International Travel with a Toddler: Air Travel

Air travel was tough. Or more specifically, we learned that air travel is tough when you are flying with a very active toddler under the age 18 months old.

Our flight to Iceland was at night, so we were hoping for some sleep.  In fact, we needed sleep as we were scheduled to land at 6am, pick up our rental campervan and start driving to the Golden Circle right away.  Sleep was critical.  Unfortunately thanks to pure bad luck we were located right next to the washrooms, which meant Little MPB basically stirred every single time someone went to the bathroom – which was about every 3-5 minutes for the entire duration of the flight.  Also, we purchased little MPB had his own seat, but did not bring his car seat to sit in, which meant it was hard to get him to sleep and one of us would have to stay awake to make sure he didn’t fall of the chair.  About 4 hours into the flight, which was also about 4 hours after his bedtime, he finally fell asleep….for 1 hour.  Needless to say the Adult MPB’s did not sleep a wink on the flight there.

As for our return flight, we had much better seats, no-where near the bathroom.  Thank god!!! Little MPB slept for 2 hours of the flight on Mr. MPB.  Which was great, because Little MPB napped.  As for me, once Little MPB woke up, my watch tracked over 1km of walking up and down the aisle on the plane, as I followed little MPB up and down the aisle more times then I could count.  I didn’t even know it was possible to walk that much on a plane!!  Needless to say, the flight home, during daytime hours, was approximately 1000 times better then the nighttime flight next to the bathrooms.

But truthfully, if I never have to get on a plane with a toddler under 18 months old again, that’s fine by me!

My long haul flight with a toddler lessons were:

  • Do not, under any circumstances, sit next to the bathroom with a toddler who needs to sleep.
  • Fly with a car seat.  We booked a seat for Little MPB, but after a lot of debate we chose not to bring his car seat.  We talked with other parents who said they didn’t like using them on the plane at this age because their kids hated them.  We also knew that once in Iceland we were required to use a European car seat, and we didn’t want to pay to store our Canadian car seat for the duration of our trip.  Honestly, the other similar aged child on the flight who was in a car seat slept for most of the night time flight, I was beyond envious.  Next time, for a long haul flight, I’d absolutely bring the car seat and pay to store it if necessary.
  • Don’t assume you’ll get any sleep.  Next time we travel internationally, we will plan a day of nothing for the first day.
  • Walk as much as your toddler needs to.  Every single person in an aisle seat was great with Little MPB as we walked the plane.  His first few trips down the aisle he nervously held my hand.  Then as his confidence grew he started engaging with people who tried to interact with him.  And eventually he was running the aisle, high fiving people and even playing with an old man’s toes (I was mortified, the old man laughed).  I did make a point to direct Little MPB away from sleeping passengers as to not wake them up.  And, I think key to our aisle walking strategy is that Little MPB didn’t cry once and he also didn’t say much (when he meets new people he’ll interact with them but he will not speak to them for a while – it’s his version of being shy).  People seemed to really enjoy his cuteness and also sympathize with me as I followed him up and down the aisle.
  • Icelandair* was great with Little MPB.  On our flight there they gave him a free dinner and on the flight home they gave all the kids a bag of toys/books.  Whenever we asked for milk, they brought us some.  When we asked for a blanket, he got one.  As we walked the aisle, all the flight attendants smiled and made space for us to pass.  And when we accidently forgot one of his toys on the plane, the flight crew found me at the luggage carousal and returned it before I even knew we lost it.  Honestly, we really didn’t care about the Elmo Car, but it was such a nice gesture that they tracked us down and returned it.

I suspect long distance air travel will be easier once he can talk and understand things a bit better….maybe by the time he’s 3 or 4?  

* this is not a sponsored post.  My comments are based solely on our recent experience flying with Icelandair.

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15 Comments on “International Travel with a Toddler: Air Travel

  1. Yeah I can imagine having a walking little person would be so difficult on a plane!!!! We had a hard time flying in the evening/night as well. If we had to fly again, I’d definitely choose to fly during the day even though its harder to play lol

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Day flights are easier, no doubt. I flew with G when he was 11 months to India (2, 10 hr flights with a 4 hr layover) and I hated the night part. each time G stirred and cried, I felt horrible because other passengers lost sleep. Also, one key thing I learnt the hard way was with kids, absolutely no window seats near the engine! When the engine starts for take off, the kids scream their lungs out with the noise.


    • I cannot even imagine how you handled 2, 10 hr flights and a 4hr layover!! You may be some sort of super mom!!!
      Good tip about the engine, I would never have known this!! And, I’ll definitely remember this for next time we fly.


  3. Oh man, that is rough! We recently moved to Europe and consequently have weathered a lot of plane trips, but our youngest was a few months past 2 when we started. Honestly, I think it’ll get easier sooner than you think because by the time they are geting past 2 they can usually be entertained for much longer with electronic devices/plane movies. So hopefully you won’t have to put off more international travel too too long! The carseat is definitly a must though.

    Can’t wait to read about your trip to Iceland! I really want to go one of these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We tried the tablet and plane movies, but he’s attention span just wasn’t long enough for this to be terribly effective. Also, all he wanted to do was touch the screen and the buttons, so he constantly ended the movie or the game we had opened for him. We assume with age he’ll figure this out. 🙂
      I don’t know if you moved from North America (as opposed to somewhere else in the world), but if you are travelling to North America in the future IcelandAir offers free layovers in Iceland for those travelling between Europe and North America. Could be a good way to squeeze in a visit to Iceland one day. 🙂


      • It will definitely get easier! Around 2/2.5 is when ours developed a bit more of an attention span for that sort of thing, though the youngest is almost 3 and STILL does the thing where she clicks away and then freaks out, haha. And we did move from the States and are planning to go back for a visit next year and I’m VERY interested in the free stopover in Iceland. Only problem is that I need to get to an airport that IcelandAir serves (ours in Catania is tiny), but I think it could be worth the extra flight. I take it you recommend??

        Liked by 1 person

      • Is highly recommend it!! Iceland is very pricey but we found a have a few tricks to help out on costs (rent an airbnb place with a kitchen, rent a car and do your own tours, etc.). And while we did 12 days, you can probably get a really good feel for Iceland with a shorter 4-5 day visit based out of Reykjavik.


  4. I’m so glad you shared these tips about the car seat. We are traveling in august out of the country and I wanted to bring the car seat on the plane and my husband disagrees. I’ll be showing him your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. But not impossible? Thanks for this! We’re thinking of doing some international travel when ours is close to one and I’ve been worried about how hard it’ll be. I know walking/crawling is particularly difficult because the kid just wants to go go go, but at least it’s not impossible. As long as you’re willing to walk 1k on a plane, hah.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Things are def pretty good by 3. My brother and his family fly a lot as live overseas and his eldest was already gunning it by 2.5years. It just depends on the child I guess. The whole experience is def a bit brutal! Hehe 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We have lived in Africa since our little one was born so lots of long flights for us to go home to see family or travel for work— his first 10+ h flight was at 4m (ahh… the good ol days). For the last year (so between 10m and 22m) we love night flights– we make a little tent over his seat with a sweater or blanket to keep it a bit dark and swear by our Flytot so that he can get some rest and we can too. I don’t think I could handle 19h of flying time if he didn’t sleep for a chunk of it. We have also done some shorter (5h) trips, and find he will almost always get a nap in with the Flytot. (i have no relationship with them, just a happy customer)

    Liked by 1 person

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