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Airplane Travel With a Toddler

May27

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesHi, Amalah,

Congratulations on your soon-to-arrive newest boy! That’s so exciting! You make some darn cute babies!

I’ve been dragging my feet on asking this question but I finally have to ask for help: My husband, 2.5 year old son, and I will be flying from Portland, OR to Chicago, IL in about 2 weeks and I don’t know what to do to help make the trip easier for my son. The first and only time he flew, it was a disaster. I wasn’t prepared, he was 6 months younger, and it was just a mess. He was miserable, I was miserable, and the sweet, kind people on the plane were miserable.

Do you have any suggestions for how to make this trip go more smoothly? Toys, tricks, anything? We have a row of three seats to ourselves and we’ll be toward the back of the plane. We’re going to get a portable DVD player, some new toys that he won’t get until the day of the trip, his security blanket (of course), and some good, nutritionally-lacking snacks.

I hate the thought of him being miserable and sad and confused and anything that we can do to make it a less annoying trip for him means a less annoying trip for everyone else on the plane. And less gray hair for mama.

Thank you!
-j

Honestly, your existing plan sounds extremely solid. There’s probably not a whole lot I can add to that list, other than “take a deep breath and accept that sometimes, IT JUST DEPENDS.” Sometimes, your kid will get on a plane and be miserable. Sometimes, your kid will get on a plane and make everybody else miserable. And sometimes, your kid will get on a plane and be an absolute perfect angel and the other passengers will give you a standing ovation after you land because your kid has been so wonderful…but then it’s time for your return flight and that same wonderful child decides to SPROUT HORNS and KICK TRAY TABLES and WHINE and WAIL and THROW THINGS.

I have not, personally, taken my kids on that many flights, but the Internet advice I received lined up pretty well with what you’re already planning: a DVD player or laptop, a generous supply of new small toys, and an even more generous supply of crappy special snacks. I would probably qualify this list with a couple additional tips, including:

1) Making sure your son is okay with wearing the headphones for the DVD player BEFORE the day of the flight. This ended up being more of a challenge than we expected.

2) The toys should be checked and screened for noise-making ability ahead of time. We picked up some Dollar Store doo-dahs that we didn’t realize squeaked or rattled, and a talking toy Zurg from Toy Story 2 with NO OFF SWITCH and an easily-activated-from-inside-a-backpack button so we were the jerks at airline security with a bag that occasionally said stuff like, “WE MEET AGAIN, BUZZ LIGHTYEAR, FOR THE LAST TIME!” and “I. AM. YOUR. FATHER.”

3) The snacks should include stuff your son to help with the ear pressure thing. My kids aren’t gum chewers, so we brought lollipops, super-chewy fruit leather and sippy cups with straws. We purchased thick fruit yogurt smoothies at a stand near our gate and put them into the cups before boarding. If you have those homeopathic earache drops in your medicine cabinet, those might be worth tossing into your carry-on as well, just for emergency ear-numbing peace of mind. (Though you’ll probably want to apply them in the bathroom, if your kid is just as much of a fan of them as mine are, which is not at all. I brought them as a worst-case scenario sort of thing, but thankfully never used them in-flight.)

And on that note, the worst-case scenario probably WON’T happen, and you are soooo not doomed to repeat your last experience. Six months is a developmental eternity in toddler years, and this time your son might be way more interested in the whole AIRPLANE YAY!!! experience, or more apt to be lulled into a nice quiet video stare with the right movie or TV show. You weren’t prepared last time — and this time you’ll be more than prepared. Your flight could fall at a different time in his schedule and he’ll be more generally happy/accepting of the situation or put his head down in your lap and fall asleep. (Noah made it through take-off on his very first flight at age four, despite talking non-stop about going on a plane for WEEKS, then promptly passed out from all the excitement and slept straight through the first leg of the trip.) You just don’t know.

And so, really, my best advice is to proceed with everything you’re already planning, but to also focus on YOURSELF and ways to keep YOURSELF calm, so your anxiety about your son’s possible behavior won’t like, seep from every pore and rub off on him. (They can ALWAYS sense when Mama is worked up, you know?) Remind yourself that it won’t be YOUR FAULT if your kid makes a scene on the flight, that you’ll likely never see any of your scowling, judging fellow passengers again, and that believe it or not,  somewhere on the flight are people and parents who also were once in your shoes and understand.  Be optimistic and bring your own Kindle or iPod to enjoy once you get your son settled in with a movie or toys. Order a damn drink, whatever. It’ll be over in just a few hours.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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42 Responses to “Airplane Travel With a Toddler”

  1. Caroline May 27 at 11:54 am Reply Reply

    Stickers! And some kind of album to put them in. Keeps them occupied and fits in every handbag. Good luck!

  2. Amy May 27 at 11:59 am Reply Reply

    I just flew cross-country with my 17 month-old. I happened to have dried apple rings, and they were chewy enough to help his ears. I had a sippy cup too. He also got some juice from the flight attendant, and boy was that a hit since he doesn’t normally get juice.
    I buy him his own seat even though he’s young enough to be a lap child. I usually fly on long flights with him by myself, and I can’t imagine having an now even squirmier kid on my lap. Some airlines offer discounted tickets for children.
    Bring the car seat on board. It keeps my son contained. He doesn’t like getting in it, but once he’s in he’s fine. He’s used to it. He’ll have to be in the window seat if he’s in the car seat though. Bringing the car seat on board ensures that the seat won’t get lost in the luggage, beat up at planeside check in, and you won’t be left without a car seat from a car rental place.
    The Go Go Babyz Travelmate is awesome! I couldn’t have made this last trip without it. It basically gives your car seat wheels, making the car seat into a stroller. I was even able to roll him down the aisle of the plane in it with him in a Britax Roundabout. The Roundabout is 18″ wide, the aisle of an Airbus 320-200 is 19″ and the aisle an Embraer ERJ 175 is 19.5″ wide. I googled the car seat and the planes online. The airline’s site will often tell you the type of plane, and then you can google it.
    We always preboard for lots of time for getting us situated, and we’re usually the last ones to deplane since it takes us a while to collect everything.
    I would think that old school head phones are more comfortable for a kid the ones with ear buds. I know that on iPads and iPhones there’s a setting somewhere to set the maximum volume of the device to keep kids from making them too loud.
    Hope that helps!

  3. Olivia May 27 at 12:00 pm Reply Reply

    I just took my 2 yr old on her second flight recently and I wasn’t even as prepared as the OP. I had snacks, books and one stuffed animal, but didn’t brink out anything except the snacks because she was so much more interested in the planes and moving walkway at the airport. On the plane she slept and looked at the Sky Mall mag.

    On our return flight I was alone with her and our flight was very delayed so I was worried she would break down. But again, she was just so jazzed about the planes and the buses (shuttles) it wasn’t a problem. I took her for plenty of walks while we waited and kept her awake thru her naptime so she would sleep on the plane, and she did. 

    If your toddler is still in diapers pack, make sure you pack plenty in case of long delays. Good luck!

  4. Lunnette May 27 at 12:24 pm Reply Reply

    OMG markers and coloring books. A wipe will remove washable markers from plastic and metal surfaces. My kid is not usually allowed markers, so such a mess-making activity is a big hit. Also stickers, stamps and pipe cleaners. Messy, but not permanently so.

  5. Megan May 27 at 12:53 pm Reply Reply

    This is all great advice – I have a two year old that I’ve taken on 5 or 6 plane rides already, including once to Asia (that, I wouldn’t say was really fun). He’s done great on all the flights, for the most part, and everything here is great advice. I second, third and fourth the DVD player – that’s a godsend! Also, the packing of FAR more diapers, snacks, milk, juice, etc. than you ever anticipate needing – you never know when a delay will happen, and I hate relying on the airport “convenience” stores. Pack one carry-on bag as the “diaper bag” that you can keep handy under the seat, with snacks, toys, movies, etc. Pack another carry-on bag that you can stow overhead with extra supplies, emergency back-up toys or goodies, etc. The only thing I’ll add is, when thinking about toys, don’t pack anything round. Undoubtedly it will fall on the ground at some point, and then roll under all the seats all the way up and down the plane, or the aisle, or whatever. The other passengers and flight attendants do not really think this is as funny as your child does. :) We have had good luck packing bath toys actually – not noisy, not the “usual” toys, and not generally round. Also, they are easily cleaned if necessary. Good luck! It will go better than you think it will, and will be over in no time. People are also a lot more forgiving and understanding than we mamas often feel like they are, so be forgiving with yourself, too. Have a GREAT TRIP!

  6. Lori May 27 at 12:53 pm Reply Reply

    I can’t recommend the car seat enough. Not only are they used to it, it raises them up so they can see out the window better.  

    Ensure you’ll have enough time.  Plan on everything taking twice as long as it should.  This will give your boy enough time to explore the airport, run around, get changed, etc.  You need to remain as calm and relaxed as possible, and having to hurry your child along and constantly redirect will just upset him and you.

    Good luck!

  7. Katie May 27 at 12:54 pm Reply Reply

    I’m going to be labeling myself as a horrible person for even typing this—but when you buy headphones, make sure if they’re a kids pair, that the volume “ear protection” feature isn’t set too low. We had one set of headphones where you couldn’t hear a single thing once the background noise of the plane factored in. We’ve had the most luck with pair of cheap-ish adult noise cancelling headphones that were adjustable enough to put over a small head, and really padded around the ears.

  8. Amelia May 27 at 12:56 pm Reply Reply

    My son and I flew to Phoenix while I was 6 months pregnant.  Ask for family pre-boarding if you can to get situated, and then try to be the last ones off the plane – I found that people around me felt this was a giant courtesy.  Also, we took our carseat on the plane – it is a Graco Nautilus, and because my son is used to it, he didn’t freak out when put in it, it was totally routine.  Also, it kept him immobile during the flight, and helped him to sleep.  I will ALWAYS take a carseat on planes if my kids fit into them.  We also had a GoGoBabyz to tow the carseat around the airport, eliminating the need to gate-check a stroller.

  9. Sally May 27 at 1:09 pm Reply Reply

    For snacks, make sure you bring something that is more substantial than Cheerios and the exciting junk food(which is also crucial), if your kids are like mine.  They turn into angry monsters when they haven’t had enough real food.  Not sure if it’s the protein, fat, or what, but we need more than granola bars for an airplane flight.  Consider cheese sticks, beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter, etc.  This also prevents CRISIS EMERGENCY if you had been planning on getting a meal during a layover, but run out of time.  

  10. Erin May 27 at 1:10 pm Reply Reply

    I just wanted to say, from a frequent cross-country traveler’s perspective, that I scowl at the people on planes who are scowling at the parents of kids who are melting down. It’s your own fault if you didn’t bring an iPod/headphones/noise-canceling headset. We all have to share the plane and sometimes kids have trouble traveling. It is what it is! I say (to the judgey-glarey people), put your headphones in, crank the volume, and close your eyes. :) Good luck!

  11. Rachael May 27 at 1:22 pm Reply Reply

    PREBOARD, yes. And if the airline people are being dicks and don’t specifically call for families with small children to preboard? Step up for yourself and cut in line. I had to have some rookie mom’s prod me to do this while going on a discount airline (Allegiant), but it was worth it. And no one really minded, since everyone knows that people with babies are SUPPOSED to get on first. And also YES to being the LAST one off the plane. You’re not in anyone’s way and also don’t feel stressed and rushed.
    Also I second the buying-them-a-seat thing. My son’s first flight was at 9 months, and I was SOOOOO GLAD I bought him a ticket. Bring the carseat and strap ‘em in! Then order a $7 cocktail. Best. $7. Ever.
    DON’T try to get a gatecheck bag. I did this an not only did no one help me with getting my stroller into it, the luggage handler who I had to drag it to (no helping!) rolled his eyes and muttered about “why do people bring so much crap.” I almost cried. And then I had accidentally put my boarding pass in it and had to have them bring it back and get it OUT of the bag I had just wrestled to get it in and dig in all the pockets and stuff, in tears at this point. And of COURSE my son started screaming through this. A very kind and helpful guy stepped in to help me get the stroller back in the bag at this point and I literally wept with gratitude. On the flight back I skipped the bag and it was soooo much easier.

  12. HereWeGoAJen May 27 at 1:26 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve taken my daughter on about six flights and only one was truly horrible, when she was seven months old and it was bedtime.

    If you are on one of the planes that lets you chose your own seat (which it didn’t sound like, but I wasn’t sure), I always get on first and then hold the baby up above the seats while everyone else boards. This lets all the jerks self-select and they sit elsewhere and leave us alone while all the people who love babies sit near you. Once, when she was crying during boarding and the plane was half full, we ended up with thirty-seven empty seats around us. And then she fell asleep as soon as we took off (airplane white noise) and I read a magazine for the whole flight.

    And take chocolates for the flight attendants and the people around you in case it goes bad. That made us much more popular once.

  13. Linden May 27 at 1:28 pm Reply Reply

    We also live in Portland, and most of my family is on the East Coast, so we do a fair amount of travel with our two kids.  Our son is about the same age as your son, and we just flew to Florida and back this month, so the experience is very fresh in my mind.

    One thing that we didn’t anticipate prior to this trip was that our son at this age really needs advance warning of what to expect.  We had a number of meltdowns in the airport during our most recent trip.  The first one was because he didn’t like having to wrap his car seat in plastic and give it to the guy to be checked. (It’s MY car seat!).  The second happened as we were going through security and he didn’t want to give up his crocs or backpack to put them through the scanner.  The third was when it was time to get off the airplane in our layover airport.  He screamed and cried that he wanted to take THIS airplane to Florida or “go home and sleep”.

    For the return trip, we did things a bit differently.  We talked through what to expect many times so he wasn’t surprised.  We wore him on our backs in the Ergo (barefoot) for the whole way through checking bags and going through security.  We made a game out of eating snacks when we had to wait in line.  We still had trouble getting him off the airplane, but overall it was much better.

    Note that he was a STAR for the actual plane ride.  Once he got settled in his seat with his movies, games, and snacks, he was perfect.  This was not at all our experience the last time we traveled with him.

    I hope your day goes well!  At least you only have one child to wrangle!  We also had our one-year-old, who was challenging in an entirely different way…   

  14. Rachel C May 27 at 1:29 pm Reply Reply

    Bring a giant jar of earplugs for the other passengers in case your child gets a case of The Screams. My boyfriend and I took a red-eye from Hawaii to California once and we had babies in the row in front of us AND directly behind us. THEY BOTH SCREAMED THE ENTIRE 6 HOURS. I would have paid $100 for earplugs that night. I’m sure those poor parents assumed their babies would sleep the whole time but they did not. Yes, the other passengers could bring their own earplugs…but they don’t know if possibly screamy babies will be on their flight and you do know.

    http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=earplugs&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=Jk1&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&prmd=ivns&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&biw=1280&bih=622&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=1537002305906774968&sa=X&ei=Wt_fTbL3GvLKiAKG_6DTCg&ved=0CKQBEPMCMAk4Cg

  15. Christine May 27 at 1:50 pm Reply Reply

    Sooo happy to see this topic today!  I’ve been trying to find the time to write my own Dear Amalah letter about this.  We’ll be taking a trip to California (from Michigan) in August with our 6 month old daughter (I’m not very happy about this- pushy family, I wanted her to have more shots before flying, etc, etc)  And I’m somewhat afraid of not only the flight but just what “stuff” we’re going to use once there.  I’ve just added a GoGo Babyz to my Amazon cart (thanks everyone that commented above), so we’ll be bringing our Keyfit 30 with us. I’m very tempted to just buy an umbrella stroller once we get there (MIL lives about 1/4 mile from a big Babies R Us), and maybe borrow a pack n play for sleeping from a family member.  Are there any other recommendations that people have for dealing with a baby (rather than toddler) for a flight and week away from home?

  16. IrishCream May 27 at 2:43 pm Reply Reply

    Christine, I flew with my daughter when she was four months (easy, she slept the whole way) and then last weekend at nine months. An older, more mobile baby was a little trickier, but much easier than I had feared. We have a Snap and Go stroller frame that our Graco carseat snaps onto, and we gate-checked both with no problems. The stroller frame would not have fit onto the plane the way that Go Go Babyz device would have, but it was extremely handy to have that extra storage space underneath for a carry-on, and then of course you can use it all week while you’re there.

    We did our best to time the departure times around her normal nap schedule so she would sleep on the plane as much as possible. Delays thwarted that to a certain degree, but she still slept on the plane for most of each flight, thanks to the combination of nursing, white noise, and motion. I brought a new toy, and a new board book that had flaps to lift and different textures, which was a big hit and very portable.

    If you’re going to be away for a week, just buy diapers and wipes when you get there, and don’t go crazy packing a ton of toys; the novelty of an unfamiliar setting and new faces will probably be more entertaining. I do recommend bringing a crib sheet from home, to make the pack and play feel more familiar. Good luck!

  17. Olivia May 27 at 2:49 pm Reply Reply

    Christine, personally for a 6 month old, I’d skip buying an extra seat to put the car seat in and check it with my suitcase. Wear the baby at the airport and use a backpack for your carry-on and you’ll be totally hands free. Then buy a cheap-o umbrella stroller when you get there. Plane tix are so expensive, I was happy to take advantage of keeping my kiddo on my lap for her first two trips. YMMV.

  18. Ms. Huis Herself May 27 at 2:57 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve done a few on-my-own-with-my-toddler transAtlantic flights. If you wrap the new toys in tissue paper/old comics, they’re even more like presents! Plus, you can tell which they’ve gotten so far. I’d actually go with familiar & healthy snacks w maybe a couple of treats – tummies can get upset traveling & meal times are erratic, so having healthy-ish snacks worked well for us. Also, overnight diapers hold more!

    In fact, here’s a tips-and-hints post I did back closer to when I’d actually done all that travel with her. That way I won’t be leaving an uber-long comment here! http://tinyurl.com/kidonaplane

  19. tasterspoon May 27 at 3:10 pm Reply Reply

    My baby is 6 months and has been on 6 cross country flights. Five of them went great!

    Two toys that worked well on the planes were hand puppets (they can be silent) and those tiny music boxes with the hand crank (not silent, but relatively quiet so baby has to hush to hear it). The puppets were also a hit with a 2 year old during church at our destination.

    I must point out that two of those airplanes DID NOT HAVE CHANGING TABLES in the lavatories. On one, the flight attendants were super nice, laying down blankets on the cold floor, on another the flight attendant was a mean jerk. I don’t know if those configurations websites note this but worth investigating.

    We also buy our seatmates a drink. I love the chocolates and earplugs ideas.

  20. cagey May 27 at 3:44 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve flown a lot with my kids and have been lucky to have had only one hellish flight.  *Shudder.*

    First and foremost, let your kid explore and run a bit in the gate/waiting area before boarding.  I always let my kids stretch their legs and it went a long ways in helping them not be so antsy on flights.  It makes me sad when I see folks keeping their kids penned up BEFORE the flight.  Sure enough, the kid is a MESS by the end of the flight because they’ve been cooped for so long.

    Also?  Empty/non-charged gift cards – I’d just grab a stack in the checkout lane at Target and just not put any $$ on them.  Cheap decks of playing cards from the dollar section, cheap toys that you don’t care if they roll down the length of the plane, to be lost forever. If your kids like to color, the Color Wonder stuff from Crayola is mighty awesome – a little expensive but worth the not worrying about stains.

  21. Wallydraigle May 27 at 3:50 pm Reply Reply

    Yeah, that sounds pretty good to me. I do suggest putting your kid in a heavy-duty diaper for the flight, though. One that will contain a lot of liquid. Changing a kid in an airplane bathroom is a total nightmare unless he’s the size of a postage stamp, and please don’t be that person who changes him right there in the seat Please only do that if there’s absolutely no other alternative.
    .
    I brought Dum-Dums for the older one. Her mouth isn’t big enough for a regular sucker, but those are perfect for takeoff and landing.
    .
    I brought a packet of ear plugs and offered them to anyone who looked uncomfortable if a kid cried. Honestly, if nothing else works, attempt to look like you’re TRYING to comfort him. People will give you a lot more charity if you look like you’re doing your best, and if you look like you do care about your seatmates’ well-being. And, if it’s still not going great, just repeat to yourself, “I WILL NEVER SEE THESE PEOPLE AGAIN!” over and over.
    .
    Good luck! About a year ago we flew with a 4-month old and a 20-month old twice in four days. The first flight was a complete disaster, and the one back was better, but still pretty unhappy. Then we did it all again a few months ago with an 11-month-old and a 2.5-year-old. It was almost a perfect flight. We sat in the very back, so all the engine noise drowned out most of the fussing, of which there was very little, and it also soothed the baby to sleep through most of the flight. Our perpetually terrified toddler did SO well. It was like night and day from our trip six months before. So you’ll probably be just fine.

  22. glittergirley May 27 at 4:35 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a frequent flyer with NO kids and I have absolutely no problem when I hear other people’s kids cry/fuss/scream. First of all the background noise of the plane practically cancels out kid noises, so unless you are sitting right next to the kid you can’t really tell anyway (which means the kids sound louder to the mom, but probably don’t bother other people as much). most people have headphones or earplugs anyway and those who don’t and get angry at baby noises are mean grouches. I mean, come on, its an airplane, not a library!

    Honestly I prefer to hear the sounds of children on a plane because I’m a nervous flyer and the children help to take my mind off of it. Plus, they’re KIDS, of course they will scream and cry, no big deal!

    Anyway, my point is this: do the best you can with distraction techniques and ignore the mean old grumps on the plane. Most other parents will understand, and then there’s non-parent people like me who don’t care so don’t even stress! Relax and enjoy your vacation!

  23. Stephanie May 27 at 4:43 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve flown with my 23 month old daughter over a dozen roundtrip flights since she was born — the only horrible flight was at 6 months old. I cannot emphasize enough how important having a car seat is. My daughter squirms like crazy, but she’s totally complacent in her car seat. Here is our one mistake: we just flew home this week from Chicago, where my in-laws live. I assumed that 1 hour and 45 minutes was plenty of time to check luggage and get through security. It wasn’t. We had to run to our gate (only to be then delayed 3 hours due to weather). It was an early morning flight, so we thought we’d get food for our daughter once we went through security. It took so long, she was starving and demanding milk and starting to cry. So bring whatever your child normally eats/drinks and have it ready. Security will allow you to bring milk in bottles/sippy cups if it’s for your child.

  24. AngelB May 27 at 9:56 pm Reply Reply

    Here is my mantra when I fly with my kids – “I will never see these people again.”  I just say it over and over to myself when the little ones get restless and I start to worry about annoying the other passengers.  Half the time what gets my kids worked up is my being so anxious about annoying the other passengers.  Then I end up being short with the kids and my frustration leads to their getting louder and more inconsolable.  If I can just stay calm I can wind them back down and we have a good trip.  If Mr. 12B is getting annoyed by little Suzy, oh well.  I’m never going to see him again.  My focus needs to be on little Suzy. 

  25. Juila May 27 at 10:12 pm Reply Reply

    I flew with my daughter at days shy of one and a few months shy of two. The just under two trip was a lot easier. The increased language capacity made it easier to get our points across to each other.

    Saw someone else mention stickers, and yup. Be silly. Put them on your nose, your partner’s nose, your son’s nose. Is he into colouring? Blank paper and a couple of crayons (not a whole box because JESUS, no kid, you can’t have ALL OF THEM AT ONCE!) Got any books about little kids and air travel? There’s a Caillou one that talks about his first plane trip that you could use to get him excited about air travel. Talk to him in advance about where you’re going and what’s AWESOME about it. Then you can use the fun stuff you’re going to do as a “carrot” of sorts. My daughter still talks about the “Mickey Boat” because we hyped it up so much before we left. OK, so we were a little screwed for the return flight on that one but she slept for a lot of that so *phew!*

    Let people him charm and befriend your fellow passengers in the waiting area before boarding. People are more likely to be sympathetic to that cute little kid they saw do “I’m a little teapot” if he freaks out later. They might even be helpful!

    If it’s any consolation, our trip went WAY worse in my head than in reality. It sounds like you’re as prepared as you can be. Try to have fun and know that if it’s not fun at all, the flight is only a few hours of the whole trip.

  26. Amy May 27 at 11:36 pm Reply Reply

    Amy here again. I also recommend bringing extra clothes on board for kiddo, and for you (tops mostly). Babies are wont to do icky things all over you on a plane or in the airport, and turbulence can do nasty things to anyone.
    I second the Snap n Go when traveling with an infant in an infant car seat. If you don’t buy kiddo a ticket, you can check both the stroller and the car seat at the gate. If you don’t buy a ticket, ask the gate agent if there might be an open seat. They might be willing to move some things around to get you that empty seat and you can use the car seat then.
    If you have two adults with you, you might want to have one pre-board and get everything set up, then have the other board with kiddo towards the end to ensure maximum play/ running/ getting out the energy time.
    I found a 2oz bottle of bubbles for our last trip, and it was a hit with my son and the 2 year old behind us. It just needs to go in your 1 quart bag when you go through security. I discovered that those yogurt-in-a-tube things are also 2oz, so they’re ok through security too (I don’t trust that TSA will be ok with the food I bring with me now that my son isn’t an infant, and I guess yogurt could be considered a liquid… or maybe even gel).
    If you get the Go Go Babyz Travelmate, the Travelmate and car seat will not fit through the scanner at security. TSA can hand check it though, so you don’t have to take it apart.

  27. Another Rachel May 28 at 2:22 am Reply Reply

    There is an amazing amount of good advice here already, but I will add a couple of things I haven’t seen mentioned.
    First, if the flight crew seems receptive to having company, try striking up a conversation with them when they’re not busy. Plenty of bored flight attendants LOVE being able to interact with an adorable toddler, and what kid doesn’t like being the center of attention? Hard to be upset when everyone is smiling at you.
    Second, do not underestimate the Daddy Effect. If Daddy is the one pacing the aisle with his fussy little one, people seem to think “aww, how sweet!” whereas Mommy is expected to be able to “manage” her child. Sad but true.

    OH- and if the little one does have a rough flight, smile at your fellow passengers when you catch them looking your way. People understand that kids have meltdowns, but they’re less forgiving if it looks like you’re about to lose it.

  28. heather May 28 at 4:38 pm Reply Reply

    Great advice here. The only things I have to add all falls under the category of Take Care of Yourself too. That is, don’t over pack. Pack toys, snacks, etc. for the plane but don’t bring a pack’n’play, big stroller, 12 pairs of shoes, etc. Make getting through the airport easy on yourselves. If you don’t want to bring your car seat on the plane (we don’t) then consider renting one once you get to your destination so you have one less thing to deal with checking. We travel with an umbrella stroller, our backpacks, one suitcase and THAT’S IT. This is because when you see a melt-down in an airport more often then not it’s the parents not the toddler. You can’t keep your 2.5 year old from falling apart, but you can make yourself as stress-free as possible to handle it. Don’t forget food and water for yourself and a good night’s rest before you travel.

    Also, let your little one run around as much as he can in the airport. This will mean you are chasing him up and down the hallways – that’s fine! Less chasing when you get on the plane. Many airports have play areas, find one if you can and use it. If he gets his wiggles out before he gets on the plane it will be a more pleasant ride.

    Good luck!!

  29. JayelleMo May 28 at 5:32 pm Reply Reply

    So much good advice here, so I’ll only add one more:

    Band-aids. If you run out of stickers, band-aids are awesome. Stick them to themselves, stick them to their stuffed animals, stick them to Mom and Dad. Plus actually helpful in case of any sort of bump. 

  30. Jae May 29 at 5:00 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you, everyone, for the suggestions, ideas, and, most of all, your kindness.  

    Logically speaking, I know it won’t be my fault if my boy has a meltdown but, as his mother (and as every other mom in the world sometimes), I’m so quick to shoulder the blame.  It was a relief to hear someone say it’s not my fault.  It was also a relief to hear people encourage me to take care of myself, too.  I was so focused on him that I totally forgot that a key component of him not losing his shit is making sure *I* don’t lose my shit.  

    Thank you, again, everyone!  My trip is on the 9th so here’s hoping we survive!  :)

  31. bhn May 29 at 9:46 pm Reply Reply

    I actually disagree with the preboarding advice. I feel like preboarding just traps a toddler in a crappy environment for longer than necessary. My trick is for one parent to preboard with the stroller, carseat, diaper bag, etc. The other parent stays in the gate area with the toddler, having one last diaper change, handwash, play, look at the plane, run, etc. Then board with the toddler at the last minute, where her snacks, toys, etc. are all ready for her.

    The worst part of flying with a toddler for me is the part where they’re on the plane but not allowed out of their seat. Skipping preboarding shortens this significantly.

  32. Liz May 29 at 10:23 pm Reply Reply

    I like the CARES harness for my daughter who just turned 3. We’ve been using it since she was 19 months old. She gets her own seat, is buckled in and I don’t have to lug an enormous car seat on the plane and install it. I always gate check the car seat, though. I’m paranoid it won’t get to our destination and I don’t want to be stuck at an airport without a car seat.

    For the plane ride I bring her portable DVD player and a selection of movies–SigningTime, Sesame Street, some Pixar too. Also washable crayons and a few new pads of paper to color. We recently flew cross-country twice in a week and those two things occupied her for the entire trip, both ways. I always pack so much food–sandwiches, bagels, carrot sticks, granola bars, nuts, grapes, etc. It helps to have a wide variety to cut through the boredom. Her favorite right now are lollipops so I brought some for take off and landing and that worked very well.

    You never know what will happen so I always carry ear plugs with me and if it gets bad (like it did a few times when she was a baby) then I offer to buy drinks for people next to me and in front and behind also. One time many people took me up on the offer and the flight attendant ended up giving us the drinks for free because I’d actually offered to pay for them all.

    Good luck!

  33. Karen Odea May 30 at 5:42 am Reply Reply

    As pointed out, I think the key is stimulation for your toddler so that they can play or use something familiar which helps take their mind off the noise and unfamiliar environment of the plane and helps make the time go so much quicker 

  34. Hillary May 31 at 12:26 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve flown by myself with my now 16 month old daughter many times. This most recent trip I realized I cannot hold her in my lap – it is way too unfair to the people next to me as she squirms and pats them and I’m in total paranoid agony. It is nice to hear that others have cried traveling alone with babies. I think it is just really hard and you feel all this pressure because at least once in your life you were the person on the plane sending evil thoughts to the parents of that horrible toddler that screamed for 4 hours. Ah, karma. Anyway, I nurse my kid the entire flight. It has worked so far (even on the most recent one when she was patting the neighbors). She eventually falls asleep. You just have to be realllllly comfortable letting it all hang out. :)

  35. Susan May 31 at 4:09 pm Reply Reply

    Definitely read the first Related Post above, where Amalah talks about their flight to Jamaica – I bought the first item mentioned, the Traveling Toddler Carseat Accessory, and it was AWESOME – strapped the carseat right to the wheelie suitcase and away we went. My 2.5 yo son thought it was the coolest thing ever (and it’s a lot cheaper than the Go-Go thing).

    Also, I agree with bhn – do NOT take your child on the plane first. Send Dad with the carseat and the bag o’ entertainment and let him get that all situated, then be one of the LAST people on the plane. That way you just stroll on, strap the kid in, and you’re off.

    We just returned from a trip to Hawaii – DEN-LIH with a 3 hour layover in LAX, then HNL-DEN redeye direct. My son got the Little People airplane for Christmas so he’s had a few months to talk about airplanes (and it helped that the little people were dressed in shorts and sunglasses with a flower lei, etc). We traveled mid-week so there was a smaller crowd at the airport (the TSA in Denver were SO nice and helped us get through security relatively painlessly, unlike the TSA in Lihue who sent me through the regular metal detector with the toddler AND my 8 month old but kept DH and the grandparents for full body scans – yep, my little 65 yo MIL surely looks dangerous…)

    We bought kids’ headphones and I gave them to DS about a week ahead of time – I downloaded Happy Feet to my netbook and he watched parts of it every day until we left. Once we were on the plane, though, he was happy enough to just watch the video with no sound.

    The best toy purchase on this trip turned out to be a 29 cent bag of fuzzy pompom balls I bought at Michael’s craft store. I bought soft pastel ones and sparkly fuzzy ones, and put them in a baggie with the actual plastic zipper on the top (he can open and close that). He spent probably an hour and a half of the flight taking them out of the bag, putting them bag in the bag, sorting and counting by color or type, and stashing them in a mirrored magnetic lipstick case. Every once in a while he would drop one or two and holler “Oh no, my balls!” which made me giggle hysterically.

    I meant to bring $5 Starbucks gift cards to pass out to passengers who seemed put out by our presence, but I forgot, and it turned out we didn’t need them.

    Check your airline’s website for their in-flight snack/meal options, but don’t assume that they’ll have everything advertised. I was excited to get a fruit and cheese plate on United, but they were sold out, so I got the Tapas snackbox – DS really liked the crackers and the cheese spread, and even ate all the marinated olives!

  36. Cathy May 31 at 9:54 pm Reply Reply

    Everyone has given great advice…the carseat is a godsend because they are used to the idea that they are restrained when in it and the GoGo Baby wheels make lugging it along so much easier. 
    While I also bring along lots of junk food treats, I do try to focus more on chips and salty snacks than sugar (but chewy things are useful for ears). I just don’t want to add a sugar high and inevitable crash into the mix of things that can go wrong. My kids go bonkers over the individual packages of chips. 
    I also like trails mixes with little food like nuts and raisins because it takes them longer to eat. 
    Also, we play airplane many times before the big day. We practice the security line and sitting quietly (pointing out that we can talk, sing, etc.). I just keep pointing out that there would be lots of waiting throughout the trip so my kids know what to expect (i.e., and airplane is fun, but it’s not non-stop excitement). 

  37. Sonja Jun 01 at 10:52 am Reply Reply

    The only thing I’d add is that my kid’s tendency seems to be to scream/cry/complain a lot during take-off and then be completely fine the rest of the way. So if your son is miserable during take-off, don’t let it scare you.

  38. Eileen Jun 01 at 12:31 pm Reply Reply

    If it’s two parents and one child, buying a seat for the child and getting an entire row is AWESOME. Kid can play between you during the flight and not escape or bother anyone else. Our next flight will be more of a challenge because we’ll have two kids and will need to split up, but we’re doing a 3-1 split (with the second adult right across the aisle) so we still have an entire row to ourselves. Also, last time, I hit the dollor store and bought a ton of cheapie surprisesd to keep her amused, and will likely do so again this trip. We’ll also be loading up our ipods with kid-friendly apps for her to play with. Thankfully it’s a short flight – not sure how people survive on the long flights!

  39. Holly Jun 01 at 9:09 pm Reply Reply

    This will sound weird, but something that works for car trips is a loop of masking tape, sticky side out, around the child’s palm. You’d be amazed how long they’ll be amused by sticking their hand to the seat, their face, etc., and peeling it off again. Needless to say, the tape gets really gross, but the kid is entertained. :)

    Good luck!

  40. Tracey Jun 02 at 3:01 pm Reply Reply

    We did two long haul flights last year with our two children, and did pretty much what you are doing, the portable DVD player was a life saver, can’t recommend it enough. We also brought along little toys, new ones because of their novelty value, stickers, wipe clean books, and markers. And snacks. Having done all this though, our three year old did not do well on a couple of landings, and both times she was seated with my husband, and the cabin staff won’t let you get up when the plane is getting ready to land, so I couldn’t go to her…it wasn’t pretty. But guess what, the other passengers survived, I’m sure that any kid haters on the plane had a new story to share with all their kid hating friends, and we survived also. As you will! Best of luck!

  41. Jae Jun 14 at 3:59 pm Reply Reply

    You guys! OP here and I wanted to pop back in to say that things went SOOOO well! My kiddo was an angel and all your advice was spot on, particularly the part where mama chilled the eff out. Thank you, everyone, a million times over. And, thank you, Amy!

  42. eden Jun 21 at 7:02 pm Reply Reply

    I just created this “guide” of Tips for Airplane Travel with a Toddler so thought I would share to help other women about to fly with toddlers (I’ve done so more times that I care to remember!) and also to find out what I’ve missed.  I’d love to include related blog posts or products from mompreneurs in my guide so feel free to email me yours at eden (at) theskinnyscoop.com

    Tips for Airplane Travel with a Toddler guide:
    http://www.skinnyscoop.com/list/eden/tips-for-airplane-travel-with-a-toddler

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