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Flying with a Toddler

Flying with a Toddler

Next month we’re headed to Florida and I couldn’t be more excited to escape winter even if it’s just for a few days. It will also be Liam’s first time flying which makes me a little bit anxious. I SO don’t want to be those people that prompt groans and grumbles from nearby passengers. I would love for flying to be a positive experience (or at least as positive as flying with a toddler can be)  so I’ve been trying to research (both from fellow parents and online) to figure out how we can make it work as best as possible. Here are some of the tips I found which we plan to use:

1.) Fly during sleeping hours. Everyone I spoke with recommending flying either really early or during nap time so that, hopefully, Liam would pass out on the plane for most of the flight. We’re flying out super early and flying back midday so I’m hoping this works out.

2.) Get him his own seat. Yes, children under two can technically travel on a parent’s lap but everyone I spoke with said to get him his own seat. Safety concerns aside, I can’t imagine Liam sitting on our laps for the entire duration of the flight. Plus, buying three seats allows us to take over a whole side of a row which should make any in-flight squirming more manageable.

3.) Check the car seat as soon as possible and check the stroller at the gate. I knew we’d need both for our trip and wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. While flying with Liam in his car seat is an option, at his age and size it didn’t seem like the right one for us. We decided the FAA approved CARES restraint system would probably be a better option (yes, it’s 60+ bucks but I figure this is likely the first of several uses so we’ll suck it up). Because we’re not using the car seat we’ve been told to ditch it as soon as possible so we don’t have to lug it around unnecessarily and to keep the stroller with us to check at the gate. Several moms have said that while their child spend nary a minute actually in the stroller at the airport, it provided a excellent place to corral carry-ons, coats, stuffed animals, etc.

4.) Pack tons of snacks, even the liquid ones. Thankfully breast milk, formula, milk, juice, baby food, etc. are all exceptions to the liquid limitations. You have to declare them at security and they may need to undergo special screening but as I found during a business trip last year when I needed to travel home with the milk I’d pumped, it isn’t nearly the big deal I feared it might be.

5.) Run him ragged at the gate. This was a universal tip from the moms I talked to and the information I’ve seen online. Find somewhere in the airport (an empty gate, a designated children’s play area) and go nuts. The more energy you can burn the better. I try to do the same thing before long car rides so this totally makes sense to me. As one mom friend said, “Ignore the funny looks you might get from people in the airport. They’d much rather have him running around them at the gate than screaming and whining on the plane.”

6.) Come prepared with emergency entertainment options. Of course we’ll bring the standard toddler entertainment options but I want to have an option in case we get delayed or he gets really antsy. Liam’s favorite thing to do is to look at pictures and watch videos of family and friends on my iPhone. I have a two minute video of my sister and brother dancing and being silly that he would seriously watch on repeat for hours if I allowed it. It’s my go-to in the car, restaurants, waiting rooms when all else fails. I’m planning to take a few new ones in the coming weeks of his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins (really anyone willing to make a fool of themselves for a few minutes for Liam’s benefit) to have on file for the trip, just in case.

There are some great websites online with information about traveling with toddlers and children in general. Delicious Baby has some great posts on a whole variety of topics as does Travelogged.

Anyone else have pearls of wisdom from experience traveling with toddlers? Please tell me we’re not doomed to a terrible flight!


  1. Organized Mom January 18, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    We are frequent air travelers. Our 3 year old has flown 4 times and 6 year old 6 times. The only time I didn’t buy a seat was when we traveled with an 11 month old who was nursing. We weren’t planning on bringing a car seat on the plan so it made no sense. We lucked out and the 3rd seat was empty but really only used it for bags. As a nursing baby, when she cried, I just fed her.

    We actually try to avoid flights during naps or early morning. Our kids were both never good at napping to begin with so I didn’t want them cranky on the plane. Scheduling a flight during lunch time isn’t a bad idea since the lunch process can entertain them a bit. But then you have to pack a lunch.

    A friend gave me this tip during flight #2 (which was a trip with just me and my daughter). Pack individually wrapped gifts for your child to open throughout the flight. Once you get to your destination, put them away and wrap them back-up for the trip home. Things like crayons and paper, my first crayola stamps, color wonder and paper, toy cars, sticker book, books, etc…

    I always found take off and more importantly landing to be the hardest. Toddlers do not like being restrained on airplanes and flight attendants do NOT like when kids won’t buckle up. Dum Dums are GREAT. Bribe him with a dum dum. Stay buckled and you get a lollipop. Don’t pull these out unless you need to, but have them for when you do and you will. Also have thin lift/flap books that you can read during take off and landing.

    The hardest part with flying is controlling the child from kicking the seat in front of you and feeling guilty when your child is screaming or fidgeting. It will be over in a few hours.

    Oh and when your child is newly potty trained and you’re flying, it goes without saying to have them go right before take off. In the event of turbulence, you may have to beg the flight attendant to let you unbuckle. If you ask enough times and motion to your child and say “it’s either on this seat or the toilet seat” they will finally bend the rules… Good luck!

  2. MediaMom January 21, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    So timely! We’ll be flying with Benjamin for the first time in April. Thanks for all these tips. One thing I would add is to leave the car seat at home if you’re not planning on using it on the plane. You don’t know how it will be handled once you check it, and all the car rental companies rent them, especially in Florida. If you’re not renting a car, check with your shuttle company to see how they handle the issue. When my husband and daughter went to Florida two years ago, they found it was actually less expensive to hire a car service to get to and from the airport, and they had a nice, new Britax car seat already installed at pick-up.

  3. Profile photo of Amy

    Amy January 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    I’m trying to convince my husband we can fly cross country with our toddler. Thanks for the good sharing material for his Facebook wall!

  4. Pingback: Disney World with a Toddler | Bright Horizons Parenting BlogThe Family Room |

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