Tips for Flying With a Toddler

Lemon Stripes at Hamilton Princess Bermuda

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.

Checking In/Boarding

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!

Packing List

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)
  • Headphones
  • 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.

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  1. I don’t have children yet but these are great tips! All the pics from Bermuda of you and Amalia are the absolute cutest!!

    Amanda @ Cupcake N Dreams

    12.14.18 · Reply
  2. Christine said:

    Great tips! We flew with my daughter at 5 and 10 months, but I know our upcoming flight at 14 months is going to be a whole new ball game. I would love to see what diaper bag and pouches you use for organized travel (even if it’s not Instagram perfect ). I’ve yet to find pouches I love that are big enough to be helpful organizing, but not too bulky. I’m currently using ziplock bags.

    12.14.18 · Reply
  3. Ellie said:

    I don’t have kiddos, but I read a good tip recently: one parent boards early with all the stuff and gets settled on the plane while the other manages the little one and boards at the very last minute…lets the toddler run around the gate area for that much longer without being on the plane. Sounds like a good plan to me!

    12.14.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      That might be the best flying tip I’ve ever heard! Going to take that on next time we fly. Thanks!

      12.14.18 · Reply
  4. Alexandra said:

    Make sure to check your airline’s policies before you get there with all your gear. United didn’t allow us to bring our travel stroller on board, even though it folds up to the size of a shoebox. So frustrating. They also made us put the carseat in the window seat, which interrupted plans to have both parents on baby duty.

    12.14.18 · Reply
  5. Amy said:

    I would also add that if you get your child a seat, bring his/her car seat on the plane (this works well if you need a car seat when you get to your destination). They understand they need to sit in it just like in a car. Also, if you can, book your seats apart — meaning your husband sits at the front of the plane and you sit in the middle or back. Then your child can get a chance of scenery half way through the flight while the other parent gets a little break. It’s also nice for your neighbors if your child is being a little wild on the plane.

    12.14.18 · Reply
  6. Hillary said:

    As an FYI for any mamma’s who have to fly solo, I got this carrier for our car seat. It has backpack straps, making it SO much easier to get through the airport on my own with our daughter. Plus, there was enough extra room, i was able to shove my bag in there when we checked it at the gate, and I only had to have my daughter’s diaper bag with me for the flight 🙂

    12.14.18 · Reply
  7. Lindsey said:

    I am also THAT mom when it comes to the sanitizing wipes for everything on the plane. If I’m in a window seat I even do the wall and window shade! I read something right before we flew our (then) 7 month old to London and Denmark from DC about tray tables having more bacteria than toilet seats. Don’t know if it’s true, but it was enough for me!

    12.14.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Same on the window shade LOL! I read that about the tables too and now I’m OCD about it. Better safe than sorry IMO!

      12.16.18 · Reply
  8. RJ said:

    Thanks so much for sharing this!! Did you ever test if that cups over the ears thing helped with popping ears?

    12.15.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      She oddly hasn’t had issues with her ears on planes so we didn’t have to!

      12.16.18 · Reply
  9. Erin said:

    Good stuff! Did Amalia need to sit in a car seat when you bought her own seat? We’re thinking of doing this for the holidays and Southwest is saying our 15 month old needs to sit in a car seat if we buy a seat for him. Thanks!

    12.15.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      No we held her on our laps for take off and landing, but didn’t have to bring a car seat. It was Delta though, so the rules might have been different!

      12.16.18 · Reply
  10. Jessie said:

    This speaks to me in so many ways! Our very active 9 month old has been on 5 trips so far, and the most recent one seemed like she is transitioning into the toddler phase of wanting to MOVE the whole time. An empty seat saved us on one flight. I have the travel stroller on *her* Xmas list lol. Is it worth it? I’m also that mom with the wipes, but I did that before I had a baby too. I second what someone else asked – can you please show what kind of bag and pouches you use to organize and pack her carry-on? I love a well-organized bag ha. Doesn’t have to be pretty, just get specific 😉 we are planning to visit family in Switzerland next summer and I’m already nervously thinking ahead!

    12.21.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Yes the travel stroller is totally worth it. It’s so light and easy to use! For the pouches, I love these:

      They’re my fave because you can see what’s inside but they still look halfway decent!

      12.27.18 · Reply
      • Julia said:

        Oh I also love these because they’re cute. But the see-through situation helps so much.

        12.27.18 · Reply
        • Christine said:

          Thanks for following up! I love the 2nd set of pouches, but being see through is so helpful (especially when I’m trying to tell my husband where to find something in the diaper bag ‍♀️). I got a diaper bag backpack for travel for a Christmas and I just may need to treat myself to some pouches to organize it!

          12.27.18 · Reply
  11. Megan Brown said:

    Can you tell me the type of headphones Amalia wears on the plane? I am looking for a pair for my daughter to use when she is watching the iPad.

    4.7.19 · Reply