Y’all, flying with a toddler is possibly the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. Not because they were actually bad– in fact, they were the total opposite– but because of everything I’d read on the internet, the people who talked about how mean people are on the plane, etc. I walked into that airport DREADING it. Honestly, though, I was so completely prepared that even the mini-fits that got thrown were managed quickly. Flying with a toddler can be intimidating, but having done 40+ flights with one or two of them, this pilot’s wife has it down.
It starts with how I pack my carry-on bag, but knowing my little tips and tricks can help you decide what to put into that carry-on, as well as how to survive the flight itself and finally, safety information about what to bring/how to ensure a safer flight for your kiddo and yourself. From being able to distract them to knowing who your best allies will be, each tip will help you make it from Point A to Point B with more sanity intact and being able to enjoy your trip from the first moment you reach the airport, rather than just praying to make it to your destination.
Let me know YOUR best flying tip or trick in the comments!
Flying with a Toddler– Tips and Tricks from a Pilot’s Wife
Helpful Hints for Flying with a Toddler
- Book an early flight. I know it seems counterintuitive to book an early flight, but waking our kids up early has always been our better flights. They’re fresh, they’re excited from the moment they wake up, and you can keep them busy with breakfast (these blueberry muffins are always a special treat to start the trip off right) on the way to the airport. I always have their clothes picked out and ready and then we change them when we get to the airport so they just go from bed to car seat with breakfast and milk on the way.
- Go chat it up with the gate agent when you get there and they don’t look super busy. Ask them how their day is and offer to buy them a cup of coffee. They have THE hardest job at the airline, in my opinion, and a little sunshine goes a long way. Then, ask them if there’s any way you could pre-board so that you can get your kiddo settled. Afterwards, don’t stop being nice no matter what their answer!
- For this age, I prefer a window and middle seat if it’s just the two of us. The window gives them something to look at as you wait for them to board the plane and they’ll be able to watch takeoff and landing which is the most exciting part. In between, you can use these gel stickers for them to stick on the windows– change up the theme with what they’re loving at the moment, where you’re headed, or the season. How fun is that?!
- When you get on the jet, a flight attendant or two will be standing in the galley, welcoming you on. Make sure you say hi! Ask them how their day is going if there’s a slowdown on people walking to the back. If you don’t get to chat then, do it when they come by for drink service. Ask them where they’ve been, where they’re going, if they’re almost done for the day, anything! The nicer you are to them, the nicer they’ll be to you (just like any human), so be cordial.
What to Pack for Flying with a Toddler
Between using food for entertainment, bribery, and ensuring their ears don’t hurt, you’re gonna need golden snacks.
- Choose something you know that your kiddo will LOVE (and preferably something they don’t usually get) so that you know they’ll be chewing and swallowing on the way up and back down to help relieve pressure in their ears.
- Bring something yummy and fairly healthy for filling their bellies on the plane. I love our Bentgo boxes because it lets them eat several different things without my having to dig through my bag to find them something they want. Plus, I can even keep dips in it and not worry at all about it leaking into the other compartments. Dairy-free ranch, sunflower butter (as a peanut allergy mama, I prefer to keep things fairly allergen-free for plane rides for everyone else so I avoid bringing tree nuts on), even cream cheese or chocolate can make yummy treats for on the plane with fruit, veggies, or graham crackers.
- I love entertainment that disappears halfway through the flight. A little thing of dental floss and a baggie of Cheerios can make a fun necklace before they start to munch (and give you one less thing to take off the plane).
- Small toys– Check out your closest dollar store or Target Dollar Spot to find small toys that will fit in a brown paper bag. Put each one in a separate bag and pull them out one at a time. It’s a surprise every time and you won’t be out a ton of money if one gets left on the plane. Plus, bring a few crayons for them to color on the paper sack afterwards!
- Magic Coloring/Painting Books— These are the ones that don’t make a mess because it’s special markers on special paper. It keeps you from having an aneurism as you try to prevent your toddler from decorating the seats or tray table and keeps them happy being creative! This one specifically gives you a great carrying case that will fit the markers, coloring books, AND paper.
- Books– We LOVE Usborne Books for on airplanes. They have awesome storylines and include something extra fun like fold out pages, textures, or even their flashlight books (since you have a flashlight on your phone). I tend to pack airplane-related books because my boys are obsessed, but also because it’s fun to read about airplanes while you’re on one!
- iPad– As a last resort for us, I keep our iPad stocked with movies and apps that are quiet but entertaining for the kids (Netflix will even let you download Disney favorites now!). We try to entertain them with looking out the window, talking about the airplane, reading, snacks, etc. before we pull it out, but we’re definitely not above a little technological bribery! Pack some kid-comfortable headphones, too, so you don’t bug your neighbors, but honestly, the plane is usually loud enough that I can play our iPad on low enough that it doesn’t bother anyone (and it means I don’t have to fight my kids to keep a set of headphones on).
Magazines for Mama– On the off-chance that they fall asleep, I like to make sure I have a magazine or two to read. They’re lightweight, slim, and about any topic you want!
- For a more complete list of suggestions for your carry-on, check out this post.
Safety Stuff for Flying with a Toddler
- ID– Your kiddo might be under 2, in which case you’d need a birth certificate to prove they’re legal to be a lap child (if you decided to go that route), or to prove they are who you say they are, no matter what their age. I’ve only been asked for it a couple of times when I’m flying with a toddler, despite my kids looking nothing like me, but you don’t want to be asked and NOT have it. They do not need an actual ID unless you’re going out of the country, in which case they need a passport like everyone else.
- A CARES Harness— This keeps your kiddo in a 5-point harness on the jet, which means a safer flight (and less struggling with keeping them still, since it feels more like their car seat). It attaches to the seat super quickly and easily, but it does mean you have to have their own seat for them (which isn’t required by the FAA until they’re 2). Plus, it folds up SO small so it’ll fit in your carry-on.
- When you get on the jet, if you’ve been given an exit row, you’re better off mentioning it sooner than later if you’re flying with a toddler. You won’t be allowed to stay in it, no matter how badly you want the leg room (and believe me, I get it) because your little person won’t be able to help get people off in an emergency. So, the sooner you point it out to a flight attendant, the more likely you are to get a decent set of seats nearby.