I absolutely LOVE air travel. I love everything about it. I love airports, I love airplanes, I love the gift shops, I love baggage claim and I even love the TSA! I love it all.
However….I was a bit terrified about flying with a toddler for the first time. Toddlers are unpredictable creatures. You never know how they will behave, or what will cause a meltdown. At least that’s how it is with MY toddler. Happy one moment, then total freak out the next. Things like a dropped crayon or someone sneezing too loudly and we hit DEFCON1 So, I knew we had to be prepared!
We have many friends who have flown with their infants before, but not many with Toddler-Flight experience. Before leaving I asked 82 million questions about flying with a toddler of the Experienced Mommas in my inner circle and felt a bit more comfortable taking our daughter/sometime-velociraptor on board with us!
Here are a few things we learned!
Tips for Flying With a Toddler
(All tips are from our PERSONAL experience. Every airline and flight is different, so make sure to check with your airline for their updated policies)
Check and Check! We had to bring our stroller AND carseat with us on this trip and I was in a bit of a panic over checking them. I was worried if we checked the carseat it would end up broken (or even worse, broken internally and we wouldn’t know it!) So, we decided to Gate Check both items. On Most (if not all) major airlines, each person is allowed to check two baby items of any combination. Car seat and stroller, stroller and pack n play, two strollers, etc. Southwest had no issue with us gate checking, we just had to check in at the gate and have our items tagged. Both were waiting for us, unharmed, at the gate when we landed! (We bagged our carseat to ensure that the straps didn’t get caught on anything and damaged)
Moving through the airport! This was not as bad as I’d expected it to be. We packed as light as possible (or villa had a washer and dryer so we didnt NEED to overpack.) Dave and I shared a suitcase and of course, Avery had her own. We put the carseat on top of the stroller, I carried Avery and Dave and I each pulled one suitcase. We checked our bags and then it was much easier to get around. A backpack is the easiest type of bag to use for your carryon, since it’s hands free!
SECURITY!! I’ve never had a problem with security (though Ive been pulled aside and patted down about 75% of the time) As long as you arrive at the airport early you don’t have to worry about a thing. Toddlers don’t need to take off their shoes, and I was able to just carry Avery through with me. Our Carseat did not fit through the scanner so it had to be hand screened, but that took less than two minutes. We were able to bring all of Avery’s food, bottles and water through with no issues at all. They did ask me if we had any formula or breast milk (we didn’t) and had to check Avery’s water bottles, but it was just a quick one over.
To Buy a seat or not to buy a seat? We chose not to purchase a seat for Avery. It was the best choice for our family. Financially, I just could not fathom spending a couple hundred dollars on a seat that she wasn’t going to sit in. Some people like having the extra, empty seat, but we really weren’t concerned (and often if the flight isn’t full, nobody will sit in the row with the baby anyway) Avery was happy to sit on my lap the entire flight.
If you are flying with a child UNDER age two, MAKE SURE YOU BRING THEIR BIRTH CERTIFICATE! This is really important because the ticket agent WILL need to see it to verify age. I’ve had friends fly with babies UNDER 6 months and have had to purchase a ticket because the agent was not able to verify that they were under age two. Nothing is worse than arriving at the airport for your trip and being told you need to spend a few hundred dollars on a ticket that you wont use (Some airlines will refund you if the flight isn’t full, or if you later verify age, but that can be a process!)
Let ’em run!! Once you’ve made it to your gate, let your toddler burn off some of that Toddler energy by running around (or playing in the play area–if your airport has one) Obviously be respectful of other travelers! We found an empty gate down near the end and let Avery get her sillies out before boarding!
Pre-Board or wait it out? If you are flying an airline with designated seats, I’d recommend waiting til everyone else has boarded, so you aren’t sitting on the plane for longer than you need to. Avery was most squirmy while we waiting to take off. Once in the air she was content. Of course, if you fly Southwest, or other airline without designated seats, board as soon as possible so you have the best chance of sitting with your whole family.
Aisle or Window? Many people say that an aisle seat is best, because it allows your to get up and walk around if you need to. I disagree. We prefer the window seat. We were nice and contained. Avery had no urge to be let loose like she would if she sat on the aisle. We were able to look out the window and use our window clings. And, as far as proximity to the restroom goes, really, there is no way that you AND your toddler will fit in the tiny airplane bathroom, and there isn’t space to change a diaper anyway!
Bring snacks! Lot’s and lost of snacks. We brought all Avery’s (non messy) favorites and even a few special treats (read:chocolate) just in case nothing else worked. We found that she was happy with her usual snacks of choice (unsalted pretzels and Pirates Booty) and we never had to break in to the chocolate stash!
So many activities! Bring lots of things to keep those baby brains and hands busy, busy!
Magic Pen book
Coloring Books and crayons
Pill boxes with snacks inside (This was an idea from a friend who took her son and a super-incredibly-long flight to Korea!
The two best activites were the Magic Pen book and the window clings!
We played games with the window clings where I’d ask Avery things Like “Who says Quack?” “Which of these things is Red?” “What do you wear on your feet?” and so on. It was fun and educational.
The Magic Pen book was wonderful because we didn’t have to worry about her getting marker/in/crayon/pencil on herself or on the seats and tray table! She colored in the book for more than half of the flight.
NAPS! Do whatever it takes; pray, beg, hope that they nap! I know a lot of people plan their flights around their child’s nap times. We didn’t do this, but since we woke up so much earlier than usual, Avery was tired and napped for the last 45 minutes of our flight. Dave napped for all but 45 minutes of our flight. I didn’t nap. At all.
Under Pressure! You know how the change in cabin pressure makes your ears hurt and pop, it does the same for your babies. Try to give them a sippy of water (or breastfeed if that’s your thing) during take-off and landing, and any other time there is a pressure change. Fortunately Avery didn’t have any issues with her ears, or at least none that she made us aware of!
Extra Clothes!! Throw and extra outfit or two in your carryon! And perhaps and shirt for mommy too! You never know if your kid may get sick, or spill something all over you…
It’s Screen Time! You might not let your child watch TV or play on your phone/tablet at home….but…this may be a lifesaver when all else fails. Our flight home was a little rough (We were nice and comfy until the Not so friendly Flight Attendant, got all snotty with us and told me that Avery could NOT be buckled in with me (So weird?) After jostling her around and re-buckling, she was not as happy a camper. The ipad and Disney Jr app helped her chill out.
DONT WORRY! Honestly, flights end. You’re not stuck on the plane forever (though it may feel like it!) If your kid cried, or has a tantrum, just know that most of the people on your flight are probably parents. They’ve all been there. and Your ticket cost the same as theirs. You and your toddler have every right to be on that plane too! Odds are, your kiddo will be just fine. Of my friends who have flown with their little ones, only one or two had their child cry!