The mere phrase “flying with toddlers” is enough to strike fear in some parents. Yes, airplane travel with young kids can be stressful. But it can be so rewarding — and, dare we say, even fun, too.
The trick is to be fully prepared. That means booking seats strategically and allowing plenty of time to navigate the airport. It also means keeping toddlers comfortable and well entertained on the flight. These nine tips will help set you up for success when flying with toddlers.
Leave way more time than you think you need
Traveling is filled with unexpected hiccups. And that’s especially true when young kids are involved. An extra diaper change, potty break, or meltdown can throw off the best laid plans. So count backward, accounting for every block of time you will need: getting to the airport, checking in, getting through security, boarding. Then give yourself a substantial additional time cushion for peace of mind.
Book a direct flight (or an intentionally long layover)
Navigating through the airport, getting on and off the plane, and takeoffs and landings can be some of the hardest parts of traveling with toddlers. Once you’re airborne, you might find yourselves settling into a nice rhythm — even if the flight is long. So consider booking a nonstop flight to your destination.
If you’d prefer to have a layover, consider making it a long one so you have enough time to rest and regroup — maybe even sleep in a hotel bed — before doing it all again.
Seat yourselves strategically
Children under two years old are not required to have their own seat on an airplane. But just because you don’t have to buy a separate seat for your toddler doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it if budget permits. Flights with squirmy lap children can be challenging and uncomfortable for parents, and can make it hard for anyone to sleep.
Also consider selecting at least one seat on the aisle. Kids might want to look out the window, but the flight will be extra hard on parents who have to ask strangers to move every time the toddler needs to get up for the lav, a snack — or just plain boredom.
Plan activities in 15-minute increments
Nothing’s more exciting to a toddler than a new toy or game. But that newness wears off quickly given their short attention spans. So think about packing new things for them to experience every 15 minutes or so when they’ll get bored and want a change.
Use wrapping paper or tissue to wrap up little toys for them to discover one by one. Vinyl sticker books are another fun and mess-free diversion. Regular crayons roll off tray tables, so pack some triangular ones along with coloring pages.
Adapt to the situation
Consider whether you’re comfortable relaxing your rules about screen time for the duration of the flight. That way, you can frequently change games and videos when kids get bored.
If your toddler seems ready for a nap, encourage sleepiness by playing calming music or a meditation through child-friendly headphones. Moshi offers magical sleep stories and meditations meant just for kids.
Know the rules
It helps to familiarize yourself with the rules of traveling with toddlers, because they’re not the same as the rules for adult passengers. For instance, TSA does not require children under 18 to carry identification when traveling with a companion domestically. However, kids do each need their own passport to travel internationally.
Divide and conquer when boarding
If at least two adults are traveling with a toddler, think about splitting up for preboarding. One adult can get situated on the plane, stowing the luggage and setting up in-flight essentials in seatback pockets. The other adult can instead skip the preboarding phase and wait as long as possible to get on the plane with the toddler, minimizing the amount of time in the cabin.
Pack something to suck on for takeoff and landing
Like adults, kids can suffer ear pain when pressure changes on takeoff and landing. But unlike grownups, toddlers may not know how to relieve that pressure. Help them by packing something in your carryon that they can suck on; the act of swallowing will help equalize the ears. Any snack that requires a lot of chewing will do the trick, as will a lollipop or pacifier.
Weary travelers know from experience that strangers can sometimes be unkind to children on airplanes — especially if there’s loud noise or seat kicking involved. But fellow passengers and flight crew can also be incredibly kind and helpful in stressful situations. If people offer to help when you need an extra hand, take it. Traveling with toddlers can be rewarding for the whole family… but sometimes it takes a village to pull it off.
Read on for more tips on how to relax kids when their routines are disrupted.