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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 Toddlers

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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.

flying with toddler

Waiting for a Flight to Singapore at 2.30am

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.


toddler sleep on plane

Napping Comfortably En Route to Bangkok

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.


Keep Clean

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.


flying with toddlers, Onboard our long flight from LAX to Fiji, Hazel bought her own snacks of course!

Onboard our long flight from LAX to Fiji, Hazel bought her own snacks of course!

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.


tips for flying with a toddler

Hazel waiting to board another long flight, Auckland to Tokyo on Air New Zealand

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.


Tips for Travelling with Toddlers


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Showing 12 comments
  • Lou

    Great tips….. I am going to need all the help I can get – Misty is CRAZY and will fight sleeping on a plane like no body’s business!

    • Bethaney

      Does that mean you’re going on a honeymoon? Our plan is to let Reuben wear himself ragged running around the airport and departure lounge. By the time we get on board he’s all but gone. He usually falls asleep on take-off and (annoyingly) on landing.

  • Aleney

    Great advice. It’s a challenge keeping our littlest still but ours are starting to get in the swing of airline etiquette 🙂

  • Jess

    Some good tips. Quick question – is a 15 month too old for a bassinet? Thinking about a night flight to the maldives… not sure how it would work with him sleeping on us! Would you advise buying an extra seat for him?

    • Bethaney Davies

      15 months is too big for a bassinet seat. Most airlines only let you use them up to 8kgs in weight. They are pretty small! We never paid for a seat for Reuben until we had to but if it’s a really long flight I would always make sure I asked at check-in and then again when boarding if there were any spare seats we could spread out in. Cabin crew are usually really good about accommodating requests from parents travelling with babies and toddlers as they don’t want screaming on the flight. 😉

  • Kelley

    These are really great tips!!!

  • Nicole

    Hi There.
    We’re flying to Thailand over Easter with our girl and she’ll be 15 months. I am hoping for a spare seat next to us but I am not holding my breath! Starting to panic!!! lol.
    Any other tips you think I should know!

    • Bethaney Davies

      Hi Nicole,

      What airline/route are you flying? Is it a day or night flight? You could call ahead to see how full the flight is or look at the seating plan for the flight if that’s an option when managing your booking online. I’d recommend NOT going for the bulkhead seats so you can flip the arm rests up and she can sleep across you and your partner’s lap if the flight is completely full. Request a spare seat at check in and reiterate this to flight attendants when you board. They don’t want a grumpy toddler on board!!

      Try not to dread the flight toooo much. It will be over soon enough!


  • Michelle

    Hi Bethaney,
    We are about to book a flight from Melbourne to Phuket (approx 10 hours) with our daughter who will be 17 months. Looking at flying with Thai but there are so many variable to consider! Most likely be booking an extra seat for her, but i read you don’t recommend sitting in the bulkheads (that’s where our travel agent recommends, but if we cannot raise armrests then this could be troublesome). Do you recommend we take our daughter’s car seat on flight to strap into a seat or just let her sit in the regular seat with the provided toddler straps?

    • Bethaney Davies

      Hi Michelle,

      If you can afford it, I would book the extra seat for your toddler if they are a big 17-month old. Being in the bulkhead seats is hopeless if your child is too big for the bassinet because the armrests don’t raise as they hold the tray table and TV screen. Sometimes, it’s a row of four seats the middle arm rest will raise but that still only gives you two seats to lie across instead of three. If I were you, I’d book the flights that has the most free seats available, that way you have more chance of being able to find seats to lie down on. Some airlines (like Etihad) let you look at the seat availability before booking, but others you will need to call. If your dates are slightly flexible, choose the date that has the most seats free.

      Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions about flying with kids or Thailand with kids.


  • Rachel

    We will be flying with our toddler (18months)on a 13 hour night flight to Dubai which leaves at 10.30pm. Over the past couple of weeks I have been putting her to bed later so she doesn’t become too overtired, as her usual bedtime is 7pm. I’m hoping that she will be awake during take off but I’m starting to think she may fall asleep beforehand, in which case do I need to wake her for take off, to prevent any problems with her ears, or shouldn’t it matter at this age?
    Any advice greatly appreciated.

    • Bethaney Davies

      Hi Rachel,

      I don’t think take-off will be a problem for you if she does fall asleep. We’ve always found that our son would fall asleep right as the plane was taking off. We always tried to get as much energy out of him at the departure gate before a flight, even if it was late at night. If your flight leaves at 10.30pm then you’ll probably be at the airport around 8-ish. Not too long to keep her up and then put her in the stroller for around the airport if she’s sleepy. I’d say she’ll be excited and want to stay up until boarding.

      Let me know how you get on!


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