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I must start this off by saying that I see you. Flying with your toddlers is a need/want but you’re nervous. You’re not sure what to bring or how to make it a pleasant experience. Your sentiments and concerns are normal.
The good news is that the parents I have spoken with about flying with their toddlers state the experience went smoother than they expected after applying my strategies. The below tips for flying with toddlers are the strategies I now employ after over 50 flights with my ever-changing twin toddlers.
Want details of my strategies for traveling with babies and toddlers in one spot?
Learn more about my e-book:
Traveling with Kids Encyclopedia: The Roadmap to Traveling with Babies and Toddlers
My Experience Flying with Twin Toddlers
I have been flying with my twins since they were 4 months old. And if I’m honest, flying with babies was easier than flying with toddlers.
However, flying with my toddlers is more enjoyable. They are now old enough to participate in the process, and their excitement as they board the plane is priceless.
But it takes strategy. Over the years I have learned the airplane essentials for toddlers, cues for when a tantrum may be on the horizon, and strategies to extinguish most of the said tantrums.
Like with anything with kids, practice makes progress. Travel is no different.
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.
Now, let’s get into these flying with toddler tips.
21 Tips to Flying with Toddlers
1) Have a Positive Mindset
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 to impact how you parent during this experience.
Have a positive mindset. Our kids feed off our vibes.
2) Talk to Your Kids About The Process Ahead of Time
Remember that toddlers are little humans. And most humans do better when they know what to expect.
Walk your toddler through the key steps of flying and be sure to do it in a way that builds excitement for the experience.
This is especially true for their first time flying as a toddler (even if they’ve flown as a baby, walking them through the steps will put words to action). The tv series Super Wings is a great way to expose kids to the various elements of flying while building excitement.
2) Book Early Morning Departures
Personally, if I’m traveling alone with my twin toddlers, we’re taking an early morning flight, before their energy is at full capacity. Plus, the likelihood of delayed or canceled flights is minimum as most of the airplanes are already at the airport from the evening before.
3) Less is More
Contrary to common belief, when traveling with toddlers, less is more. Do not attempt to bring any and everything you think you may need. Only bring what you can comfortably carry.
Remember that wherever you’re going, babies and toddlers live there too. So you can get extra diapers once you get there (even check to see if a delivery service like Amazon or Instacart is available). Plus, most hotels and vacation rentals have washing machines in case you need to clean some of your clothes.
Now, for many of our trips, we are team carry-on, not checking anything, including strollers and car seats. Check out how we carry on everything on the plane.
4) Use a Travel Stroller
One of the key ways that allow us to be team carry-on is by using a travel stroller. Not just any stroller, but one that is compact enough to fit overhead on the plane. In my experience, breaking down the stroller to gate check it and waiting for it to return became a point of frustration for me.
So I searched for one that I could bring on the plane. The GB Pockit Stroller works great for my family. It’s easy to maneuver and use.
If you’re looking for another option, check out the Babyzen YoYo. It offers more features than the GB Pockit Stroller but is also twice the price. With having to buy 2 strollers for traveling with my twins, the GB Pockit was the most affordable option and we don’t have any complaints.
Travel Strollers that fit overhead on a plane:
–GB Pockit Stoller
–Babyzen YoYo Stroller
5) Consider Getting a Wagon for Older Toddlers & Preschoolers
As my boys got older, they acted 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.
6) Get a Lightweight Car Seat
If your family is going to travel rather frequently, consider buying a lightweight car seat. This makes transporting it throughout the airport and your trip a lot easier.
Our personal favorite is the WAYB Pico. This is the mother of travel car seats as it’s foldable, making it super compact! Weighing only 8 lbs, It’s so small it can fit overhead on the plane.
And of course, it meets all the safety requirements. In fact, my husband uses it as his day-to-day car seat. If you’re not going to use it as your day-to-day car seat, and you don’t travel frequently, it may not be the car seat for you as it’s a bit pricey.
Cosco has an affordable, lightweight car seat. It’s under 13 lbs making it fairly easy to carry around. The only drawback is that it’s bulky; so it doesn’t fit overhead.
This was the boys’ first travel car seat. For us, it was so affordable that we purchased a pair to stay at each grandparent’s house, one in Milwaukee and another in Miami, so when we traveled there we didn’t have to travel with a car seat. They were able to fit that car seat for their first 4 years of life, making it worth the extra money.
During the trips that we didn’t need a car seat but wanted a way to protect (and contain) our boys in their own seats, we would use the CARES Harness. It’s super compact, easily fitting into a diaper bag. Plus it’s easy to use, where you simply put the seat belt into the harness and buckle your little one in.
Lightweight/Travel Car Seats:
WAYB Pico Travel Car Seat
Cosco Onlook 2 in 1 Convertible Car Seat
7) Have Snacks On-Hand
If your toddlers are anything like mines, you’re going to want to be armed with snacks, and be sure to bring a variety.
Some of My Boy’s Favorite Snacks:
Cured Meat Sticks
Fresh Fruit in a container
Goldfish or CheezIt
Applesauce in a pouch
A fun way to do snacks is to place a variety in a snack spinner. It holds up to 5 different snacks in a fun and entertaining way for toddlers to enjoy.
8) Bring Candy to Help With Air Pressure
Don’t forget that your toddler is a little human, so they may experience the common side effect of air travel, ear pain. Since toddlers can’t chew gum, you need to recreate that motion of chewing.
If your kid still uses a pacifier, that’s a perfect option as they can suck on that as long as they want.
I personally don’t use candy as a first option, I normally give them a snack that causes them to chew or suck for a while. But when push comes to shove, I do try to keep a dum-dum sucker handy in case the ear pressure continues for an extended length of time.
9) Be Prepared to Entertain Your Toddler
Warning, your toddler is not just going to sit in his/her chair on the plane and read a book. So be prepared to entertain your little one.
I found that 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:
Mess-Free Coloring Book
Amazon Kid Fire Tablet
Kids Foldable Headphones
10) Save the Best Distraction for Later
For most kids, the airport itself can be pretty entertaining- watching the people, seeing the planes, etc. So you don’t want to necessarily lead with their favorite or most interesting toy. Save that for potentially more desperate times- like a delayed flight or fussiness on the plane.
11) Checkout the Airport Kids Play Area
Some airports have play areas specifically designed for kids. This is the perfect area for kids to be kids and burn some energy before boarding a plane. So be sure to check the airport map to see where the play area is located and plan accordingly.
Some US Airports with a Kids Play Area
-Houston, Texas Hobby (HOU)
-Chicago, Illinois O’Hare (ORD)
-Minneapolis, Minnesota (MSP)
-Milwaukee, Wisconsin Mitchell (MKE)
-Detroit, Michigan (DTW)
-Cincinnati, Ohio (CTG)
-Dallas, Texas (DFW)
-Portland, Oregon (PDX)
-Seattle-Tacoma, Washington (SEA)
-Los, Angeles, California (LAX)
-Las Vegas, Nevada (LAS)
-Denver, Colorado (DEN)
-Salt Lake City, Utah (SLC)
-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PHL)
-Boston, Massachusetts Logan (BOS)
-Dulles, District of Washington (IAD)
-New York, New York LaGuardia (LAG)
-New York, New York (JFK)
-Nashville, Tennessee (BNA)
-Miami, Florida (MIA)
12) Take Advantage of “Airport Time”
If the airport you’re flying through does not have a play area, don’t fret. There are other ways to entertain your kids in an airport. The key is to either keep them active or have them use their little brains.
We personally like to walk and explore the airport. Both Atlanta and Detroit airports have very cool walkways between terminals that can keep kids engaged. Another airport activity we like, now that they are a bit older, is playing games like “I spy”. This always keeps them engaged and entertained.
Whatever you decide to do, be sure to burn as much energy as possible before they are stuck on the plane to their next destination.
13) Expect the Best but Plan for the Worst
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.
14) Consider Going to an Airport Lounge
Airport lounges can be more accessible to the general population than a lot of people think. This is especially true if you have a travel credit as many give you discounted or free access to lounges.
Airport lounges are great for kids because they are an enclosed area that has food, clean bathrooms, and fast WIFI, making it an easier location to watch and entertain toddlers at the airport. In fact, some lounges have a room or area specifically designated for kids which may include a tv, games, and toys to keep them entertained during their visit.
Learn more about my favorite cards which include lounge access:
American Express Platinum Business or Personal Cards (I personally the Business card)
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire
15) Invest in TSA PreCheck
If you plan to travel with your little one frequently, and your budget can afford it, invest in TSA PreCheck. TSA PreCheck affords you the opportunity to use a different, of times shorter line to get through airport security. Plus you don’t have to take off your shoes or remove any items from your luggage.
It makes traveling so much easier because you can quickly move through the security process- waiting in line is a common cause of tantrums for my boys. And for $78 for a 5 years membership, with kids 12 and under is free, and it’s worth every penny if your budget can swing it.
16) Dress in Layers
The temperature at airports and on planes can be pretty unpredictable. That’s why we also like to dress the boys in layers, having a sweatshirt or jacket handy, just in case they become cold. The last thing I want as a parent is my kid complaining and whining the entire flight about being cold.
For longer flights, I like to pack a travel blanket.
17) Try to Get Them to Sleep
I don’t think there’s a better feeling when traveling with kids than when they fall asleep on the plane. As I type this, a calming feeling is coming over me.
Now if your kid is like one of my twins, that’s easier said than done. Thus, I have dedicated an entire post to my tips and tricks to get my kids to sleep on the plane.
18) Get a Toddler Airplane Bed
Getting my toddler as comfy as possible, especially for long-haul flights, is key. There’s no better way than turning their airplane seat into a bed.
We personally use the JetKids BedBox. The reason we love ours so much is that it’s a 3-for-1 special. You can use it as luggage as it has a decent amount of storage space, kids’ transportation throughout the airport, and an airplane bed that allows your kid to stretch out in his seat.
19) Plan for Potty Breaks and Use Pull-Ups
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.
20) Be Open to Accepting Help
A lot of parents are concerned about other travelers’ opinions when flying with kids. However, I have found more people to help than not when traveling with kids, especially when traveling alone with them.
At first, I tried to be a superwoman and decline their help. Then I realized I was doing myself a disservice, especially when it came from flight attendants, who are normally more than willing to help. In fact, it’s not uncommon for my boys to finesse themselves to get a special treat or go to the cockpit.
21) Baby and Disinfectant Wipes are your Friends
If you only pack one thing when flying with kids, make sure it’s a wipe of some type, particularly a sanitizing wipe that is safe for your toddler’s skin and effective on surfaces. And you don’t have to worry about the bulk of wipe packs with an on-the-go wipe dispenser.
FAQ: Flying with Toddlers
At What Age Do I have to Purchase My Toddler a Seat?
You are able to fly with a toddler on lap for free (for domestic flights) when your little one is under the age of 2. However, when flying with a kid 2 years or older, a seat must be purchased, at full rate.
Looking to reduce the cost of flying with your toddler once you have to purchase an additional seat? Be sure to sign up for Going. They send flight deals to your inbox, daily. It’s one of my favorite travel hacking tools.
What Documents are Required for a Child to Fly?
If traveling domestically, 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.
However, if you’re flying internationally, your little one will need a passport, despite age.
For international trips, especially when flying with toddlers, be sure to get travel insurance. You want to make sure your little one is covered! My favorite travel insurance, Safety Wing, gives FREE coverage for up to 2 kids per group/family.
What’s the Best Time to Fly with Toddlers?
I personally prefer to fly with my toddlers first thing in the morning, especially when flying alone with them. Other great times to fly with a toddler is during their regularly scheduled nap time or bedtime. That way their body is already scheduled to relax, and possibly sleep.
What Beverages can I take through Airport Security?
As your toddler gets older, some TSA agents may start giving you the side-eye for bringing a beverage through security. However, that doesn’t stop me.
When we get to TSA, the agent asks me 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.
Can I Bring Breastmilk past Airport 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 cold for 20+ hours.
How Far in Advanced Should I Arrive at the Airport when Flying with a Toddler?
When flying with a baby or toddler, it’s essential 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, if not more.
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.
When is the Best Time to Board the Plane with Toddlers?
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.
Flying with Toddlers with Confidence
It’s most definitely possible to fly with a toddler and even enjoy the process. 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 toddlers will eventually become second nature.
Have more questions or need more tips for flying with toddlers, be sure to check out my ebook, The Traveling with Kids Encylopedia: The roadmap to traveling with babies and toddlers.