My Top Tips for Flying with Toddlers

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This post is on my top tips for flying with toddlers.

Summer has arrived in full swing.  And that means some sort of travel for many families.  And flying. With your children. Did anyone else just gulp?

My hubby and I have traveled cross-country with our kiddos, as well as hopped one-hour flights. We’ve been delayed, changed planes twice (hmmm, maybe three times?) in one day, been diverted to different airports, had our luggage lost, and had our kids get sick en route.

I’m knocking on wood somewhere…but I think we’ve seen A LOT when it comes to flying with kiddos.

So, here are some of my top tips for flying with toddlers and preschoolers – I hope they help you and your family this summer!

1. Plan Ahead for Packing

Remember to sleep the night before.  I have traveled both ways…with sleep and without sleep (i.e. I left packing my entire family of four to the night before…after my kids went to bed).  No sleep = not worth it. Ask a friend, a parent, your spouse, or a babysitter to help with occupying the munchkins the day before so you can get your travel errands and packing done.  Better yet?  Start early.  Do laundry a couple of days prior, and instead of putting clothes away, start stacking them in suitcases.

2. Bring your Stroller (with Mommy Hooks)

I have a three and five-year-old who are perfectly capable of walking.  Of course they are.  But guess what?  My latest “it will only be a quick one hour hopper flight” turned into an hour and a half delay at the first airport…then, once we arrived…“the bags took an extra half hour to arrive at baggage claim and it took 15 minutes to walk to the car” issue.

Toddlers and preschoolers get cranky, drag their feet, want to be held, don’t want to hold their backpacks, try to make a break for it to the nearest gift shop (okay, that was my three-year-old), and whine when they’re tired.

3. Gate Check Your Stroller 

Gate check the stroller (make sure you check in at the counter to get a special tag)…and like magic, it’s there as soon as you leave the plane.  If you’re worried about it getting damaged, go buy a cheap $15 or $20 umbrella stroller.  Believe me, it’s worth the investment.

4. Carefully Pack Your Child’s Travel Backpack. 

And don’t make it too heavy for little ones to carry.  Here’s my list (concluded from trial and error):

New coloring book and a baggie of four or five crayons (you don’t need the whole box – takes up too much room and more opportunity for them to dump them).

– New (small) paperback book.

– Small portable (already charged!) DVD player.

– No more than two movies per kid (I usually try to pick up a new movie per kid, for $4.99 from Target so it’s new and more special.).

– I stock up on several small Dollar Store or Target “Dollar Spot” new toys or trinkets…it’s cheap, it’s new, and it makes it feel special for the airplane.  Just make sure to ration out the new items for your trip over AND your trip back.  Same goes for movies.

– One to two small toys (For my son, it’s trains or cars.  For my daughter, little dolls or figurines).

– If they’re old enough, flash cards, mini game sets, a deck of cards for Go Fish, etc.

– One set of snacks per kid – ideas include animal crackers, individual packets of Goldfish, fruit snack packet, raisin boxes, fruit slices in baggies, etc.

One (empty) sippy cup or small water bottle.  SO much easier to fill after you get through security.  You can even go straight to the water fountain!  Plus, my kids are known for their little “butterfingers” and easily spill those flimsy airplane plastic cups.  So just fill up their own cup!

Pack some of these musts in your diaper bag…

– First of all, try to wear a backpack versus carry a heavy diaper bag.  I use my husband’s laptop backpack.  The weight is evenly distributed and it’s SO much easier when you already have your hands full.

 – An easy to fold shirt for EVERYONE, including you and your spouse.  We always pack the kid a new shirt.  But what happens when orange juice or milk is spilled on you?  Take it from me.  Pack a shirt for yourself.

– An extra pair of underwear for each kid (if potty trained).

– If NOT potty trained, here’s my advice – stock up on overnight diapers in your favorite brand.  My kids used to freak out in those little airplane bathroom changing tables (is something that small really even considered a “table?”).  I changed them right before boarding…then depending on the length of the flight, I kept them in their overnight diaper unless there was a “number 2” incident.  Then, I changed them as soon as we get off the plane. So.much.easier.

– A new package of wipes.  You will use them for everything.

– An extra pair of socks for each kid.  Tootsies can get cold.

– An empty freezer Ziplock bag – dump the gross toys that fall to the ground and roll around in here.  Easy to separate them from the clean ones.

– Lollipops for the kids…reserved for takeoffs and landings.  Some moms I know use gum (with my kids, this would be disastrous), sippies/water bottles to suck on, pacifiers for little ones…really, anything that can help their ears pop in a pinch.

My last topic to discuss – car seats.

Ahhh, car seats.  And the endless debate – to check or not to check?  Again, we’ve done it both ways.  Here’s my two cents.

We have done it both ways.  Now that my kids are older, I definitely check both car seats.  I never rely on a car rental place to have car seats, even if they guarantee them.  We buy the car seat bags at Babies ‘R Us for $13.99, pop the car seats in them, and away they go.  They have a handle for easy pick up, and we find it really helps avoid car seat damage.

Now, when my babies were between a year-old and three-years-old, my hubby and I decided to bring the car seat on the airplane with us, strap it into the airplane seat, then strap our kiddo in.  We decided this for several reasons.

– I refused to correct my toddler every five seconds (on a cross country flight) to not play with their seatbelt and unstrap themselves.  I needed my sanity if I was going to get through whatever loooonnnngggg flight I was on.

– They felt more comfortable and secure in their own seat that they were accustomed to on a daily basis.

– Unless they needed to stretch or walk to the bathroom, their bottoms stayed strapped in the car seat.  Secure.  Safe.  And safely confined. 

I know lots of my friends who lap sit their one or two-year-olds.  And it works for them.  And they save airfare for an extra seat.  And their kid snuggles in and sits quietly and plays. I am jealous of those mamas.

For my husband and I, this buying the extra seat for our toddler has always been worth it if it’s more than an hour flight.  Because when my kids were one or two, they were their most wiggly, curious, squirmy and active.  Oh, and loud.  VERY LOUD when they didn’t get their way (and no amount of “time outs” worked for us since we were confined to the seat.  Ugh.)

And at that little age, they still didn’t quite understand the importance of sitting still and staying in their seat. Hence, strapping their cute little tushies in their own five-point harness.

Tip – call the airline ahead of time and confirm the size of their seats and discuss the type of car seat you plan on bringing.  I have never heard of an airline that does not allow a car seat on the plane, but it’s always good to double check.

 Okay, that’s all of my travel tips for now – please share your ideas below with us fellow mamas so we can all have successful, happy airplane trips with our kiddies this summer!

Photo credit 2011 Kuster & Wildhaber Photography, Flickr.

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