How to survive flying with a toddler.

When you started a family and began to travel with your baby you probably felt a but smug about the fact that you’ve done it. Hurrah, you’ve managed to conquer flying with a baby. (If you are yet to do this see our tips for the first time flying with a baby). Flying with a toddler changes the way you travel once again! It is probably only with hindsight that you can look back and realise how easy life was then in comparison to travelling with a toddler.

This article has been the one that has been most requested so here goes. Here are the Mini Travel Tribe’s tips on how to survive flying with a toddler.

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Choose your flight time

This isn’t always possible as you may be restricted by the scheduling of your chosen airline. However if you do have options think carefully about what time of day you choose to fly. Having an over-tired, cranky toddler with you will change the whole flight experience!

I took a 3 hour flight at 4pm with C aged 20 months. She had been at nursery for most of the day with no nap and it was an awful flight. I was literally counting down the seconds for the entire journey! It meant that for the whole of our trip away I was then dreading our flight home. The flight home was at 11 in the morning and was a completely different experience. She sat and played, snacked and then nodded off as we landed home.

Which bag to use?

We have tried various options of bags when flying with a toddler. Particularly with a slightly older toddler (2-3 year olds) we have found a Trunki really useful. The children generally love being pulled along on them or pulling them along themselves. It has been a life saver for us when we had long walks between connecting flights, where you don’t usually get your stroller back.

I think they make great birthday/ Christmas present ideas. They come in all sorts of designs so you should be able to find one that your toddler will like.

If not using a Trunki we have used a smallish backpack as a carry-on. This means that your hands are kept free for manhandling wriggly toddlers when needs be! For me the most important factors are choosing a bag that is easy to carry and easy to get into to find everything you need while on the flight.

Packing for the plane when flying with a toddler

So you have chosen your bag, but what to put in it? Here is our packing list:

  • New toys. Toys that are new to a child always entertain them for much longer than things that they have been playing with for almost every day of their little lives. Nip to the pound shop before your flight and pick up a few small new toys to keep your toddler entertained. When choosing new toys consider size. Too big will take up precious baggage space and too small will easily get lost. Things with lots of parts aren’t a particularly good idea either as they will most likely end up all over the floor at some point.
  • SNACKS. Everyone with toddlers know that you need all the snacks! My carry-on bag is usually half full of snacks. I try and ration them to start with but just keep bringing more out as soon as he starts to get restless. You will know best what your toddler likes. Too much sugar probably isn’t the best idea as then you will end up with a sugar-fuelled toddler on the plane. I usually pack some sandwiches, breadsticks, fruit- bananas, grapes (cut in half in a little Tupperware tub), apples, blueberries, cucumber sticks, crisps or I like veggie straws as a (slightly) healthier version. Go with things that you know your toddler will eat as the last thing you want is the food just being thrown around the plane!
  • Stickers. 

Most toddlers love stickers. You can get sticker books pretty cheaply but they are often finished in no time. Reusable sticker books make great value as they last a lot longer. Often you can stick them on the back of the seat in front too or on the tray table which is obviously more fun than just sticking them in a book!

We discovered these when our eldest was a toddler and they can easily entertain for ages. The great thing is that by the time they have finished colouring the whole book the first page is usually dry and ready to start again! Try to remember to fill the pen with water before you get on the plane so you are ready to go.

  • Books. M, our middle child, has always loved books and at any age would sit and listen to stories for a long time. As a toddler this was one of the best ways to get her to sit still on a plane. We always have a few favourite books in the bag to pull out. Interactive books with flaps etc are usually the best for fidgety toddlers.
  • Wipes/ nappies. I usually have a pouch with nappies and wipes in to make it easy to grab for any nappy changes. I then have a separate pack of wipes handy that I leave within easy reach throughout the flight. With the amount of snacks my toddler eats I feel like I am constantly needing wipes!
  • Drinks bottle / cup. It’s really important to stay hydrated when flying so make sure your toddler has a cup/ bottle to drink from throughout the flight. Non-spill options work well!
  • Tablet/ headphones. We all know that lots of screen time isn’t good for anyone. In particular there has been research to suggest that toddlers shouldn’t really be having any screen time at all. Generally as a family we try not to use screens to entertain our kids. Flights are the one exception! To be honest watching a tablet has never been the best form of entertainment for our children as toddlers.  But if it buys even 10 minutes of sitting still quietly then it is worth having one available. If you do have a tablet your toddler will also need some headphones to be able to listen to it on. B’s face was a picture on a recent flight when he used his headphones for the first time. Pure amazement at where the sound was coming from!

We really like these JVC headphones and now have the same ones in three different colours!

Toddler wearing headphones on an aeroplane.
A moment of piece while they enjoy watching the tablet with their headphones.

At the airport

We have usually travelled with a stroller and kept it with us until we get to the gate. It is handy for carrying the bags if the toddler is walking! If you do have a stroller you will be given the option to check it in when you drop your bags or keep it with you.

When you go through security you will be asked to take your child out of the stroller for it to be scanned. I try to be as organised as possible and have everything ready to go in the boxes before I unstrap the toddler from the stroller. It means that I can contain him and not worry about him running off while going through the always stressful ordeal of getting through security.

Once through security I usually let the toddler run around a bit and let off some steam. He loves the travelators and many airports have play areas for children. There is a great free soft play facility at Heathrow Terminal 5 which we have used a few times now.

If you don’t plan on taking a stroller or want to check it in when you first arrive at the airport you may find it useful to bring a sling.  A sling is great for freeing up hands to carry the other luggage/ keep hold of other small children! You often don’t get strollers back until the luggage carousel at your destination, which can be quite a trek from the plane. Depending on the age of your toddler you may end up with very achey arms from carrying them around by the time you get there.

Making use of the trunk on the long walk through the airport.

Boarding the plane

Many families like to get on the plane first and get settled. When flying with a toddler my principal is always to minimise the amount of time spent on the aeroplane! On larger aircraft you can easily be on the plane for an extra 30-45 minutes if you get on first versus hanging around and being one of the last on.

Again this comes down to personal preference. When you do get on, make sure you have items close at hand that you are likely to need. I usually keep a bag under the seat in front rather than in the locker, meaning that I can easily get to snacks/ entertainment for the toddler.

If your toddler is over 2 years they will have their own seat. This means a lot more space for the whole family and the bag full of toddler toys/snacks can go in front of their chair rather than by your feet!

Entertaining your toddler on the plane

This is usually the hardest part of flying with a toddler and the part that most parents worry about the most. Toddlers aren’t well know for sitting quietly for hours at a time! Here is a list of entertainment ideas that we have used many times over the years to help us to survive flying with a toddler.

  • Looking out of the window. Particularly at take off and landing, chatting about what you can see out of the window can entertain for a while. It can also help to distract any toddlers that might be nervous of flying.
  • Games/ toys. I usually try and bring out the activities one at a time. Play with it until they are getting bored and then pull out the next thing.
  • ALL THE SNACKS! These are usually interspersed between each activity.
  • Tablet- I usually download a few programmes onto the iPad. Most toddlers will not maintain concentration for a film so shorter programmes work better usually. The current favourite in our household is Peppa Pig. You will know what it going to hold your child’s attention best.
  • A walk around the plane. When the toddler gets really fidgety we know that it is time to go for a walk around the plane.

Flying with a toddler is rarely going to be easy but I hope some of our ideas help to smooth the way a little bit. Enjoy your flight and holiday! Let us know if you have any other top tips to share.

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Tips for first time flying with a baby

Travelling with a baby for the first time can be a daunting prospect. However with a bit of planning you will hopefully find that your first time flying with a baby could be easier than you thought. Babies are pretty portable and have quite simple needs. It’s actually much easier than flying with a toddler! We also have a great article on how to survive flying with a toddler for when you get to that stage.

All three of our children took their first flights when they were between four and six months old. I think this is a really good age for the first time flying with a baby. Hopefully baby is a bit more settled but is not yet on the move!  M’s first flight was a 12 hour overnight flight to South Africa at four months old!

Mum and baby on an aeroplane
B enjoying his first flight aged 5 months.

Here are the Mini Travel tribe’s top tips to help make your first time flying with a baby as stress free as possible.

Booking your flight

On most airlines these days you have to pay extra to choose your seats. However some airlines will let you choose your seat for free if you have an infant. Check with the airline when you book to find out.

Infants (under 2 years) usually travel for free (or a small fixed price per flight) if they sit on your knee. If you prefer you do have the option of buying a seat for your baby and using a car seat. If you are thinking of doing this you should check which types of car seats are permitted on your airline. Some airlines only allow forward facing car seats so this option is only really then useful for older babies/ toddlers.

If it is a long haul flight you will want to book the bulk head seats to get a bassinet for your baby. Check with the airline for the age/ weight guides for their bassinets. There is a good round up of the policies of major airlines here. We did a 12 hour overnight flight with M in a bassinet when she was 4 months old and it was the best flight with an infant that we have ever done! To her the bassinet was the same as her bed at home. I took her familiar infant sleeping bag with me and she slept for most of the flight! The people next to me were very pleasantly surprised I think!

Baby sleeping in bassinet on aeroplane
M in bed on the plane.

In contrast we also did a 10 hour overnight flight when she was 20 months and we didn’t get a bassinet. With no seat of her own she was trying to sleep on me (I was also 6 months pregnant at the time!) which led to not much sleep for either of us!

Packing for the plane

Depending on how long your flight is, packing for the plane does not have to be too different to your everyday baby bag. It is a careful balance between having your essentials with you and not having a bag that is packed so full you can’t carry it!

My carry-on essentials with a baby are:

  • Nappies/ wipes/ change mat.  I tend to have these together in a pouch that I can just grab at nappy change time.
  • Full change of clothes for baby. If you have quite a sicky baby you might want more than one depending on the length of your flight.
  • Formula and bottles if baby is bottle fed. We have taken the ready made formula cartons through security and it isn’t usually a problem. When you are loading everything on the conveyor belt security will take it for it’s own separate scan. We have also taken tubs of formula powder and boiled water in the bottle, again they just scan the bottle separately. We have even taken cups of drinking water in a sippy cup through security and it has been fine.
  • Snacks and baby food (if baby is past weaning).
  • Dummy, if baby uses one.
  • Muslin / burp cloths. M was constantly bringing back up half of her milk feeds so there were always at least two of these in our change bag! They are also handy for a cover up for breastfeeding, or a lightweight blanket.
  • Baby toys. Depending on the age of your baby you might want 2-3 toys to entertain them with. Choose toys that you know they enjoy although the rest of the flight won’t appreciate particularly noisy toys! We found fabric books worked well. All three of ours also all loved the ‘winkel’ which is a great quiet rattle/ teether toy.  The Tupperware tubs that snacks had been packed in often got played with more than any of the toys we took though!

At the airport

With a baby you are allowed two pieces of baby equipment on nearly all airlines. For us this was usually a pram/ push chair and then either a car seat or travel cot.   This depended on where we were staying and how we were planning to move around. Obviously if you aren’t going to need these items don’t take them! The fewer items you have to carry around with you the better when you have a baby in tow!

When you check in you can choose to depart with your pram there and then or keep it until you board the plane. We usually keep ours with us, it’s a place to hang the change bag and store unworn coats/ jumpers! I know plenty of others that prefer to get rid of them and then use a sling to carry baby around the airport- it’s personal preference.

Even when we have taken the pram to the gate we usually take a sling with us on the plane. You often don’t get your pram back at the other end until the luggage carousel. In some airports this can be quite a while and depending on the size of your baby you may have a very achey arm by then! Having a sling for baby while getting on and off the plane also keeps your hands free to carry bags.

Baby and child looking out of aeroplane window
Big sister C looking out of plane window with baby M.

Boarding the plane

Many airlines offer priority boarding for families, this may come at a price for budget airlines. Some people like to be first on the plane to get settled. We have always preferred to be one of the last on the plane. It just means less time to be sat on the plane at the end of the day!

We usually try and do a nappy change just before we get on the flight as well. Aeroplane toilets aren’t known for their roominess and the change tables are quite cramped . Inevitably we then often get a series of nappy explosions on the plane but you might get lucky and not need to change a nappy on the flight (depending on how long it is).

As an infant your baby will be sat on your knee. The air host/ hostess will bring you an infant seat belt and life vest while still on the tarmac. Let the cabin crew know that it is your first time flying with a baby and they will generally be super helpful. They will show you how to use the seat belt if you’re not sure but it basically loops through your belt and then fastens around baby.

Mini Travel Tribe’s top 5 tips for a smooth flight:

  1. I always tried to breastfeed mine during take off and landing. This has a few benefits. It keeps them quiet and settled for a while.  The sucking action should help to prevent little ear problems (we never had any probs with any of ours as babies). Also you may get the added bonus of them dropping off to sleep for a while! If you’re not breastfeeding a bottle or a dummy would work in the same way.
  2. Snack followed by drink followed by snack! If past the weaning stage a never-ending supply of healthy snacks is always a good option! If baby is not yet weaned you may find that they want more milk feeds than usual – it is much easier to get dehydrated in the air.
  3. When baby starts to get a bit unsettled a walk down the aisle for a change of scene can be a life saver. I like standing at the back of the plane and looking out of the window with baby. It was the way that we usually got ours to sleep, none of our three have ever been much good at just falling to sleep on our knee.
  4. Babies generally love people so make use of your fellow passengers to entertain them! When walking down the aisle of the plane ours all loved looking at all the people they passed.  It is also highly likely that at least one or two people will engage with them and further entertain them for a while. This also works with allowing them to look over the back of your seat at the people behind you. 
  5. My biggest tip is try to relax. Babies are really good at picking up on cues from their parents so if you are stressed they will be too.  If baby is crying for a bit don’t worry about what anyone else on the flight is thinking. Remember that most people in life are genuinely really nice and sympathetic so won’t mind a baby making a bit of noise on a flight. If there are people that get annoyed (this is rare- in fact I have yet to experience it) ignore them and don’t let them get to you. Life is too short!
Mum with three young children on an aeroplane
Everyone wants to sit on Mummy’s knee

Enjoy your baby’s first flight experience!

Our first time flying with a baby was a four hour flight to Istanbul when C was five months old. She was brilliant on that flight and we were really looked after by the cabin crew. It is different to flying pre-children. Not so much time to read your book, although still doable if your baby has a nap! I admit we have had testing flights. Although this has mostly been once there were other children in the mix. The picture above is me  with three small children all competing to sit on Mummy’s knee. Husband was there too but none of them were too interested in sitting on his knee unfortunately!

If it is your first time flying with a baby try to enjoy it! It is a big milestone in their little life and exciting for all of you.  I love that travelling as a family I get to enjoy our destination through my children’s eyes too. What do you like most about family travel? I hope you have found some of  these tips useful. Let us know if you have any of your own to add.

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