The first time you fly with a toddler can be a scary experience for a new mom. If you’ve never flown before, there’s a lot of unknowns to explore. Will we make it to our gate on time? Will my child cry on take-off? Will the people around me be annoyed? But the truth is, most passengers have been right where you are—boarding a plane with a toddler in tow. And luckily, they’ve all survived to tell about it. Toddler travel is a completely possible and enriching experience for both of you. Don’t let the fear of flight stop you from living a full and rich life packed with travel and adventure. Here are seven must-use tips for staying sane during your ascent into the blue horizon.
If possible, try to book your flight during the times when planes will be less crowded. Early morning flights and overnight flights are a great way to ensure your child is too sleepy to need a run down the aisle. If your child is younger, a flight perfectly timed during their normal nap period will help them nod off quicker and stay asleep for longer, possibly the entire flight. Just beware of the dreaded delay which can throw your whole plan off. With any luck though, a good-timed flight will lead to a sleeping little toddler. Another added bonus? The plane’s engine provides a much-welcomed sleep-inducing roar.
Most big airports allow you to check your bags and bigger baby items (like sleep cribs) right outside before you enter the airport. Doing so, means you’ll have less to carry with you as you navigate through security and to your gate inside. For an easy process at security, dress your littles in slip-on shoes that don’t have a lot of buckles (Great for potty time before and during the flight as well). You might find it better to check your travel system and just use an umbrella stroller in the airport. If your toddler is still small enough to carry in a wrap, definitely do it. During security, they will check you off to the side instead of have you walk through the metal detector but it will still be worth it when you’re trudging aimlessly to your gate, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the airport. Though you can board early and have time to properly get situated, it may be better to let your partner board with the stroller and overhead items while you let your little run in the breezeway for a bit.
Especially if you are traveling alone, let your flight attendant know that you are flying with a tot in tow. They can help ensure you get your bags safely in the overhead compartment and will think of you should a better seat become available. They may give you extra drinks or snacks and help if your baby gets fussy. A special treat or note is always a great way to thank them for helping you during the flight.
There is a science to packing for a toddler on a flight. You don’t want to have too much or too little. Too much means you’re carrying more than you’ll use and not enough could land you in a pickle fast. Make sure you pack enough diapers, pull-ups and wipes. You should have one for every hour you’ll be on the plane. Make sure to also pack Lysol wipes, Tylenol and first aid supplies because you just never know when you may need them. Dress your child in layers to ensure they can put on or take off as needed. Make sure to pack some entertainment as well. Think toys without loose pieces and electronic items pre-loaded with games and videos that your child will love. On a flight, your I-Pad really is your very best friend. (Look below for advice on the snacks to pack. They deserve their very own section!)
If your child is still nursing, make sure to pack extra breastmilk (up to 3 ounces in each container) in case your child has a hard time nursing on the flight. During take-off make sure to nurse your toddler or offer them a sippy cup with a straw. This will help release the pressure of take-off in their little ears. Do the same thing in the last half hour of your descent. Have pre-made items available to offer your toddler when they’re stirring. Think granola bars, pretzels, cheese sticks or veggies. If you’re on a long flight, definitely avoid sugary treats which could make your little one feel antsy.
When the “safe to remove seatbelt” sign comes on, it really is time to let your toddler go to the bathroom or just walk up and down the aisles. Giving them a little break can help them sit still longer during the flight. And make sure to switch out duties if you’re traveling with your spouse. Have them read a book or play a game when you’ve exhausted all avenues. Sometimes a fresh perspective is all it takes to keep your toddler interested.
As a parent, it’s so important to think of safety as you travel, especially when traveling abroad or in a busy airport. Do whatever you need to ensure your little ones stay by your side (Leashes, check, check!) and make sure to go over what to do with your little one should they get separated from you at any point. Even though they are quite little, you’d be surprised at how much they may be able to understand and express, especially those toddlers that are a little older. For extra coverage, put a sticker with your name and phone number on the inside back of your child’s shirt or in their shoe. Make sure never to leave your child in an unattended stroller and never let a stranger hold your baby at the airport. It’s always better to put safety first during air travel.
Whew! It’s time to take a sigh of relief. If you’ve completed all the above steps, you’re more than ready for air travel with a toddler. Remember all you can do is prepare your best, the rest is up in the air. But no matter what, we promise it’ll be worth it!
About the Author:
Tracy E. Brown is a journalist and educator with over 14 years of experience working in the field of Child Development. She is currently the Assistant Editor of Black Dress/Red Wagon Magazine in Atlanta, Ga. and previous Associate Editor at Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine. She previously taught preschool at the Goddard School in Farragut, Tennessee and taught Kindergarten for Dekalb County Schools in Atlanta. Other writing credits include the Green Building Research Institute, London’s facetheory.com, WBIR Channel 10 News, PBS, Duke University and American Airlines. She is also a mom to three adorable little ones.