Flying with a Toddler for the First Time: [Helpful Tips ]

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When we become parents, we often develop a hesitation to hop on a plane and visit friends, family, and exciting destinations with our toddlers. We imagine the judgmental looks of other passengers as they react to our children whining and crying, and we know how difficult it can be to change a baby in the cramped space of an airplane bathroom. Well, if you have a toddler, you need to ditch your fear of flying and explore the world around you with your little one. While jet-setting isn’t the same with a toddler, you shouldn’t avoid flying and give up your love of travel because you became a parent. Traveling with a toddler on a plane isn’t as scary or complicated as you may believe.

In fact, your child will benefit from the opportunity to visit family and explore what the world beyond your neighborhood has to offer. Your child can learn a great deal about him or herself while learning about other cultures. Traveling with a toddler is also a great way to foster adventure and strengthen your family bond.

If you’re still unsure of how to pack for your toddler or what games to bring along to help entertain your toddler on a plane, we’re here to help. We’ve put together a list of pre-flight considerations, including a toddler travel checklist, airport tips and tricks to juggle your toddler and luggage in the airport, and how to keep your child entertained and calm on the flight.

Search for and Choose a Toddler-Friendly Flight

american airlines jet

Whether this is your first time flying or just the first time you hit the skies with your toddler, make sure you book the right flight for your situation.

Find Affordable Plane Tickets

screenshot of skyscanner website

As a parent, you may have a budget you’re trying to stick to. If so, make sure you search for flights using Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode. This will prevent travel deal sites from hiking the prices up every time you update your search or check a new site. Most online travel booking services use internet browser cookies and your search history to verify how interested you are in your destination and dates. So, they use clever means to pressure you into booking by advertising “only 2 seats left” or by incrementally increasing the flight prices.

Time of Day Matters

If your toddler refuses to wake before 9:00 AM, don’t book a 6:20 AM flight. Your child will likely be fussier and more difficult to handle when he or she is overtired. Try to book a flight that won’t force you to rush too much or panic if there’s traffic.

Sometimes the Best Deal Isn’t the Best Flight: Non-Stop is the Way to Go

Don’t hesitate to book that non-stop flight that is $30 more per traveler. This will save you so much stress and eliminate the need to dart across the terminal to a connecting flight with a toddler in tow. Connections and delays are always a possibility. Non-stop flights reduce the risk of added hours to your trip.

Does My Toddler Need Her Own Seat?

Parents ask this question all the time. Most airlines will allow your toddler to travel for free on your lap until the age of 2. But is this a good idea? If there is a chance your toddler will sleep on the flight, you may want to book them their own seat. Children that naturally snuggle and love being on mom’s lap may be better off on your lap, though.

When it comes down to it if you can afford the extra space, book it. You don’t want to feel like you’re inconveniencing those around you if your toddler zonks then stretch their legs clear across the armrest. And if you need to get to your diaper bag, you can place it on the empty seat once you’re in the air.

What Seats Work Best for Little Ones?

Find out if your airline has a policy that allows parents with children to board and exit first. If so, choose aisle seats near the back, but not at the very back of the plane. This will allow you to go to the bathroom easily but reduce the noise of other passengers waiting to go.

Does my Toddler Need to be in a Carseat on a Plane?

Children under the age of 2 but at least 14 days old may ride in parents lap. For small children over 2 that aren’t able to ride in a parents lap the Federal Aviation Administration recommends FAA approved car seat or harness for the entire duration of the flight. This safety harness on Amazon is made specifically for toddlers ages 2-4 and between about 20-40 pounds. Additionally it is approved by the FAA and recommended on their website.

Your Toddler’s First Flight is Booked, What Now?

Little boy in airplane seat

Prepare for Travel by Staying Healthy

When we’re stressed, our bodies become more prone to illnesses like the common cold or flu. Don’t complicate traveling with a toddler on a plane by becoming ill before you leave. Avoid getting sick by boosting your immune system and reducing stress.

  1. Begin taking vitamins 3 weeks in advance of leaving. It takes the common cold 3 to 5 days to incubate in your system and can take 2 weeks for you to feel better after getting sick. And you know how it is when one family member catches something—it cycles through the rest of the family over the course of a few weeks. Don’t take this chance by taking plenty of gummy vitamins for your toddler and some for you and your spouse, too.
  2. Don’t wait until the last minute to book your flight, pack, shop for what you need to bring. This will help eliminate some flight anxiety as your trip approaches.
  3. Keep your routine. Toddlers love stability and regularity. They will likely cause you fewer headaches if you keep everything within their normal daily routine.
  4. Use hand sanitizer like it’s going out of style. Before you leave, make sure you and your toddler wash your hands before every meal and snack. And bring travel-sized hand sanitizer along for your trip.

Make a Toddler Travel Checklist

checklist

One air travel tip that escapes many lists is that you should look at your packing lists through the eyes of your toddler. Ask yourself “what will keep him entertained on the plane,” “what snacks will he want in the airport,” and “how can they dress that’s comfortable and easy?” Think about what will make your toddler’s eyes light up with joy. Include some surprises and new toys, too.

How Do I Pack my Toddler for a Trip?

You will need to consider the weather and length of your trip before you create your individualized packing list. It’s best to check the weather three weeks before you leave in case you need to purchase anything, again seven days before, and the days leading up to your flight.

A well-thought-out, concise list will save you time, energy, and reduce worry for your first time flying with a toddler on a plane.

Plan on using your umbrella-style stroller so you can easily fold it up before boarding the plane, and quickly unfold once landing.

Your Carry-On Luggage: Make Sure You’re Bringing the Right Toddler Airplane Travel Gear

You want your belongings to be both easy to access and easy to carry. You will likely have your toddler bundled up in your arms when boarding the plane, so you may want to consider a backpack to keep your hands free. If you’re traveling with your spouse, you may prefer a tote bag since they’re easy to pull toys and sippy cups from without zipping and unzipping the bag.

Carry-On Toddler Travel Checklist:

Prepare to Keep Your Toddler Comfortable:

  • Diapers, Pull-ups, and Baby Wipes: No matter where your toddler is in the potty-training process, you’ll want to be ready for any accidents or long waits for the airplane bathroom.
  • Blanket and Pillow: Your toddler is much more likely to sleep if they’re comfortable.
  • Sippy Cup and Spill-Free Snack Bowl: Don’t risk your son or daughter picking up Cheerios off the airport or airplane floor, use a snack catcher cup. And a sippy cup will help keep your toddler hydrated while keeping his clothes clean and dry.
  • Snacks and Water: Snacks will fill your youngster’s tummy and keep them busy.
  • Candy: While you don’t want to make it rain Skittles on your kid, you will want to have some candy handy if the air pressure begins to bother their ears. Chewy candies like Skittles and gummy bears work well to ease the change in air pressure.
  • A Jacket or Sweater: Airplanes can be quite chilly. Dress your little one in layers to accommodate.
  • A Change of Clothes: Prepare to change your child into a fresh outfit if they spill water or juice on themselves or have an accident.

Toddler Checked-Bag Checklist

While your list will vary based on your activities and weather, you can be sure you will probably need:

  • Comfy Pajamas
  • A Favorite Blanket
  • Diapers or Pull-Ups
  • Children’s’ Shampoo and Soap
  • A Couple Bedtime Stories
  • One Outfit Per Day, Plus 3 Extras
  • Socks, Socks, Socks
  • Sunblock and Bug Spray (if needed)
  • Sunglasses (if needed)
  • Hat, Mittens, Other Weather Gear (as needed)
  • Children’s Silverware
  • Bibs
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • A Few Extra Toys and Comfort Items

Practice Packing and Purchase What You Need

After you create your toddler travel gear checklist, practice packing everything you will bring. You may discover that you don’t have room for every item you planned on packing or that you need to purchase new luggage. It’s always better to figure this out a week or two in advance of your travel rather than the night before.

Prepare to Keep Your Toddler Safe on Their First Flight:

  • Documentation (birth certificate and boarding pass): keep these someplace where you can easily get to them but don’t risk them falling out or getting lost
  • Hand Sanitizer: Your toddler will likely want to run around a bit and eat while you wait to board the plane. This is also helpful when you need to change your child on the airplane, too.
  • First-Aid Kit: Just in case your kid trips on the airport carpet, make sure you have a Band-Aid ready to go.

How Do I Entertain My Toddler on an Airplane?

child's hand on window of plane

Prepare Plenty of Toys and Activities:

  • Arts and Craft and Several Toys: You will want to pack:
    • crayons
    • paper
    • a coloring book
    • a doll or stuffed animal
    • something with wheels
    • a figurine
  • Your Tablet, Smartphone, Laptop, and a Charger: Keep your child entertained on the plane with a movie or a few shows ready to watch. You can also download some kid-friendly apps. Most importantly, don’t forget the charger. You will probably end up using your tablet throughout the trip at restaurants or when visiting Grandma, and you don’t want to have to purchase a new charger.
  • Kids’ Noise-Cancelling Headphones for Airplane Travel: Airplanes are loud and with the cabin pressure, you want your little one to feel engaged with their show to help keep them calm. These noise-cancelling headphones on Amazon are also bluetooth equipped, very durable and flexible, and will fit you or your child. My daughter uses the same ones and loves them.

Common Mistakes Parents Make when Flying with a Toddler for the First Time:

  • Don’t Stay Up Late the Night Before or Let Your Toddler Skip Nap time: Part of keeping yourself and your son or daughter healthy is making sure you get enough rest. This will also cut down on crying and airport whining.
  • Don’t Let Your Child Choose their Own Luggage: Many parents let their toddlers pick out their travel bag. Don’t do this. You will likely end up with a bag that won’t fit everything and may not last the duration of the trip.
  • Don’t Let Your Child Carry Their Own Bag: This is guaranteed to slow you down and create additional stress as you try to find your gate.
  • Say “No Way” to Lace-Up Shoes: First, you don’t want laced to soak up airport germs, and second, you don’t want to juggle luggage while squatting down to inevitably tie and re-tie shoes. Choose comfortable shoes for your toddler with Velcro or that slip on.
  • Don’t Let Stress Eliminate Potential Fun: Let your imagination run wild and be excited about the trip. This will calm your kid and make the adventure more fun for both of you. Try playing “I Spy” or come up with a fun airplane game.
  • Do Prepare for Presents: If you’re traveling for the holidays, make sure you have room in your luggage for a few gifts or plan to ship presents back. If your child got a present, they are absolutely in love with, exchange one of their carry-on toys with it.

The Day of Your Toddler’s First Flight

view out of plane window

Consider Asking your Pediatrician if Child Sedatives for Flying are Right for Your Toddler

If you’re experiencing flight anxiety imagine the first-time flying anxiety your little one is feeling. A sedative can help him or her sleep through the flight if your toddler tends to get too nervous. There are many over-the-counter options if your doctor says that a child sedative for flying is a viable option for your tyke.

When Using a Child Sedative for Flying Make Sure:

  • The sedative, like Benadryl, will last the flight, but not leave your kid groggy for hours after you land.
  • Your toddler has his or her own seat on the plane so they can sprawl out or sleep in their car seat.
  • Bring enough of medicine for the flight there, home, and in case you encounter delays.

Other Considerations:

Prepare your little one for the experience of flying by describing what their first flight will be like. You will also want to warn them that their ears will feel a bit funny.

Arrive for your flight earlier than necessary. This will help you feel calmer and give you plenty of time to get through security, find where you’re going, and grab a bite to eat.

Final Thoughts on flying with a toddler

Treat yourself and your toddler to some adventure. One of the best aspects of parenthood is creating long-lasting memories with your little one. Traveling with a toddler on a plane can be stressful if you don’t prepare properly ahead of time, so make sure you check your toddler travel list twice before zipping up your luggage and bring plenty of toys to keep your toddler entertained on the plane.

Take plenty of pictures and remember to have fun when you finally arrive at your destination!

 

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