Marquita’s Travels contains affiliate links and is a member of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. If you make a purchase using one of these Amazon links, I may receive compensation at no extra cost to you. Read my disclaimer for more information.
Flying with toddlers can be nerve-wracking, especially since their mood is so unpredictable. And of course, you don’t want to find yourself on a plane with a fussy infant or a tantrum-filled toddler. The below tips are the essential rules I live by when flying with my ever-changing toddlers.
My Experience Flying with Twin Toddlers
I have been flying with my twins since they were 4 months old. Now, at 4 years old, they have been on dozens of flights. If I’m honest, flying with babies was easier than flying with toddlers.
When flying with babies, the hardest part is all of the things you need to bring and carry. Although toddlers can potentially help you carry some of the items and don’t necessarily need as many things, their unpredictable personalities can make flying with a toddler more challenging.
But the good news is practice makes perfect. The more you travel with your toddler, the more comfortable both you and your little one becomes. In fact, at this point, my toddlers fly better than most adults.
Preparing to Fly with Toddlers
Similar to anything you do with toddlers, you have to get into the right mindset. Flying with toddlers is no different. First, you need to think through each step of the flight. Start at the beginning and think about how you will get your toddler and belongings from the car to check in. Then continue through all of the steps until you think through how you will get from the plane to baggage claim, and to your transportation.
At this point, you have done everything in your control.
Outside of what you can prepare, you must allow yourself to go with the flow. And most importantly, do not allow the thoughts, looks, or opinions of strangers impact how you parent during this experience.
Have a positive mindset. Our kids feed off our vibes.
At What Age Do I have to Purchase My Toddler a Seat?
On your toddler’s second birthday, she is no longer eligible to fly as a free, in-lap infant. He must have his own purchased seat to fly.
It’s a good practice to have a copy of your child’s birth certificate on your phone or in your diaper bag just in case you are asked for it. Personally, in my boy’s dozens of flights, I’ve only been asked for it once, when they were small infants.
Prepare Your Toddler for The Flight
Most people want to have an idea of what they can expect during an upcoming activity. Toddlers are no different. Give them an idea of what the process of flying looks like. While you’re doing that, be sure to get them excited about the experience to encourage willful participation. SuperWings is a great show to get toddlers excited about flying.
What’s the Best Time to Fly with Toddler
Personally, if I’m flying with my twin toddlers alone, we’re taking an early morning flight, before their energy is at full capacity. Other great times to fly with them is during their regularly scheduled nap time or bedtime. That way their body is already scheduled to relax, and possibly sleep.
What do I Bring when Flying with a Toddler?
Make sure to pack what you can conveniently carry. The last thing you want to do is get yourself flustered from all the stuff you have to drag through the airport- remember, your toddler is an unreliable helper. So they may say they will carry their luggage, but we all know this may or may not happen.
Snacks, Snacks, and More snacks
Be sure to bring a variety of your toddler’s favorite snacks. Some of my boy’s favorite snacks:
- Dried Fruit
- Veggie Straws
- Cheese Sticks*
- Cured Meat Sticks*
- Pop Corners
- Fresh Fruit in a container
- Goldfish or CheezIt
- Yogurt or Applesauce in a pouch*
- *recommend these for short flights when the items can stay cold
As your toddler gets older, some TSA agents may start giving you the side-eye for bringing a beverage through security. What I personally do is fill my toddler’s cup with a beverage. When we get to TSA, the agent will ask you to open the cup so that he can wave a test above the opening to ensure it doesn’t contain a suspicious chemical. I’m personally okay with this process. If you are not, then you will have to buy your toddler’s beverage after you pass security.
You can bring any amount of breastmilk through security. But it must be frozen. If it’s not frozen, be prepared to undergo a similar process as I mentioned above for beverages. This portable breastmilk container is a great way to keep up to 34 ounces of breastmilk cold for 20+ hours.
How to Entertain a Toddler when Flying
Variety is key. And so is nostalgia and something “new.” I recommend having at least one item that is either new or hasn’t been played with in a while. Some parents even wrap said new gifts to create excitement.
You can get a lot of great entertainment for flying with your toddler at The Dollar Store and Target’s Dollar Section. If you don’t have the time or energy to go to the store, check out MiniVoyager. They curate travel entertainment kits based on your kid’s age.
Some of my boys favorite travel toys:
Strollers and Car Seats when Flying with a Toddler
When flying with a baby or toddler, one of the first things that go through our heads is “what the heck should I do with the stroller and car seat” and “do I have the correct ones?”
The first thing you need to know is that you can check strollers and car seats for free, either at the check-in counter or gate.
For strollers, I recommend a compact stroller. The GB Pockit Stroller allows you to roll the stroller on the plane and put it in the overhead compartment. This is ease of use at its finest, especially when flying with twins solo.
I could baby wear one (when they were flying as babies), while pushing the other directly on the plane. Once they became too big to baby wear, I would have the one who was walking help me push his brother on the plane.
One of the most frequent questions I get is “should I use a car seat on the plane?”
A car seat is not required on the plane. It is a personal decision. Please note that you have to purchase a seat for a car seat to be used, however.
The only way you can get around that is if the seat next to you happens to be open. You can ask the gate agent before boarding. If the seat is open, great, take the car seat on the plane. If it’s not, gate check it.
Personally, I don’t use car seats on the plane because carrying two car seats, along with our other belongings is overwhelming for me (know thy self). Instead, I use the CARES Harness.
Recently, I discovered the WAYB Pico, a portable car seat. It’s amazing as it only weighs 8lbs. I used this on the plane with the boys and it works wonderfully. This is the only car seat I will use on a plane.
Now that my boys are a bit older, they act like they wouldn’t be caught dead in a stroller. That’s where a wagon comes in handy. It serves as a great way to transport our kids through the airport. Plus, when my boys need to burn a bit of energy, they push the wagon.
I gate check the wagon.
There has been only one incident in our dozens of trips with a wagon, where the gate agent checked our wagon to baggage claim and not at the gate. Personally, those odds are worth the convenience of the wagon.
Want a list of my must-have items when traveling with toddlers and babies? Check out this post.
At the Airport
When to Arrive at the Airport
When flying with a baby or toddler, it’s important that you arrive at the airport early. And when I say early, I mean the recommended 2 hours for domestic flights and 3 hours for international flights.
The last thing you want is to have to rush through the airport with a toddler in tow. You want to be as calm and collected as possible. Again, your kid will feed off your energy.
Getting through Security
If you plan on flying with your toddler a few times a year, I highly recommend TSA PreCheck. PreCheck normally has shorter lines; in addition to allowing you to keep your shoes on and belongings in your luggage. Trust me, with every minute and hassle saved when flying with a baby, the likelihood of a tantrum decrease.
Plus $85 for a 5-year membership and kids under 18 can use it for free with their parent or guardian, is worth it.
Take Advantage Of “Airport Time”
The airport is the place to allow your kids to walk up and down the hallway (chaperoned of course.) You want them to burn as much energy as possible before they are stuck on the plane to their next destination. Make sure to ask if there is a kids play area; several airports now offer them.
Potty Breaks when Flying with a Toddler
Before boarding the plane, be sure to have a potty break. Most airports have family bathrooms so be on the lookout for those. There are a lot more spacious, plus they always have a baby changing station. Some even have toddler-size toilets and sinks.
Speaking of potty breaks, if you are flying with a toddler that is in the midst of potty training, you may want to use a Pull-Up as a backup while on the plane, especially for longer flights. Of course, you can continue to encourage your toddler to go to the bathroom while on the plane, but it makes an already stressed mama’s life a bit easier.
Now that my toddlers are older, when flying I give them the option of wearing a Pull-Up or telling me when they have to go to the bathroom. They always opt for their underwear and do a great job telling me when they have to go.
Layovers and Flight Delays with Toddlers
Layovers and delays with toddlers can make any mama’s mind anxious. This is normal.
During a layover or delay, the first thing I like to do is grab everyone a bite to eat. The easiest way to irritate most humans is hunger. Food has a way of putting most people in a good mood.
After we have eaten, I normally find an empty gate where there is plenty of space for my kids to run around and be toddlers. This may be a good time to dig into some of the entertainment that you brought for the plane. Hopefully, they’ll burn so much energy during the layover or flight delay, they’ll fall asleep on the plane.
If our layover or flight delay is a decent amount of time, we will go to an airport lounge. Children under 2 are free at most lounges, and many agents will allow toddlers to get in free, despite the rules.
On the Airplane
Boarding the Plane
Most airlines allow parents with kids in strollers to board the plane early. This will give you extra time to gate-check your stroller or car seat, as well as get settled in your seat before the majority of passengers board.
Toddler’s Ears Popping while Flying
It’s common for our ears to pop while flying, and a baby or toddler is no different. The best way to help them with their popping ears is to offer them a snack or beverage. Chewing and sucking are great ways to alleviate pressure in our ears. An applesauce pouch normally does the trick.
How to Settle Your Toddler while Flying
We all know that toddlers can be unpredictable. And sometimes, no matter how much we prepare, our toddlers can become unsettled. When this happens while on the plane, I walk my boys up and down the aisle. The other passengers normally wave and say ‘hi’ and the flight attendants eat it up (and normally throw in some goodies). This normally does the trick.
Flying with a Toddler without the headache
I know all of this may sound overwhelming. But believe me, YOU CAN DO IT!
Just remember to get your mindset right, prepare what you can, and let the rest go, similar to anything else when it comes to parenting.
You will learn what works best for you and your kiddo(s) and flying with a toddler will eventually become second nature.