For many, flying with a toddler can be a daunting experience that many are afraid to even attempt. But flying with a child doesn’t have to be a terrible or scary thing to attempt.
Personally, I’ve flown twice with Elijah: first when he was about seven months old, and again when he was a year and a half old. The first time was a little bit rocky since I was still breastfeeding Elijah, and was just learning how to travel with him.
The second time has been much better now that we’ve learned some tricks to make the experience easier. At first I was worried that it would be harder and more difficult with an energetic toddler (plus I flew alone with him to our destination!). However, it ended up being a pretty good experience!
We used what we learned from his first flying experience to make this trip far easier. And these tips and tricks will help you have a positive flying experience with your toddler as well!
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Tips For Flying With A Toddler
1. Know what you can bring
The first tips you should be aware of when you are flying with a toddler are what you are allowed to bring on the plane. Depending on how old your toddler is, you may be eligible for freebies.
Most airlines offer complementary checked items if your child is under two years old; some of these may still apply for older toddlers depending on age and airline.
Car seat, stroller, diaper bag
For toddlers under the age of two, airlines typically offer a free checked (baggage or gate) car seat and stroller per child. Your little one will also be eligible to bring a diaper bag on the plane as well.
These items do not count toward your checked or carry on bag allowance.
Being aware of these free items can help you to pack smartly, and make it easier to navigate the airport with your toddler.
Whenever you are flying, always be aware of the requirements for any liquids or gels you are planning to carry on the plane. Each passenger is allowed one quart sized clear plastic bag of liquids/gels in their carry on. All liquids/gels in this bag must be in containers no larger than 3 ounces.
This is important to remember if you plan to bring diaper rash cream along for your toddler. Be sure the cream is in a travel size (3oz) container and keep with your other carry on liquids.
One thing to note is that diaper wipes or sanitation wipes do not count towards your liquids. However, wipes are typically wet enough to set off the alarm and require additional inspection from TSA. To avoid running into this during security screening, take out any wipes from your toddler’s diaper bag and place them in a bin where they can be easily seen.
Snacks & drinks
Although you will be unable to bring any drinks through security at the airport, you can certainly pack snacks for your toddler. Stick to easy snacks that won’t make a mess when your little one inevitably requests one in the middle of your flight.
Once you have gone through security, be sure to buy a bottle of water or refill a sippy cup from a water fountain for your little one. You definitely don’t want your child to get dehydrated, or to be whining for a drink mid-flight.
2. Check what you can
Carry as little as possible
When I fly with my toddler, my goal is to carry as little as possible with me onto the plane. If at all possible, check all your baggage as soon as you get to the airport. This is especially essential if you are flying alone with your toddler and have no one to help you carry things.
Have a well stocked diaper bag/backpack for your child. Keep your own carry on and personal items to a minimum. This will allow you to keep your hands as free as possible, which you will definitely need to do with a toddler.
Gate check a stroller
This is one thing I wish I had done on our second flying trip with Elijah. When he first flew at seven months old, we had brought and gate checked his stroller. But, this time when he was a year and a half old, we didn’t bring his stroller.
For some reason, I thought we wouldn’t need it, since the family we were going to see had strollers we could borrow once we got there. Boy was I wrong!
Not having a stroller with me made it a lot harder to get Elijah and myself through security, to our gate, and onto the plane. I immediately regretted not having a stroller to strap him into so that I could have my hands freer.
Thankfully, we were able to use my mom’s umbrella stroller on our return trip. It made it so much easier!
3. Have a plan
If I had to pick one of my tips as a number one tip for flying with a toddler, it would probably be to have a plan. Having a plan for when you travel with a child always makes the trip so much easier and more enjoyable. Yes, sometimes things don’t go according to plan, but having a solid idea of how to handle situations you know you will encounter can greatly help you.
Plan for security
Always, always have a plan for how you will get through security!
Have all your liquids/gels properly placed in a ziploc bag and accessible for security. Know ahead of time how you will get everything on the screening belt while still keeping hold of your toddler.
If you are traveling with your spouse or a companion, know who will watch your toddler while the other goes through security. Knowing all these things in advance will help you get through security quickly and without issues.
Plan for meals
Considering how often toddlers like to eat, it is very likely that you will be either in the airport or on the plane during at least one of your toddler’s usual meal or snack times. With that in mind, have a plan in advance for how you will handle feeding your child on the go.
Personally, I always bring plenty of snacks for Elijah to eat while on the plane. If we are flying during a meal time, I usual try to get to the airport early enough to have him eat an early meal before boarding. If you plan to pack a meal for your toddler, make sure it does not contain any forbidden foods (such as peanut butter) that will get you stopped by security.
And if you plan to buy food at the airport, look up the airport’s terminal map and find out what food options will be available and where to find them in relation to your gate.
Plan for bathroom breaks
Regardless of whether your toddler is potty trained or still in diapers, you will need to plan for bathroom breaks at the airport and possibly on the plane.
I always make it a point to check and change Elijah’s diaper about fifteen minutes before boarding begins. To make this easier on yourself, use terminal maps to check out where the bathrooms are. Scoping out bathroom locations a few days before your flight will help you navigate the airport quickly and easily.
If your toddler doesn’t do well in public bathrooms, opt to use a family or companion restroom where both you and your child will have more privacy.
4. Pack a backpack for the plane
For toddlers, I’ve found that toddler sized backpacks make the best diaper bags, especially when traveling. While it may be tempting to pack a huge diaper bag, remember that one of your big goals should be to carry as little as possible with you onto the plane.
That being said, there are some things you will definitely need to pack in your diaper backpack.
Obviously, you will need to bring diapers and wipes. Keep these easily accessible so that you can get to them quickly, rather than wasting time digging through the bag to find them.
If your toddler is potty trained, bring along a few extra pairs of underwear.
Regardless of whether your child is in diapers or potty trained, always bring extra clothes in their diaper bag when flying. You never know when your little one will blow out a diaper, or not make it to the bathroom in time.
Since this is now a rare experience with Elijah, I usually keep his extra clothes toward the bottom of his diaper bag. That way, things we use consistently can stay at the top for easy access.
Books & toys
You will definitely want to bring books and toys to entertain your child on the flight. No one wants to fly with a bored, agitated, or crying child.
When I fly with Elijah, I typically pack 3-5 board books, mixing them with ones he reads often and ones he hasn’t read as much.
I also stick with small, quiet toys that don’t make noise. His favorite toys to play with on the plane are small plastic cars, animal figurines, and his buckle toy.
If your toddler doesn’t ask for snacks at least once on your flight, it will probably be a miracle (or a super short flight!). I like to pack easy snacks that don’t make a huge mess.
Elijah’s favorite traveling snacks are animal crackers and pretzels. I also make sure to either buy a bottle of water or fill his sippy cup at a water fountain prior to boarding the plane. That way, he will have something to drink on the flight.
5. Fly during nap time
This is one of those tips for flying with a toddler that could go either way. Some toddlers do really well flying during their nap time, and others do not. It will basically come down to whether or not your toddler will sleep on the plane at all.
For us, flying during Elijah’s nap time works great. He’s usually asleep by the time the plane is in the air, and typically takes an hour nap.
Once he wakes up, he’s usually pretty happy and easily entertained the rest of the flight.
Tips for flying with a toddler during nap time: if you are flying with a spouse or companion, let your little one lay across your laps. If you are flying alone with your child, try to make them as comfortable as you can to encourage a longer nap.
And if you find your child does not sleep on flights, then definitely avoid flying during usual nap times!
6. Pick either a window or aisle seat
Last but not least, you may find it in your favor to pick either a window or aisle seat.
Aisle seats are probably the most preferable when it comes to flying with a toddler. These seats offer easy access to getting up to change diapers and use the bathroom. However, if your little one is prone to wiggling too much or you have a hard time keeping him on your lap (if flying as a lap child), an aisle seat may not the best the best scenario.
Window seats are also good seat choices if your toddler takes longer naps during flight. Having a window to lean against can help you support your sleeping child. Plus, the view may be enough of a distraction to entertain your child for the remainder of the flight. The downside to the window seat is that you will have to ask your seatmates to move in order to use the bathroom and change a diaper.
If you’ve traveled with a toddler before, share with me in the comments below your best tips for flying with a toddler!