12 Expert Tips For Flying With a Toddler

Tried and true travel tips to keep your toddler happy and mama sane

School is almost out, it’s nearly summer, and the burgers and kebabs are already burning on the grill (it wasn’t my fault this time).

If you’re like most families, you might be itching for a vacation to a sunny beachside destination or a fun cross-country trip to visit those relatives you only seem to talk to on Facebook.

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There’s just one slightly scary part:

It involves traveling with a toddler (or 2) on a plane!

AHHHH!! The horror!!

Oh, I’m just messing with ya!

I’ve flown on several overseas flights (10+ hours) and have rocked numerous domestic flights with my mini-me by my side.

And, I survived to bring you these pointers.

It is possible to travel with a toddler on a plane with your sanity intact. You just need to be a little prepared…okay, a LOT prepared.

dad and daughter examining a  travel map | tips for flying with a toddler | lap baby

Read these 12 tips for flying with toddlers from this globe-trotting mama who rocks these tips with a vengeance.

1. Pack as little as possible

Kids are everywhere, no matter what city, state, or country you visit. Do you know what that means? If you realize you need more baby wipes, diapers, or food pouches, you can always snag it at your destination. The same goes for your baby gear.

Why break your back schlepping the car seat, mini high chair, playpen, and kitchen sink when you can easily rent the baby gear? Most baby gear rental companies will even deliver and set it up for you. A total win-win and I’ve found it cheaper at times than paying the checked luggage fees. Unless you’re going to a third-world country (in that case pack what you need), most things you need will be easily available.

If you need to use your toddler car seat for the airplane (it’s not required for children under two years of age, but that may be changing soon), there is an easy to attach mechanism that will strap your child’s car seat to your rolling carry-on suitcase so you don’t have to carry it around (and yes the baby can still stay in the seat!) You need all the extra hands you can get.

I also HIGHLY recommend for travels that you invest in a piddle pad. A piddle pad is a waterproof seat liner that protects the car seat or stroller from diaper leaks and unsightly potty-training accidents. Nothing is worse than your child pooing and peeing all over their car seat and there is no way to clean it out.

Most plane bathrooms are the size of a broom closet and flight attendants CANNOT grant access to their food prep area for you to rinse your child’s unsanitary explosion. I’m sure you can understand.

2. Don’t vaccinate and travel

Like you really want to deal with explosion diapers, fevers, and extra crankiness on your day of travel. Babies and toddlers are forever getting shots. Make sure you book vaccinations at least one week prior to upcoming travels to avoid potential issues.

I learned this the hard way when my daughter experienced a bout of diarrhea on a road trip one day after her 6-month wellness checkup, which included several shots. Poo was EVERYWHERE.

It was like we dipped my husband’s truck in a Coachella port-a-potty. We had to find a gas station to take apart her car seat and hose it down. It was BAD. Learn from my mistakes.

3. Arrive to airport with time to spare

You know how long it takes just to get out of the car with kids, well imagine checking in, dropping off luggage, going through security, with hundreds of people, then trekking to your gate. And, you only hope your child doesn’t have a tantrum or accident which forces you to stop and drop.

You don’t need the added stress of rushing from one spot to the next. It’s not fun to run with toddlers and crap laden on your back like a turtle shell. Build in plenty of time to arrive at your departure gate…peacefully.

12 expert tips for stress free air travel with toddlers | paper airplane held by a hand in the sky

4. Master the art of negotiation

It’s awesome that you don’t have to pay for children under two years old to fly (if they’re a lap baby). Hosting a toddler on your lap whose soul sister is a wild chicken, however, can be rough.

If you are flying with a toddler on your lap, don’t fret.

Even if you didn’t buy a seat for your toddler, that doesn’t mean you won’t get one. If you are lucky to have empty seats on a flight, most airlines will try to help families to gain one for their lap kiddos to use.

For domestic flights, we typically use Southwest. Because of its open seating policy, if there is even a single extra seat on the plane, it’s likely you’ll be able to snag it for your child. Just check with the gate agent, bat those eyelashes, smile, and ask nicely. I’ve never heard no, even when traveling during peak travel periods. Not saying that will always be the case, but kindness goes a long way.

With United, Delta, and Alaska, it’s a tad more difficult because you have fixed seat assignments. You can ask the gate agent to rearrange your seats and see if they can leave an empty seat next to where your family is scheduled to sit, but chances are slimmer.

I’d recommend during booking time, arrange for you and your spouse or other kid to sit on an aisle and window seat and leave an empty middle seat in the back of the plane. Typically, these are the cheaper seats and are less likely to be filled. You might luck out.

5. Split up

Send your hubs, or trusted travel partner, ahead of you with the carry-on luggage to snag that ultra-desirable overhead storage space as you wait with your toddler in the gate area allowing her to run up and down and all around. Burn that energy, baby! Get her tired!

6. Embrace technology

I try to limit my toddler’s iPad use to when I take a shower or for when we’re traveling. It’s a special treat for my toddler and it can entertain her for hours. While I know we don’t want our kids to be glued to electronics non-stop, I think travel is an exception to the rule. If it keeps the kid calm and quiet, I’m game.

Download some kid-friendly movies or fun kid apps in advance that don’t require wifi and let them play away! If you have a Netflix account, this is an amazing app to have when traveling. You can download their favorite kiddie shows straight to your iPad or phone, so they can be watched without streaming.

    My 5 Favorite Toddler Apps That Are Free

5 Fun & Free Toddler Apps (NO Wifi Needed)  ipad background

7. Bring non-electronic activities too

Other toddler airplane activities that we love to use on the airplane is the doodle pro, mess-free color pad and markers, reusable sticker books, and a sandwich bag of matchbox cars and a few mini farm animal toys. These items are all small and can easily fit in your purse or backpack.

8. Pack an extra outfit   

Your toddler might not be spitting upon herself every hour as she did as a baby, but she still can still rival Pig-Pen in the worst way. Don’t forget to pack that extra outfit in your carry-on bag! If you forget, I am sure your kiddo will still look cute rocking Mom’s scarf like a toga.

9. Bring snacks galore

Toys are great, toys are grand, but nothing makes you happy as snacks in your hand! Veggie straws, fruit pouches, puffs, crackers, bananas, I have them all when I fly. Like a magician, I have an endless number of snacks coming out of my hat.

Just please remember, DO NOT offer sugary sweets or even juice. Nobody wants to deal with a hyped-up toddler at 35,000 feet for several hours. You might never want to travel again.

Oh, and don’t pack those goody bags full of snacks, earplugs, and love letters for those sitting around you. It’s too much. These grown men and women are more than capable of taking care of themselves. If they can’t handle the risk of being on a PUBLIC plane with a child, they need to invest in a PRIVATE jet.

10. Book a night flight

Book an evening or red-eye flight whenever possible so your child will be tired enough to rest. If you take a red-eye flight, follow a similar bedtime routine that you do at home. Put on jammies, read a story, and then nurse or a cup of milk.

Most flights will have dim lighting on the late evening and overnight flights, but you should still try to cut out as much light as possible (turn off reading lights, lower the window shades, etc.).

11. Be prepared for pressure

Make sure your tyke’s jaws are in action during takeoff and landing to ease ear pressure discomfort. Whether it’s crunchy snacks, water, pacifier, chewy toys, or singing Elmo’s new summer song, you got to make sure she’s gabbing or snacking. Should hopefully be easy, they do it all day long, right?

I always make sure to bring Tylenol or infant ibuprofen in my carry-on too, just in case the kiddo experiences pain later.

little girl wearing a backpack sitting on a little bar outside an airport with her stuffed animal

12. Walk it off

It’s hard enough for adults to sit down for several hours, let alone an energetic child. Don’t be afraid to walk the aisles with your kiddo. Just a quick walk up and down the aisle can help prevent your sweetie pie from turning into a screaming toddler demon.

These toddler travel tips should hopefully help you to feel more prepared, organized, and ready to face the world with minions in tow.

Just remember, life is an adventure and you should embrace it as such.

Even when your husband burns the burgers and kebabs, or your toddler has a tantrum over a broken cracker on the airplane.

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Author: Brandi Wiatrak

Hey, Mama! I'm Violet's mom and Chris' step-mama, Brandi. This space is a peek into my cold-brew fueled life navigating motherhood and the world. With brutal honesty, humor, and sarcasm, I talk about the joys (and sucks) of parenting, ways to live a simple & sane life, and awesome adventures to embark on with your family. Come aboard my crazy train! Wine and Gerber Puffs included.

3 thoughts

  1. I remember the days of traveling with toddlers. Wish I was more prepared. Great post!

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