If even the thought of flying with a toddler is terrifying to you, we’re here to to tell you that you’re not alone. Taking your toddler out of their routine and placing them in a confined space for any period of time can seem like a real-life nightmare.
The anticipated glares from fellow passengers, the need for numerous airplane potty breaks that result in zero satisfaction from said toddler, the zero allotted potty breaks for said parent. Then consider the ever-growing number of news stories about parents getting kicked off planes with toddlers in tow and that’s enough to cure even the worst case of cabin fever.
But like with many things in life, sometimes the thought of something and the preemptive stress end up being much worse than the reality. And the payoff for getting out of dodge and having new experiences together as a family can be oh-so worthwhile.
Flying with a toddler comes with its own set of emotional baggage, that is for sure. But—with a little planning, a lot of patience and a few mantras in your back pocket—it can be done. And it might not even be as bad as you think.
The Benefits of Travel for Toddlers
The most rewarding things in life usually come with a price and that couldn’t be more true here. We’ll get to the tips for flying with a toddler that can help you get through it, but we also want to share why all the fuss is worth it.
Traveling with your child from a young age can help set a healthy foundation of respect for other cultures. This kind of exposure can expand their empathetic sensibilities. And some believe travel can also aid in linguistic development. Not to mention that traveling with your toddler enhances family bonding and creates opportunities to start new traditions together. This can be especially true if you are traveling to see extended family.
What to Pack When Flying with a Toddler
What you pack and bring with you on the plane will be your first and best line of defense against toddler tantrums. This is why you’ll want to pack one carry-on full of toddler-specific items, which could also be aptly named your bag of tricks.
You’ll want to pack a mix of entertainment that includes both brand new items and classic favorites. If your child has a favorite toy or game, bring it. Also pack things they haven’t tried before, the novelty will buy you some extra minutes. And… snacks may become your very best friend of all. You know that deal section at the front of Target? Think along the lines of those inexpensive toys and activities that you won’t mind chucking post-flight.
Here are some ideas:
- Magnet puzzles (pieces won’t get lost as easily)
- Kinetic sand with tray (can also pack play dough and slime to use in the tray)
- Mini dinosaur figures (you can use these figures to make “fossil” prints in play dough or sand)
- A few Duplo blocks
- Coloring book and crayons
- Books (you can turn any book into a “look and find” game)
- Tablet with pre downloaded movies and games
- Toddler-sized headphones
- Change of clothes
- Child pillow (use it for them to sit on if the tray is too high for them to reach)
- Cheese and crackers snack boxes (building sandwiches can also serve as entertainment)
- Lollipops (good to use for takeoff and landing since toddlers are too young for chewing gum)
- Sanitizing wipes and baby wipes (sanitizing wipes for cleaning your surroundings and baby wipes for cleaning you child)
- Water bottle
Tips for Flying with a Toddler
Again, we don’t want to minimize the task of flying with a toddler, it can and most likely will be a feat. But the right mentality can help get you through it. And so can these tips:
- Try to plan flight times to take place during nap time or at night. If your child can sleep for all or part of the flight, you’ll save on some stress.
- Be prepared to play and entertain the entire flight. This is not a time for you to catch up on missed episodes of your favorite show.
- Think of multiple uses for each toy you bring. You’ll have limited space in your bag, so you’ll want to maximize each toy’s impact.
- Use snacks as a workaround for mask wearing. If you are flying with a toddler during COVID restrictions, you may not think it’s possible because of unrealistic expectations around children under 5 and mask mandates. It’s not foolproof, but anyone is allowed to not have a mask on if they are eating or drinking. If you can wisely time sips and snacks around the time flight attendants pass your seat, you may be able to get away with some mask breaks.
- Bring the bottle. If your child still drinks from a bottle, use it at take off and landing to help with ear popping.
- Buy your child their own seat and then some. If you are flying alone with your child and can afford it, buy the full row.
- Don’t let the pressure of other flyers get to you. You and your child have every right to fly on a plane. How many times have other adults inconvenienced you on a flight? Chances are that the answer is many…keep that in mind.
Your child will only be a toddler for a short period of time. Try to enjoy the ride, even if that means getting out of your comfort zone. You’ll all be glad you did.