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Flying With A Toddler Tips: EVERYTHING you need to know

Travelling with a toddler on a plane is often the trickiest stage, definitely harder than traveling with an infant in some aspects. But these practical tips on flying with a toddler will help with sleep, snacks, meals, activities, toys and more, so even if you are flying with a toddler for the first time, you will feel more prepared! As an ex flight-attendant of 12 years and a parent who has flown 24 hours with toddlers and over 60 + flights to many destinations around the world including USA, Europe, Australia and Asia, I have lots of life and travel hacks and traveling tips to reduce any anxiety or worries you may have.

Flying with a baby is easier in comparison in my experience, because little ones are usually less mobile, smaller and can usually fit in an airline bassinet.

Once they start to crawl and toddle –  travel gets a little bit more complicated and they need more entertainment and/or distractions. Trip planning may require a little more preparation.

My youngest decided to learn to crawl just a week before we flew on another trip to Australia from the UK. Long haul travel with toddler who is moving – perfect timing – not!!!

I found flying with a toddler under two the biggest challenge – just because it is harder to reason with that age. Flying with a two year old and three year old was pretty similar!

However, don’t despair, a bit of preparation and research can make it a lot easier whether you are flying with a two, three or four year old. These toddler airplane tips will help you survive!

Flying With A Toddler Tips Everything you need to know

I can’t promise every flight will go well, but I can definitely pass on my tips and tricks for flying with children which have worked for this stage – which haven’t put us off long haul flights with a toddler! If anything, it encouraged us to travel more!

This list is by no means definitive and I go into a lot more detail in other posts, but hopefully this  ‘How to Fly with a Toddler’ information is handy if you are in a hurry and will help reduce any anxiety you may be feeling about your trip. It’s jam packed with parent friendly travel tips and entertainment ideas and useful items to bring.

Flying With A Toddler Tips – Toddler Travel Tips That Really Help

Pick the right flight time for you.

  • Is your little one a night owl or an early riser? Can you pacify them with snacks until you can heat up a meal for them or be given a baby/toddler/child meal (if your airline provides). You know your little one the best, so try and time a flight that works for their schedule, especially if you are taking a toddler on a plane which goes into nap time.
  • Check the routes available and aim for a direct flight if possible. If there is a similar choice of prices and fares, check which airline offers the best family services.
  • Prepare them for the flight and what to expect. This guide provides useful tips and some brilliant book ideas for toddlers to familiarise themselves what the airport and an airplane is like.

If flying long haul with a toddler – aim for a night flight.

  • Travelling with toddlers on long haul flights is daunting, possibly the trickiest stage of flying with kids! Therefore, we try and aim for a night flight. Even if you have to put them down for a little nap before you head to the airport- it’s well worth doing.
  • In my experience, every time we have done this, we have had a good solid 8 hours sleep from the kids on 14 hour flights and I’ve even managed to watch a movie! It can take a bit of time to get them settled to sleep- but these sleep tips when flying with kids may help you too

If you are flying short haul, avoid night flights! From experience, they fall asleep just as you land and are very, very grumpy and you will need every ounce of patience if you are super tired too. This means unless you have a cabin sized stroller, or baby carrier, then you will need to carry your little one, and the bags whilst queuing for immigration etc.

Check in Early When Flying With a Toddler

  • You may have trains or buses to catch to your gate if the airport terminal is large. Leave plenty of time for security. Prepare your child and explain that teddy will have to through the x-ray machine, but they will have him back. Check the airport website and see if there is a family line for passengers with young children, or whether it may be worth buying a priority pass (if available.) Have liquids already in clear ziploc bags to avoid leaks and to whip out quickly for security. Putting a small coloured sticker on the front of each passport can save a bit of time so you know whose is whose.
  • Generally, if you are travelling with children aged three and under you are allowed to bring liquids over 100ml. However, the very odd airport may say the age limit is for families travelling with a two year old or younger. I’ve had a few airports that have let me and other parents take a filled water bottle for a six year old, but this is not common. Usually, this information can be found on the airport website in the security section. Whether you are flying long haul with toddlers or short haul, it’s a good idea to have a water bottle that you can easily refill at the airport or on the plane so they can easily have a drink when needed.
Bugaboo Butterfly travel stroller
The new Bugaboo Butterfly Stroller is great for toddlers and babies over 6 months!

Tips on Strollers

  • If you are planning on travel by plane with baby or a toddler, decide whether to gate check your stroller or check it in immediately. Gate check is when you keep your stroller until you board the plane. I’ve done both, and I prefer gate checking if it’s a really easy stroller to pack away – unless it’s a small cabin sized stroller that meets hand luggage conditions. In that case, I take it on board with me and use at the baggage reclaim and immigration. These are just brilliant and one of the best inventions for travel with kids! Here are some travel strollers for toddlers that might help with your journey!

If you are checking in your pushchair or stroller, then use a stroller bag to protect it. You can usually sneak a few extra things in like diapers/nappies, clothing etc to provide extra padding to protect the pram and secure some additional baggage allowance for free!

strollers on airplanes, baby zen yoyo plus stroller pushchair in airplane, best stroller for travel as it fits cabin sized overhead lockers? #familytravel
The BabyZen YOYO is a popular stroller for air travel

Tips for Getting Through Airport Security Quicker

When traveling with a toddler, check-in, security and arrival queues are the one thing that can make them get cranky. Have some easily accessible snacks like string cheese, crackers, fruit, and drinks; and a toy or two are great distractions and a source of entertainment.

  • Plan to leave extra time for the airport- especially for security, although long lines can form at check-in too. An extra 30 minutes is ideal if flying with infants or a toddler. Plane travel with kids takes longer than you think when you are trying to move through an airport!
  • When traveling by plane with a toddler, pack any liquids in an easy place to access quickly. If you have a clear small single, transparent, resealable plastic bag, which holds no more than a litre and measures approximately 20cm x 20cm, use that to save time at the airport. Everyone in your booking, including kids under two are entitled to a liquid bag.
  • Look out for a family line at the airport terminal or ask if there is priority for families.
  • Clear security in plenty of time. Be prepared to take your toddler out of the stroller or carrier if you are using one.
  • Baby milk (pumped breast milk, formula powdered or readymade) water for baby, baby food, travel snacks, are all allowed over the 100ml /3-1-1 liquid rule if you are travelling with your baby.  It’s often worth asking the cafes airside (past security) for ice to replenish your Ziploc bags if you have any perishable goods on you for the flight. Ice packs are often not allowed through security in some countries, so check your departure airport site in the security section first.
flying with a toddler tips #familytravel child reading airline safety card
Window seats are great for toddlers on an airplane

Be airline seat savvy: Window or aisle seat with a toddler?

  • Choose your seat carefully. They vary so much which means there are quite a lot of factors to consider which suit your circumstances, especially whether it’s a short or long haul flight. Toddlers may be fine in an aisle seat for a short hour flight, but a window seat is a better option generally.
BA chair style bassinet
BA reclining bassinet chair for older babies under two.
  • If bringing one, do check that your airplane approved toddler car seat will fit into the airplane seat. Some cannot be used on certain seats if the seat belt has an airbag built in. I go into more detail in the previous highlighted link. I always recommend having a look at seat guru and checking out the airline seat map on the website. An alternative, is using a CARES harness suitable for over ones, which is great for unexpected turbulence.
    • If you are flying on a US or Canadian airline, know your rights: any FAA approved car seat can be used in most circumstances. e.g If your approved CRS, for which a ticket has been purchased, does not fit in a particular seat on the aircraft, the airline is responsible for accommodating the CRS in another seat in the same class of service. The airline may have policies that dictate the specific safe seat locations for specific aircraft.
  • Whenever possible I opt for the airplane window seat when flying with kids or a lap infant. It gives them something to look out of and a place to put travel toys such as window gel clings or stickers. The window seat also contains them a little bit more and helps prevent them from running into the aisle.

Know your Baggage Allowance Rules for Flying With a Toddler

  • Airplane travel with a toddler usually involves traveling with a bit of gear and some preparation. If you are flying with car seats and strollers and not using your car seat as a restraint device, these can normally be gate checked for free in addition to the normal allowance. More on this below.
  • If your toddler has their own seat. (They must once they turn two years old), then they automatically have the same baggage allowance has adults. Additionally, and free of charge, a stroller and car seat is permitted too. However, do check, as some airlines will only permit one or the other for free. (A way to get around this, is to pack your toddlers clothing in your suitcase and use their allowance for any extra things you need).

What to Pack if Flying With A Toddler

  • Dress you and toddler in comfortable and easily removable layers. Parents, I got you! Being crammed in a refined space with a toddler asleep on you when you are feeling hot will require some Houdini moves, so easily removable layers can help. Aircraft cabin temperatures do fluctuate, so whilst you may feel hot on the ground, you may feel chilly after a couple of hours.
  • Pack an extra change of clothing for you and your toddler in your carry on. We have had to rely on this several times, and once we went through our changes of clothes and my daughter ended up wearing an over sized pyjama top from first class! You never know when someone will feel poorly or a diaper/nappy accident can happen. My husband got covered in puke on one long haul flight and no he didn’t have a spare change of clothes!
  • Don’t forget to pack any essential medicine in your carry on. If it’s over 100ml or breaks the 3-1-1 liquid rules, ask your doctor for a note and check with your airline. Liquid medicines are exempt from TSA limits in the USA, but this is not always the case in other countries.
window gel cling travel toy for toddlers and kids on an airplane window
Window gel clings work well on an airplane window

How to entertain a toddler on a plane.

  • Flying with a toddler means a little more planning when it comes to entertainment and they may express big feelings about their likes and dislikes. Pack some new travel toys just for the flight. Packing them into a small backpack that they can manage helps too. We choose a couple of favourite toys for familiarity and comfort and some new ones. The newer toys we wrap up and hand out every so often throughout the flight.
Buckle Toy Whale- ideal for keeping toddlers and older babies busy on a flight or long car journey.
Buckle Toy Whale is great for toddlers on flights!
  •  £ or $ stores are great to rummage through for ideas for toddler activities on a plane to put in your backpack. Stickers, post- it notes and even plasters/bandaids work a treat for budget friendly entertainment. Alternatively, here are some more we have tried and tested for the best travel toys for toddlers. and 35 plane activities for a toddler; including free printables.
best toddler toys Tomy mini water aqua doodle mats, We have covered below how to entertain a baby from a few months old, to how to entertain a 1 year old on a plane, older toddlers who are more energetic and every age in between.
Tomy Water mats are a great activity for toddlers on flights.
  • Bring your own toddler headphones for the plane, unless you are travelling with an airline that has some good family friendly amenities onboard which supplies them. Many large airlines have in-flight entertainment systems with kids’ TV shows, games and movies, but failing that you can use your phone or ipad or similar device. Now is the time to forget about a limited screen time – they do really help keep little ones busy and distracted when travelling. Toddlers have a limited attention span anyway but a screen time treat may buy you 15-30 minutes or stop a meltdown. Don’t forget a fully charged power pack!
  • Here are some good apps for toddlers. too which are fun and educational too.

Why Zip-loc bags are an essential item for flying with a toddler.

  • Whether you are flying long haul with a toddler or a baby or short haul, ALWAYS pack spare changes and extra clothes in ziplock bags in your hand luggage. This makes it SO much easier to grab if any accidents happen. If you are flying with a toddler and a baby, then having separate bags makes it easier to distinguish between  – especially with the dim light of a night flight. Ziploc are also useful to fill with ice and keep any milk or food chilled or to have essential medicine in. For more packing tips, have a look at my packing checklist. For more tips for flying with babies see here.
jet lag children on a plane. toddler sleep on plane
And fast asleep to Thailand using a TravelSnug

Bring something comfy to help your toddler sleep on the plane.

  • Sleeping toddlers on a flight: the ultimate of parent goals! What to bring when flying with a toddler, will vary from person to person. Usually a comfort item will feature to help them nap. Having a toddler sleep on the plane is always a bonus! Bring a pillow or something like a Travel Snug for your toddler. They really do help to settle little ones, especially on long or late flights. If your toddler is using a bassinet, then a Cozigo is brilliant. it shields from the cabin lights and other distractions, allowing your little one (and you) to get some sleep! It also doubles up as stroller UV cover sunshade too!
  • When flying with toddlers on long haul flights, use the airplane blanket to make a cover over the seats to shield from the cabin lights too. This way you can settle them into their normal schedule or adjust if flying over many time zones.
blanket covering a seat on a plane to sleep.
Blanket covering the plane seats so the girls can sleep on a long haul flight.

More Sleep Flying Tips with Toddlers

Plane Pal and Flyaway travel bed to help kids sleep on a flight,  makes air travel with toddlers a breeze
Gadgets to help kids sleep on a flight! The Plane pal and Flyaway: Makes air travel with toddlers a breeze!

BUT do check if they are allowed on your airline as all have varying rules and safety requirements on this. Seatbelts must be able to do up in the correct position if you are allowed to use these items. This post details the airlines which officially allow toddler inflatable travel pillows and similar products for comfort and sleep.

Tips For Flying With A Toddler, Travel Snug
Flying long haul with a toddler from the UK to Thailand using the travel Snug as THAI do not allow other sleep devices.

Pack ALL the snacks!

  • Don’t underestimate how much toddlers will snack on the flight! Bring what you think and double it! Raisins, bananas, apples, breadsticks, mini sausages are all good. Frozen yoghurt pouches work well too and help keep everything cool. Avoid sugary sweets as all that pent-up energy will have nowhere to go – as we all know toddlers have some big emotions! We do save a lolly for the descent though- just in case the change in pressure irritates their ears. Some more easy travel snack ideas are here.
  • One of my favorite tips for air travel with toddlers is request a child meal. If your toddler is over 2, then you can order a child meal on most airlines (long haul flights). These are less spicy and generally more appealing to kids, and sometimes come with an activity. There are a few airlines which offer toddler meals too. This must be done a minimum of 24 hours before the flight departs. More details are on my ordering baby and child meals post.
Ordering baby child meals, emirates airline. airline meals
Emirates child meal

Can I take milk on a plane for my toddler?

  • Travel with toddlers on planes, means you still need to think about food and drink for them. And yes, you can still bring milk or water on board for your toddler. It’s usually advised to bring water in a sippy cup rather than a normal water bottle. Milk & water for toddlers is also exempt from the 100ml or 3-1-1 liquid rule.

Wear your toddler out pre-boarding the flight.

  • When travelling with a toddler on a plane, especially if long haul, make use of the airport soft-play, if they have one. They certainly help with toddler travel! Here is a list of airport soft play I’ve compiled for all over the world. Please let me know if I need to edit!
sairport soft play at capetown airport
Airport soft play at Cape Town Intl airport

Board last when flying with a toddler.

  • If flying long haul with a toddler or with young children, and it’s a day flight, consider boarding your flight last with your tot and have your partner board a bit earlier with all the travel gear you have.
  • When taking a toddler on a plane, there is really no point in keeping them restrained with a seatbelt on a plane longer than necessary! With a short-haul flight- it is often a bit easier just to get them on and settled, and this can be the case for a very late flight too.
  • Visit the airport restroom before you board your flight and change any nappy or diaper. (Never change a diaper/nappy on a plane seat, but use the aircraft restrooms. Most have a changing table inside.)

Make use of the space on a plane.

  • Economy seats are small and size varies within an airlines fleet, depending on the aircraft type! Try at first to hide the fact from your toddler that you can get out and walk the aisle. However, if you have a determined child or one full of beans during a long flight then stretch your legs and walk around the plane if need be when traveling on a plane with a toddler. The larger A380’s have a lot of space! Try to time these walks around the beverage and meal service to avoid getting stuck between carts and the flight attendants working on your plane. Night flights will have less people in the aisles too.
  • If you have a young toddler, bring a toddler/baby carrier with you, in case you do need to pace up and down a bit longer than expected or you want to settle them on you. Bear in mind, that baby carriers can not be used for taxiing, take off or landing. If it is turbulent, you will have to put a seat belt on them if flying with a non USA/ Non Canadian based airline.

How can I help my toddler’s ears on a plane?

  • Air travel with toddlers can mean they are very vocal with ear pain! The change in ear pressure can be uncomfortable during plane travel with a toddler. And toddlers still find it hard to yawn or move their jaw to help relieve the discomfort. We usually pack a couple of sweets/candy for this purpose and have a drink handy too. The swallowing action can really help. As a last resort, some child earplugs are available but they can be tricky got little ones to keep in – swallowing or yawning will bring quicker relief from the change in air pressure. The discomfort is usually all resolved once landed at your destination.

Flying with a lap toddler?

Up until your little one’s second birthday, your child can fly as a lap child, saving you an extra air full fare. Depending on where you are flying too, you may just have to pay local airport taxes – but they will be issued a ticket.

Choosing to purchase a seat for your under 2 year old or flying with a lap toddler is entirely up to you – although aviation safety experts agree that using a car seat or a CARES harness is the safest option in the unlikely event of an accident.

Non US and non Canadian airlines provide a safety lap belt which attaches to you if you have your child on your lap. This must be worn during taxi, takeoff landing and when there is strong turbulence when the pilots turn the seat belt sign on.

I have flown with mine through all ages and stages as lap babies and lap toddlers, with infant seat belts. However, on a couple of flights we were offered a spare seat for comfort which was greatly appreciated. Flying with a toddler on your lap like my wriggly 19 month old is tough, it was SO much easier when she had her own seat! When you are traveling with a 2 year old on a plane, they must have their own seat.

Infant lap belt CRD baby in lap belt
An Infant lap belt is a must on some airlines for kids under two.

Flying With A Toddler Under 2?

Flying with a toddler under two or an infant, gives you the option of flying with your child as a lap baby. ie you pay either a reduced fare or free fare for them to sit on your lap for the flight. For further tips on flying with a newborn, see here.

Obviously, the older the baby/toddler then the more uncomfortable this is going to be – especially as airline bassinets are made for smaller babies, and generally fit little ones aged one and under. Bring your patience and if flying with another adult or more people in your group, then taking turns to be ‘on duty’ can help give each of you a little respite.

If you are travelling with toddlers on long flights then you have a few options:

  • Alternative options are limited in terms of airline provisions and their requirements e.g Air New Zealand have the sky couch which you can purchase.
  • The other option is purchasing a seat for your child. This will obviously cost more and regulations on airlines vary. You can ask at check-in and again when boarding, if there are any spare seats, but this is rare. Some will require you to bring your own airline approved car seat to use and others will allow you to use the infant lap belt (if applicable) and sit your toddler on your lap for taxi, take-off, landing etc. However, for taxi, take-off, landing  you cannot fly with a two year old on your lap.
  • Consider the sleep travel cushions and gadgets mentioned above. There have been many parent success stories when using them, but they are especially useful for those with their own seat.
  • If you have a bigger budget, then a business class seat will offer you both more room.

Let me know how traveling with a toddler on a plane goes for you. I hope this gives you all the tools and confidence you need! Have you any more tips for flying with toddlers? Or if you have any more questions or thoughts, please comment below.

Arrival

Check the regulations and rules for the country you are flying into. Most customs will have rules about bringing fruit, dairy and meat products in. If in doubt, declare it!

Don’t forget:

If you are planning on going out and about or traveling with toddler, you may find these other travel gear recommendations for kids useful too. These great travel toys and activities for toddlers are also handy – for days out, to trips on planes, trains or even cruising or camping.

Pin tips for flying with a toddler later?

Tips For Flying With A Toddler | Flying with a toddler is the trickiest stage I've found. My eldest (born in 2011) had completed over 40 flights before she four and my youngest is attempting to catch up! #familytravel #tmom, #jetsetkids #flyingwithkids
Traveling with toddler tips

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Thank you for your support as always. 

Lillie

Monday 16th of March 2020

Amen to the Zip-lock bags! They've saved us more than once!

Kristin

Monday 16th of March 2020

I'm flying with my two-year-old niece for the first time next month, so definitely bookmarking this for that trip! Luckily, it's only a 90-minute flight each way ;-)

Catherine Brady

Monday 16th of March 2020

Love all of the tips and ideas, I think you covered any and all questions that I had! I am definitely going to pick up one of those full body pre-school pillows-what brand are they?

Lisa Goodmurphy

Sunday 15th of March 2020

These are great tips! When my kids were little it was impossible to find any information online about travelling with young kids - I love that there are so many great resources now!!

Brennan

Thursday 12th of March 2020

Great list of tips! We have just moved out of the toddler phase, but we certainly still do "pack all the snacks"! Both for our kids and us of course. :) Cheers to more happy flying.

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