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.

*This post may contain some affiliate links. If you click through and buy something I may be receive a small commission.  This does not affect the price that you pay for the product. I only ever recommend products that we have tried and tested and really enjoyed using*

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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