Just the thought of flying with a toddler seems to send fear coursing through many people’s veins. And to be fair, it can definitely be challenging. I know with each one of my 5 babies, I’ve felt a bit of nervousness before that first flight when they got to the toddler stage.
Whether you’ve purchased a seat for your toddler or are flying with a toddler on your lap, here’s are a few tips for traveling with toddlers that have helped me. Between all of my kiddos, we have now flown over a thousand flights with kids! I hope this flying with a toddler checklist helps you feel prepared. I hope it helps you to feel calm before, during, and after your flight so that your child does, too!
1. Lower your expectations when flying with a toddler
My number one tip when flying with toddlers is to lower your own expectations. Flying with an 18 month old or even flying with a 2 year old is never relaxing. You almost certainly won’t be reading a full book or watching an entire movie during your flight. If you do, that’s a bonus! If you go into the flight expecting to entertain and help them the entire time, it’s easier to not get frustrated when exactly that happens. I try to always expect the worst on my flights with toddlers and then I’m usually pleasantly surprised when they end up sleeping and playing happily for a little while.
2. Consider taking a car seat on board for young toddlers
Toddlers are notorious for wanting to run everywhere and being into absolutely everything. But sometimes a familiar space helps them feel more comfortable sitting still for a while.
My tiny toddlers rarely cooperate by sitting in an actual airplane seat with a seat belt for an extended period of time. Plus, the belts aren’t built for their little bodies so they aren’t as safe. Taking a car seat on board often helps little ones feel comfortable enough to snack, play, and maybe even nap. When flying with a toddler, a car seat is most definitely the safest place for a young child to sit on an airplane.
Keep in mind that most airlines will require you to place a car seat in a window seat in order to not block the egress of other passengers in the event of an emergency. Here’s some more info on the best car seats for travel with kids!
3. Ask your neighbors’ preferences
Sometimes toddlers just have a hard time. And of course that’s no fun for them or for you as the parent, but it’s generally also not fun for those sitting around you. While there’s no way to ensure a perfect experience for everyone, a little respect and communication go a long way.
Once, I was flying with my 5th baby when she was just shy of 2 years old. She was exhausted because it was 3 hours past her nap time and she still hadn’t fallen asleep. We’d tried all the tricks, to no avail. She just wasn’t having it.
So of course, she was starting to lose her mind a bit. She was so annoyed to be strapped into her car seat and just would NOT stop kicking the seat in front of her. I’d apologized to the women sitting in front of her multiple times but I still felt terrible. Flying with a 2 year old isn’t always easy.
I figured I’d try to turn my baby’s car seat around to rear face so that she could no longer kick the seat in front of her. It fit, but it meant there wouldn’t be room for the seat in front to recline. I figured that was still preferred to the kicking but decided to check with the woman. And good thing I did, because she told me that she didn’t mind the kicking and much preferred the recline option since she is 6 feet tall and needs the extra room. I was so glad I checked with her!
It didn’t stop my baby from falling apart, but it showed her that I was trying my best and trying to find a solution. And in return, she couldn’t have been more kind and understanding.
4. Sanitize the area
Toddlers are constantly touching absolutely everything, so I always like to use a sanitizing wipe to quickly clean the area. When flying with a 2 year old, I wipe down the tray table, buckle, and armrests. It keeps all of us a bit healthier!
5. Carry a sippy cup or water bottle
If your toddler is anything like mine, they’re not exactly the most coordinated. While my babies love practicing drinking from a cup at home, nobody wants to be traveling in sopping wet clothes if there’s a spill.
While liquids over 3 ounces aren’t allowed through security, did you know this is actually waived for young kids in reasonable amounts? So it’s actually perfectly fine to bring a bottle/sippy of water, milk, formula, etc. Just pull it out when going through security and they’ll open it and hold a little strip over it for a moment to test it. It’s very easy and quick. Or if you don’t want to worry about that, you can always bring an empty water bottle and fill it at a drinking fountain or pour in a cup of milk or juice from the airplane cart.
Below are my favorite spill-resistant cups for toddlers. All are stainless steel so they keep drinks cold for quite a long while.
- Straw cup
- Hard spout sippy cup
- Soft spout sippy cup (this one is glass, not stainless)
- 360 sippy cup
- Water bottle
6. Head to the airport restroom
It is significantly easier to take a toddler to the bathroom or change a diaper in a spacious airport bathroom than it is in a tiny one on an airplane. When flying with a 2 year old, avoid needing the bathroom during that window right after takeoff when the facilities are off limits, be sure to head to the airport restroom before boarding.
7. Take a pacifier and/or lovey when flying with a toddler
Every kiddo has different special items – don’t forget to bring along your little one’s comfort objects. We try to pack pretty minimally, but we always carry a pacifier and a small stuffed animal. Think of what helps your child settle down – maybe a special book or toy? What is familiar and special? Especially if you’re flying with a toddler for the first time, this is something great to help the space seem safe instead of scary for both of you.
8. Switch off if you can
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of flying with another adult. I know I’ve had a number of times with a solo flight with a toddler. But if you happen to be traveling with another adult, I think it’s really nice to have dedicated on/off times. It can be tempting to constantly be helping, and to support your partner in toddler flight crime. But I find it much more exhausting to be “on” the entire time.
Instead, I much prefer for each of us to get a bit of a break, and then to be fully focused on our little one when we switch back. And when it’s your time “off,” be sure to actually relax and rejuvenate, so you’re ready for your next shift! This is one situation where it can actually be helpful to sit in different areas of the airplane.
9. Airplane toys for toddlers
Ah, the question of toddler airplane activities. This is something that feels unique to each child and parent. Some people love having tons of airplane activities for kids available to choose from, and may even have the energy to wrap them individually for a fun surprise every so often. That’s great! And if that works for you, go for it.
I personally hate carrying a ton of airplane activities for toddlers. Mine only every play with them for a few minutes, anyway, so it’s not worth it to me to have to tote a bunch of stuff to fill all the time. I’d much rather reduce stress by packing minimally, and entertain them with whatever happens to be available.
I typically choose just one or two of the best airplane toys for toddlers – my favorites airplane toys for toddlers are pop its and a small bag of crayons. These Water Wow booklets are also great, and of course we bring plenty of snacks (see below). We also love packing a few colorful pipe cleaners to poke into an empty spice container with large holes. We absolutely love our Yoto player, and it’s perfect for travel with toddlers to listen to music or audiobooks. You can use the code PREETHI10 for 10% off. We like to use it with the best headphones for toddlers – they’re so soft and don’t fall off.
Beyond that, we just use other things we find on the airplane – the safety pamphlet, a cup, in-flight magazine, wrappers, a cup of ice, etc. My kiddos are usually more entertained by those airplane things than any toys, anyway!
10. Airplane snacks for toddlers
Speaking of snacks, while I skimp on the toys, I always pack plenty of snacks to bring on an airplane for a toddler. I like to bring small snacks that take a while to eat – a baggie of goldfish, raisins, etc. This is one of my best tips for traveling with toddlers. I also like to bring a couple of things that have some protein to eat earlier in the flight so they stay cold, such as a string cheese. Sliced apples with some peanut butter are also a favorite. This is definitely the most important item on my traveling with a toddler checklist!
11. Ask if there are extra seats on the plane
This doesn’t always work, and certainly not if it’s a full flight, but it can be really helpful to ask if there are any extra seats on the plane. Even if you purchased a seat for your child, it can be really helpful to have that extra seat to spread out a bit. We never mind going to the very back of the plane if it means we have an extra middle seat where our child can relax and stretch out, or sometimes lie down for a nap flat on the seat.
12. Walk Walk Walk – before flying with a toddler
I always try to wear my kiddos out as much as possible before a flight in hopes that they’ll pass out at some point on board.
If you’re traveling with another adult, it can be nice to send them to board early, especially if you have carry on luggage to stow. (Sometimes if you board late, there’s no more room in the overhead bin.)
Meanwhile, you can keep walking your little one and board near the end to get as much energy out as possible before takeoff. This has worked really well for us many times – no need to be cooped on the airplane longer than really necessary!
13. Hold off on walking the aisles when flying with A toddler
Speaking of walking, it can be pretty tempting to let your child get down and walk around right away. But once they get a taste of that freedom, they often don’t want to go back! That can make it tricky to keep them in the seat at all.
Instead, try holding off and using other distractions first and using walking the aisles as a last resort when traveling with a toddler.
14. Diapers, Wipes, (Change of Clothes)
It’s obvious, but don’t forget diapers and wipes! I usually plan on about 4-5 diapers per day – you may need more or less. If I’m being very honest, I typically only pack a change of clothes for my young babies – rarely for a toddler. It’s up to you how much of a risk taker you’d like to be. 😉 Of course, if you have a newly potty-trained toddler, I highly recommend taking along that change of clothes! It’s never a bad idea to have an extra change of clothes when flying with a 2 year old. f
15. Request milk onboard
Speaking of filling drink containers, did you know milk is often available on board flights? Flight attendants rarely mention it and generally use it for coffee. However, I’ve never had an attendant say no when I’ve asked for milk for my child. Way better than drinking 3 cups of juice when flying with a toddler!
16. Baby wear through the airport with a 18 month old
For babies and young toddlers, I far prefer to wear them in a baby carrier in the airport instead of pushing a stroller. It is SO much easier to get through security while wearing them – many airports don’t even require you to remove the child from a soft-sided carrier when going through the check point. Plus, then I don’t need to worry about pushing a stroller along, especially if I’m also pulling a rolling suitcase.
The only time a stroller is really helpful to me is when I’m taking a car seat but don’t have a rolling suitcase. Then the stroller can serve as a vehicle to push the car seat. (If I do have a rolling suitcase, I just attach the car seat to the suitcase. I hook an infant car seat over then handle of the suitcase by it’s carrying handle, or I attach a larger car seat to the suitcase with this strap.)
If you do decide to take a stroller or a car seat to the gate, it’s very easy to gate check a car seat.
17. Use a backpack for a diaper bag/personal item
A backpack is my very favorite personal item when flying. They usually have more compartments and are more organized than a crossbody, and way more than comfortable to wear, especially if wearing a baby. And it’s so much easier to chase after a kiddo burning off energy in the airport, too. Another one of my best tips for flying with toddlers!
I like using one that is small enough to fit under the seat in front of me so I can easily access it for diapers, snacks, activities, etc. I have and love both this one and this one (in a different color/fabric), and this one has over 20k terrific reviews.
18. Bring a sweater or small blanket
I always open all the air vents when flying – it helps the air circulate better and keeps everyone healthier. However, that also means it can get chilly!
I always remember to pack a sweater or small blanket, both for my toddler and for me. Dressing in layers means it’s easy to adjust if it gets warm or cool. There are tons of cute sweaters and sweatshirts here. And we love our lightweight muslin blanket like this – it’s perfect for draping over a car seat or for snuggling up in a seat.
19. Consider an inflatable foot rest to create a bed
Some toddlers are great at curling up in a seat to lie on someone’s lap, while others do better with a better sleep space. We love these inflatable foot rests to create a bed on an airplane. They fit perfectly in between the seat and the back of the seat in front, so that little ones can lie flat like a bed. We’ve had kids sleep on planes this way for 8+ hour stretches!
20. It’s okay to use a tablet
Most of my toddlers haven’t been super interested in watching a screen for more than 15-20 minutes. And while we do hardly any screen time at home, I don’t have any issue at all with using it as a tool while on a flight with a toddler. Usually, they’re not interested for super long, anyway, so it’s a useful tool to rotate with other activities.
21. Have fun when flying with a toddler
Toddlers are really excellent at mirroring and recognizing others’ emotions. Since they’re learning so much about their world, they’re constantly paying attention to facial expressions – especially yours! So if they know you’re stressed or frustrated, they’ll likely feel that way, too.
While it can be challenging when flying with a 2 year old or when flying with an 18 month old, I’ve found it helps my toddlers so much if I can stay calm and happy. When I smile at and play with them, they relax and settle down, too. They tend to love little games like peek-a-boo and clapping games and little songs, so I try to have a bunch of those in the back of my mind for easy reference. And they love when I act silly with something as simple as an airplane napkin!
22. Know that it will end
While traveling with a 2 year old isn’t always fun, no one has ever been stuck on an airplane for the rest of time. Every flight ends. It may not feel like it at the moment, but the strangers will forget about your screaming 2 year old (or, at least, you’ll forget about them), your kiddo will grow up, and everyone will survive, including you. You’ve got this!
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