How to Fly With a Toddler and Survive the Trip
Your eyes are bleary. You’ve been awake for hours, and the screaming of children isn’t helping. One of those children is sitting next to you on the plane. You reach into your bag, trying to grab your tablet, opening it to an episode of some cartoon or other and gently handing the piece of expensive technology to your offspring in the hopes they will start watching and stop wailing. You look out at the tarmac. You haven’t even left the terminal, and it’s a long flight. How are you going to survive flying with your own toddler?
Table of Contents
Leaving on a Nonstop Jet Plane
Your first step begins before ever stepping foot in the airport. Book nonstop if possible. If you can schedule the flight during your toddler’s normal nap time, you may even have some peace and quiet during the trip.
But, if you do have to cut your flights into segments, especially due to the overall flight time, be sure to let your little one get a little exercise in between flights. Don’t waste the time on a nap – unless you are with a partner and can take a nap yourself. Try to wear your little terror out, letting them run around, making noise in a deserted corner of the terminal. They will have less energy left to fidget around on the flight. You might even get compliments on how well-behaved your kid is being.
There’s one more reason to have a nonstop flight – you only have to deal with air pressure and your toddler needing to pop their ears for one descent.
If possible, get an aisle seat. At some point, your young one will need to get up and walk around, to get the wiggles out. Or you will need to get up to get something out of the overhead bin. Or someone will need to use the bathroom. While you might think that the window seat is best – so your toddler can look out the window – the real secret is getting the aisle. If possible, and you are traveling with three people, it might be wise to get an entire row (unless it’s a smaller plane with just two seats – you’re golden, then).
However, there’s another option: The “sanity seat.” Get a seat for the third person away from your precocious tiny human, and switch out as needed. One adult watches the kid while the other naps, eats a sandwich in peace, or just stares into the abyss, trying to regain their sanity.
Fun and Games
You’ve arrived at the airport and it’s time to face TSA and security. Thankfully, you can get in a “family lane” to speed up the process, but you’ll want to go over what is expected of your tyke beforehand. Practice before the trip, getting out of the stroller, (though for children 12 and under, they can keep shoes, headwear, and light jackets on), and setting carry-on items on the x-ray machine belt. Remember that you will be able to take breast milk, formula, and juice, though it will likely need to take a trip through the x-ray machine. Despite everything needing to go through the machine, ask your toddler what else goes in – Does a purse need to go through? A wallet? A car? Make the entire process fun.
The snack bag is also going to take a trip through the machine. You will absolutely need snacks on a carry-on, so make sure this goes through, and not on any checked luggage. Remember to bring toddler-friendly snacks that will not make a mess. Nothing sticky or gooey, nothing that can melt if possible. Remember that the motion of chewing can help with popping ears – we’ll discuss this more later – so bear that in mind when packing. Drinks should obviously be in a sippy cup or covered and with a straw. Be sure the top is secured, or you’re just asking for a spill. Your flight neighbors will definitely appreciate the new juice stains on their pants. First, of course, you need to actually get on the plane.
Once through security, it’s time to play another game – the waiting game. Much like in between flights, you want the kiddo to expend as much energy as possible. There may be play areas in the airport – be sure to remind your child that there is a time limit, and they will need to get on the flight. Otherwise, you might face a tantrum, after you take your child away from the fun.
Is your toddler nervous about the flight? Talk them through it. Ask them what they think it will be like, flying in the sky. What sounds will the plane make? What will they see out the window?
To Board, or Not to Board
Critics are out on whether you should board early or not. With the kiddo, you are given the option, but that also means Lil’ Monster is in a confined space where it’s much harder to play for an extra half hour while everyone else boards.
But, if you have a traveling partner, you can game the system – send your partner on the plane during pre-boarding, to pack all the carry-on luggage above your seat. Being able to do this could turn into a fight to the death if you board with regular passengers. Remember the reason you want an aisle seat, to get toys and entertainment? Imagine having to walk down the entire aisle, child screaming, while doing that.
While your partner waits patiently with the rest of the screaming children who boarded early, you can play with the kiddo more, in an open space where noise doesn’t bounce off the walls of a small tube. Then, you can board last, meaning less time on the plane total, and more time for freedom.
If you are on an airline that doesn’t allow seat reservations (looking at you, Southwest), you may want to forgo the William Wallace routine and just board when you can to get the best seat near the front. Easy on, easy off. If you intend on only having overhead carry-ons, get a bulkhead seat with more space for your legs. And by legs, we mean toddler who is playing on the floor.
Up in the Air With a Toddler
You’ve made it to the hardest part: The actual flight. If you planned ahead with all the other suggestions, you should have set yourself up for success. Now, you just need to placate Lil’ Monster with toys and an iPad chock full of their favorite cartoons or movies. There is no shame in checking out while they are absorbed in a movie. Give them a “busy book” with activities and places to color. Give them presents like candy or small toys. Promise more if they behave. Take them for walks down the aisle if needed (beware the drink cart).
Or, while a bit controversial, you can drug them. Benadryl in low doses is safe for toddlers, and most importantly, will make them sleepy. If your little one has shown signs of carsickness in the past, you may want to use Dramamine instead – they even make a version specifically for ages 2-12, and it also causes drowsiness. It is not recommended to mix the two, however, and always check with your pediatrician first before administering unnecessary medication.
The Final Countdown
As descent starts, pressure will build in the inner ear. Children don’t handle this well. There are a few tricks to getting tykes to pop their ears. First, yawn yourself – they will often get the urge to yawn, too, which may pop their ears. Tell them to roar (quietly) like a lion – the same movement as a yawn. Otherwise, having them drink from a sippy cup or straw could do the trick. Still no dice? Give them a lollipop. Sucking on the candy can cause a pop, releasing the pressure.
Still alive? Then you are ready to deplane. You’ve made it. Kiss the ground. Enjoy your vacation. Just be ready to do this all again on your return flight.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/
A former newspaper journalist, Cole spends his free time reading, writing, playing video games, watching movies, and learning about every subject under the sun. He lives with his wife and daughter in Idaho. Follow Cole on Twitter: @ColeMayer42
This post was updated February 27, 2019. It was originally published February 21, 2017.