downside with booking the bulkhead seat is the airline bumping you from your preferred seat. Younger babies will get priority for these seats if they need bassinets. Airplane travel with toddler is tougher though in my opinion.
If you’re not sitting in the bulkhead row, sit as far away from it as you can. That little baby who just got your preferred seat is probably going to cry and keep your toddler awake!
An aisle seat may sound like a good idea, easier to get in and out without bothering another passenger. If you hit a bad spot of turbulence your child is MUCH safer in a middle or window seat. Falling cabin baggage could do serious damage to your child’s little head. Mum or Dad should sit on the aisle seat.
Getting Comfy on a Plane
Get to know your neighbours as soon as you get on board. Some people will cringe at the sign of a little child sitting next to them. A long flight with toddler seated next to you isn’t ideal. Be friendly and, if they warm to you and your child, they could be an goodsource of entertainment on the flight. That person in the seat behind you just might like a game of airline seat peek-a-boo.
Get a couple of extra airline pillows and blankets. On a day flight, use them to prop a smaller toddler up so that they can access inflight entertainment screen, colour on the tray table and get a good look at what’s going on around them.
On a night flight, tuck your child in snuggley. Always keep the seat belt on while your child is asleep. Fasten it over the blankets so flight attendants can see your child is buckled up in case you hit turbulence. Don’t leave a sleeping child unattended. If you’re travelling alone, a flight attendant will sit with them for a minute if you need to use the restroom.
Bringing a Car Seat
If you’re weary of flying with a toddler on your lap, you can always bring your car seat on board. If they’re under two you’ll need to purchase a seat for them instead of traveling with them as a lap infant. If they’re over two they have to have their own seat anyway. With a toddler car seat airplane rides are quite a bit more comfortable for the parents as well as the child. Having a toddler airplane seat like a Cares harness is also a good idea.
You can also buy inflatable leg cushions for toddlers that you place on the floor in front of their seat so they can keep their legs horizontal and even stretch out to sleep.
Bring plenty of wipes to take care of sticky fingers and faces without having to go to the restroom. If you’re not seated next to anyone you might feel comfortable changing a wet diaper in your seat. Never change a dirty diaper in your seat. Always go to the bathroom no matter how cramped and awkward it may be!
If you’ve just started potty training, go for a nappy or pull-ups on a flight. You don’t want your child to have an accident in their seat on a full flight or if you’re stuck in your seat due to turbulence or a long line for the restroom.
Eating and Drinking at 30,000 Feet
All airlines that provide meals have an option for children. Depending on how fussy your child is it may or may not be something he wants to eat. There’s always a slight chance they will forget to book your child’s meal in which case you’re stuck with an adult meal or whatever else flight attendants can rustle up.
Bring your own airplane snacks for toddlers. Choose snacks that aren’t messy or full of sugar and food colourings. The last thing you want is a hyped up toddler covered in a sticky film of candy.
Pack a sippy cup or even just a straw so your little one can drink plenty of fluids. Flying makes everyone dehydrated.
If your child still needs a bottle, bring it on board with a few travel sachets of formula. Flight attendents can provide warm water for mixing up formula but won’t be able to heat up milk. If you need milk, bring your own single serve UHT cartons. They are fine to drink at room temperature.
Avoid drinking alcohol yourself. It’ll hit you more than it would on the ground. You’ll need to keep your wits about you in case of tantrums or an emergency.
Keeping a Toddler Sane on a Plane
Keeping your toddler occupied on a plane can be difficult. Older children might be happy to sit, watch a movie and munch snacks for a few hours. A toddler, on the other hand, doesn’t have the patience to spend an extended period focused on one thing. Plan head and make it easier on yourself. Here are some airplane activities for toddlers.
- Bring a few favourite books and toys and throw one or two new, special things into the mix. Colouring or sticker books will work wonders if your child can happily reach the tray table.
- Most airlines offering in-flight entertainment have at least a few kids’ movies or TV shows. If necessary, watch the same one hour Wiggles video over and over again.
- Don’t forget about good old fashioned finger games and songs – like “Incy Wincy Spider” and “Round & Round The Garden”.
- Talk about everything that’s going on during the flight. Look out the window. Chat to other passengers. Go for walks up and down the aisles.
- Bring along a few toys. The best toys for toddler on plane are small things that will keep a toddler occupied in their seat like sticker books, coloring books, toys with buttons to push etc.
What have your experiences been like flying with toddler aged children? Do you have any tips or tricks that you’d like to share? Leave me a comment and let me know.