How to fly with a toddler in tow

I keep having this dream where I’m on a plane. I’m alone in first class. The lights are dimmed and my seat is reclined. I’m watching a romantic comedy. Something by Nora Ephron. I have a stack of magazines next to me, but none of them are TIME or anything with hard journalism. The flight attendant comes by and pours me a glass of white wine.

I don’t know where this plane is headed and I don’t care. I hope it never lands.

Well, taking a transatlantic flight with a toddler last week (alone!) was the opposite of that dream, but it also wasn’t a nightmare. While I’d come to expect how a flight would go with a baby, you never know what you’re going to get with a toddler: He slept only 15 minutes on the flight over and six hours on the flight back. Here is what I learned…

Passengers007.jpgAdopt the right attitude. It is natural to feel frustrated while traveling with a little one, but a toddler is already riding a near-constant emotional roller coaster. You need to be the rock for the two of you. My in-flight mantra was “this is only nine hours of my life.” Also, I ate my way though an entire jumbo bag of peanut M&Ms.

Board the flight last. Don’t fall prey to the siren song of “those traveling with children under the age of two” and board early. I encouraged my toddler to run around the waiting area right up until the last few passengers were boarding. Better yet, research if your airport has an indoor playground (many do!).433d4aec867ff91c74344b81df3c3d31--airline-meal-airline-travel.jpgRelax the screen rules. Even if you don’t allow screens at home, there may be one on the back of each seat like there was on our flights. Screens are simply unavoidable! If you have an iPad, stock it with toddler-friendly entertainment via the iTunes store. Our favorite shows are Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Peppa Pig. And the apps were a BIG hit. Our favorites are Peekaboo Barn and MarcoPolo Ocean.

Keep the entertainment coming. Since my toddler is enchanted by the iPad for only 30 minutes at a time, I packed my carry-on bag full of surprises. The best toys were Play-Doh, reusable sticker books, books with magnets, and lift-the-flap books. My last tip is to always have a few balloons on hand that can be blown up and turned into a ball.

Change the scenery. Whenever he became restless, we’d walk the aisles, talk to the flight attendants or change his diaper. I’d let him walk independently in front of me, while I held onto the hood of his sweater. (Put your toddler in a hoodie!) When he gets faster, I might have to consider some sort of leash.vintage-infants-airplane-skycot-boac-flights-1.jpgSnack the entire flight. I packed two snack keepers — one with raisins and cheerios, the other with blueberries and frozen peas — instant oatmeal packs, Ella’s Kitchen Snack Bars, and a few veggie-fruit pouches (this is a great guide). Also, a banana has to be the best travel fruit ever. When I got into the airport, I also bought a large bottle of water for us to share and a sandwich I could eat one-handed while holding him.

Bring reminders of home. If you are going to convince a toddler it’s time to sleep, you need to have all of the right props from home. First I read him the book we read every night before bed, then I put him in his sleep sack and finally I handed him his favorite stuffed animal. If it doesn’t work (which it did not on one flight), it’s ok. Just keep him happy.

Here we are before take-off and after landing:


A little worse for wear, but we survived. What are your tips for flying with children? Do you allow screens? What snacks do you pack? As is most of parenting so far, I’m learning on the job.



4 thoughts on “How to fly with a toddler in tow

  1. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this!! We are preparing for Japan and Hawaii and I’m hoarding tips like a madwoman. We found on the ONE flight we have ever taken with the twins (ha!) that they loved playing with cups and water bottles from the flight attendants the most so I’m counting on those things ; ) And when I start to feel anxious about all the travel I keep thinking, It won’t last forever… Thanks for the tips, friend!

    1. Plastic cups from flight attendants are still all the rage among toddlers!! You two are creative and positive parents — that’s half the battle when it comes to long flights/trains/car rides. (Will Dorito make the flight?) I can’t wait to hear how Japan/Hawaii goes. It sounds like a dream trip! You might inspire us to book a super long flight before this baby turns 2. Tick, tock…

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