Here we tackle all your frequently asked questions about flying with a toddler.
So many parents worry about that first flight with a baby. But actually after you’ve got it out of the way, you realize that flying with a baby is actually pretty easy… until you reach the toddler years and it’s time to start worrying all over again!
I say this because tips on traveling with toddlers is one of the most frequently asked questions over on our Facebook Group.
There’s no question that traveling with a toddler on a plane is a challenging prospect. Once those little ones learn how to move, they just don’t want to sit still!
Old enough to know what they want, not old enough to express themselves clearly, and prone to huge meltdowns as a result.
How on earth is all that going to work in the confined space of an airplane?!
Luckily there are steps you can take to make flying with toddlers more bearable. Here we answer all those FAQs about flying with toddler tips and finish off with some extra top tips for traveling with a toddler that we have learned along the way.
Just think of the reward of the vacation at the end of the plane ride. It will all be worth it in the end, I promise!
What is the best seat on a plane with a toddler?
All children over 2 years old require their own seat on the plane. If your toddler is still under 2 years old, and you are planning on flying with your toddler on your lap, try to book the bassinet seat – even if he/she is too big for the bassinet.
You get a lot of extra leg room in the bulkhead seats, which I always found useful with all the extra paraphernalia you have when you are flying with kids. It also gives the child some play space and gives you a break from having them sit on your lap.
However – and this is important – this means that you will probably not be able to lift the armrests between the seats, meaning no option for your toddler to lie down across the seats. So you need to weigh up which feature will be most useful to you.
Even if your toddler is over 2 years old, you can still try for the bassinet seat, although be aware that passengers traveling with an infant will get priority over you. Unfortunately often frequent fliers will also get priority over you for the bulkhead seats if they have requested them.
If you can’t get the bassinet seat, or you prefer the option of being able to raise the armrests between your seats, then the window seat is another good option on flights for kids.
It gives your toddler something to look out the window at, and (more importantly) makes him or her easier to contain. Trying to contain an active toddler in an aisle seat can be a challenge!
As a family of four travelling together we often choose the middle seats of the plane. This way my husband and I can ‘bookend’ the kids and keep them contained in the middle.
If we lift up the armrests, the kids then also have more room to spread out together. This works particularly well with our 1stClass Kid Travel Pillows (see more about these below).
Should I get my toddler his own plane seat?
Children under the age of 2 do not need their own seat and can travel as a lap passenger.
If money is no object however, you may choose to stump up the cash and purchase a separate seat for your little one to give you more room and save yourself the plight of having a wriggly child on your lap for the duration of a long flight with a toddler.
Note that if even if your child does have his (or her) own seat, and is under the age of 2, he or she may still be required to sit on your lap with an infant seat belt for take off and landing.
If you are not prepared to pay for a toddler airplane seat, you could always play ‘seat roulette’. Here you book the window seat and the aisle seat and leave the middle seat empty, knowing that these seats are the least desirable and therefore the last seats people want to book.
This doesn’t work often though as nowadays airlines do their best to fill up all flights and therefore empty seats are far from guaranteed.
You can also ask at check-in if there are any empty seats that you could be seated next to. This is more likely to happen if you have a high-tier frequent flier account.
Another reason for wanting to book your toddler his or her own seat, is if you are thinking of flying with a toddler car seat. Which brings me to…
Should I bring my car seat on the plane?
Questions on flying with infant car seats come up time and again in Facebook groups these days. When my kids were babies, this was never discussed but over the last few years it has definitely become a hot topic and so I have researched this A LOT.
The FAA advises that carrying your children in your lap is not safe in the case of severe turbulence. They therefore advise using a ‘child safety restraint system’ (CRS) for the duration of the flight.
This may be good or bad news for you depending on how much your toddler likes sitting in his or her car seat!
A CRS can be either a CARES (child harness device) or an FAA-approved car seat. Note that not all car seats are approved for use on the plane. Make sure it is no wider than 16 inches wide and look for a label stating “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft” on it.
You can watch the FAA video with instructions for installing a CRS on the airplane below. Your air crew should also be able to help.
What can I bring to help my toddler sleep on the plane?
When traveling with toddlers on long haul flights there are a few things you can bring on board to help them be comfortable, and hopefully sleep better.
Firstly, I am a big fan of the 1stClass Kid Travel Pillow. This was a real game changer for us when we flew overnight with our kids.
If you aren’t familiar with this type of travel pillow, it is an inflatable cushion that fills the gap in the footwell of the plane, allowing your kids to stretch out their legs.
For toddlers and small kids, it pretty much turns their economy seat into a flat bed, which is just awesome. You can read our full review here.
Unfortunately several airlines have now banned the use of these cushions, so check with your airline before you fly.
A neck pillow is another good option for air travel with toddlers. For a toddler, you need to be careful to make sure the neck pillow is small enough.
Kids necks obviously aren’t as strong as adults’ necks and so a good option to look for is a microbead travel pillow, which is more malleable for small necks.
We really like the Trunki Yondi as a toddler travel pillow. This cute kids neck pillow comes in a choice of designs, including koala, panda monkey and owl.
What are the best airplane toys for toddlers?
Obviously when considering what toddler plane activities to pack, you want to think of small and lightweight toys. I also have a preference for activity-based toddler airplane activities rather than dolls or cars, as they tend to keep kids occupied for longer.
I know some people who swear by buying a selection of new little travel toys for toddlers on airplanes, wrapping them up and handing them out at intervals. While in theory this is a great idea and if you have the time and inclination to do that, then go for it.
I can safely say that I have never been organized enough in the lead up to travelling to even pack my suitcase until last minute, let alone think about wrapping toys for my kids. But to each their own.
Some of the best toddler toys for airplane travel are highlighted below. We’ve put links to Amazon where possible, so you can order them online and have them delivered before you go.
- Colouring/Sticker/Activity Books
From straight up colouring, dot-to-dot, paper dolls, sticker books and water colour books, there’s a huge choice of different activity books available and they are all great activities for kids on a plane. My little boy loved this tape activity book too.
- Magnetic Drawing Board
No need to worry about running out of paper or finding a pen. Kids can create a masterpiece, then erase it and start again with these fab toys for airplane travel. Click here to buy one online.
Air crew apparently hate it when parents let their kids play with Play Doh on the plane, but as long as you don’t let them grind it into the carpet or seat, I don’t see the problem. My kids would always happily play with Play Doh and shape cutters for ages, making it one of our favourite airplane activities for kids. Click here to buy Play Doh online.
- Gel Window Clings
If you can bag yourself a window seat, these re-usable stickers are great for entertaining a toddler on a plane. You can also let your kids decorate your hotel room or holiday home, safe in the knowledge that they won’t cause any lasting damage. Click here to buy them online.
When you’ve exhausted your arsenal of entertainment weapons, its time to bring out the Big Gun: the iPad. Say what you like about screen time, the iPad is a lifesaver for parents traveling with children.
Load it up with educational and/or fun apps and download your kids’ favourite TV shows and movies and hopefully your toddler will sit still long enough that you can at least watch one episode of your own favourite show with out interruption. (OK, probably not but a mum can dream…)
- Toddler Headphones
If you are giving your toddler an iPad on the plane, do the rest of the passengers a favour and make sure they have a set of headphones to go with it.
Please make yourself aware of the dangers of kids using headphones and make sure you do your research and buy headphones that are safe for little ears. We have researched this extensively and you can read our selection of recommended headphones for toddlers and kids here.
What are the best airplane snacks for toddlers?
Snacks are almost as important as toys when it comes to packing a toddler carry on bag. You need to make sure you have a good variety and an endless supply.
When packing snacks for the plane, don’t forget carry-on security restrictions, which will apply to drinks and other liquids such as yoghurt.
My two most important pieces of advice when it comes to plane snack for toddlers are this:
- Try to avoid sugary snacks
Too much sugar plus toddler in a confined space is not a good combination.
- Be aware of air pressure
Those fruit pouches will take on a life of their own in the air (I learned this the hard way with a sticky mess of fruit puree all over my jeans). Likewise, straw cups need to have the lid untwisted before you pop up the straw, unless you want to spray your fellow passengers with water/milk/juice.
Good snacks for toddlers on plane include:
- Granola bars
- Rice cakes
- Cereal such as cheerios
- Kids snacks like goldfish and teddies
- Dried fruit
- Cheese sticks/Babybel
- Fruit rolls
- Chopped fruit/vegetables
You could also bring trail mix or nuts but be aware that you may be asked not to open them if there is someone with a nut allergy on the plane.
What should I pack in my toddler carry on luggage?
We’ve already covered toys and snacks but there are a few other essentials we recommend for your carry on toddler travel bag. Below is our flying with a toddler checklist. Click here if you need help choosing luggage for kids.
- Change of clothes (for everyone)
Being in a confined space with a toddler for any length of time inevitably means things will get spilled – be that your child’s milk, mum’s gin and tonic or anyone’s bodily fluids. Having a change of clothes for everyone is essential.
- Snacks (see above)
- Toys (see above)
- Wet wipes
- Hand sanitiser
- Travel pillow (see our recommendations here)
- Cuddly toy
- Headphones (see our recommendations here)
Other top tips for flying with a toddler
I hope the above answers some of your top questions for flying with a toddler. We have a few more top tips below to help make traveling overseas with a toddler go smoothly.
Get to the airport early
Everything takes a bit longer with a toddler in tow. I used to always leave checking in to the last minute, but nowadays flying with children I always opt to arrive at the airport early.
Getting to the airport early gives kids the chance to run off all that excited energy, and gives you a chance to make sure everyone eats something and goes to the bathroom before you get on the plane.
So many airports now have a kids’ area with some form of play equipment so if you have time try to find this to keep the kids entertained and active before the flight.
Pack a baby carrier
If your toddler is still small enough to fit in your baby carrier then make sure you bring it.
It makes carrying sleeping children on and off planes so much easier and in some airports your stroller may be delivered to the carousel rather than the plane door, meaning you may have to carry your toddler through the airport until you are reunited with it.
Eat before you fly
Eating with a toddler on the plane is never easy, and particularly if you have a lap toddler.
If everyone gets a good meal in the airport before you fly then you don’t need to stress too much about eating everything on the plane – and this is particularly the case if you have fussy kids who are unlikely to eat the plane food.
Book a child meal
Even if your kids are super fussy and unlikely to eat the plane food, a child meal is a good choice. It often comes with a fun straw or mini chocolate bar or something that will hopefully please a child.
Pack a separate nappy/diaper change bag
This is super handy for nappy changes on the plane. Pack a few nappies, wet wipes and nappy sacks plus hand sanitizer into a Ziploc bag.
As soon as you get on the plane, take this bag out and place it somewhere easy to reach. This will save you having to root around in your carry on bag or in the overhead locker looking for everything you need every time you need to change a nappy.
Book a night flight if flying long haul
A long haul flight with a toddler is tricky if you need to entertain them the whole way. Opting for a night flight means hopefully they will sleep for a good chunk of the journey, leaving only a few short hours for entertainment.
I hope all our flying with a toddler tips help make your airplane travel with a toddler easier. Did we forget anything? Let us know!
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