Tips For Flying With A Toddler

Travelling with a toddler on a plane is often the trickiest stage, definitely harder than traveling with an infant in some aspects.

Flying with a baby was easier in comparison because they 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.

My youngest decided to learn to crawl just a week before we flew on another trip to Australia from the UK. 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 was pretty similar! However, don’t despair!

flying with a toddler tips #familytravel child reading airline safety card

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! 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.

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 short haul or under 7 hours.

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.

Check in early when flying with a toddler

  • and 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 or whether it may be worth buying a priority pass (if available.) Have liquids already in clear ziplock bags to avoid leaks and to whip out quickly for security. 
  • Generally, if you are travelling with children aged 3 and under you are allowed to bring liquids over 100ml. However, the very odd airport may say the age limit is 2. I’ve had a few airports that have let me take a filled water bottle for a 6 year old, but this is not common. Usually, this information can be found on the airport website in the security section.

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.
  • Do check that your toddler car seat will fit into the airline 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.
  • Whenever possible I opt for the window seat when flying with kids. It gives them something to look out of and a place to put travel toys such as window gel clings. The window seat also contains them a little bit more and helps prevent them from running into the aisle.

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 fare. Depending on where you are flying too, you may just have to pay local airport taxes.

Choosing to purchase a seat 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.

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 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! Thankfully, on our next trip she was over two, so she had to.

Wear your toddler out pre-boarding.

  • 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 last with your tot and have your partner board a bit earlier with all the travel gear you have.
  • There is really no point in keeping a toddler restrained 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.

Bring something comfy.

  • What to bring when flying with a toddler, will vary from person to person. Usually a comfort item will feature. 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. Use the airplane blanket to make a cover over the seats to shield from the cabin lights too.
  • Consider how else you can help your toddler sleep on the plane. There are some great travel products out now, including travel inflatable beds/ travel pillows.
Tips For Flying With A Toddler, Travel Snug

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. We do save a lolly for the descent though- just in case the change in pressure irritates their ears.
  • 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. 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?

  • 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.

How to entertain a toddler on a plane.

  • Flying with a toddler means a little more planning when it comes to entertainment. 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 and some new ones. The newer toys we wrap up and hand out every so often throughout the flight.
  • Bring your own toddler headphones for the plane, unless you are travelling with an airline that has some good family friendly amenities onboard. Here are some good apps for toddlers. Now is the time to forget about a limited screen time – they do really help keep little ones busy when travelling. Toddlers have a limited attention span anyway but a screen time treat may buy you 15-30 minutes or stop a meltdown.

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

  • 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. Ziplocks 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.

Make use of the space on a plane.

  • Stretch your legs and walk around the plane if need be. 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.
  • 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?

  • The change in ear pressure can be uncomfortable and toddler still find it hard to yawn or move their jaw to help relieve the discomfort. We usually pack a couple of lollipops for this purpose and have a drink handy too. The swallowing action can really help.

Flying With A Toddler Under 2?

Flying with a toddler under two, 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.

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.

Alternative options are limited in terms of airline provisions e.g Air New Zealand have the sky couch which you can purchase.

The other option is purchasing a seat for them. This will obviously cost more and regulations on airlines vary.

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.

Let me know how traveling with a toddler on a plane goes for you. Have you any more tips for flying with toddlers?

Don’t forget:

If you are planning on going out and about or travelling soon, 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.

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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

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6 Comments

  1. such good ideas. Yes, we travelled from the UK to australia when my son was 2 1/2, he was excited about his own seat and tv, but we had no idea you could order them there own meals, so he spent most of the time eating fruit and bread rolls from our meals as he did not like anything else, big lesson learned there!! our on board bags were filled with water, snacks, puzzles, games and toys for him to keep him as occupied as possible! we also told him when we switched planes that is when we would get him into his pjs and that is his bed time, this worked well, he knew what was expected of him well in advance. he slept for a good 6 hours which let us get a bit of sleep also. the only time we really had any issues is when the plane landed and everyone is waiting to get off, he did not like having to just sit there and wait, there was loud screaming from him, which he did really well through the whole flight, so a little tanty at the end, was forgiven!

  2. I would like to ask the best way to fly from UK to Australia in terms of stop overs is it best to do a short stop to catch connecting flight relatively quickly or is it best to stay for a day or so while in transit say to catch two overnight flights ? My little one will be 2 1/2 when we travel and she’s done better on overnight flights but not sure what way will be easier for her given lenght of full trip whether to stop or do the full 24 hour trip. Thanks

    • Hi Claudia – I have done both options – pushing all the way through for 24 hrs plus and a short stopover for a night or two. We definitely prefer stopping over for a night or two. Even if we don’t sleep brilliantly – it’s a chance to lie flat, stretch legs and get some fresh air, have a shower and help get over the jet lag before the final destination. Mentally, it helps knowing its a 15 hour or 8 hour flight too. Hope this helps.

  3. I am traveling this week with my 16 month old son. MSP to LGA so only 3 hour flight but he does not have his own seat. We hope that we will have an extra seat but who knows. We leave Friday at 6pm so hoping he will sleep but he does get curious in new settings. We did take him on an international flight previously but he was 9 months old and still not crawling/walking and slept most of the way in the bassinet on the plane.

    Any suggestions geared specifically towards early toddlers? Especially since he doesnt have his own seat. thanks!

    • Hi Leenor, I would suggest boarding last and making use of any airport soft play/ play area if available, or packing a blanket for him to play on the ground for a bit. Let your partner board earlier with any baby gear and you board last with him, so he is not waiting for everyone else to board, making the trip longer. Things like seatbelts, the safety card etc will also help to entertain him once onboard.

  4. If you are traveling with toddler then skip out the pre-board to spend as much time on the airplane with your child. Though flying with a toddler is stressful but this easy tip can help you a lot.

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