Traveling with a toddler for the first time can be an exciting adventure, but it can also come with its fair share of challenges, especially when it comes to flying. From restless little ones to unpredictable tantrums, navigating airports and airplanes with a young child requires some extra planning and preparation. However, follow some of these top tips on how to travel with a toddler on a plane and you can make the journey enjoyable and stress-free for both you and your toddler.
In this blog post, we will explore some valuable tips and tricks to ensure a smooth and pleasant flight with your little traveller. Most of which have been tried and tested by us ourselves! On our recent long haul trip to Orlando with a 2.5 year old as well as a short haul flight to Barcelona with him when he was 1.5years old. If you want to know more about our travel party, click here to meet the family!
1. Planning for How to Travel with a Toddler on a Plane
One of the keys to a successful trip with a toddler is thorough planning. Sounds a little boring right? But with a little planning you can make sure you have the best time! Start by booking flights during times that align with your child’s sleep schedule.
We tried this on our recent Orlando flights and they changed the flight time twice in about 6 months! Meaning that our 10:40am flight ended up at 1:40pm (right smack bang in the middle of nap time!) Noah was very understandably excited and stayed awake the whole 9 hours until touch down! Meaning we had to carry a very heavy lump through security!
If possible, opt for a direct flight to minimize layovers and reduce the overall travel time. But if you have to connect make sure you give yourself plenty of time to make any connections! As it will take extra time with any small children. This is when baby carrier for young children comes in handy as it means you’ve still got your hands free!
Take advantage of online check-in apps to avoid long queues at the airport! Be sure to pack all the essentials your toddler may need during the flight, such as nappies, snacks, toys, and a change of clothes. (We’ll explore more below!) For the airport choose a suitable travel stroller that you can take all the way up to gate with you! Try and prepare for airport security in advance. Pack light with your hand luggage and separate liquids into clear plastic bags so that it makes security a breeze!
2. Choose the Right Airplane Seat:
Firstly when booking air travel for your family, one of the first things to look at it the airlines policies on babies/toddlers travelling. For example a general rule for most major airlines, is that those under 2 years of age are permitted to travel as a lap infant. This means they won’t have their own seat and will be expected to share yours.
For a short flight this could be a good solution to avoid the extra cost of an additional seat and save a little money on the flights. But on international flights or long haul flights it might not be the best way to travel! On a longer flight you’ve got to consider how many adults can share the load of the lap infant. If you’re on a 9 hour transatlantic and you need the bathroom or you want to rest your own eyes, is there some one else who can watch the baby? Or are you stuck with holding them for the entire flight?
Another option to beat the long flight is go for the bulkhead seats and try and get a bassinet or ‘sky cot’. These usually attach to the wall in front of your seat and mean you can lie baby down flat or in a reclined chair on some flights. Freeing up your hands and giving you a little space back! Another option if the bulkhead isn’t possible is booking an extra seat and using the extra room for your infant. But this obviously incurs an extra cost!
There’s the ongoing debate whether airlines should charge for choosing your seats on the plane in advance. But without a doubt this can soon get very expensive if you’ve got a family of 4 and you‘re spending £50 per person, per leg on the journey. You’re instantly looking at £400 extra on top of those bargain flights you found! If you book as a package deal seat selection may be included. But if you don’t want to pay or can’t you have a few options. Often some airlines will open seat selection 24hrs prior to your flight when check in opens. But then you are restricted to what is left over. If you really aren’t happy with what’s left you can try and speak to someone at the airport. Hopefully they can look at what options you might have but these may be limited.
Also something to be very wary of is an airlines individual policy to where children sit in relation to their adults travelling with them. Take our recent trip with Virgin Atlantic. As I mentioned our original flight time moved twice as they changed planes. (we actually came home on a plane that was only on its 2nd/3rd day of flying! It was so lovely and new!) Anyway as Virgin automatically chose our seats on this new plane Noah (at 2yrs 9 months) was placed across the aisle from us. As in Virgin’s eyes this is considered as a child sitting next to an adult.
Now I know this was done by an automated system, and we did spot it early enough to change it ourselves but imagine if we hadn’t? I wonder if the two strangers sat next to Noah would make friends and keep him occupied giving us 9 hours of peace!
Selecting the appropriate seat on the plane especially on long-haul flights, can make a significant difference in your toddler’s comfort and your own convenience. Consider booking a bulkhead seat or one with extra legroom to provide more space for your child to move around. The extra floor space provides a great way to allow children a little extra space without disturbing other passengers. Depending on your party size a window seat may be a good idea to let your children look out onto the clouds. But additionally, the aisle seats allow for easier access to the bathroom and allows your toddler to stretch their legs without disturbing fellow passengers. Every journey there‘s lots of factors to consider when choosing what is the best seat for you and your family dynamic!
3. Pack Entertainment:
Keeping your toddler entertained during the flight is crucial to prevent boredom and restlessness. Pack a variety of age-appropriate small toys, books, and activities to keep their attention. We were lucky and won a £25 entertainer voucher which we decided to spend on new toys for the flight. We had also got a bargain Trunki from Boots so that became his hand luggage for all his treats. Ideal toys we found helped were fidget toys, sticker/colouring books, small cars and water colouring books. Consider bringing their favourite stuffed animal or blanket to provide comfort and familiarity. Pre-load tablets or smartphones with their favourite programmes and games. At home, screen time might not be allowed but it could be a useful tool to distract a little one!
4. Snacks and Hydration:
Hunger and thirst can strike and ruin an adult or child’s journey! So be sure to pack a selection of snacks and a spill-proof bottle. Try and aim for some healthy options like fresh fruit, sandwiches, or cheese sticks. Try and avoid too many sugary snacks that may lead to hyperactivity. Remember to comply with any airline regulations regarding liquids, such as pre-packaging snacks in small containers. Take you child’s usual water bottle or sippy cup through security empty and grab a drink to fill from one of the shops or water fountains. If you have a particularly fussy eater then make sure you check the menu before hand or take food you know your child with eat so you don’t have to deal with a hangry toddler the entire time of the flight!
5. Dress Comfortably:
Dressing your toddler in comfortable clothing is essential for their ease and well-being during the flight. Choose loose-fitting clothes made from breathable materials. Layering is a smart choice as it allows you to adjust their clothing according to the temperature on the plane. Don’t forget to pack an extra set of clothes for both toddler and yourself in case of spills or accidents. Nobody wants to sit in wet or smelly clothes!
6. Maintain Routine and Sleep:
As we said earlier, we originally booked a transatlantic mid morning to avoid nap time and hopefully let Noah enjoy the airport then sleep. When Virgin changed the flight time twice this plan went out of the window! And I’m sure you know that it can be sometimes impossible to placate an overtired toddler!
Try to maintain your toddler’s regular routine as much as possible! Bring items that will help recreate their familiar sleep environment, such as a favourite blanket or a small pillow. If your flight coincides with their usual nap or bedtime, encourage them to sleep by dimming the lights and creating a calming atmosphere. One of the best ways we did this was by using our ‘Bubba Board’. You may see lots of different cheaper inflatable foot rests available to buy on Amazon beforehand. But check with your airline first as only certain ones are approved for use, as the changes in pressure can cause cheaper ones to pop! Virgin Atlantic have the Plane Pal listed on their Retail Therapy site for £99.60 home delivery or £83 for on-board delivery. (you get a discount because its duty free!)
We however decided on the Bubba Board for a variety of reasons. Firstly it’s price is only £65 and it comes in a choice of 4 colours. (pink, blue, orange and purple!) They’ve actually kindly given me a discount code for 10% off! So click here and use code: katy10 for a 10% discount on their site! This rigid padded board transforms your child’s seat into their very own luxury first class lie flat space! Giving them more room to play and spread their toys and legs out without you having to continually fish toys out of the footwell!
Then they can get comfy and spread out when it comes to nap time! Just remember to fasten the seat belt above any blankets so the flight attendants don’t have to disturb them to check their seatbelts. Check out the picture below, Noah would not be able to get this comfortable on a normal plane seat! He would either have to lie on me, and then that traps me or sleeping upright which isn’t as comfortable!
You can hang this lightweight board over the back of your stroller with its strap. And only it takes minutes to set up once you get onboard! Unlike the Plane Pal which you have to pump up and then deflate after use! And bonus, on the way home, it actually held my feet as well which made me more comfortable!
7. Stay Calm and Prepare:
One last thing, children are perceptive and can pick up on stress or anxiety. The most important thing is to stay calm and composed, even if unexpected situations arise. There’s lots that can happen on a little kids first flight, but the good news is before you know it, you’ll be making core memories with your whole family! Look out for delays or turbulence and reassure your child that everything is okay. Keep a positive attitude and be flexible with your plans, as the unpredictability of travel may require some adjustments along the way.
Conclusion – How to Travel with a Toddler on a Plane:
Travel days with young kids on a plane can be a memorable and enjoyable experience with the right preparation and mindset. So these are some of our best tips we’ve shared with you! By planning ahead, packing strategically, and providing ample entertainment, you can create a comfortable and stress-free journey for both you and your child. Embrace the adventure, savour the special moments, and make lasting memories as you embark on your family travel adventures together. Bon voyage!