Tips for Flying with A Toddler



Dec 02, 2021

Flying with a toddler is not a cake walk, but you also don’t want to put your life on hold just because you have a toddler or two. If you are like me, I have family living in England so for us flying with toddlers came with the package of having kids. Or maybe you just like traveling, in that case don’t let the plane ride scare you.

flying with a toddler to florida
My toddler on our way to Florida

Recently my husband and I took our two boys and a car seat over to England.  The unthinkable happened and my husband caught COVID and was unable to return home with us; my sons and I tested negative. That meant I had to take two toddlers aged 18 months and 36 months on a plane by myself across the Atlantic. Oh, and I was 10 weeks pregnant and had morning sickness.  I’ll admit I don't wish to have to travel with my kids without another adult to help, but it can be done.

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Is A Baby or A Toddler Harder to fly With on A Plane?

For me flying with a toddler is way harder than flying with a baby

A baby sleeps often and can be lulled to sleep by breastmilk or warm milk. A baby is also less active than a toddler and is more content to stay still for longer periods of time. We flew twice when my oldest son was a baby, at 5 months and 10 months, and both times were a breeze. 

baby on airplane
My 5 month old's first plane ride

A younger toddler, aged 18 months to 30 months, is the hardest, in my opinion. At this age toddlers are not able to sit still long and do not have the attention span to watch a show or to sit and color. Most of your time on the plane will be devoted to keeping the younger toddler happy. Forget your desire to sit and watch the movie while drinking that complimentary glass of wine.

The older toddler, aged 30 months and up, is easier than the young toddler, but still harder than a baby. At this age your toddler will probably be happy to sit and watch a show via a tablet or the plane’s TV. They also can be entertained via books, coloring or other activities you bring along for short periods of time. 

Should You Bring a Carseat on the Plane?

toddler carseat on airplane for international travel
My 18 month old in his carseat on the plane to London

Airlines allow you to bring a car seat free of charge onto the airplanes when flying with a toddler. Before deciding if you should bring a carseat onto the plane consider two things.

Questions to consider when flying with a toddler

  1. Will you need a car seat at your destination?
    1. If you plan on renting a car you most likely will need a carseat 
    2. If you plan on utilizing public transportation a carseat might not be needed 
  2. How long is the plane ride?
    1. If you have an international plane ride and your child naps well in their carseat, having the carseat on the plane might help get your child to sleep. This is especially key with the younger toddler who is less likely to sleep on an airplane seat or your lap.
    2. If you have a short duration plane ride (less than 3 hours) your toddler most likely will not sleep and lugging it onto the plane might be more hassle than its worth. You can always check it either at the gate or at checked luggage if you want it at your destination.

9 Tips to Flying with Toddlers

1. Snacks are your best friends

Toddlers spend endless amounts of time eating and asking to eat. Pack several of their favorite snacks and when you need to distract them pull one out. I use Skip Hop snack containers that prevent spills; otherwise my boys would flip the bowls over or spill them and their snacks would be all over the plane’s floor. I love these snack containers and bring them whenever we leave the house.

Snacks can be expensive on airplanes and also the selection is unpredictable. On a plane where meals are given, those meals only come at certain times. The ability to pull out snacks at any point of the plane ride is essential.

flying with a toddler meal time
My 36 month old was very distracted by food and a show on this international flight

2. Bring your own water containers on the airplane for your toddler

Airlines do not provide sippy cups nor a non open cup option, except maybe a water bottle. Toddlers are excited to be on an airplane and often will spill their big kid cup and if you have a toddler you know this will end in tears. Packing their cup for the plane will eliminate this concern. All you can do is try to prevent what can go wrong in hopes of making a smoother plane ride.

I take along Skip Hop water bottles that match my toddler’s snack cup. They come in all different animals and I just love matching sets. My toddlers are also used to drinking from them eliminating any confusion of how to drink.

airplane toddler backpack, snack container and water bottle
Skip Hop products that I owe for my two toddlers and take with me while traveling. I love how each toddler has their own theme!

3. Pack many different distractions

I have a mini backpack for each child, again the same set as their water bottle and snack container from Skip Hop. On trips I pack each of their bags with their snack container, water bottle and distractions for each kid. 

Plane Toys for the Older Toddler

My older toddler loves to play with stickers. The week leading up to a trip I hid the sticker books and packed them for the plane, or I bought him a new sticker book. This increases the excitement for the sticker book. I also pack books, crayons and his favorite coloring book; that I also have not been playing with leading up to the trip. Depending on how long the flight is and if entertainment is provided free of charge on the plane I would also pack a tablet to watch a show and matchbox cars to play with.

To find more ideas check out Plane Toys for 3 year olds.

Plane Toys for the Younger Toddler

Packing for my younger toddler is harder. His attention span is shorter and ability for arts and crafts is not there yet. I pack some simple books with flaps that he loves and some small cars. Mainly I count on the distractions on the plane and interacting with him.

The key is to keep swapping between activities and snacks. Once the toddler loses interest in one thing, bring out something new to keep them distracted. 

To find more ideas check out Best Airplane Toys for a 1 Year Old.

4. Distractions are not just packed but all around you

Toddlers are interested in everything. He/She will be so excited by all the new things around him/her that toys and activities you brought might not do it. Don’t bring out your distractions from home until your toddler is not distracted by all the new stuff.

flying with a toddler free entertainment
Looking out the window can be a great distraction!

Other passengers flying might be playing peek-a-boo with your child or engaging them in conversation, allow this! A toddler is commonly interested in the light up screen in front of them, let him/her explore it. If they want to look through the inflight magazines, by all means go through every page together!

Once you are done drinking from a water bottle give it to your toddler. Playing with an empty water bottle always was a hit with my toddlers.

My older toddler loves to look at pictures on my phone. At home I restrict him from playing with my phone, but on an airplane we will sit and cycle through my picture library. If it is the flight home we will go through all the pictures of our trip and relive our trip all over again. Videos are even better than pictures!

Softly singing your toddler’s favorite nursery rhythm is another great distraction. Toddlers love repetition and will ask you to sing it over and over again! 

The key is to engage with your child and try to keep the distractions and entertainment coming. 

5. Talk to your toddler about flying

toddler getting ready for international flight
My 36 month old was super excited to be going on a plane ride!

Toddlers love routine. Flying will not be a routine thing and you should talk to your toddler about your upcoming trip and how you will get there. Explain to your toddler what will be happening the day you travel and what to expect. Let them know it will be a long day and list the steps until you will be at your new destination including traveling to and from airports.

Get them excited to fly on an airplane; some toddlers might find it scary and take some convincing. Overall the more you can convey the expectations of the traveling day the smoother the flight will go.

The day I had to travel solo with two toddlers while pregnant I talked to my older toddler about how hard it was going to be. I asked him to be my helper and help me with his younger brother. I told him he was going to have to be a great listener and patient; that the day would seem long, but at the end we would be back home. My older toddler was a great helper on that trip and I was impressed.

6. The airplane’s bathroom is big enough for a potty training toddler and one parent

For the toddler that is potty training or already potty trained you do not have to worry. The airplane’s bathroom can fit one toddler and one adult, but it is a tight fit. Of course there will be no toddler size potty attachment, unless you bring one of course. 

My son was in the middle of potty training when we flew to England and he and I successfully were able to utilize the airplane’s potty multiple times. I think he found it fun to get out of his seat and walk to the potty, he asked to go more often than he would have otherwise.

Flushing an airplane’s potty can be very loud for the toddler sensitive to noise. I recommend washing their hands and waiting till they are exiting before flushing. 

7. For long Flight with toddler bring the car seat onto the plane!

This was a life saver for me. My wiggly 18 month old doesn't sit still, but does great in car trips in his carseat. I first tried to put my 3 year old in the carseat on the plane and have my 18 month old on my lap. That was a disaster!

The 18 month old was all over me and wouldn’t sit still for a second; he was constantly pulling all the magazines from the seat in front.  I switched my two sons and it really was a godsend.

toddler sleeping in carseat on airplane
My 18 month old sleeping on an international plane ride during the day

A young toddler who is used to his/her carseat will do better in the carseat for a longer plane ride. The carseat constrains them giving you, the parent ,a bit more space and sanity. Also if your toddler commonly falls asleep in their carseat, he/she will most likely sleep in it on the airplane. 

One domestic flight my 21 month year old was booked as a "lap infant". The picture below shows my son and how he was a bit big for a lap infant. He fell asleep stretched out between my husband and me. When taking off and landing he had to be sitting up on my lap and there wasn't much space. This wasn't the most comfortable flight for me.

Lap infant 21 month old: a bit too big

8. To get your toddler to sleep on an overnight flight bring comforts from home

Both my boys have lovies that they sleep with wherever we go. When traveling overnight I will bring out their lovies when it is bedtime. I will softly sing the lullabies that I sing to them at home and have them dressed in their jammies. For a young toddler I will offer milk.

The key is to try to simulate, as best you can, the same routine you would at home. This will help signal to a toddler that it is bedtime, even when on a plane.

9. Give yourself some credit and grace flying with a toddler is tricky

Flying with a toddler is hard. Flying alone with two toddlers is even harder, but you can do it! Flight time is only a small amount of time compared to your overall trip and you shouldn’t shy away from a trip because of it.

flying with my two toddlers
The best photo I got when I flew by myself with my two toddler boys while pregnant. Photos weren't high on my list that day!

Toddlers cry, toddlers have tantrums and if they do while on the plane you will still get through it. 

Hope this helps you fly with your toddler!

Additional Resources For Traveling With Toddlers

Best Toddler Travel Beds to find the perfect sleep set up for your toddler away from home.

Best Travel Highchairs to find the perfect eating setup when away.