Top 12 Tips for Air Travel With a Toddler
Air travel with a toddler is always interesting. We’ve done it more times then I ever imagined we would. It all started when Little MPB was under 10 days old and took his first flight across the USA. Then, a few weeks later he took another flight home to Canada. We’ve also been to see family a few times and we took a trip to Iceland when he was 17 months old, and took a trip to Hawaii when he was about 2 years old. I think he’s taken a total of 16 flights so far. And I know that by the time he’s 3 he’ll have taken 20 flights because we have two more trips (visit to see Little MPB’s birth mother and Hawaii) already booked. That’s insane!!
Anyways, clearly we have become a bit of an air travelling family. And, I have to say, I think we have become pretty good at it. So in the interest of sharing based on our experiences, our biggest lessons learned so far are:
- Always bring the car seat on the plane. When we don’t bring his car seat on the plane, Little MPB will not sit still as he doesn’t understand a regular seat belt. Last time we tried to fly without his car seat, it was a disaster. So, we fought with him to get him to play on the ground by our feet or we walk up and down the aisle. When we bring his car seat on the plane, he just settles right in because he knows his car seat just from day to day car travel at home. So, after one colossal failure, we now bring his car seat on the plane every single time.
- Invest in a car seat carrier for walking through the airport. We use Britex car seats, so we have the Britex car seat travel cart (which I was able to find second hand in perfect condition). It
doubles as a stroller when we are walking through the airport and it makes carrying the car seat easy. That said, it doesn’t come with any sort of way to physically attach the car seat to the carrier. So, a word from the wise, buy bungy-cords or luggage straps to make sure you can attach the car seat. There is nothing more frustrating then trying to balance a car seat on a tiny cart while walking through an airport with your arms full, so don’t even bother trying.
- Do not bring a stroller through security – we’ve tried it and it’s just not worth it. Toddlers needs to burn energy before being forced to sit still on an airplane, so walking is best. And, your arms are too full with carry-on luggage and the car seat anyways.
- Find toddler play areas at the airport – they are a great way to burn toddler energy before they are forced to sit on an airplane.
- Split parenting duties very clearly. One parent carries all the carry-on luggage, including the car seat and tickets/ID’s. The other parent is solely responsible for the toddler. (For us, I’m the sherpa, and Mr. MPB is on toddler duty – neither of us can remember how the roles were assigned, but it works so we will stick with it). We let Little MPB run/walk in the airport so we absolutely need one parent to have the ability to run and catch the toddler. This strategy is probably one of the most important key to our airport survival.
- Arrive very early for your flight and give yourselves lots of time. I find these days airports are generally full of stressed out people and security line-ups rarely bring out the best in stressed out people. But add a toddler into the mix and they are just not fun because security lines and waiting times are extra hard with a toddler and there is no way around it. There is no way around the security line-up angst, so just be prepared. Again, we divide and conquer even at this stage – one person is responsible for all the carry on luggage while going through security and the other is responsible for Little MPB. Mr. MPB always takes Little MPB through security as I always set the machines off, and that causes way too many problems. Oh, and make sure you wear security friendly clothing, because the more belts, sweaters, shoes, etc. that you have to take off, you have to also put back on, while managing a toddler (I basically wear yoga pants, simple slip-on shoes and a t-shirt – I bring a sweater in a bag to put on after I’m through security).
- Bring lots of snacks so you have your basis covered if the toddler demands something different because airports/airplanes are not the time for a toddler-logic arguments. Be aware that once your kid is two years old, security will take away fruit pouches over 100ml. Under 2, you can bring basically anything baby related regardless of size. After, two, just don’t even bother trying. (Although security did offer to let me leave the security screening area, eat some and then re-join the 30 minute security line, leaving Mr. MPB with Little MPB and all the carry-on luggage – to which, I politely declined and asked them to throw out the perfectly good $4 worth of fruit pouches).
- Bring a fully charged tablet with pre-downloaded Netflix shows and age appropriate games. We regularly limit TV time to Saturday and Sunday morning cartoons at home. But, when we travel, we are all about rewarding his patience with way too much tablet time. We generally let him play at the airport playgrounds until he’s had enough, then we’ll let him use his tablet until we board the flight. On the actual flight, we let him use his tablet again. We make sure everything we have pre-loaded is age appropriate so that he can transfer between TV and games without our help.
- Because we let Little MPB use his tablet, toys are not a necessity on the plane. When we do bring them, Little MPB tends to drop them and they roll and then other people are searching under the seats to give them back to us or flight attendants are tracking us down trying to return them. Now, we just bring one or two toys that we don’t care if we lose on longer flights.
- Baby carriers worked for us when Little MPB was an infant. Oddly, the flight attendants required he be out of the carrier for take-off and landing, but during the flight it was a great way to keep him safe and still allow me to have my hands free. But, I will say, once Little MPB was slightly older and larger (6 month+) the carrier was horrible on the plane. There just wasn’t enough space for him to be attached to me in regular seats. And we haven’t even bothered since. That said, we were not a baby carrier family, so those who are more used to them for longer periods of time, might have different results then we did.
- We always buy plus seats – or at least we always buy them, when we can afford them. Which really means, for shorter flights, we buy plus seats because the upgrade is usually about $50 per person. For longer flights, sometimes we do and sometimes we do not. Ideally, we’d love the space on the longer flights, but sometimes it is cost-prohibitive. The plus seats are not first class, but they do give us 4 inches of extra space. 4 inches makes a HUGE difference when you have a toddler playing at your feet or even just fitting the car seat into the seat!!
- We are basically always the first people on the plane. When pre-boarding starts, we are ready to get on the plane first. Again, as per our clearly defined roles, one parent get’s Little MPB to the plane and entertains him in an empty row, while the other parent secures the car-seat and the bags. We always keep Little MPB’s carry-on bag at our feet so that his stuff is close by. I will say, entertaining Little MPB while we get his seat ready is becoming easier as Little MPB becomes more and more interested in looking out a window to watch everything that is happening outside.
If you ever have any questions on airport travel with a toddler, feel free to let me know. And of course, if you have any tips I’ve missed, please share!
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You are far braver than we were when our sons were that age! My husband and I did not fly with our sons until they were almost 5, and that has still been their one-and-only flight to date (they’re now 6 1/2).
I’m flying alone with A in two weeks! This is amazing advice, thank you so much. It’s our last flight before she turns 2. I had no idea that once they are over 2 you can’t bring packets of food. That sucks.
These are great tips!! Thanks for sharing your acquired wisdom!
I have to completely disagree with you on the stroller. As a mother of multiples, our stroller is our life line. Not only does it help us carry any extras, my kids are very happy and comfortable to hang in the stroller. In high traffic areas, into the stroller kids go. I’m about to take my crew (twins now 3.5 and the baby almost 1) across the country by myself.
And I’m also not on the car seat train either. My parents were military and I’ve traveled all over the world. Id never seen anyone use one until I had my own kids. I have Dionos so I’m just not doing that. My kids thankfully aren’t wanderers. But whatever works mama!
Honestly, the only thing I can’t forget traveling is spare diapers/change of clothes. The emergency kits In The airport are TERRIBLE! And kids clothes are very expensive. We weren’t into lots of screen time until our last vacation where we drove 27hrs so a video system was purchased. If you are into toys/treats, I recommend going to party city and getting small, fun things. When my crew started to get antsy, they could pick a surprise bag. It was a big hit.
So, first, anyone who travels with twin toddlers, let alone twin toddlers and a baby, is nothing short of a hero! My advice is absolutely not going to work with more then 1 toddler to chase!
And if your kid is happy in a stroller, then a stroller would probably make more sense. For me, there is no amount of bribery or parenting trickery that I’ve been able to find which will get my kid into a stroller.
As for the car seat on the plane, I agree, I never saw them until more recently. I have no idea how you’d even manage to bring 3 car seats onto a plane if you tried. I also don’t think car seats would be much of an option with more then 1 kid. And I also think by about 4 we wont use the car seat anymore. Maybe even 3.5?
Oh the diapers. That’s a good one I completely missed discussing. We also do a 5 minute before boarding diaper change. And then we hope and pray we don’t have a blow-out mid-flight. And we always bring an extra set of clothing in our diaper bag (even for outings near home) so that we aren’t stuck with a naked toddler.
I love the surprise bag idea – we’ll definitely try that on our next flight!