“Flying with a toddler, what are you crazy?” It’s funny to me when I hear that people stop traveling when they have kids. I mean, that’s fine for some people, but traveling has always been such a big part of our lives. Flying with toddlers does require some patience, but you will be fine.
So why stop? Instead, traveling is a chance to share our passion with our little ones. They’re now 3 and 1.5 years old, and we love traveling with them.
I’ve been traveling with our kids since they were babies. I’ve even flown with them on my own. So, I can say that it’s totally doable!
It’s not the easiest thing, but it’s not impossible either. Just like with every other aspect of being a parent, you’ve got to do some work. It begins with research and involves preparation, planning, and understanding.
Like Mary Poppins, traveling parents should be prepared. Now, you won’t be pulling a lamp out of a bag. But there are several things you can bring with you to make flying with a toddler smooth. Here, I’ve listed all of the things that I’ve found helpful when traveling with my little ones.
16 Tips for Flying with Toddlers
1. Bring lots of airplane snacks (different options)
Doesn’t it seem like kids are always hungry? This certainly won’t be any different when you’re traveling. But access to food is limited depending on what part of the trip you’re on. So, you’ve got to be ready for the snack attacks that are inevitable.
Suckers are great and last a long time unless dropped…Yes, they can be a little sticky, so make sure to have baby wipes. My kids LOVED these Gator Chomp suckers. We discovered them on our Florida family vacation and have since bought them on Amazon here in a 12-pack.
Oh, and of course, your finicky eater will refuse the first choice you give him. So, what to do? Bring lots of snacks. And make sure you have a bunch of different options! There is not a thing as too many toddler snacks. There is a thing of $8 gummy worms at the airport. I know, I have bought them…
A rule of thumb is to make sure they’re bite-sized. Think of things like goldfish, Cheetos, mini cookies, and grapes. I will also make sandwiches to bring with us. The key is also that they’re not too messy (I don’t always follow this rule) and don’t require constant temperature.
Bringing your own water bottles is super helpful. Flight attendants will refill them with no problem. This reduces the likelihood of spills with cups.
2. Buy their own seat
Another must-do when traveling is to buy your child his own seat on the plane. Yes, they do say that kids can be on your lap for free until two years old, but that’s a bit of a nightmare after the infant stage.
Instead, your little one will love feeling like a big kid in his own seat. It will also give you the ability to have your own space. If you are flying with a toddler and are a family of three, no matter what the age, I suggest buying the seat. This way, you will have the whole row to yourself.
Most airlines charge a reduced fare for children. Now it’s not free, but it will save a few bucks if you can do it.
We flew with our Doona car seat stroller until our son was 17 months old. It is pictured above. It is airline-approved and works great for flights. Traveling with the Doona meant we didn’t have to bring an additional stroller.
3. JetKids Bedbox – Flight airplane bed for toddlers
Having an airplane bed for your little one is a total saving grace when traveling on long flights. The JetKids Bed Box is an ingenious idea that extends the seat so your child literally has more space.
It’s a game-changer when it comes to flying with a toddler. With the extended area, your child can comfortably stretch out. He can sleep without the fear of falling off the seat or getting up into your space.
There are tons of different versions of airplane beds out there. But I love our JetKids Bedbox by Stokke. It’s the perfect carry-on suitcase with a built-in mattress to extend your child’s seat.
4. Save the best for last when you really need it
Being strategic is key. Especially when it comes to bringing things out for your kids to eat or play with.
What do I mean? If your little one is content with one thing, don’t jump the gun and present a new and more exciting thing to play with. For example, if he has fun coloring, don’t offer the tablet.
Instead, prioritize everything ahead of time and pack accordingly. Think to yourself, if there’s a major meltdown, what would be the best thing to soothe him?
Then, make sure it’s out of sight until that moment. You don’t want him to spot the tablet when you’re rummaging through the backpack, looking for wet wipes.
5. Toddler iPad or Amazon Tablet similar
Definitely bring a tablet for your child. There, I said it.
Now, we all know that too much screen time is not good for kids. But it’s unrealistic to think that kids can sit on a plane for an extended amount of time without being entertained.
Although many planes have tv screens on each seat, they’re not ideal for little ones. Normally they’re just too high up for younger kids to see comfortably.
A tablet shouldn’t be the only source of entertainment, but it can definitely be a lifesaver. Consider bringing it out when all other options have been exhausted.
Here are a few good ideas to make the tablet or iPad kid ready:
- Make sure it’s in a kid-friendly case. Large rubber edges let kids hold it easily and protect it when it drops. We have this Otterbox case on both of our kids’ iPads.
- It should also have a stand so it can sit on the tray,
- Parent control is key. The Amazon Fire Tablet does this really well,
- Be prepared with a backup battery and charging cables in case the tablet begins to die.
We originally had this Amazon tablet, but I HATED it. Sure it was cheaper, but it didn’t have a home button, so it was hard to navigate, and you can’t have Netflix, Youtube, etc. Which is what my son mainly wanted and what I wanted to use to download things.
Both kids now have this iPad 9th generation with a home button and Otterbox kids’ case. This was the best decision.
6. Make sure to download shows/videos for screen time
Before embarking on your trip, be sure to load the iPad or tablet with games and videos that you know your child likes. Consider putting on a few new ones too.
Don’t rely on having wifi in the airport or on the plane. Instead, download the shows, videos, and movies to the device. It’s possible to download shows from streaming services like Hulu and Netflix. You can also buy videos for kids and have them ready to watch when you’re far from home.
Make sure it works before the trip. Just turn the device on airplane mode (without wifi activated) and play the video. If it doesn’t run smoothly, troubleshoot this before your trip starts.
7. Watercolor books
An awesome activity with little mess is watercolor books. We like these ones because you can easily refill the marker with water. It’s super convenient. All you need to bring is the book and the marker. Then just ask for a cup of water from the flight attendant, and you’re set.
If you’re worried about spillage, use a nearly empty water bottle instead. When done, just close up the bottle with the brush inside. This way, you’ll keep the wet brush from getting other things wet in your bag.
Another hack is to use q-tips instead of a brush. So when your child is done being an artist, just toss them. It’s a no-mess cleanup. Water Wow! Books by Melissa & Doug are also a great option for this. And they can be used over and again and again.
8. Boarding Flight with a Toddler Last (Why do you want to be on the plane any longer than needed?)
Most flights try to help out parents by allowing passengers with young kids to board first. But in reality, why would you want to confine your kid to a plane longer than necessary?
Instead, consider boarding last. This way, you can let your kids run around and be comfortable before expecting them to sit still for so long.
I get it that boarding early gives parents first dibs on overhead storage. But it’s not as valuable as reducing the amount of time keeping your kid confined.
If you are traveling with two adults, have one board first. He can find the seats and get them all set up.
It’s important that you send as much luggage with that parent as possible. He can store carry-on luggage and check things on the gateway if needed. As the last to board, all your littles have to do is walk down the aisle and find Daddy!
9. Let them run around before boarding
I can’t stress enough how important it is to let kids get their energy out before boarding. They won’t be able to do it on the plane, so make sure it happens before getting on.
A huge mistake is to let kids use quiet time activities in the airport. Save those for when you’re on the plane. Trust me.
See if the airport you are at has a kid’s play area. Our hometown airport Milwaukee has a small play area for the kids to run and play.
10. Bring toddler headphones
Toddler headphones are a must on trips. My little ones each have their own, so there’s no fighting over who gets what.
My son has these headphones. He has blue, but there are several other colors too. They are USB rechargeable, and the battery is amazing at 15+ hours! They pair instantly with his iPad, and he knows how to use them. Another perk is they are rather cheap.
Our daughter has these Leapfrog headphones that have preloaded songs, learning activities, and more. Her headphones can be paired with her iPad as well. We most likely will be buying her the same pair as her brother soon as the battery life is better.
Make sure to get headphones designed for toddlers. Why? They’re a smaller size, making them more comfortable for little ones to wear for extended periods of time. They usually have a volume limiter. So you’ll be sure that your child is not listening to anything too loudly.
A pro tip is to check that you have the correct jack for the headphones. Your little one may want to plug into the tv in the seat one minute and the tablet the next. Both of my kids’ headphones came with cords so that we could plug them in, but I have no clue where that cord is today lol.
Finally, test the headphones before your trip. You’d hate to realize they’re not compatible with your device as the plane is taking off.
11. Wear comfortable clothes & bring a spare outfit
We all know what it’s like when we’ve made poor clothing choices on long trips. Now, imagine what this would be like for your little one. Let’s not make that mistake.
Consider super comfy clothes for your little one that are convenient for you. We find it’s easiest to dress the kids in their pajamas for long flights. Especially if the flight is near bedtime. We always opt for Bamboo pajamas because they’re so soft, flexible, and breathable.
For little ones in diapers or pull-ups, make sure you choose clothes that make the diaper-changing process easy. The same goes for little ones who are potty training.
12. Bring a Travel Stroller approved for airplane cabin
Travel Strollers can be a lifesaver when traveling. If it fits in the overhead storage, you don’t have to wait for the luggage carousel to cough it up. Instead, you’ll be able to stroll to your connecting flight.
There are a number of airplane-approved strollers. The Joolz Aer and gb Pockit are both perfect for travel, and the two we personally travel with and bring with us on the plane (not gate check). They’re lightweight and fold down to fit in the overhead compartment.
If you are looking for the smallest fold ever and can fit in a purse (well, my oversized purse at least), get the gb Pockit Air. This stroller is crazy small. We have flown with it several times, and it has been great. It doesn’t have the best push or the most comfortable for the child, but it is SMALL!
When we prefer to bring a double stroller, we bring our Zoe Twin stroller, but we have to gate-check that.
13. Pack new airplane toys for toddlers
A super trick for traveling families is to pack new toys for the airplane. They make traveling even more special for your little ones. I’ve even used them as incentives to encourage my little one to settle down and buckle up.
I bought this airplane toy that was a replica of the plane we were on. There are several airline planes you can buy.
The new toys don’t have to be elaborate or expensive. I always get my son something airplane related. Just remember that they should be:
- Small enough to fit into carryon luggage
- Something your child will enjoy
Busy bags are also a great idea for toddlers on airplanes. You can purchase pre-made ones or make them on your own. There are some busy bags designed specifically for air travel. You can find them for different age levels, which is perfect.
14. Let them walk on the plane
Sometimes walking up and down the aisles (esp. on long haul) burns time and energy.
I know the fear is that maybe other passengers may be bothered by it. But what’s worse, a crying kid confined to a seat or a happy kid walking the aisles?
We’ve also had great experiences with our kids making friends while walking. Including other children and friendly adults.
15. Travel Car Seats
Travel car seats are a great idea for some families. This is the travel car seat we have used on the plane and use while traveling. The benefits of using a travel car seat on planes are that because little ones are:
- Securely fastened in a multi-point harness,
- Not sitting on the plane seat,
- Higher up to see the in-seat tv,
- More comfortable in his own seat
If you’re thinking of using a car seat in the plane, make sure it’s FAA approved. We typically opt to check our travel car seats at check-in, but we could easily bring our WAYB Pico car seat because it’s nice and compact.
You don’t need to use a car seat on the plane when flying with a toddler or a baby. There have been several flights where we checked our car seats, as we just had too much other stuff. For some kids, it is really helpful. If you had a bad flight, consider trying a car seat in the airplane seat next time.
16. Check items you don’t need
The above picture is all of our luggage for our one-week Alaska cruise. We had three checked bags, a pack-and-play, and a car seat. This trip was different because it was a cruise, so I had to bring diapers, wipes, formula, etc., and not count on buying those items at our destination.
We checked everything above except the Doona car seat stroller as this is what our daughter Isla 11 months at the time, sat in on the airplane, our Joolz Aer stroller for our 2.5-year-old, the exploding tan purse, pink carry-on bag with several outfits changes just in case our luggage got lost, diaper bag (on my back not pictured), and my husband’s camera bag. We had a lot of stuff…
How to choose the best seat on a flight with a toddler
There are so many different ways people rationalize choosing seats when flying with kids.
Here’s what I do:
- When it’s just one child and me, I book one aisle and one window and hope the middle seat remains empty.
- If it’s our family of 4, I do the same thing as above, but in rows right behind each other.
I know it seems to be a bit of a gamble, but it works.