13 Tips for Traveling with a Toddler on a Plane

Posted by Jane Springston on

We love the innocence, busyness and overall carefree attitudes of small children, but those characteristics we love the most about our little ones don’t always mesh well with air travel. Toddlers have a lot of energy and are trying their hand at a little independence, so when they have to be cooped up in a tight space for several hours, this doesn’t usually make them very happy. So what are you to do when there’s just no getting around a flight with your toddler?

Plane travel with a toddler is a situation that most families will find themselves in at one point or another. So instead of avoiding a vacation you know will bring you joy and memories, you just need to be prepared and have a plan. Here we give you our top 13 tips for getting through the friendly skies with your toddler in tow.

Top 13 Tips for Plane Travel with a Toddler

We’re not going to try to convince you that flying with a toddler is easy, but we have a lot of experience and know first-hand what can make it go as smoothly as possible. Follow along and we’ll give you our 13 tried and true tips!

1. Make a carry-on packing list.

This may sound simple, but you’d be surprised how many people fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to travel. Just as we recommend for traveling with a baby, having a packing list to utilize will make your trip go much more smoothly. Utilize our following tips below to help jumpstart your packing list and then add on whatever you know you’ll need for your little one that makes them the happiest little human in the world.

2. Know the TSA guidelines before you arrive at the airport.

You will feel a lot less frazzled if you know exactly what you’re getting into before you get to the airport. Even if you were a well-seasoned traveler pre-kids, navigating an airport and flights with a toddler will look completely different so you need to plan accordingly. And that means giving yourself even MORE time than recommended to get through security, walk through the airport, go to the bathroom, etc. All the guidelines can be found here, and luckily, you can bring your kiddo’s favorite drink and sippy cup as there is an exemption for small children when it comes to not being able to take liquids in quantities larger than 3.4 ounces.

3. Give them their own suitcase or backpack.

Toddlers love being a part of the action and asserting their independence. Though it may be easier to pack everything into one bag (including all of your toddler’s things), it can really help your little one get excited about traveling if they get to be “in charge” of their own bag and helping to pack it up. We recommend letting them pick out a toddler suitcase or backpack, which will make the process that much more fun for them.

4. Bring plenty of snacks.

Food is many a toddler’s love language, especially when it involves fun snacks. It’s important to bring along lots of options and ones you know that your toddler will eat. This is not the time to be pushing the healthiest foods you know your little one doesn’t care for and you may even want to consider the sweet stuff you don’t typically let your little one have. Luckily, you’re most likely to see success with nutritious but tasty foods that fall right in the middle. (But having those lollipops on hand can be a lifesaver!) Having snack cups that allow your toddler to access their snacks without making a huge mess is key, as well...be sure to check our post on the Best Snack Cups for Toddlers.

5. Splurge for your toddler to have their own seat.

We know paying for the extra seat can be tough to do when it’s not required. But having a toddler on your lap through the duration of your flight really isn’t comfortable for either of you, plus the Federal Aviation Administration even shares that the safest place for your baby or toddler to sit on a plane is in their own seat. So if you can swing it financially, it’s a good idea. Additionally, you’ll want to have them in a government-approved child safety restraint system (carseat) in their own seat, as well. I found this to work very well for my children because they were already used to sitting that way in the car.

6. Enlist help.

Ideally you’ll be traveling with another adult companion, perhaps your toddler’s other parent who can offer equal help, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. In this case, don’t be afraid to ask for help and take it when someone offers. Even with the stress that travel can bring, there are plenty of kind people around who would be more than willing to make your flight go a bit more smoothly. Whether that’s a fellow passenger helping hoist your bags to the overhead compartment or a flight attendant more than happy to entertain your toddler while you get a quick bathroom break, enlisting help can do wonders for making your travels go more smoothly.

7. Fly in the morning.

You may think it’s best to plan a flight during a naptime, but in my experience, going first thing in the morning when your toddler is well-rested and at their happiest is ideal. The problem with waiting for afternoon nap time is that your toddler is much more likely to be getting cranky and the excitement and hustle from the airport may overwhelm them so much that they end up not falling asleep on the plane at all. Flying early likely means you can free up afternoon nap time when you arrive at your destination which will make your traveling start (or end) on the right foot.

8. Prepare with Pull-Ups.

Even if you’ve been in the middle of potty training or you think your toddler is finally getting the hang of it, being on a plane is a terrible time for an accident. You certainly don’t need the added stress of worrying about your little one peeing their pants, especially when the “fasten seatbelt” light turns on and booking it to the bathroom isn’t an option. Putting your toddler in a Pull-Up for a few hours during a flight isn’t going to derail their path to potty training, so you might as well up them in one.

9. Bring a travel stroller.

Lugging a super-heavy stroller through the airport and while you travel isn’t the best-case scenario, so be sure to bring a light, umbrella-type stroller instead. You’ll want to check this later at the gate so that your toddler can sit in it while moving through the airport. This way, it will be right there waiting for you when you get off the plane as well.

10. Overpack the carry-on - just in case.

You’ve heard it before and we’ll say it again, it’s much better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. We know packing with kids can already feel like you’re bringing everything but the kitchen sink, but it is no fun to not have something you need when things don’t go according to plan. As passengers, you’re allowed a certain amount of carry-on space (sometimes free and sometimes not) so use to the fullest extent. Just be sure you have a carry-on that’s easy to transport through the airport (wheels are your friend!) There is always a possibility that your luggage may not make it to your destination as planned, so having back-up items for your toddler is key.

11. Prepare for ear pain.

Ear discomfort is common in young children who are flying. This can lead to irritability (for good reason) and it can be difficult to calm them down even once they do start feeling better. KidsHealth provides great recommendations for preventing and/or alleviating any ear pain your child may experience with the change of air pressure during take-off and landing. One of the top recommendations includes giving your baby water in a sippy cup (we love this one from Baby’s Brew that doubles as snack cup) and you can also give them the proper dosage of acetaminophen or ibuprofen 30 minutes prior to take-off with your doctor’s approval.

12. Pack new and favorite toys and books.

Just as you’ll want to pack a variety of snacks, you’ll also want to have different types of toys and books to keep your toddler entertained. Though you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg, having brand new toys and games your child has never played with can make a huge difference in keeping your little one entertained. I always love taking a trip to the dollar store to see what I can find - usually plenty of little things I know my young kiddos will be excited about. Remember to consider the toy and how “plane-friendly” it is...if little pieces are going to be falling everywhere that will probably just upset your toddler even more.

13. Bend your rules.

As parents, we make rules based out of love for our children and wanting to keep them safe and healthy. We all do the best we can and use the information we have to make informed choices about how best to raise our children. But it’s ok to bend the rules sometimes, and plane travel is certainly high on the list for a time when you should consider allowing yourself to give your toddler more leeway than you ever would otherwise. Giving your toddler candy or letting them watch a show or use an iPad to make it through a flight is completely normal and you shouldn’t feel guilty doing so to relieve the stress that can come with flying.

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