When it's your first time taking your little one on a flight, especially an international flight with toddler, you have no idea what's ahead of you. I learned the hard way. That is why I can share tips for flying with toddlers based on real-life experience.
We've all sat on a plane and experienced the screaming baby, the seat-kicking toddler behind you or the one kid who has to stare at you in the seat in front. We all swore, “If I had kids, I’d never let them do that.”
Welcome to the coin toss. Kids are used to moving non-stop. Now you plan on strapping them in a seat for 5+ hours? That makes most of us adults want to kick a seat and cry.
Preparing in advance your family travel will help reduce some of the common problems people experience while flying with kids. Here are some tips for flying with toddlers that will help reduce some of the problems you may encounter.
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Best Seats to Book on a Flight with Kids
When you plan air travel with little ones, it starts with booking your flights. Where you sit on the plane matters.
The plane is not leaving without you. Don't think you should book at the front so you can get on and off quicker. You have kids, and that means nothing is quick anymore. Airlines always give priority boarding for families with young children.
Later in the post, I'll share my experience about flying with a car seat and the struggles we had.
There are rules about where the car seat can be.
For starters, book your seats towards the rear of the airplane. There are many advantages to this.
Why should you sit at the back of the plane when you are flying with toddlers? Here are the reasons.
1. You are close to the washrooms
Every kid needs a washroom. Being closer means less chance of an accident.
If you have a child in diapers, please, please, PLEASE change them in the washroom and not at your seat (yes people do this).
2. Fewer people to annoy
Being further back means if your child is crying, fewer people will hear them.
You can also potentially get up and soothe them in the back near the washrooms.
3. Deboarding the plane is easier
Yes, you will be the last to leave the plane when you arrive.
This extra time will allow you to gather everything your kids stuffed into every pocket and crevasse. You will want to get your kids organized.
Then sit and wait as the airplane empties. No kid has a good time standing in a line that doesn't move.
The other advantage is, once you get to the luggage carousel, hopefully, it's moving, and people have already started getting their luggage and have cleared out.
4. Quick exit in the event of an emergency
We never want to think about the worst-case scenario, but we must always have a plan.
Being at the back of the plane means you are closer to the emergency exits if you ever must exit the airplane in a hurry.
Most emergencies on an aircraft, if they occur, are exiting the airplane on the runway.
You just want to grab your kids and get out the closest exit. Being at the back gives you the quickest route out.
Flight Safety Tip!
This tip is for everyone, not just when you are flying with kids.
When you get to your seat on the plane, count the rows between your seat and the emergency exits. Count to the emergency exits both in front of you and behind you.
In the event of an emergency, regardless of the visibility (power loss, smoke etc.), you can walk your way to the emergency exit by feeling each seat back and counting the rows with your hand to the door.
Travelling with a Car Seat (Should You Bring it?)
Travelling with a car seat might be something you are considering. We took ours travelling to Europe with our two and a half-year-old.
Why would you consider travelling with a car seat? We all have our own reasons.
After two and a half years, despite the many sleepless nights, we still liked our son. We rented a car in Europe and wanted to have our trusted car seat to protect him.
We decided to take the car seat on the plane and not check it. Kids over two years old need their own seat. We figured it would help him be comfortable enough to sleep. In the unlikely event of an airplane emergency, he'd be protected just like in a car.
Here's what I can tell you based on my experience. You ultimately have to decide for yourself.
Must-Have Item (if you bring your car seat)
If you are planning on taking your car seat, this is a must-have travel item.
We got this amazing attachment from Go-Go Babyz Mini Travelmate. It attaches to the car seat, giving it a retractable handle and wheels.
After a 14-hour travel day, we just kept our son in the seat and wheeled him off the plane. We whipped through airports with it.
There are lots of newer options out there now. The Go-Go Babyz Mini Travelmate is hard to find now.
The Britax Rolling Car Seat Travel Cart is another great car seat cart that fits any car seat, is easy to use and can be stowed in the overhead bin.
Flying with a Car Seat
Car seats are bulky. They can be difficult to fit in the airplane seat. We loved our car seat, but it was really difficult to thread the seat belt through the bottom.
We moved the car seat to the aisle seat so we could access it from both sides. We had it all secured in the aisle seat, only then were told by the flight attendants that it couldn't be there.
Then we were scrambling to get everything rearranged before take-off. Getting the seat by the window was tough.
On our second flight we found the solution. First I'll tell you the reason behind the rules first.
Most airplanes will have seat configurations of two, three, or four. Long haul flights might have a row of three or four seats in the middle of the aircraft.
If you are sitting in a window row (which we were), the car seat must be against the window. This rule is an airline safety rule. They don't want that the car seat blocks your exit in the event of an emergency.
For an airplane has three or four seats as a middle row, the car seat has to go in the middle seat. These middle rows are one of the best locations for a car seat on a plane. It's easier to set up, and parents can sit on either side.
If you are unsure, ask the flight crew before strapping the seat in.
It is not easy to get the seatbelt through the car seat and to tighten it with the car seat against the window. If you don't have a car seat that allows you to lift the seat for easy threading of the seatbelt, then ask for a seatbelt extension.
All planes should have these. They are available for larger passengers for whom the regular seatbelt is too short to make it around their waist.
The seat belt extension will make the seat belt longer so that you can pull it through the bottom of the car seat and tighten the seatbelt to secure the car seat.
There are much better-designed car seats out there now. This one from Britax allows you to lift the seat so you can easily thread through any seatbelt.
The Alternative Option
Car rental companies rent car seats. If you don't mind the extra expense, it will save you dragging one with you on the plane and through airports.
They will be just as safe as yours because they have to be by law. In hindsight, I should have done this. It would have been much easier.
If you aren't renting a car, you may not need one at all.
Great Related Read!
Should You Bring a Stroller?
If you are going to bring a stroller, get a cheap umbrella-type stroller. Airlines will allow you to pack all kinds of extra kids’ stuff.
You can check the stroller rather than gate check. Just one less thing to deal with leaving the plane.
We just hung our day backpack on the back of it for storage.
Your beautiful double stroller with all the bells and whistles will get abused by the baggage handlers. It’s also just another cumbersome item to deal with while you travel.
If you have two young toddlers. You may opt for a small umbrella stroller and a baby carrier over a double stroller.
Just remember, in Europe, the subway doors and doors into many older buildings can be narrow.
What about bigger kids that can’t be carried? Again, opt for the umbrella stroller.
Try and get your kids to walk as much as possible and plan your day with breaks. Kids are tougher than you think. Get them accustomed to walking at home.
Europe: Cobblestone, Narrow Doors and Subways
Are you travelling to Europe? A stroller is not fun on cobblestone, and your kid will not sleep well getting shaken as a paint can.
You will also have to navigate the public transport, so the bulkier the stroller, the more difficult it will be.
Doors can be narrower in Europe's older buildings. Just another thing to consider if you want to bring your deluxe double stroller.
Also, with a cheap umbrella stroller, if the cobblestone wrecks it, you can leave it behind.
Make the Best Choice for YOU
It really depends on your comfort level and how many toddlers you are travelling with.
People often forget to consider how they will carry everything. Think about your day and what you plan on doing. I had to learn the hard way.
When we travelled to Europe with our 2.5-year-old, we brought an umbrella stroller and a baby carrier.
After a couple of days, we only used an Ergo baby carrier. The cobblestone, crowds, and subways just made the stroller awkward. We found it easier to pack the baby carrier or even just wear it.
Actually, he ended up on my shoulders most of the time, hanging on to my ears.
You can see in the picture here that I still had a baby carrier strapped on, but he carried him on my shoulders on the hike up to Neuschwanstein.
Tips for Flying With Toddlers - What to Pack?
What should you pack for flying with toddlers? I can tell you from experience it's less than you think.
Take as little as possible for your kids. In the end, you are the one who will end up carrying it. In this section, I'll list the things you should bring.
Are Kids' Carry-ons a Good Idea?
What about kids' carry-ons? Carry-ons seem like a good idea. They look so cute in the airport dragging them behind them. After a 7-hour flight, your kids are tired and cranky, and you will have to manage to carry everything.
Look at all your luggage and carry-ons. Now imagine you and your spouse carrying it all while corralling your children. You get the picture.
How Many Travel Toys to Bring?
Your kids don't need all their toys. Pick one or two of their small favourites, or even get them a new small toy just for the trip. They will be excited about something new and won't get bored with it right away.
Not bringing every single “essential” piece of kid stuff teaches your children to roll with it and make them better travellers in the future.
10 Things You Need to Pack When Flying With Toddlers
1. mini suitcase, or preferably a soft bag
You want this bag to fit under the seat. More and more people are looking to bring the biggest allowable carry-ons.
This means that the room in the overhead bins is at a premium.
You also don't want to have to get up and reach into the overhead bins constantly.
Pack two of these bags
Pack one bag with as much kids' clothing and TSA-approved items as possible.
Doing this will save you room in your checked bags so you can take less of those.
The other bag is for things you will need on the flight for your kids, such as toys, diapers, and medicine.
2. Dispoable Diapers
We used cloth, reusable diapers at home but opted for disposable diapers for our trip.
Bring enough disposables to get there and for the first couple of days there.
You don’t need a suitcase full of them. Buy your trip supply at the destination. Then make sure you have enough for the trip back.
If your child is in cloth, reusable diapers, consider using disposables for the trip. Cleaning reusable ones on your trip may not be possible or easy.
3. full (lightweight) change of clothes for each kid
This includes underwear. Put it all in a Ziploc bag. Accidents happen.
4. Wet Wipes
Kids are messy. Airplane tray tables are gross. Enough said.
5. 3-5 Large ziploc bags
Three reasons. Garbage. Wet clothes. Vomit.
6. Easy, sharable, healthy snacks
Try and bring healthy-ish food. Foods like crackers, chips, and fruit. Avoid sugary treats.
Sugary treats will not help with their potential jet lag.
Even worse, when they come off the sugar high, the chair kicking begins.
7. collapsible or nesting bowls
Now you can distribute snacks to each kid and keep the mess to a minimum.
I wouldn’t want to put food down on those trays directly. But you did pack wet wipes, right?
Here's a secret. If you are staying at a vacation home, they never have somewhere to put your leftovers.
Get these collapsible bowls, and you now have both travel bowls for the flight and storage for leftovers! You're welcome.
8. wide mouth, stainless steel, water bottle
Bring one for each kid.
Water is one of the best things to drink to help prevent jet lag. Avoid sugary drinks.
You can fill them up after you go through security. The wide mouth makes the water bottles easy to fill at a water fountain.
Avoid the water bottles with flip straws. The cabin pressure turns them into water guns.
These Simple Modern ones are my favourite. Wide mouth, double-wall vacuum insulated, leakproof, AND come with two styles of lids.
9. Over the ear headphones
Most people are bringing devices like mobile phones, tablets, or gaming systems.
The plane is loud. Your kids won’t be able to hear what they are watching.
No one else wants to hear Peppa Pig or whatever game they are playing for 7-hours either.
In-ear headphones don’t stay in their ears well, so opt for a simple, affordable pair like these.
These are foldable for travel, but best of all, they have a volume limiter on them, so you won't damage their hearing.
10. charging devices and backup batteries
Most planes now have plugs or USB charging slots. Make sure to pack your charging cords.
Bring a battery backup in case the airplane or airport doesn’t have charging ports or on the off chance they aren't working.
Check with the airlines before you travel on the size and number of batteries you can bring. Some have restrictions.
If you are travelling with multiple devices that use different charging cords like Apple's lightning or Android micro USB/USB-c, then get a portable battery like this that can be used with all three styles.
The best part, it can charge two devices at once.
5 Tips for the Flight
You've brought all the right things. The kids are behaving (you can't say I'm not funny). How do you make the flight go smoothly?
When you are flying with toddlers, there are some things you can do to help make things go smoother. Here are four great tricks we've used.
1. Bribery Can Go a Long Way
Bring treats. Not just for the kids but the flight crew. Give the flight crew some goodies as you board the plane. Coffee gift cards, donuts, really anything, will put a smile on their face.
First off, they work hard and deserve it.
Secondly, they may remember you and be a little more helpful and patient when you need it.
2. Walk the kids
If the opportunity arises, take the kids for a walk on the plane. Of course, not while the flight crew is serving meals and drinks.
If you booked your seats in the back of the plane, walking around with your kids will be easier.
You can politely ask a flight crew member if you can walk with your kids somewhere and when the best time is to do so.
If you brought the flight crew some treats, they may be more accommodating and patient.
3. Download Shows in advance
Netflix, Disney, and other streaming services need Wi-Fi to work. Planes don't always have Wi-Fi, and if they have Wi-Fi, it can be expensive and unreliable.
Avoid the meltdown. Many of these streaming services allow you to download shows and movies to your device for offline viewing. Load up your device before you go.
Once you get into Wi-Fi at your accommodations, you can delete ones they've watched and download new ones.
4. The Masking tape trick
We did this a lot with our son on a plane and car rides when he was young.
Take one of their toys, and cover it with small strips (2-3 inches long) of masking tape. Once you've covered the whole toy, get them to peel it off.
This works better with hard plastic-type toys. I wouldn't do it on a stuffy.
It's such a cheap, time-consuming form of entertainment. Once they finish getting it all off, tape it up again.
Just make sure to supervise and collect all the tape they take off.
Get them to hand you each piece or get them to put it on the tray. Then put the garbage in one of the Ziploc bags you brought.
5. Colouring and activity books
Too much screen time will make kids cranky, so don't rely on it. Switch it up.
These activities are perfect for the plane and the waiting time at the airport before or between flights.
Don't bring 100 markers. Bring the main colours; red, blue, green, yellow, orange, brown, black, and purple.
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