The toddler years can be both trying and fun. Toddlers are rambunctious, squirmy and messy. But don’t let the occasional tantrum-throwing prevent you from traveling or flying with a toddler.
In fact, I would encourage you to travel more with your child at this age. When I first created this website after our daughter was born, I wrote an article offering tips for families flying with “children”. Yep, as a new mother who had never actually flown with a toddler, I naively lumped all children into one category. While some of the tips I offered still apply to flying with a toddler, I have since changed the name of that page to “Flying with a Baby” and added this page. I feel like this unique age deserves its own set of rules and advice.
Tips for Flying with a Toddler
The toddler age can be a blast. Toddlers are curious little explorers. They’re constantly learning new things… how to walk… how to talk… how to become independent.
Flying with a toddler is so much different than flying with a baby. While trips in general have gotten easier as our daughter has gotten older, the time spent in planes and cars has gotten a bit more difficult.
We’ve flown countless times with our daughter during the toddler years, including international flights. And we’ve learned a thing of two from each flight.
But before we jump into our top tips for flying with a toddler, let me just say the most important thing to remember is to simply roll with the punches. Toddlers are going to be toddlers. They are going to cry and throw a fit. And chances are, if your flight is more than a couple of hours long, one of those fits will happen on a plane. Don’t stress.
And the following seven things will help you make it through any flight with a lot less stress.
Most toddlers love books, and they are perfect for traveling. They are much more compact than toys, so you can bring several of them with you. My daughter absolutely loves the Lift-the-Flap books by Karen Katz. There are a ton to choose from and since they are thin books you can bring four or five along with you on the trip. On long plane rides, I like to pack about six of her favorite books that we will read over and over again. It keeps her quiet and the other passengers happy.
Planes don’t always have snacks that toddlers, especially late teeters like my daughter, can eat. (I swear, I think my kid will start preschool with only four teeth.) So I bring along plenty of snacks, more than I think would typically be necessary. Puffs make great snacks as do goldfish crackers. I also pack some easy, healthy options too, like bananas, when flying with a toddler.
When my daughter was an infant, I would nurse or bottle feed her on take off and landing to keep her ears from hurting. But now that she is weaned and no longer using a bottle, it’s harder to get her to drink anything on command. That’s why we always buy a small container of juice once we get through security, or have the flight attendant pour some into her sippy cup once we get on the plane. We dilute it with water, and since my daughter doesn’t typically get juice at home, this is a huge treat, and she will suck it down! The jaw motion helps keep her ears from hurting when the pressure changes, and Avery will stay occupied with her sippy cup for awhile, too.
Toddlers will inevitably want to get up and walk around, especially on long, international flights. Instead of having to crawl over a stranger every time your tiny traveler gets a burst of energy, purchase the aisle seat. That allows the two of you to make an occasional trek up and down the aisle. Word of warning: this will annoy some travelers, usually the grouchy ones who get annoyed at everything. But better to parade your child through the aisle then to have the whole plane annoyed by a screaming child.
I recommend this for children of any age, but disinfectant wipes are especially a must with toddlers. The first thing I do when we get into the plane is wipe down our surroundings. The arm rests, tables, windows, walls, in-flight magazines and the laminated inserts in the seat-back compartment. Then, I have no worries when my germ-loving tot decides to lick, chew on or touch everything in sight. I also recommend a quick inventory of the floor beneath your seats. If there is a tissue, trash or anything else in the floor, trust me, a toddler will find it and try to eat it.
Alas, my daughter is at the age where she is mildly interested in children’s shows. We don’t watch a lot of television at home. But I always have a few shows downloaded for trips. She might only get through one 30 minute show before she loses interest. But that’s thirty minutes I don’t have to spend entertaining her. Although some flights have in-flight entertainment, I’ve found my toddler prefers to watch a show on a tablet or iPad, so I would suggest investing in one. We use this one.
Buy an extra seat
Until the age of two, children are allowed to sit in a parent’s lap on a flight. After that you have to buy them their own seat. But even in those early toddler months I still like to invest in an extra seat. Although the airline policy can save quite a bit of money, we only do fly with her on our lap on shorter flights (less than three hours). On long, international flights we fork over the money on an extra seat. They won’t always stay in it, but it does give them a little extra room to wiggle around in the aisle. You won’t feel as confined and your child won’t require as much walking up and down the aisle.