Flying with a toddler (and traveling in general) is a much different ballgame than flying with a baby. While it certainly gets easier once they can better communicate and entertain themselves, toddlerhood also means growing out of sleeping through everything and having the occasional tantrum. Toddlers also have SO MUCH energy to burn, which can make sitting in a small space challenging at times.
Any potential challenges aside, a flight with a toddler can actually be fun. Toddlers are starting to see the world with fresh eyes and absorbing everything around them. Seeing your kids get so excited about a flight or new adventure is pretty much the best thing ever. Like all things toddler travel, you just need a little preparation to help make sure your flight goes smoothly. Keep reading for some of our best tips for flying with a toddler.
2021 Update: Federal Law currently requires a face mask for all passengers 2 and older. Be sure to practice wearing a mask before your flight if your toddler is not used to wearing one.
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1. Get Your Toddler Excited About Flying
Toddlers are learning so much every day. Whether you have a child that’s never flown before or one who has dozens of times, there are so many ways to get them excited for a flight. Just talking about the flight or pointing out planes flying in the sky is the simplest way to get them excited.
Reading books is another great way to teach kids about the airport and entire process of flying. A few books about flying for kids include:
- Shine-A-Light On the Plane: This fun book walks kids through the flying process from checking bags to getting on the plane.
- Look Inside Things That Go: Share a behind the scenes view at the airport as well as other modes of transportation.
- First Sticker Book Airport: Uses stickers to help explain different things that go on at the airport. Sticker books that are one of our favorite travel activities for a toddler and are great to use during the plane ride as well.
YouTube videos are another easy way to prepare for your flight with toddler and explain the flying process.
2. Factor in Sleep or Quiet Times When Booking Flights for Toddlers
Flight times can make a big difference in how your trip with a toddler starts off. I always recommend to consider sleep times when preparing for your flight with a toddler to try to avoid them becoming cranky or overtired.
This doesn’t mean you need to base every flight entirely your child’s schedule. Some things to take into consideration when choosing the best flight times for toddlers, however, includes their nap schedule, bed time, and how long you plan to arrive at the airport prior to your flight.
If you’re flying longer distances, red eye flights can be a great option too. Each child will differ in their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep on a flight, so don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t go well the first time!
3. Burn Off All That Toddler Energy Before Boarding a Flight
One of our best flying with toddler tips is to try to burn off as much energy as you can before the flight. Having your kiddo sit at the airport waiting for the flight will only backfire later. Give them time to run around and get the wiggles out beforehand so they’re (hopefully!) more relaxed on the flight. Many airports have children’s play areas that are great for climbing, running around and playing before a flight. (Pro Tip: Always scope out the airport online before your flight to see if there’s a play area available.)
If your airport or gate doesn’t have a play area, just find an empty waiting area by an unused gate. Most toddlers will be just as happy running around in an open space as any play area. If you’re traveling with younger toddlers or babies who aren’t yet walking, a blanket on the floor is another option.
4. Take Advantage of Family Boarding
Most airlines offer family boarding of some form, which means you get to board prior to the majority of the other people on the flight to give yourselves time to settle in. This is particularly helpful if you’re flying with a car seat or have multiple children that you need to get seated.
If you’re unsure of your specific airline’s policy on family pre-boarding, you can call in advance, look online or ask when you arrive at the gate. (Note: Some airlines only allow pre-boarding up to age 2. Most airlines, however, offer pre-boarding for families traveling with toddler aged children.
P.S. Family boarding also gives you a better chance of saying hello to the pilot for a quick hello!
5. Make Sure Your Child is Comfortable and Safe on the Plane
There are several different options available to keep your child safe and comfortable during the flight. Keep in mind that comfort (and safety) will likely change as your toddler gets older. Technically speaking, having your toddler in a car seat is always the safest way to go on a flight until room in the car seat. While dragging the car seat through the airport and onto the plane can be a pain, it makes the flight itself MUCH easier having them contained as well.
This lightweight car seat is one of the best car seats for flying with a toddler. It’s light at 11 lbs and can be used for a child weighing up to 50 lbs. It still passes all security checks and is FAA compliant but without all the bells and whistles. It can also be used both rear facing and forward facing.
Flying With a Toddler Under 2
For toddlers under 2, you have the option of having your toddler as a lap infant or purchasing a seat for them. If you choose to purchase a seat, your toddler is required to be in an FAA compliant car seat until reaching the age of 2.
If you choose to fly with your toddler as a lap infant, make sure you have easy access to different forms of entertainment while juggling them on your lap. (And let’s be honest, after flying with a toddler on your lap you will probably be sweating by the time the flight is over!) Some factors to consider when choosing to fly with a toddler as a lap infant include: time of flight, if there’s more than one adult to help, ticket price and safety.
When flying with a toddler, identification (i.e. a copy of a birth certificate) is often needed for age verification for children under 2. Be sure to check with your airline on requirements beforehand.
Flying With Toddlers Over 2
Children 2 years and older are not required to have a car seat on a flight. Personally, we used a car seat until our son was 3 years old and dropped naps. (Prior to that, he always napped on flights and it made flying with him as a toddler a breeze!)
Some seat options for flying with toddlers over 2 include:
- A lightweight car seat for travel like this one.
- The CARES Harness: FAA approved alternative to a car seat for flying with young children. It can be used for kids 22 lbs to 44 lbs.
- An inflatable footrest: For younger children, an inflatable footrest like this one is an easy way to form a bed as an extension of the plane seat. (An option if you’re flying on a red eye with a toddler.)
- A Jetkids Bedbox: This is the “rolls royce” of products for flying with a toddler. It can be used both as a bed, carry on, and device for riding on throughout the airport. (Another option for overnight flights with a toddler.)
Note: Some airlines have policies that don’t allow any type of footrest in front of the seat. While I haven’t experienced it myself, I’ve been told that reinforcement of such policies can be different depending on flights and crew. Something to keep in mind as you prepare for your flight!
6. Navigate the Airport With a Toddler Like a Pro
Airports can be huge, and many toddlers may get tired or easily distracted when trying to walk themselves. Aside from having your child walk, there are several options for getting through the airport with toddlers depending on their age and walking speed.
A standard stroller is always an option to save little legs from walking through the airport. We use this lightweight travel stroller that is small enough to be a carry on. You can also check your stroller at the gate if you want to keep it to get through the airport.
Below are some alternatives to walking or a stroller to help your toddler get through the airport.
- Go-Go Babyz TravelMate: We have this and love it. It’s great for pulling both your child and his/her car seat to the gate, whether you plan to check the car seat or have your child sit in the seat.
- ZyncFlyte Scooter Carry-On Luggage: This carry-on luggage for toddlers is also a scooter, making it a super fun way to get around the airport when flying with a toddler.
- Trunki Ride-On Luggage: This carry-on luggage lets kids sit on the luggage to quickly transport them through the airport. Once they get older, they can pull it themselves.
- Jetbox Bedbox: This is another ride-on, carry-on luggage option that also transforms your child’s seat into a bed.
Another tip to make getting through the airport with a toddler a little easier is to involve them in the security screening process. One of the great things about toddlers is that they often respond well to being assigned a “job.” Security can be super stressful even for adults, and I’ve found that the times it goes more smoothly is when I involve my toddler. Even if it’s a small task like putting his jacket in the bin or holding something while I load up the bins.
7. Snacks, Snacks, and More Snacks!
Snacks can go a long way in keeping kids occupied on a flight. Some of the best plane snacks for toddlers are those that are small and take a while to eat- like Cheerios, Goldfish or other small crackers. Snacks can also help if you’re in a pinch and miss meal times due to flight delays or other unforeseen events. Be sure to plan for meals accordingly, since many low cost airlines do not offer meals on flights. A fed toddler is a happy toddler!
These snack catchers are great for travel with younger toddlers. If you’ve ever experienced your child dumping something over and over again, you can only imagine how frustrating it is on a cramped plane.
Snacks can also be used to prevent ear popping on planes!
Chewing something during takeoff and descent is one of the best ways to help prevent children’s ears from popping on a plane. Some easy ways to prevent a toddlers ears from popping on a plane include:
- Offer a special treat like lollipops, tootsie rolls or fruit snacks.
- Give them something healthier (yet chewy) like dried fruit or granola bars.
- Encourage your child to drink from a water bottle or sippy cup to help relieve the pressure.
Note: Current airline safety rules require masks to be worn on flights for children 2 and older. They can be pulled down for snack time but must immediately be put back on their face after snacking.
8. Pack Your Carry On For Toddlers With Multiple Forms of Entertainment
Since toddlers are often unpredictable, it’s always good to have multiple things to keep your toddler occupied during a flight. When flying, we always try to bring plane activities for toddlers that make little to no noise. We also try to avoid anything with small parts that can easily be dropped or lost.
Below are some of our favorite activities for a flight with a toddler.
- A fidget toy like this inexpensive toddler travel toy
- Sticker books, especially travel themed sticker books from Usborne Books & More
- Water WOW! Reusable Activity Books from Melissa & Doug
- Wikki Stix (the smaller packs linked here are great to easily bring one per flight)
- Regular books (read quietly)
- Coloring books used with triangular crayons that don’t roll
- Kindle Fire or iPad pre-loaded with shows or movies
- Children’s headphones for listening to music or watching shows
For younger toddlers, I just use a travel backpack for both of our items during the flight. For older toddlers, consider having them bring their own small backpack as a carry-on. A great way to get toddlers involved in the process of traveling is to have them back a carry-on or at least pick a few small activities to keep them entertained on the plane.
Note: Most airlines strictly reinforce headphone usage regardless of your child’s age. We recommend practicing with them before the flight to get your child used to them.
Do you have any flying with a toddler tips that haven’t been mentioned here? Please feel free to share in the comments below!
- Flying With a Baby: Tips for Before, During & After Your Flight
- Baby and Toddler Toys for Travel Under $10
- 6 Tips for a Successful Road Trip With a Toddler
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