Plan to Plane: Tips to Surviving a Flight with a Toddler

There’s no place like home, right?  That’s what my husband and I thought! So, we decided to plan a trip home to see our families over the holidays. After booking our flight, the next task on my list was to figure out how to occupy an independent and wiggly toddler.  We had one, but two flights there, plus two more back! Now, you can have my tips to surviving a flight with a toddler!

Plan to Plane: Tips to Surviving a Flight with a Toddler

Pack extra outfits and all essentials in your carry-on.

You’ll be glad you did if your plane is delayed or your baggage is lost. Most airlines allow for a diaper bag as a free extra piece of carry-on baggage when you travel with a lap child. We packed our diaper bag with diapers, wipes, and all sorts of entertainment. Then, we used my carry-on to pack all of my daughter’s clothes and any toiletries for the trip, plus her snacks and meals. It was nice having access to all of those things when our flights got delayed and cancelled…more on that later.

Hold off on the toys.

Pack activities for your toddler to enjoy on the flight, but hold off until the last possible second to break them out. We found that once we got on the plane, our daughter could have cared less about any toy we had for her. She had too much fun opening and closing the window shade, lifting the tray up and down, buckling and unbuckling our seat belts, etc. My husband and I decided once she got bored with all of that, we would get out something fun for her to do, which usually didn’t happen until we’d been on the plane a good 30-60 minutes.

Bring something to help with ears popping during take-off and landing. 

Since I was a rookie before this flight, I asked my mom friends. Here are some of their suggestions: Have a sippy cup of something they like to drink since swallowing helps with the popping process. If your child is nursing and you feel comfortable, breastfeeding will do the same for them. You could also give them a snack that requires chewing—like crackers or apples, so they are chewing and swallowing during take-off and landing.

Talk your toddler through the process in the weeks before the flight (if possible). 

At nap times and at bedtime a week or two before our trip, I would talk to my daughter about what was going to happen. In our case, the one-sided conversations began with me giving her a countdown of days until the flight. Then, I’d explain to her in simple terms the process of checking in, waiting, boarding, and then flying. I would emphasize she’d have to sit on mommy or daddy’s lap and that she couldn’t get down and run around on the plane. Surprisingly, not once on any of our flights did she even try to get down off our laps! She also seemed so calm, which made things go much smoother for all of us.

Plan as much as you want, but nothing will go according to plan.

On the morning of our flight, we woke up at 2:30am. We needed to make final preparations and get to the airport for our 5:30am flight. We found out via text that our flight was cancelled. After a hectic morning of going to the airport and coming back with new tickets to a flight 12hrs later, our plan for a happy toddler was already ruined. We had weather issues, pilots running behind schedule, baggage being loaded too slow, deicing the plane, and general ticketing issues. Although we had four flights booked, we didn’t board a single one.

Plan to Plane: Tips to Surviving a Flight with a Toddler

Now, lest I scare you of ever traveling with a toddler, let me finish this tale. On every flight, my daughter played with things around the airplane until it was time to take off. At take-off, we gave her her favorite blanket, her sippy cup, and a snack (if she wanted one). Within 15 minutes of each take-off, we had a sleeping toddler for the majority of our flight!! Despite all my planning, I never took anything out of my bag of tricks except a few snacks. I wish I had a tip to share on how to get her to sleep. I’m just considering myself lucky!

I will say this, plan on having something to prop your arm up if your toddler does decide to sleep. Only a mother knows the pain of an arm pinned under a sleeping baby. I think I’m still gaining feeling back in that arm.

Hopefully these tips will help you to have a wonderful trip with your toddler. Have a baby that is not quite old enough for these tips? Check out this post on flying with an infant!

Please leave any other tips and travel stories you have in the comments below!


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Jessica is a newcomer to Cedar Rapids, and the Midwest in general. Before moving to Iowa with her husband and daughter, she lived in Utah. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Elementary Education. She left the classroom behind when her daughter was born and since transitioned into a full-time stay at home mom and hasn’t looked back since! In her spare time, you’ll find her cooking, cleaning, baking, or lazing around watching Netflix in her sweats.