Tips to Survive Flying with a Toddler

The toddler years can be both trying and fun. Toddlers are rambunctious, squirmy and messy. But don’t let the occasional tantrum-throwing prevent you from traveling or flying with a toddler. Traveling with our toddler has taught me a lot over these short temperamental years and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

In fact, as trying as it may be, I encourage parents to travel more during the toddler years. When I first created this website after our daughter, Avery, was born, I wrote an article offering tips for families flying with “children”. Yep, as a new mother who had never actually flown with a toddler, I naively lumped all children into one category. I have since gone back and revised that post to clarify that babies, toddlers, and children are each their own unique creatures with their own unique challenges. While some of the tips for flying with a baby still apply to flying with a toddler, I have since changed the name of that page because “Flying with a Baby” and “Flying with a Toddler” are two totally different ball games. I feel like this adorable yet trying age deserves its own set of rules and advice.

flying with a toddler

8 Tips for Flying with a Toddler

The toddler age can be a blast. Toddlers are curious little explorers. They’re constantly learning new things… how to walk… how to talk… how to become independent.

Flying with a toddler is so much different than flying with a baby. While trips in general have gotten easier as our daughter has gotten older, the time spent in planes and cars has gotten a bit more difficult.

We’ve flown countless times with our daughter during the toddler years including numerous international flights, which haven’t always been fun.  And we’ve learned a thing of two from each flight we’ve taken.

But before we jump into our top tips for flying with a toddler, let me just say the most important thing to remember is to simply roll with the punches. Toddlers are going to be toddlers. They are going to cry and throw a fit at times. And chances are, if your flight is more than a couple hours long, one of those fits will happen on a plane. Don’t stress.

The following eight tips will help you make it through any flight with a lot less anxiety.

Bring a lot of snacks

Planes don’t always have child-appropriate food. So when we are flying with a toddler, we bring plenty of snacks with us, more than I think would typically be necessary. While we are a bit more lenient when it comes to what we let our little one eat when traveling, we still like her to have plenty of healthy, organic options.

Snacks for toddlers when traveling

Our favorite go-to snack when we travel is Slammers Snacks by Kids Gourmet. These pouches are packed with organic vegetables, fruits, and super foods, and our daughter loves them! She is a very independent child, and I love that with Slammers Snacks, she can feed herself without making a giant mess in the plane. They’re a crumb-less and healthier alternative to crackers and other sugar laden snacks and candy. Slammers come in seven different fruity flavors, so your little one will have lots of variety on the plane. Toddlers can be picky eaters, but these are yummy, and a good source of essential vitamins and minerals. Not to mention, they’re the perfect size for traveling. We’ve been able to bring them through security just as easily as baby food, liquid formula, and expressed breastmilk.

I also bring along some other snack options just in case. When flying with a toddler, the worst thing that could happen is that you run out of snacks!

Here are a few other easy, healthy-ish go-to snack options when flying with a toddler:
Banana chips or dried fruit
Organic fruit snacks
Fruit rope
Chex mix
Baby carrots
String cheese

Bring books for entertainment

Most toddlers love books, and they are perfect for traveling. They are much more compact than toys, so you can bring several of them with you. My daughter absolutely loves the Lift-the-Flap books by Karen Katz. There are a ton to choose from and since they are thin books you can bring four or five along with you on the trip without taking up too much space in your child’s carry-on, which is likely packed full of toys, electronics, and a million other things to help entertain a toddler on a plane.

Parenthood and Passports - Flying with a Toddler
Bring tons of entertainment when flying with a toddler. You’ll need it!

On long plane rides, I like to pack about six of her favorite books that we will read over and over again. It keeps her quiet and the other passengers happy. Plus, it’s a way to entertain her without the tablet!

See what’s in our carry-on bag here.

Consider giving your toddler juice

When my daughter was an infant, I would nurse or bottle feed her on take off and landing to keep her ears from hurting. But now that she is weaned and no longer using a bottle, it’s harder to get her to drink anything on command. That’s why we always buy a small container of juice once we get through airport security, or we have the flight attendant pour some into her sippy cup once we get on the plane. We dilute it with water, and since my daughter doesn’t typically get juice at home, this is a huge treat, and she will suck it down! The jaw motion helps keep her ears from hurting when the pressure changes, and she will stay occupied with her sippy cup for awhile, too. Bonus tip: bring one of the early-stage sippy cups, that requires just a little bit of sucking to get the liquid out. This is great for helping combat the pressure changes and ear popping.

Buy an aisle seat

While I love the window seat and so does my daughter, toddlers will inevitably want to get up and walk around, especially on long, international flights. Instead of having to crawl over a stranger every time your tiny traveler gets a burst of energy, purchase the aisle seat. That allows the two of you to make an occasional trek up and down the aisle. Word of warning: this will annoy some travelers, usually the grouchy ones who get annoyed at everything. But better to parade your child through the aisle then to have the whole plane annoyed by a screaming child.

Child on an airplane

Bring disinfectant wipes – You’ll need them!

I recommend this for children of any age, but disinfectant wipes are especially a must with toddlers. The first thing I do when we get into the plane is wipe down our surroundings. The arm rests, tables, windows, walls, in-flight magazines, and the laminated inserts in the seat-back compartment. Then, I have no worries when my germ-loving tot decides to lick, chew on, or touch everything in sight. I also recommend a quick inventory of the floor beneath your seats. If there is a tissue, trash, or anything else in the floor, trust me, a toddler will find it and try to eat it.

Download Videos

Toddlers love cartoons and children’s shows. We don’t watch a lot of television at home, or at least we try not to, but I always have a few shows downloaded onto our tablet for trips. She might only get through one 30 minute show before she loses interest, but that’s thirty minutes I don’t have to spend entertaining her. Although some flights have in-flight entertainment, I’ve found my toddler prefers to watch a show on a tablet or iPad, so I would suggest investing in one. We use this one.

Buy an extra seat

Until the age of two, children are allowed to sit in a parent’s lap on a flight. After that you have to buy them their own seat. But even in those early toddler months I still like to invest in an extra seat. Although the airline policy can save quite a bit of money, we only fly with her on our lap during shorter flights (less than three hours). On long, international flights we fork over the money on an extra seat. They won’t always stay in it, but it does give them a little extra room to wiggle around in the row. You won’t feel as confined and your child won’t require as much walking up and down the aisle. Even better, bring along their car seat. Many children like the comfort and familiarity of their car seat. Using a car seat while flying means your child will not only be safer, but will be better contained and less inclined to want to get up while in their car seat.

Flying with a toddler in an extra row or seat

Include them in the process

Toddlers are the most strong-willed, independent humans on the planet. They don’t like being told what to do, and when flying with a toddler, unfortunately, sometimes it’s an unavoidable reality. But if you give them a role and some choices when traveling, chances are it will go much smoother. We let our little traveler pull her own suitcase through the airport, even if it takes us longer to get to the gate. There are so many great children’s travel bags to choose from; you could even let your toddler pick out her own suitcase.

traveling with a toddler in an airport

Our daughter helps pack her suitcase and will even pick out outfits that she wants to take on our trip. We also let her buckle her own seat belt on the plane, although we double check it for safety. Giving her choices and responsibilities when we travel ultimately makes her feel included. Because she doesn’t feel like she is constantly being told what to do, she is more willing to cooperate with us on the plane.

Have a comment or question about flying with a toddler? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a comment below.

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