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Flying With A Toddler

Travelling with toddlers on a plane who are such energetic, not to mention emotionally charged pint-sized little people can be exhausting.

Two children, 80+ countries across six continents, including two years of full-time travel, I feel I have the flying with a toddler tips nailed!

I mean, I’m over here just trying to survive the day without any epic meltdowns about toast being cut the wrong way, never mind bundling into a closed space with hundreds of strangers for hours on end.

I cannot tell you how many people email me DAILY asking for tips on flying with a toddler! For some reason, it makes us parents so nervous, almost to the point of putting fun travel and adventures on hold for a few years. I’m here to tell you, don’t worry, I have lots of tips!

I’ve taken my kids everywhere and the thought of giving up travelling for the sake of a long flight with a very energetic toddler is not an option. The end reward of a new destination is what it’s all about!

As a family, we have so many fond memories of our little ones experiencing new sights, smells and sounds in a foreign country, making it totally worth every minute on a flight. So with all the positive vibes in the world, I’ve tackled the best way to execute the flying with a toddler task head on!

With plenty of preparation, it’s totally possible to execute my flying with a toddler tips successfully. Of course, they may be a little tired or grouchy at times and that’s where my tried and tested tips come to play.

I must point out flying with a baby or flying with older kids is a lot different than flying with a toddler, dare I say a little easier, but like I mentioned preparation is everything.

You can also check out our full toddler carry on travel essentials post here or our favorite travel toys for toddlers here!

Don’t forget to get travel insurance! This is so important when you travel, especially with kids! We like World Nomads.

TIPS FOR FLYING WITH A TODDLER

I love the acronym S.A.S, it stands for snacks, activities and sleep aids. These are the three things that are going to save your ass when flying with a toddler, keeping them entertained and contained to the best of your ability. I will go into this in detail below but keep this little easy reminder in the back of your mind!

Bring Lots of Airplane Snacks For Toddlers

Out of all the fights we have taken with our kids the most successful ones have been when we bring tonnes of their favourite snacks and meals with us!

Yes, it can be annoying bringing an entire extra bag of food, but if their tummies are satisfied and they’re chewing, they are quiet! This has to be one of the best tips for traveling with a toddler I was ever given.

I try to be as realistic as possible with what I bring in terms of mess. Small dry foods are obviously best, but may not sustain an entire flight. I tend to make sandwiches wrapped in reusable food grade cloth rather than lunch boxes for space.

Flying with a toddler - Snacks Checklist

I always bring bananas as it’s such a good filling food. Equally cut up grapes, dried raisins and compressed fruit bars are an amazing snack. I always bring their stainless water sippy cup to keep it cool and it is super easy to fill up in the airport to reduce waste.

Cabin crew are always helpful when it comes to assisting with warming drinks if needed, providing additional snacks and so on. And don’t forget to order a ‘toddler meal’ in advance! It’s a requirement for almost every airline and they will not have a toddler specific meal unless its ordered beforehand.

Check out prices on reusable food grade cloth, compressed fruit bars, and stainless water sippy cups.

Be Prepared with New Travel Toys for Toddlers On Airplanes

Having new and engaging activities are key for 2-year-olds that find it hard to sit still. Every child is different when it comes to their interests but throwing just about everything at the situation to ensure success is the best way forward.

I am a big fan of the Keep em Quiet bags, produced in the UK. They are specifically designed to keep little ones of all different ages entertained on a flight.

Flying with a toddler - navigating the  airport

They come in different age groups, gender (also gender-neutral available), as well as length of trip. If you are going away for a weekend they can be smaller and obviously a little cheaper in price.

They are stuffed full of activities such as mess-free painting, 3d puzzles, snacks, special colouring in and so on. This is definitely one of my top tips for flying with toddlers.

Find out more about Keep em Quiet bags here!

ACTIVITY PACKS

There are some similar travel-specific activity packs in Australia called Busy Bags worth checking out.  They are ideal for travelling with toddlers on long haul flights. Likewise in the US, there is one made by Penguin Travel.

You can check out the US and Australian version here! My only criticism with these packs is related to the waste, although many things are reusable such as the re-stickable stickers etc, the Keep Em Quiet bags do produce a lot of plastic waste.

We have also recently discovered these great little globe packs which are designed with your destination in mind. They are filled with a passport with the country’s flag, and activities designed to introduce your child to the country you will be visiting!

Flying with a Toddler - Activities

Making your Own Activity Packs

If you don’t have access to one of the travel-specific activity bags, a simple trip to your local pound/ dollar /euro shop to buy a few low-cost items to make up your own activity bag is always an option.

Playdough is a great and cheap toy to bring along and it is easy to make your own. It is extremely versatile and toddlers could spend hours playing with it. A favourite game to pass the time on board is to bring smaller toys along and hide them inside.

Sliblings can play this together which gives you a few minutes of breathing room.

You can also hit up Amazon for some amazing toddler plane toys. Only give them to kids when they are on board so they will be a novelty. We’ve rounded up a list of our favorite travel toys for toddlers here.

Don’t be afraid to be creative either. There is sure to be something around you to use for entertainment. A blanket can be used for a peek a boo or even letting a toddler button and unbutton a cardigan can keep them busy for a while or used as a distraction.

AMAZON FIRE TABLET

The whole idea is to reduce screen time which I love. However, we do bring an Amazon Fire tablet with us as a last resort, it can be quite handy to get our little ones to snuggle down to sleep, especially on a long haul flight with toddlers.

Flying with a toddler - Plane activities

The reason I specifically love the Amazon Fire tablet is because it can be controlled by parents, with very specific child-friendly and educative apps.

We can also download movies before our trip which have saved the day a few times. You can check out prices on Amazon Fire tablets here.

Don’t forget to bring headphones along so you don’t disturb the other passengers. Bluetooth headphones are great as they can move around without the fear of the wire coming out.

Make Sure to Pack In Flight Sleep Aids

So now that we’ve dealt with snacks and activities, let’s move on to sleeping aids. Getting a toddler asleep on a plane can be a challenge at the best of times.

We all know comfort and minimal stimulation is key when it comes to getting our little ones to have sweet dreams. For most of us, if it’s ‘sleepy sleepy’ time on a flight, it can often be the most agonising time for us as parents.

I’ve often paced up and down, stroked my little ones head to no avail. From the bright lights, people chatting and just a new environment it can be so tough. Having a sleeping aid is key and really helpful if your little one has their own seat.

Check out this post for some of the best travel bassinets for newborns and toddlers.

Additionallly, if you are taking a long flight, it may be better to opt for an overnight flight. Not only is there more chance your little one will drift off, but the lights on the plane are usually dimmed. This encourages other passengers to speak in hushed voices and creates a better sleep environment.

If it is a short flight then it may not matter as much, however if your toddler sticks to their nap schedule consider a flight around nap time. However, don’t stress if they don’t go down as we all know how hard it is to sleep on a plane.

A few other tricks you could try are having little one dressed in pyjamas or putting them on while you are on the plane. If you read a book before sleep time, then bring their favourite book a long. The trick is trying to keep to same routine. It may not always work, but anything is worth a shot.

Plane Pal For Flying with a Toddler

I have tried out both the Plane Pal and the JetKids BedBox. They are both fantastic options to create a first-class bed for your toddler on a long haul flight. Many airlines accept them, however, there are a handful that do not allow it, so it’s worth checking before investing.

best toys for toddler on plane

Plane Pal is a toddler travel pillow for the airplane that fills the legroom space in front of the seat and creates a flat surface for your little one to stretch out. It packs away nicely and is not too big to carry around.

Jet Kid BedBox For Flying with a Toddler

The JetKids BedBox is quite a different product!! It is a mini wheelie suitcase that also acts as a scooter and is an amazing way of getting through the airport if your little one has the stability to sit on it.

There is space inside that can be used to store an activity bag, some snacks and a change of clothing.

Flying with a toddler - jet kids bedbox

When on board the suitcase has a third function, again, filling the legroom space in front of the seat  and creating a flat surface for little ones to stretch out.

This product is quite expensive, however, if you travel often I think it’s worth every penny. Here is my full review of the Jet Kids Bed Box.

Jet Kids BedBox - Flying with a Toddler

 

Bassinet Shade For Travelling with a Toddler on a Plane

If your toddler is under two, you may be lucky enough to bag a bassinet seat. Priority is generally given to younger babies. Likewise, if your kids are anything like my tall kids they may not fit in the bassinet.

The best airline for a toddler bassinet solution is British Airways. They have a reclined seat option as opposed to the box and is literally perfect for kids ages around one to 18 months roughly.

Flying with a toddler - bassinet cover

Another great product is the Cozigo which has a double function! It can cover a stroller as a sun and light protection but can also pop up over a bassinet on a flight.

Keeping those hideously bright lights on a flight is the hardest part and Cozigo is a great option to overshade your toddler or baby. I have a full review of the product here.

Familiar Toys and Blankets

Don’t forget the all-important familiar cuddly toys and a lightweight but warm blanket. Those familiar smells and comforts from home are always a winner. I find a fleece toddler blanket really good at compacting down into my hand luggage without taking up too much space.

 How To Navigate The Airport with a Toddler

So now that you’ve made the all-important preparations at home for the flight, there are quite a few things you can do once you arrive at the airport.

Navigating the Airport with a toddler

From scoring an extra seat at check-in, to making the most of free time before the flight, I have you covered! Make sure to arrive with plenty of time to clear security, have something to eat and play before boarding.

FLYING WITH A TODDLER CAR SEAT

Most airlines provide a seat belt for lap infants babies and toddlers under 2. All flying toddlers over 2 must be in their own seats.

Many of the Northern American Airlines do not provide the seat belt, however, they are available online and could be an alternate option to flying with toddler car seats. You can buy a seat belt here.

Some parents choose to take a car seat when flying with a toddler on board. They purchase a seat and install them just like a car seat. The idea is it gives the child the same protection as a car journey. However, this is not a requirement (at the time of writing this).

Flying with toddler car seats is a lot of hassle in my opinion, especially when there is a lap option for those under two and not something I have tried personally.

We do take them away with us when renting a car for example, but we haven’t installed them onboard. Every airline I have ever been on, allowed us to check our car seats in for free. If you are not sure whether you want to bring your car seat on holiday, check out this post.

Flying with a toddler - at the airport
International travel with toddler

I prefer to hold my toddler on my lap with the seat belt, especially useful when I need to breastfeed on take-off and landing for his ears to relieve the pressure.

I do understand those parents that prefer to bring the car seat on board for flying with a toddler. Car seats can offer that extra protection, and, well, I guess being in their own seat contains them somewhat.

Not all car seats fit on airplanes so if you plan to fly with one make sure it will fit within the airplane seat. This car seat comes recommended for airplane journeys but still make sure to check, as regulations change all the time.

TRAVEL STROLLER AIRPLANE ADVICE

We tend to always bring a travel stroller with us. Depending on our mood, and if our toddler is sleeping or not, we make a call at the check-in desk whether we will take it with us to the gate.

I find it quite handy, especially if I am travelling solo. I throw my hand luggage in there whilst my toddler is walking. If you are flying with twins, having a double stroller will make things much easier.

the best travel puschairs - Britax Holiday Double

I check it in if I don’t have too much hand luggage. If I have a tonne of stuff, it’s just handy to have wheels to help. The less I have with me, and the more hands-free I’m going to be, the more likely I am to check it in at the desk.

It is wise to remember that it may not be returned to you when you disembark. It depends on the airport. If you feel you will need it when you get off the plane right away, ask at the check in desk. Sometimes they can put in a special request. Otherwise you often have to collect it with the rest of your luggage.

One of my favourite things on the market right now is the GB Pocket Stroller. It folds up so small and can be taken onboard. I find that feature really handy, especially if you’ll have a connecting flight and a potentially long walk through a terminal to your next gate. It really is tiny when folded up!

For more information on the GB Pocket Stroller, click here.

 CHECK-IN DESK REQUESTS

Like I mentioned about the sleeping aids, the ideal scenario when flying with a toddler is to have their own seat. Airplane travel with toddlers can be stifling at the best of times.

You know how it is with them clambering all over you.  I never bought a seat for my kids when they were under 2. However, I always asked if they had a spare seat at check in.

Flying with a toddler - check in

When flying with a toddler, most of the time we were lucky enough to score the spare seat on board and so we could make sure our little one was comfortable and had space.

For the few times, we were not so lucky, I had my baby carrier to hand to help get little one to sleep. Obviously, an entire night flight is not so comfortable with a toddler on your front but the baby carrier definitely made it easier.

You could also request a window seat for your toddler. You may not need to as most airlines try keep families together. Howver, it doesn’t do any harm to confirm at check-in.

Window seats can offer a few minutes of distraction especially when taking off and landing when you are trying to keep them in their seats.

Getting Through Airport Security with a Toddler

Family security lines can be amazing. I recently travelled through Barcelona Airport where they had a playpen right at the security line.

In Barcelona airport, they also had a low-level machine to push everything, from our buggy and suitcase through for scanning. It made it so easy for us.

Services offered at airport for family travel

Gatwick Airport can be hit and miss, sometimes the line is so busy with families it ends up taking longer. The best thing to do is assess each time and see if the better option is to take the regular queue.

PREPARING FOR INSPECTION AT AIRPORT SECURITY 

Try to avoid extra hassle at security and get the long flight with a toddler off to the best start! Liquids will be tested if they are your little one’s food and drink for the journey. I always forget at least one thing at the bottom of the bag!

Electronics have to be removed and put in their own tray. If you have a tablet in each bag, this is going to be a hassle. Try to have them altogether so they can be easily taken out and easily put back in.

Don’t forget to consider your outfit carefully.

Wear things you are not going to have to take off, this is not fun whilst chasing a toddler.

For example, I try not to wear boots and a belt because I know I have to take them off! I keep my passport hanging around my neck in one of those special zip pouches. Again having everything to hand is really helpful.

LOOK FOR FAMILY FACILITIES WHEN FLYING WITH TODDLERS

Most airports have an area for kids to play. Look at the information screens to find them when traveling with toddlers. Some are better than others, Dubai Airport is a favourite of ours as well as the soft play at Heathrow Terminal 2.

I find so many of the western airports go the extra mile during school breaks. For example in Heathrow in some restaurants, kids eat free at some restaurants in the terminal.

I prefer to eat a good meal before boarding the plane. As strict vegans, the food options are not always that good so we always have our big bag of snacks to fall back on.

If there are no play areas available then simply walking around the airport can keep your little one entertained and help burn off some energy.

BEST TIME TO BOARD A LONG FLIGHT WITH TODDLER

Airlines always prioritise young families to board, however that’s not always helpful! I find letting our kids run around the terminal and burn their energy off is a better starting point to get them to sit down and put their belt on.

Flying with a toddler - Long Flight with a Toddler
Toddler on plane

Having that extra time whilst everyone else boards can be tricky in my opinion, so this is always our default approach. In some cases, if our toddler is on the verge of falling asleep, we board early and make the most of settling in peacefully.

Some families split up at the gate. One parent takes all the luggage on while the other plays with the toddler at the gate. This is a great idea if you are planning to wipe down the armrests and trays with cleaning and disinfectant wipes.

Use this time to take your toddler to the toilet as well. The toilets are out of use until the plane has taken off and the seat belt signs are off. This means there may be a long wait if they have to go as soon as they board.

ON BOARD A FLIGHT WITH A TODDLER

Don’t be afraid to ask the crew for help if you are flying with kids! If they see you are flying with a toddler, they will normally give you a kiddie pack, if they forget just ask because it can usually kill at least half an hour.

I try to prepare my little ones for wearing their seat belt and provide all the distractions possible during that time. In reality, it’s only during take-off, landing and turbulence that we really need our toddler to conform so distraction is key.

Flying with a toddler - on board the plane

If my kids want to walk up and down I let them. Trying to contain them is really challenging and can be harder doing that than simply letting them stretch their legs.

It’s nicer for everyone involved, people prefer to see a happy child zooming past as opposed to a contained upset toddler in the seat behind. Drip feed snacks and activities throughout the flight, one by one.

Likewise, keep everyone hydrated with water and make sure to have enough diapers and change of clothes for any accidents. don’t forget to include a change of clothes for yourself either.

Some airlines require children over two to wear a face mask while on board. This changes depending on age so it is best to check before boarding. If your toddler is not used to wearing one, it may be a good idea to have them wear it before the flight.

OTHER ESSENTIAL ITEMS WHEN FLYING WITH A TODDLER

As stated above, preparation is key for any flight with a toddler. As parents we have to prepare for every scenario while trying to fit it all into our hand luggage and staying under that 100ml limit.

A backpack is most parents preferred choice as it allows them to keep their hands free. Having one with lots of storage compartments is perfect for keeping yourself organized.

If your child takes any medication make sure to carry it in your hand luggage and have the prescriptions with you, just in case. The last thing you need is your luggage not making it to the other side and having to try and find the right medication in a foreign country.

A small first aid kit is a great item to have. There are limits to what you can pack. Scissors and liquids over 100ml have to go in hold luggage. However, a few plasters and a small bottle of kids paracetamol could come in handy.

Flying nowadays requires more documents than ever. Before it was just passport and tickets. Now there are PCR tests, proof of vaccinations and even locator forms. You may need to bring your child’s birth certificate or a notarized permission to fly document if you are flying solo.

Having these documents all in one place can make check in and passport control go smoothly.

HOW TO HANDLE DELAYS WHEN FLYING WITH A TODDLER

There is nothing worse than arriving at the airport and discovering your flight is delayed. Twenty or thirty minutes is tolerable, however a few hours delay with a toddler can feel like your whole world is crashing down.

You are worried you will run out of snacks or worse yet activities for the journey.

This can be difficult to navigate, however, there are a few tricks to help you get through it. The first thing you want to do is eat at the airport and keep the snacks for the plane. Many airlines offer a free food and drink voucher for delays so make the most of it.

Try and use the facilities at the airport as much as you can. You want the activities to be used on the airplane. However, if this is not possible try and stretch them out. Don’t forget about the simple things either. Some toddlers might enjoy watching the planes on the runway, while others might want to look at the toys in the toy shop.

All the sights and sounds found in the airport are new and exciting when flying with a toddler, so take advantage of your surroundings and let them explore.

TIPS FOR SELF CARE WHEN TRAVELING WITH TODDLERS

Make sure you don’t forget about yourself when travelling with a toddler on a plane.

Stay well hydrated, take time for lots of leg movements to prevent blood clots and try to get your head down for a sleep while your little one is. Or, if not a sleep, then have a glass of wine, relax and watch a movie.

travelling with a toddler

If you are flying with someone else, take turns. This is the best advice I can give to you having taken my two kids around the world a number of times.

I find that the most draining part about flying with a toddler is the amount of energy you have to put into the entertainment. We rarely have too many tears or tantrums onboard if we make the necessary effort.

Do you need tips about breastfeeding or flying with formula or dealing with jet lag?

FLYING WITH A TODDLER CHECKLIST

Here is a Flying With A Toddler Checklist that you can print off!!

Would you add anything else to our flying with a toddler checklist? Let me know in the comments.

Ready to book? Find great deals on flights, travel insurance, hotels, reliable internet, and rental cars!

You may also like:

Car seat flying with toddler tips 

Flying with a baby

Toddler hand luggage essentials

Dealing with Jet Lag in Babies, Toddlers and Kids

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. By using them it will not cost you any extra, we will receive a small percentage of the sale. 

Leah

Saturday 24th of August 2019

This is a great post. I am flying to Pennyslvania on Sept 1 with two small toddlers. I have booked two flights since it is a longhaul destination. For both the airport and the flight, I will be armed with flight activity packs and books plus 1-2 toys for both kids. I will call on Monday to find out about the entertainment system onboard the aircraft as well. Can anyone suggest films that are appropriate for toddlers to watch? Is the food onboard the flight nice or not? Do flight crew still provide coloring sheets or should I bring my own aboard the plane? I love your tips.

travelmad

Thursday 12th of September 2019

Hi, I hope the flight went well. Sorry I didn't catch this in time!

Fany

Tuesday 26th of March 2019

Thank you so much for all the tips! I am flying with my husband and our two kids to France. (One 2 months old and one 20 months old) We didn’t buy a seat for them so we will have them on our lap. I’m nervous about the trip but it’s an overnight direct flight, hopefully we can get that bassinet and may be an extra seat if the plane is not full but I know it will be unlikely. Can I contact you with some questions before we leave if some come up? Thank you!

Travel Mad Mum

Sunday 31st of March 2019

I'm happy to try to answer any questions you have. You might want to check out our Flying With A Baby post as well if you haven't already. Good luck with the flight!

Bev

Monday 15th of October 2018

This is a great blog and I hope to put many of your tips in to practice. What would you advise for getting a 2.5 year old comfy on a 8hr then 17hr flight as we can’t take on a fly legs up or similar - emirates have said no.

Camilla

Monday 1st of October 2018

Thank you - really helpful post :-)

Nicola

Thursday 6th of September 2018

I know this is an old post but just wanted to say thanks for the tips! I am flying with my 18 month old later this month - I am panicking already because he can't sit still for more than a minute. This makes me feel like we will be ok!

Comments are closed.