What a long flight with a toddler is really like

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How our first long flight with a toddler began

A blowout… Clear up the back and all over her clothes. That is how our toddler’s first long-haul flight from the United States to Europe officially started. Before we were even taxiing to the runway, our 18-month-old was stripped down to just a diaper. We had already gone through the awkward lavatory diaper change and attempted to clean her onesie in the sink. Anyone who has ever done a long flight with a toddler knows it’s stressful. But this was practically a laughable start to an eight hour plane ride.

Parenthood and Passports - Long flight with a toddler
Crap… That’s what was all over our toddler, our arms, and probably the lavatory after we were finished with the diaper change. It is also pretty descriptive of how the rest of the flight went.

Meltdown… Only one hour into the flight and our half naked baby had already had enough. We walked her up and down the aisles. Stood in the galley and bounced her and sang lullabies until we were just making up words. We watched stressfully as people looked us up and down when we passed… Some probably annoyed, others sympathetic, and still others likely just wondering why the heck our screaming baby had no clothes on.

A moment of silence

Parenthood and Passports - Long flight with a toddler
Cabernet… Our adorable naked cherub finally fell asleep and before meal service at that! My husband and I sat in our seats proud of ourselves for getting the kid to sleep. I smugly watched a movie mentally patting myself on the back and enjoyed a glass of red wine. My husband sat next to me doing the same with a beer and his own set of headphones. Both of us were thankful for the individual TVs in each seat back and felt satisfied with our movie selections. My husband smiled gleefully watching chick flicks without fear of ridicule or teasing while I chose a more serious Academy award contender.

One movie turned to another… Next, the mom in me opted for something lighthearted from the kid’s section: Zootopia. My husband unsurprisingly selected yet another chick flick: The Notebook, which he’d already seen a dozen times before. One plastic cup of wine also turned to another. My frazzled nerves calmed with each small sip. Only six more hours to go.

With each passing hour I started to feel more relieved… Or maybe it was with each passing plastic cup of wine the dopamine induced happiness began to come over me. Just a few short hours earlier I was rubbing my temples as my daughter and I were both practically in tears. But after four hours of silence and two glasses of wine I started to think I could do another long flight with a toddler someday. I had this down! Who cares that my kid was only in a diaper… Who cares that all she had for dinner were a few McDonald’s fries and some bites of chemically-processed meat from my hamburger. She was sleeping. I win.

Maybe next year, we could do an even longer flight. Yep, it was settled. I decided to start planning a trip to Asia next year. I’d practically be a pro at surviving a long flight with a toddler by then.

Parenthood and Passports - Long flight with a toddler

Back to reality with one small word

“Mama”… The sound of my daughter softly calling out for me still melts my heart… But on a crowded flight with two and a half hours to go, that sound might as well have been nails on a chalkboard. After only a four hour sleep on an overnight flight, our toddler roused from her slumber. For another 30 minutes we wrestled the beast, hoping she would surrender and go back to sleep. But the beast won. I started reconsidering that trip to Asia next year.

For the last two hours of the flight we desperately entertained our toddler. It was 1am back home, but the sun was coming up just outside of our little oval window. We saw land in the distance. Europe was in view! The end was in sight. The entire arsenal would be deployed during those last two hours to keep our tiny, still-tired toddler from disrupting the rest of the sleeping cabin. Videos, toys, snacks, milk, walks through the dark aisles. But it wouldn’t work.

The dreadful home stretch

The last 30 minutes of the flight might as well have been an eternity. The flight attendants served breakfast, the lights came on and most of the people on the flight were enjoying their croissant and yogurt… Except us.

Toddler tantrum… It was bound to happen. At home, we can’t get through an eight hour day without at least one tantrum, there was no way we could get through a full eight hours in an enclosed, cramped airplane cabin without one. And it happened. Man, did it happen! Our toddler kicked and screamed and when the kicking and screaming didn’t make the airplane immediately land so she could get off, she screamed even louder. When we tried distracting her with toys, she threw them. This was a fit right up there with her worst ones ever. It may have lasted only 5-10 minutes, but I’m fairly certain most of the plane’s passengers had a ringing in their ears when it was finished.

The only good thing about this fit of rage was that it happened while everyone was awake and the plane was already descending. I’m sure the ear popping from the descent just exasperated the already difficult time our exhausted toddler was experiencing. So we maintained our cool and made it through. By the time we landed our toddler was happy and smiling as if she hadn’t just turned into the possessed kid from The Exorcist a few seconds earlier.

Lessons learned from our first long flight with a toddler

Needless to say, the flight was a bit difficult, but we would definitely do it again.

In the grand scheme of life, even a horrible long flight with a toddler is only about 8 hours. Eight hours, however long it might feel, is ONLY eight hours. Now, the jet lag is another story. But in reality, our first long flight with a toddler wasn’t all bad. In fact, our teething, poop-covered toddler still slept for more than half of the flight. I’d say that is a success.

Parenthood and Passports - Long flight with a toddler
Finally when we arrived in Germany we were mentally and physically exhausted. We were jet lagged, and a bit dehydrated. But we were ready for adventure. And what an adventure it would be!

Planning a long flight with, or without, kids? Check out these tips to make time fly!


Parenthood and Passports - Long Flight with a toddler

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24 comments on “What a long flight with a toddler is really like”

Thanks! Doing anything with a toddler is somewhat a comedy of errors… Especially if you are new parents and completely clueless, so I’m glad you laughed. We did too… AFTER it was over. πŸ™‚

Ha, we can all relate! Though you should commend yourself for an 8 hour flight with an 18 mo. I’ll never forget the time on a domestic flight my baby girl got a hold of the travel size Cheerios and it went flying and Cheerios flew all over the plane and all over everyone. It was a disaster, but thankfully people started laughing:).

Haha! I would have laughed too. Before I became a parent I always wondered how someone made such a mess when I would walk by a dirty row on a plane… Now I know… Kids. ?

Oh wow, I was laughing so hard on your description of how things played out. We have all been there in one way or another, but as you said in the grand scheme of things, it was only 8 hours, don’t sweat the small stuff. Now Damon’s movie choices are a different matter! hehe

That’s so good to hear! Everything about the toddler years are so trying. But the trip itself was amazing and so memorable, so it was worth the headaches we faced en route. πŸ™‚

Thankfully I can say this is all behind me now. We took out boys overseas for the first time when they were 2 & 5 after testing them out on a few short hauls. The flight from Sydney to Fiji (6 hours) was uneventful except when the kids breakfast was a spinach and egg scramble. Many questions about why the eggs were green did not satisfy Mr 2. Meltdown! I had to beg the FA for an adult meal which was sausages (normal) eggs and hash browns. Seriously who in their right mind thinks a 2yo will eat green eggs! The flight home was worse as we had to be up at 3am to catch it! Didn’t put us off through and I did Europe (36 hours door to door) when they were 4 & 8 by myself and The Hubs thought I was crazy and he was having no part of it lol. That was not good although I think it was better than US (also 36 hours door to door after a 8h delay connecting in NZ) with truculent teenagers. My youngest boy is 21 now and we get to travel on our own again. Yippee!

The green eggs crack me up! My daughter would have felt the same way. The entire time we were in Europe she refused to eat cheese because it was white instead of yellow/orange like the cheese at home. It tasted the same, if not better, but she wasn’t having any part of it. LOL. By the way, I’m impressed you did the Europe flight alone with the kiddos. I don’t think I’m that brave… yet.

This really made me smile. Firstly let me applaud you for managing to get a couple of wines in whilst she was asleep and secondly for Damon allowing you to publicly be so honest about his film choice πŸ™‚ I think every parent who has ever flown with a young child can sympathise with you both. Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

Haha! We’re all about transparency on this blog, so Damon knew he would get called out! When he saw me typing on my smartphone on the plane while he was watching his movies, he looked over and said “You’re blogging about my movies aren’t you?” πŸ˜€

Wow I’m impressed. I teach 4 years olds and couldn’t imagine bringing one of them on a longhaul flight let alone a toddler! Well done for not letting it stop you and writing such an entertaining account. I laughed out loud in parts! Great piece of writing.

Thank you so much! The toddler phase is definitely difficult but we can’t imagine giving up traveling until she’s older. So I just tell myself it’s ONLY a few hours in a plane… Even if they are a few miserable hours… Vacation will begin after only a few miserable hours. Somehow that gets me through it. ☺️

Thank you! I never really noticed families with small kids on planes before I became a parent. Now, I not only notice, but I’m quick to help out and offer a toy if I see their baby start to get fussy. You would be surprised how many times a borrowed toy has helped out another family on a plane.

I feel for you, I have only done a flight with my 2 year old niece. It was only 3 hours, but she screamed the whole time!! Am a lot more sympathetic for people travelling with kids as you can’t know how they will be and nothing you can do about it!!

So true! My daughter can go from an angel to screaming her head off in 2 seconds flat. It’s actually kind of impressive. Lol. You really never know how well they will behave on any given flight at this age. Sometimes you get lucky and they are perfect little travelers, and other times they have one meltdown after another.

This made me laugh! Glad you made it to Germany in one piece. I admire your bravery in showing your toddler the world despite all the hard work that goes into traveling with a kid! My parents traveled with me early and often and it’s something I’ll always be grateful for. I’m sure your daughter will love hearing about these adventures when she is older!

Thank you! Part of the reason I started this blog was so our daughter will have memories and records of her travels before she actually remembers them.

I’ve always tried to be sympathetic towards parents with screaming toddlers on planes, but WOW I had no idea the extent of your trauma until I read this hilarious post. You are such a trooper for handling the situation so well (and yes I consider 4+ hours of sleep a win as well). You deserve a pat on the back and I’m stoked to hear you had a great vacation πŸ™‚

Thank you for your kind words. πŸ™‚ It is tough traveling with kids, and sadly, a lot of people are not sympathetic. I can see it in their eyes the minute we walk on the plane. But the choice to have children is not a choice to not travel, so as hard as it can be, we will travel with them anyway. πŸ™‚

Haha I love how you wrote this like a play by play of the events as they occurred. It is painful enough for me trying to make it through an 8 hour flight without a sore back or hurting knees or feeling dehydrated – the list goes on – so I can only imagine what it would be like to have to take care of a screaming toddler on top of that. The wine was a great call – I would need lots of that πŸ˜€

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