View of an airplane wind with clouds and the sunset in the background.

Flying with a Toddler: Top 5 Tips

I get a lot of questions from new parents related to flying with a toddler and infants now that travel restrictions are lifting and the weather is improving. Here are the top tips I always give out for successful experiences!

Flying is one of the most effective ways to travel with children, but caregivers face unique challenges.
Photo credit: Leio McLaren

I can remember the first time I had to fly with my little one: it was under duress (more on that, in a later post!), during the very beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic here in the United States, and across the country. I had no idea what I was doing, I was under an unreasonable amount of stress, and I was flying as a solo adult. The second time, it was for an extended stay at my parents at the height of the pandemic, also across the country. My trials and tribulations benefit you: below, I’ve listed the top 5 tips for traveling with a toddler.

1) Car Seats: Toddler Safety

While airlines do have different seating options for infants and toddlers, the safest will always be an FFA-approved car seat or other approved restraint system. Note: international travel does not always permit car seats on planes! Check with the airline in advance. Kiddos under 2 are permitted to fly as lap infants, which is a popular budget-friendly option. Full transparency: I flew with Bean as my lap infant the first time out of necessity.

It was a last-minute booking and I didn’t have the equipment or the finances to buy a suitable travel seat. I would not do this again. We hit a very minor bout of turbulence and I had difficulty keeping hold of her! Additionally, I was so incredibly sore at the end of the flight, as I had to hold her the entire time.

The second time, I purchased the Cosco Scenera Next for about $45 alongside a seat next to me. The seat itself was easy to carry (9lbs!) and fit the plane seats without issue. Keep in mind, you will need a window seat for the car seat, and cannot sit in restricted emergency rows.

This is the amazing 9lb that I used. It goes for about $50.
Photo credit: Walmart Stock

2) Strollers: Getting Through the Airport

“But, Sarah! How the heck did you bring everything through the airport?” Excellent question! Keep in mind, I flew as a solo adult with a little one both times. This may be easier (or not) depending on if you have another adult, older child, or additional small children with you.

I had my toddler, my main bag, my laptop bag, a backpack-style diaper bag, Bean’s little backpack, the car seat, the stroller, and an additional carry-on item with me. If you can: check bags at the counter so you’re not hauling them around. Easy step one…which I did not do. Oops.

Next, use that stroller! Load it up (safely) with any remaining bags and your car seat of choice. You can tote it about the airport and check it at the gate by talking to the gate agent when boarding. It will be there for you as you de-plane, so you can load it up and go again upon arrival. “But…what about the little one?” That brings me to…

Whether you choose to put your child or your gear in a stroller, having one on hand to gate check is really, really helpful.
Photo credit: Saray Khadangan

3) Baby Wearing and Harness Backpacks

I brought my buckle-style carrier to the airport so I could haul Bean about while pushing the stroller. Easy up and down for breaks, and she loved it. Took a nap and just watched people come and go. It kept her safely attached to me, too, in a place where it’s all-too-easy for a little one to wander off or get picked up by someone nefarious.

Saying this, I recognize not everyone is able to or comfortable with babywearing. I recommend using the stroller to cart the little one about, one of those harness backpacks or another form of “child leash” if they’re stretching their legs, and carrying the car seat and diaper bag instead. (Remember: the Cosco seat is only 9lbs…a fair bit lighter than a 25 or 35lb wiggler!) If it is still a struggle, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance at the airport and while boarding and deplaning.

For young infants, ring slings and stretch wraps are great. As they get older, there are buckle carriers, hip carriers, and a new minimalist carrier…the options are seemingly endless!
Photo credit: Al Soot

4) Napping and Snacking

Littles are always hungry. I brought, and recommend bringing, enough favorite non-liquid snacks on the flight in the diaper bag so I didn’t have to rely on plane food. Favorites include Cheerios, those expensive-but-amazing puff snacks from the baby food aisle, and cheese sticks. I brought a sippy cup but left it empty through security.

What about formula, pumped milk, or baby food, you ask? The official TSA policy is that you can bring reasonable quantities of these on a plane, so long as you put them out for screening. I do not have personal experience with this, as I breastfeed directly. You shouldn’t, however, have any issues with boarding.

Take advantage of snacking if you can during take-off and landing: drinking will help littles pop their ears and lead to fewer tears. I even played a game by putting out one Cheerio at a time during fussy parts of the flight…until Bean took a nap in her seat. Speaking of, it’s not much different than them snoozing in a car! Take advantage of it.

If you’re able, scheduling a flight during nap time is very helpful. Some little ones will sleep the entire way! Photo credit: Jelleke Vanooteghem

5) Entertainment

I used my phone. No, really…I used my phone. It’s hard enough to fly solo with a little one; I would never fault someone for using tech to keep the littles from a tantrum. Not all planes have Wifi options, so make sure you download some favorite shows and charge up prior to boarding.

Other options include favorite small books, stuffed dolls or animals, teethers, small toys such as a car, et cetera. You know your child best: perhaps a ball is not the best option if your little one is aspiring to be a softball pitcher. I also recommend thinking strongly about anything that makes a bunch of noise.

No crayons for us…still in snack-on-things mode. But they’re a great low mess option for older toddlers during travel hours!
Photo credit: Kristin Brown

No matter where you’re going, there are ways to make traveling with a toddler much easier for all involved. Remember: you know your situation and your little ones best! Use your judgment, take a deep breath, and fly safely.

Have you flown with young children before? I’d love to hear about it!

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