It’s no secret that flying with toddlers can be super stressful. After all, young kids were not made for sitting still for long periods of time, and airplanes and airports were not designed to accommodate the needs of children. I have dreams of airports with play areas at all gates and planes that have small child sized seats and a ball pit on board… but as it is air travel is really only meant to serve adult needs. This makes the job of traveling a lot harder for children and their caretakers. Some parents may even believe that it’s not worth the hassle to go on vacation.
BUT WAIT! Vacations are so important! And while it’s true that air travel with kids will never be the same as air travel without them, there are ways to make your travels a little more kid-friendly.
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After many airplane trips with my two little ones, here is my ULTIMATE LIST of tips to help make your trip less stressful. Here’s hoping you can benefit from the lessons I’ve learned and fly smoothly.
Flying with Toddlers- 10 Expert Tips
- Bring refillable water bottles
- Bring a stroller that folds up small enough to fit through the security X-ray scanner
- Invest in a toddler travel pillow
- SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS (EVERYBODY!)
- Have a tablet ready to go for your kids
- Bring your own trash bag
- Wrap up a few small presents and a special treat
- Pack an extra set of clothes for each child and put them in your personal item under the seat
- Bring plenty of baby wipes
- Be really nice to the flight attendants
1. Bring refillable water bottles
Because of the ultra low levels of humidity in the cabin airplane rides can be very dehydrating. Dehydration is not fun for anyone, and kids dealing with fatigue and dry eyes due to dehydration are sure to be extra cranky. That is why it is super important to drink plenty of water during your time in the sky.
Having a refillable water bottle, baby bottle or sippy cup for each person flying not only will keep everyone’s thirst quenched, it will save you from spending lots of money on expensive bottles of water in the airport.
A few notes on refillable bottles:
- Make sure they are empty when you pass through security, otherwise you will be stopped and your liquids will be screened. This will force you to spend extra time in the security check line area while you wait for a TSA agent to put the bottle in a machine and test to make sure it’s not a dangerous liquid. Once you are through the security check line, stop by any of the water fountains or refilling stations to stock up on that H2O.
- Sippy cups and bottles are a great way to avoid spilling on the plane. When we order drinks from the flight attendant I typically get the kids apple or orange juice and then pour it directly into the sippy cups.
- FLIP TOP BOTTLES WILL PRESSURIZE DURING FLIGHT. Be sure to unscrew the lid from the base of the cup to release any pressure before you pop open the top of a sealed cup. More than once the kids or I have gotten a geyser to the face of watered down juice. An unwelcome surprise to be sure (but at least it’s hydrating.)
2. Bring a stroller that folds up small enough to fit through the security X-ray scanner
It’s really helpful (and sometimes crucial) to have a stroller with you while you navigate the airport with kids. But unless you absolutely NEED your big bulky stroller at your final destination, bring one that can fold up to a small size and fit through the airport TSA x-ray scanner. The time you will save by having your stroller quickly scanned with the rest of your carry on luggage is priceless.
If your stroller does not fit through the scanner, it will be taken from you while a TSA agent searches it, wipes it with a swab and tests the swab in a machine. This can take many minutes, (depending on how busy the security checkpoint is) and you will be left standing there, staring longingly at your stroller while you hold your baby, your carry ons, and mind the rest of your children in an area where dangerous equipment is within reach and lots of people are rushing and annoyed.
If you have one child, an umbrella stroller is a perfect solution. For sets of two kids, I love this lightweight Joovy Caboose stroller which folds up small enough to fit through. (It’s folded dimensions are 45” L x 21.25” W x 10” H.)
3. Invest in a toddler travel pillow
We recently discovered toddler travel pillows and they are a total game changer. These small, inflatable leg rests fit snugly between your seat and the seat in front of you and make travel for little kids so much more comfortable. You manually inflate them with your mouth once you’re up in the air. They extend the seat the child is in to a lounge chair where they can stretch out their legs, lay down, even sleep!
When they aren’t using the pillow as a leg rest, it’s the perfect little table to stand at and play toys on. It saves you from having to worry about toys constantly falling down into the abyss of the leg area. We recently took a six hour flight across the country and my one year old spent a good amount of time standing on the floor and using the travel pillow as a little play table for her toys.
Another great positive about the travel pillow is that it eliminates having to constantly remind your child not to kick the seat in front of them. Because their little feet and legs are comfortably up and not aimlessly dangling off of the big person airplane seat, they are not swinging them the entire time. (I can’t promise your neighbors in front of you won’t still give you dirty looks, because grumps are gonna grump… but this certainly helped!)
4. SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS (EVERYBODY!)
I fully believe that snacks will make or break your time in the air with kids. You can’t always rely on airlines to provide food to main cabin passengers. Even when airlines say they have food for purchase, there is no guarantee that they will have food available to sell you by the time they get to your seat. Besides that, turbulence is unpredictable and flight attendants sometimes need to stay in their seats for long periods of time. They have to skip offering food and beverage services if it’s too bumpy. In summary… bring plenty of snacks!
My favorite snacks are those that are easy to serve and not too messy. Here is a short list of kid approved food I pack when we fly:
- Freeze dried mangos or apples
- Salami sticks
- Squeeze pouches
- Baby puffs
- Trail mix
- String cheese or cheese squares
- Dry cereal
- Freeze dried cheese
- Whole wheat pretzel sticks
5. Have a Tablet ready to go for your kids
While I am a big advocate for limiting screen time for kids in normal life, I am super grateful for tablets when we are traveling for long periods of time. They provide limitless entertainment for kids with movies, tv shows and games and help tremendously on airplanes. Even my one year old likes to watch Sesame Street on the tablet in flight. Most airplanes are no longer being built with screens in the seat back, so it’s important to bring your own screen. Keep these tips in mind before you leave for the airport:
- Your kids will need comfortable headphones in order to hear what’s playing on the tablet. Airplanes are very loud, and most airlines have restrictions about using speakers on the flight because it may disturb other passengers. My kids are not fans of earbuds or earpods, but these kid sized headphones have worked well.
- Make sure you download content to the tablet beforehand. Many of the games/shows/movies on tablets require wifi to work. Download and do a pre-test a few days before you go to the airport by putting the tablet in airplane mode and disconnecting from wifi at home.
- Download the airline you’re flyings app beforehand on your tablet. Many airlines offer free movies, music and tv, but you usually need their app to experience them during the flight. Once you are flying you won’t be able to download the app (unless you pay for wi-fi in air- see what those sneaky airlines they did there!?) For example, here is Southwest Airline’s free in-flight entertainment instructions: https://www.southwest.com/wifi/.
6. Bring your own trash bag
From wipes and wrappers to spilled snacks, chances are you will be creating more trash than the childless adults around you. Unless you bring your own little trash bag, there is nowhere to put the stuff you’re collecting before the flight attendant comes around to collect trash. I always bring at least one plastic or paper bag along with me. I fill it up and stick either under the seat or in the seat back pocket to keep things tidy.
7. Wrap up a few small presents and a special treat
When all else fails and things are falling apart, sometimes bribery is the only way to keep your kids from totally losing it mid-flight. That’s why I always wrap up 1-2 small presents for each kid. I also bring a piece of candy or other special treat that I can dole out at an opportune time. I like to wrap toys that can be enjoyed immediately in flight. Some of my kid’s favorites have been:
- hot wheels cars
- coloring books with crayons
- sticker books
- little action figures or animals
- duplo legos
- re-stickable window decals
I always wrap presents in brown butcher paper because it’s recyclable. It can also serve as a piece of paper to draw on or decorate. Recycle, reduce, reuse!
8. Pack an extra set of clothes for each child and put them in your personal item under the seat
No matter how careful you and your kids are, there is always a chance that clothes will get messy or wet. I always bring a spare outfit for each kid and keep it with me in my personal item (which is typically a backpack) that I stow under the seat in front of me.
Do not assume that your overhead bin item will be near you when you fly. I was recently on a flight where passengers were being forced to check their carry-on items at the gate because there was no more room in the overhead bins. Be sure that everything you need during the flight is in your backpack or bag, always within reach!
9. Bring plenty of baby wipes
Wipes are such a versatile cleaner and we use them a lot while flying. They are great for cleaning hands, faces and tray tables, as well as cleaning up anything that spills. I always have a pack of them in my backpack!
10. Be really nice to the flight attendants
It’s been my experience that most flight attendants are helpful and understanding as long as you’re polite to them. No matter how prepared you are, you are bound to need extra help or attention when flying with toddlers. Be kind to flight attendants right away. It will earn you points and maybe even a few extra snacks or an airplane wing pin for your children.
Flying with toddlers can be challenging, but the memories made during vacations and trips definitely outweigh the travel struggles. I wish you good luck and smooth sailing wherever you are headed!
– Freeze dried mangos or apples
– Salami sticks
– Squeeze pouches
– Baby puffs
– Trail mix
– String cheese or cheese squares
– Dry cereal
– Freeze dried cheese
– Whole wheat pretzel sticks
– Hot wheels cars
– Coloring books with crayons
– Sticker books
– Little action figures or animals
– Duplo legos
– Re-stickable window decals
Note: This article was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. For current information about safe travel guidelines visit the CDC’s website here.