When we would fly with Amalia as a baby, I thought it was hard, but then I flew with her as a walking toddler and now I realize that it was actually a walk in the park compared to this! But flying with a toddler is manageable if you plan ahead and go into it with a positive attitude.
Over Thanksgiving, Anel and I took Amalia to Bermuda. The flight was short (1.5 hours there and a little over 2 hours back) which was a blessing. Update 6/20/19: This week I took her to LA for her longest flight as a toddler. I added some products and tips to this post below for longer flights.
We learned quite a bit on each trip. On the Bermuda flight, we ended up sitting next to not one, not two, but three families traveling with children Amalia’s age on the way back so we all exchanged tips and even had the kids share toys and play together. She actually did a great job both flights, but it was still a lot to handle as parents. She was relatively quiet and didn’t cry, but sitting still in one spot for an extended period is not her forté, and I totally get it. She’s a girl on the move!
This was such an amazing trip because I watched her learn and grow more in those four days than I had in the last month. Traveling with a child her age is like traveling with a little sponge. She learned new words, new mannerisms, tried new foods, and soaked up everything she saw with wide eyes and an open mind. We took her to the beach at one of my favorite beaches in the world and she had the best time ever.
Watching her joy on the beach and in general on vacations make the flights totally worth it. So if you’re in the thick of it on an airplane with a frustrated or antsy toddler, remember that those moments are coming soon!
Booking Your Flight
– Be smart about where you sit. When Amalia was little and would nap on planes, we preferred to sit up towards the front of the plane where it was a little quieter, but now that she’s older and all over the place, we book towards the back with all the other young families so that if she’s loud or crying, they understand and are probably in the same situation. It’s also nice to be close to the bathrooms in a pinch.
– Book your child a seat. It was a nice treat to have an extra seat for Amalia on flights when she was a baby. But now, it would be nearly impossible to not have one! On our way down, we got lucky and had an extra seat. After that flight, we realized that we would have had a very hard time without that seat so we called Delta and bought another ticket for the way back. Worth the cost. 100%.
If a third seat isn’t in the cards, make sure that you book at least one seat on the aisle so you can get up as much as you need to without annoying your seatmates.
– Psych them up for the trip. Whenever we fly with Amalia, we talk about the flight for a week or two beforehand. We bought her this book about airplanes and read it before bed every night before our trip. We talk about the airplane and how exciting it will be and it works like a charm. As soon as we get to the airport, she is psyched out of her mind to be there.
Gate check your stroller. First of all, don’t bring your fancy stroller on the plane. Anel bought this foldable travel stroller at Target without consulting me (we now have three strollers which is ridiculous), and even though I was annoyed at first, it was nice to have something so small and easy to carry when we were on the go. This was the first trip where we didn’t bring our car seat since she no longer fits into the infant car seat so it was stroller only.
As soon as you get to the gate, ask the agent for a gate check tag for your stroller. Get a second one if you’re bringing a car seat as well. You’ll put the tags on the travel bags that you place the stroller/car seat in as you’re boarding but it’s good to have them ready to go. We use Compono travel bags.
Pre-board. When they call boarding for families with young children, take advantage of that so you don’t have to rush once the plane gets crowded. Anel usually deals with the stroller and as many bags as he can handle and I take Amalia and a bag on my shoulder.
Disinfect. The second time we flew with Amalia, when she was six months old, she got a horrifying stomach bug. I still don’t know if it was from daycare or the plane but I’m now that mom. As soon as we get to our seats I take out organic disinfecting wipes and wipe down the seats, the armrests, the TV screens, and the tray tables. Then I spray both of our hands with organic hand sanitizer. She’s yet to get sick from a plane since I started going this so I’m sticking with it. I also put DoTerra OnGuard oil on her feet and on my wrists at the beginning and end of the flight.
Warn your neighbors. This step is totally unnecessary but I think it’s nice to do. As other passengers are boarding, I like to catch the eye of ones sitting nearby and say something like, “She’s pretty good on flights but if she does anything to bother you, please let me know!” I say it in case she’s pulling on the seat or kicking or something that I somehow don’t notice. It usually makes people smile and then they interact with her and make her smile and it’s just positive vibes all around.
On the Flight
Lower your expectations. The first time I flew with Amalia, I brought a book to read. A book! LOL. Just don’t expect to do much besides looking after your kiddo. As long as you come to terms with that, it will be a much better experience for everyone. Also, remember that a kid is just a kid and being cramped up on a stuffy flight isn’t the most fun activity so cut them some slack too.
Make a schedule. This probably makes me sound like a crazy person, but planning it out slightly helps a lot. We try to feed her at approximately her snack and meal times and make meals a whole thing so it takes up some time and isn’t complete mayhem. Then we’ll read for a while and then play for a while then walk up and down the aisles. And take turns (if you only have one kid) so that each parent gets a 15 or 20-minute break.
Screen time is ok. Sticking to a rough schedule is possible, but sticking to all of the usual rules? Virtually impossible. The biggest one that we break on planes is screen time. Amalia is only allowed screen time at home when we’re FaceTiming with family or an episode or two of Peppa Pig on the weekends. On airplanes, all rules go out the window. We always go to the iPad as a last resort but even if it ends up being an hour (or two), we just go with it. Just be sure to pre-download a bunch of episodes of your kid’s favorite show from Amazon Prime or Netflix.
Pack new toys. Pack at least one new book or toy for each flight. Or at least something they haven’t seen in a while. Something that will keep them distracted for more than five minutes is the dream!
I pack one bag just for Amalia’s stuff and organize it with labeled pouches so that on the flight we aren’t digging around aimlessly in a bag. I do one pouch for food, one for first aid/tissues, etc, one for clothing, one for toys, one for books, and one miscellaneous. It’s definitely worth it to make some sort of easy system to find things
- Toys (at least one new one)
- Books (at least one new one)
- iPad (with multiple shows downloaded)
- Extra clothes (top and bottom)
- A sweatshirt or jacket if the plane gets cold
- A wet bag for any accidents
- Travel changing pad, diapers, wipes, diaper cream
- Snacks (a variety) and a meal
- Water cup
- Hand sanitizer & disinfecting wipes
- Tissues and wet wipes
- Infant Advil and Benadryl (just in case)
Read my post with tips for flying with a baby under a year old here. A few of the tips overlap but the experiences are very different.