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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, entertainment and more.

Flying with a baby is easier in comparison 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.

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 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.

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.

If you are flying short haul, avoid night flights! From experience, they fall asleep just as you land and are very, very grumpy. 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

  • 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 ziploc 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.

Tips on Strollers

  • 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!
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

  • Plan to leave extra time for the airport- especially for security. An extra 30 minutes is ideal if flying with infants or young children.
  • 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.
  • Look out for a family line at the airport or ask if there is one.
  • 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, powdered or readymade) water for baby, baby food, 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 ziplock bags if you have any perishable goods on you for the flight. Ice packs are often not allowed through security.

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.
  • If bringing one, do check that your airplane approved 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. An alternative, is using a CARES harness suitable for over ones.
  • 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.

Know your Baggage Allowance Rules for Flying With a Toddler

Airplane travel with a toddler usually involved traveling with a bit of gear. 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 you are checking a car seat, it’s a good idea to get a padded protective bag for it.

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. 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 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 an 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.

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. Don’t forget a fully charges power pack!

Why Zip-loc 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. Ziplock 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.

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, especially on long or late flights. Use the airplane blanket to make a cover over the seats to shield from the cabin lights too.
blanket covering a seat on a plane to sleep.
Blanket covering the plane seats so the girls can sleep on a long haul flight.
Plane Pal and Flyaway travel bed to help kids sleep on a flight
Gadgets to help kids sleep on a flight!
Plane Pal and Flyaway travel bed to help kids sleep on a flight
Gadgets to help kids sleep on a flight!

BUT do check if they are allowed on your airline as all have varying rules on this. This post details the airlines which officially allow toddler inflatable travel pillows and similar products.

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. 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • Visit the airport restroom before you board your flight.

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.
  • 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?

  • 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 lollipops for this purpose and have a drink handy too. The swallowing action can really help.

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.

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.

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

  • 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.
  • Consider the sleep travel cushions and gadgets mentioned above.

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 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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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.