We recently took a roundtrip flight with our toddler from Albuquerque to Seattle for vacation and to visit my husband’s family. This was our toddler’s second flight. We took her to Nashville to visit my mom when she was 6 months old. I will say that flying with a toddler is more difficult than flying with an infant.
Flying with toddlers can be difficult because they’re very mobile, they like to explore their surroundings, and they’re in that stage where they throw tantrums. The thought of confining them to one airplane seat for a couple of hours can be frightening.
Luckily, flying with a toddler doesn’t have to be horrible. There are definitely ways to cater to your toddler to make it more enjoyable for your family. It can also be a great learning opportunity for your toddler as he or she will be experiencing many new sights, sounds, and sensations.
Without further ado, here are my top tips to make flying with a toddler more enjoyable and fun!
1. Give your toddler a heads up
My toddler was 24 months old on this trip. I started to talk to her about flying in an airplane a few weeks in advance. I showed her YouTube videos about airplanes and flying. We would point them out in the sky whenever we saw one.
On the morning of our trip, we woke up early and loaded the car. My daughter was super excited. Everything went well with checking in and going through the security check.
When we boarded the airplane and started walking down the aisle to find our seats, she started to cry and have a meltdown. I totally understood why she was upset at that moment. We were in an unfamiliar, enclosed space with lots of strangers. It was overwhelming. Luckily, she stopped crying once we took our seats.
2. Pack snacks
I didn’t even bother packing snacks for our two flights to Washington. My plan was to purchase snacks at the airport and get snacks from the United club lounge during our layover. This was not a very well-thought-out plan for flying with a toddler.
We survived but, in the future, I will probably pack snacks in advance. First of all, getting snacks at the airport is expensive and they may not have your toddler’s favorite foods. I ended up with a lot of half-eaten bags of snacks in my purse.
During our layover, I saw a mom who had the most organized snack bag I’ve ever seen. She filled snack-sized baggies with various snacks and put them all in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. This was incredibly genius because you have to take out all food items when going through the security check. So, all you need to do is pull out the Ziploc bag. Voila!
3. Let your toddler sit in the window seat
If your toddler is over 2 years old, you’ll have to purchase a separate seat for him or her. For toddlers, having their own seat and space is probably ideal anyway.
Let them take the window seat! We let our toddler have the window seat on all of our flights. She was able to look out the window and see the sky and the clouds. We had an amazing view of Mt. Rainier on our descent into Seattle.
The window seat was also the most ideal seat for naptime.
4. Rotate toys throughout the flight
Pack small, fun toys that will entertain and intrigue your toddler throughout the flight. My personal plan was to rotate toys and give her something new when I sensed she was getting bored. This worked wonderfully.
On the flights where she didn’t nap, she was entertained the entire time.
I would recommend using screentime as a last resort. My husband downloaded a couple of episodes of Cocomelon on his phone prior to the flight. Surprisingly, we didn’t use it very much because rotating toys was very effective.
- Additional reading: 6 reasons why toddler coloring books are amazing
5. Use a club or lounge for layovers
If you’re able to, definitely pay to use a premium club or lounge for layovers. I get United Club passes with one of my credit cards, so we spent our Denver layover at the United Club lounge.
There are so many benefits of using a lounge with toddlers. A lounge offers nicer, more comfortable seating areas to rest your mommy body. It’s quieter, more spacious, and more relaxing than sitting at the gate. Also, there are food buffets and drinks.
In the lounge, we found a private area with some comfortable chairs and a table. After visiting the buffet, we hung out for a couple of hours and lounged. I didn’t have to worry about my toddler wandering off or getting in someone’s way. She had enough room to roam around freely.
I highly recommend it.
6. Bring a toddler pillow and small blanket
Toddler pillows are a great investment and perfect for flying with a toddler. You can easily stuff them in a backpack or a personal bag.
Napping can get a little tricky on a plane. A toddler pillow and a blanket definitely help with comfort. I found the easiest way for my toddler to nap was to put the pillow on my lap so she could slump over on me and then stretch her legs toward the window. She was buckled in the entire time.
Fortunately, our toddler took her regular nap during our airplane travel.
7. Use the family bathroom at the airport
I wish I had known about the family bathroom when we first took an airplane trip with our daughter. Obviously, I see the signs for them all the time but didn’t think to actually use one because the regular bathrooms have changing tables.
Well, I was missing out. Family bathrooms are great and provide all the amenities you need to change or even nurse your infant or toddler. Plus, they provide more privacy than the regular facilities.
I was impressed by one of the family restrooms at the Denver airport. There was a comfortable chair for nursing, a diaper genie, a diaper dispensary, and a foldout seat to strap in your infant just in case you needed to use the bathroom. I mean, wow!
8. Gate check stroller and car seat
My best advice is to travel with a stroller or a car seat that you’re not very attached to and you don’t mind getting lost or damaged. We purchased an inexpensive, lightweight stroller for this trip and gate-checked it.
We were not so lucky with our car seat. Since we had a carry-on, our personal items, and our toddler, we did not gate check our car seat. It was damaged on our flight home.
Since we had an extra car seat in the car we drove home from the airport, we didn’t find the damage until a few days later. At that point, I called United and they gave me a difficult time for not bringing this to their attention on the day we arrived.
This was a big lesson learned. Inspect your stroller and car seat upon arrival for damage. If there is damage, take it immediately to the Baggage Service Office for your airline so they can start a claim for you.
9. Have a plan to protect your toddler’s ears
The difficulty with flying with a toddler is that they don’t know how to ease air pressure in their ears as a plane is ascending or descending. Therefore, it’s great to have a plan to protect your toddler’s ears from the potential pain caused by increased pressure behind the eardrum. (Source)
If your toddler has outgrown the pacifier and the bottle, then you can try to use a sippy cup. Drinking out of the sippy cup didn’t work well to relieve ear pressure for our toddler. She complained about her ears on two flights.
Another way to help out your toddler is to provide ibuprofen prior to the flight to reduce the pain. The good news is that the pain is temporary and your toddler’s ears will eventually relieve the pressure on their own.
10. Bring a large tote or backpack as your personal item
I took a large tote for my personal item and this worked pretty well. I was able to throw snacks, sippy cups, and many other items into my tote and access items easily.
Depending on how heavy your tote gets, the weight might start to wear on your shoulders. At one point, I did wish that I had a backpack, which would have relieved my shoulder and given me an extra available hand.
So, whatever bag you choose, make sure that it has enough room for you and your toddler’s belongings and that you can access items easily.
Final thoughts on flying with a toddler
Although flying with our toddler was relatively smooth and drama-free, it was still exhausting! I feel like there’s not really an alternative to carrying around a bunch of items throughout the airport, so it’s just best to be organized and prepared.
Also, once you’ve been through the experience of flying with a toddler, you’re basically a pro after that. Subsequent flights are much easier because you’ve had the experience and are less nervous.
Thank you for reading. Do you have any other tips for flying with a toddler? Drop them in the comment section below!