I get asked by friends and family for tips for flying with a baby/toddler pretty often and that is probably because by the time Lily was 19 months old, she had flown 19 times and a solid handful of those times it was just Lily and myself. While traveling with a baby is one thing (see Travel Guide: Flying with a Baby for thoughts on that!), flying with a toddler is a completely different game in my opinion. Here are a few tips and tricks that I have picked up along the way that have made flying with Lily SO much easier and have resulted in numerous very enjoyable flights.
1. Carseat. I am very picky when it comes to my carseats for Lily so despite ALWAYS needing to rent a car, I have ALWAYS brought my own car seat (I love this BRITAX). That being said, those things are HEAVY!! So in lieu of bringing a stroller and the carseat, I have this CARSEAT DOLLY that I buckle the car seat into and then wheel Lily around the airport in it. You can either check the carseat (and pack n’ play!) for free when you check your luggage, or you can gate check the carseat with its dolly at the gate if you want to be able to wheel your tot around before boarding. EDIT: Now that I have TWO toddlers, wheeling around a huge carseat just isn’t practical. Now, we use the Evenflo Tribute LX carseats (you can get them on Amazon)- they are rated very high for safety, are SUPER lightweight and can stack indie one another. Now i just stack the two seats on Lily’s riding board on the stroller and off we go!
2. Carry On. Now that Lily is a bit older I always bring only the diaper bag as my carry on. I love backpack diaper bags and there are so many affordable ones on Amazon. In addition to my one carry on diaper bag, though, I always bring a little backpack that I keep packed with airplane busy bags, window clings, an Etchasketch, some small dolls/stuffed toys, crayons and coloring books, a few dry erase markers and dry erase pages, Alphabet matching cards, a few trucks, and toddler headphones.
3. Stroller Line. When going through security, ask a TSA agent if there is a designated line for people with strollers/car seat dollys. Oftentimes there is OR they will let you go through pre-check or business.
3. Seating. If your babe is under two at the time of your flight, they can ride for free on your lap. Any parent of a toddler can tell you that trying to keep your 1.5 year old on your lap for anything longer than 5 minutes is an Olympic sport, though, so we always try to score a ::free:: extra seat for our little one. To do this, Charlie and I always book the window and aisle seats in a three seat row and simply hope someone won’t book the middle seat between us (If it does get booked we just offer that individual the aisle seat and hey always take it!). We have found that this trick works almost every time (unless we are flying during the holidays or trans-atlantic), especially if we pay slightly more for a seat with extra space. Another way to go is to simply ask the attendant working the desk if there are any empty seats before you board. Let them know you have a little one and if they’ve got an open seat they will almost always try to work it our so you can utilize that space.
4. CARES Harness. The CARES harness is the only FAA approved airplane seat harness and it converts the regular airplane seat belt into a 5 point harness sized perfectly for toddlers. If your little one gets their own seat, this harness will keep them from squirming (dancing, jumping, rolling, etc.) out of the seat and will keep them much safer during turbulence. It is a bit pricey, though, so it’s only worth it if you plan to fly a bunch.
5. “Magic” Coloring Books. A peaceful flight with a toddler all about blending the art of distraction with creating as little hassle for yourselves as possible. That is why I LOVE THESE little invisible ink coloring books and THESE coloring books that use a little refillable marker filled with water (bonus for these: once the water dries, all of the revealed pictures disappear so they can be used over and over again)!! Lily will scribble all over the pages (and, despite my redirections, herself, the window, the chair, my face ha!) and I don’t have to worry about a mess (or vandalism charges!). I was a bit worried at first that giving her freedom with these markers would teach her that she could use other markers on whatever she wished but we haven’t had that problem at all! She seems to understand that markers that draw in color are only (mostly) for paper so no worries there!
6. Food Pouch “covers”. When Lily was in the all-pureed food stage I mostly made all of her own food but while traveling I stocked up on food pouches for ease in the car and in flight. (Despite there being limitations on how much liquid one can pack in a carry on, these TSA rules do not apply to baby milk, formula, and food so pack away!) She eventually used the food pouches as snacks and now she loves applesauce food pouches. Sometimes TSA will try to tell me I can’t bring the applesauce pouches because they aren’t specifically for a baby but if you show them the pouches while you’re also showing them your diaper cream (also allowed to bring more than usual) etc it seems to make the TSA people more likely to let me bring on my own applesauce- otherwise i just buy more at the inevitable airport Starbucks. ANYWAY- I love the food pouch idea but Lily is a squeezer! So I found THESE little covers that fit over all food pouches and make it so your little one can’t squeeze everything out all over you! Additionally, while I am generally not a fan of overly disposable things, while traveling I make an exception or two. THESE disposable bibs are SO nice especially during the overly independent but still SO uncoordinated toddler stage. Just let them get the bibs all messy and toss them and be done with it.
7. SNACKS. This is so obvious but I had to put it on the list. I almost always bring low maintenance fruit (blueberries, grapes, bananas, mini oranges), some Goldfish, and something the littles normally don’t get to have such as Chips Ahoy, Safe-T pops, or gummies or something to that effect. Those novel snacks are saved for mitigating tantrums or when they super restless toward the end of a flight.
8. MILK. Now that both of my kids are done nursing, they LOVE whole milk and demand it several times a day. The first time I flew with Lily after we weaned I asked the flight attendant for some milk for her (thinking they definitely would have it for coffee etc. at least, right?! WRONG!) They didn’t have any milk on the flight and I had a very upset 15 month old begging me for milk for 3 hours straight. Moral of the story: airplanes usually don’t have milk on board so once you are through security, buy some from one of the convenience stores- they always have a good selection- and be sure to bring whatever cup your little likes to drink from because the cup-to-lid-to-straw configuration is usually very mismatched on planes if they even have straws for you.
9. Bathroom Breaks:
Diaper Changes. Diaper changes on an airplane can get tricky especially once your little one gets bigger. It’s sad but I have been on MANY flights where there is NO baby changing drop down table in the bathroom so you’ve got to plan ahead. First, always change your baby before boarding that way you may be able to avoid an in flight change altogether. Second, ask the flight attendants if there is a changing table on board and if there isn’t where they recommend you doing a change. Sometimes there will be a changing table in another section of the plane and sometimes the attendants will have a spot with good floor space or privacy that you can use. Aside from a wet diaper on a very young infant I have never thought changing your baby at your seat was considerate to others seated near you so I don’t recommend that. Third, always bring your own diaper changing pad. When you have your own pad, you can sometimes lay in on top of the closed toilet seat lid and change your little one there. I have also covered the bathroom floor in paper towels, laid my changing pad on top of those, and then changed Lily by standing over her. This is pretty tricky though so don’t worry about buttoning your little one’s onesie or getting her leggings back on until you get back to your seat if need be. Fourth, I ALWAYS have sanitizing wipes with me to wipe off my diaper pad (or anything else that may need to be sanitized !) and I always have a plastic bag to throw her diapers into so that the smell is contained. THESE bags do a great job containing everything and are great for dirty clothing and other messes too.
Potty Training. When Lily was still new to potty training, I loved THIS folding kid-sized toilet seat. It sits right on a full sized toilet and makes it so your little one isn’t balancing on the edge and touching the toilet everywhere. It can be wiped down with a sanitizing wipe when you are done and can be stored in your diaper bag in the little carrying case until the next visit to the bathroom.
10. Ham it up. Kids are cute. Play to their strengths by letting them wave, smile, look at and talk to people around them. I’ve found that when I let Lily and Jack interact with people while they’re in good moods, the people around us are much more supportive and helpful if they do get cranky. I can also be trying everything in my power to get one of them to stop crying but as soon as someone else starts making goofy faces at them they stop right away. Gain your fellow passenger’s support by letting your little cutie be cute and you might be surprised how much help you can get. I once had a flight attendant come over and start doing magic tricks for Lily until she calmed. Another passenger once pulled up videos of her grandbaby and started showing them to Lily (you know how babies LOVE to see other babies right!?). It really does “take a village” sometimes, so let your in-air village help you out and your life will be so much easier!
Do you have any other tips for flying with a toddler? Leave a comment below!
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