Flying With A Toddler

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

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 tens 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 parent 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 task head on!

With plenty of preparation, it’s totally possible to  execute my flying with 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 with keeping your flying toddler 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!

 

Esme embarking on another flight as a toddler

TRAVELLING WITH A TODDLER ON A PLANE

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.

I always bring bananas as it’s such a good filling food. Equally cut up grapes, dried raising 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.

TRAVEL TOYS FOR TODDLERS ON AIRPLANES 

ACTIVITIES

Having new and engaging activities are key plane toys 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.  

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!

Flying with a toddler

BEST TODDLER TOYS FOR AIRPLANE

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

Read this article for a more complete list of our favorite travel toys for toddlers!  

Flying with a toddler

INFLIGHT SLEEP AIDS

So now that we’ve dealt with snacks and activities, lets move onto 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.

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.

Plane Pal is a toddler travel pillow for the airplane that fills the leg room 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.

 

best toys for toddler on plane

best toys for toddler on plane

JET KIDS 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.

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.

 

Flying with a toddler

 

SHADE FOR FLYING WITH A TODDLER

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

 

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 great option to over shade to your toddler or baby. I have a full review of the product here.  

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

 AT 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.

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 a play before boarding.

FLYING WITH A TODDLER CAR SEAT  

For most airlines, they provide a seat belt for lap infants babies and toddlers under 2. All flying toddlers over 2 must be in their own seat.

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. 

Some parents choose to take a car seat for flying with toddlers onboard. 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. 

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 toddlers. Car seats can offer that extra protection, and, well, I guess being in their own seat contains them somewhat. 

 

Flying with a toddler

International travel with toddler

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.

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.

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 is for your toddler 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.

Most of 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.

 

Flying with a toddler

NAVIGATING AIRPORT SECURITY WITH A TODDLER

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

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

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

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 vegetarians, the food options are not always that good so we always have our big bag of snacks to fall back on.

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.

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.

 

Flying with a toddler

Toddler on plane

 

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

 

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 then 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.

TIPS FOR LOOKING AFTER YOU 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.

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 time.

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. 

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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

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2019-06-23T09:12:41+00:0020 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Gill October 26, 2016 at 3:37 am - Reply

    Great tips 🙂

  2. Jenn December 5, 2016 at 8:33 am - Reply

    Hi! Do you request todller meal before you fly or when you board? Thanks!

    • Karen December 5, 2016 at 10:48 pm - Reply

      Yes, if they do not have their own seat, you have to order it otherwise, they do not provide

  3. Rachael January 12, 2017 at 7:27 am - Reply

    Great article! I’m doing an 18 hour journey in a couple of weeks with my 14 month Tasmanian devil son ? I’m so nervous! Xx

    • Karen January 14, 2017 at 3:19 pm - Reply

      It will be fine. When I am not calm that is when Esme kicks off, so my number one rule is to stay cool as a cucumber and make it super exciting for them with this new experience … good luck x

  4. Veronika January 31, 2017 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your tips, we fly end of May from Munich to Tokyo with our 18 months old daughter. We fly in the night and hope she will find a little sleep. ?
    Wish us luck!!
    Greetings from Italy

    • Fernando January 19, 2019 at 10:39 pm - Reply

      How did it go? We are facing the same situation and I would love to see what you learned at that time.

  5. Kristy June 29, 2017 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    I just wanted to say a massive thanks you to you for these tips. I was not looking forward to our first flying experience with a toddler but it went really well. She was more then happy running around before we got on the plane and she loved all the new bits we picked up. Thanks again! Here’s to Venice next week!!

    • Karen June 30, 2017 at 1:39 pm - Reply

      You are welcome 🙂

  6. Marie Birkelund January 2, 2018 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your great tips. We have a 14 hour flight with our 2 year old ahead – luckily it’s overnight and he usually sleeps well. But do you have any tips regarding how to keep him (and his parents 😉 as comfy as possible when sleeping? Are there any cool pillows or something designed for toddlers ?

  7. Phil January 4, 2018 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Great tips … starting to look forward to our long haul flight now 🙂 x

  8. Michaela April 17, 2018 at 4:56 am - Reply

    Thanks for the advice so much. I am traveling to New Zealand for Christmas this year with my 1 year old. I feel better now 🙂

  9. Nicola September 6, 2018 at 8:46 am - Reply

    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!

  10. Camilla October 1, 2018 at 8:03 am - Reply

    Thank you – really helpful post 🙂

  11. Bev October 15, 2018 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    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.

  12. Fany March 26, 2019 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    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 March 31, 2019 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      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!

  13. Leah August 24, 2019 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    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 September 12, 2019 at 6:13 am - Reply

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

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