Tips for Taking Flight with Toddlers

16 Nov 2015

I remember these feelings vividly. I remember asking myself why the parents couldn’t just get a handle on their kids and I remember thinking if my chair got hit one more time I just might lean back and offer my own unsolicited parenting advice. Then something happened: I became a parent and I flew with my child.

My husband and I were married for five years before diving into the parenting world. We wanted to travel the world together before we started a family and we did. Over the years, we bonded with our Acendas expert to the point where she knows us well enough that I can tell her a destination and she’ll send me the itinerary. She knows what times we like to fly, the types of hotels we prefer and the kind of adventures we seek.  It’s her expertise that helped us survive traveling with a baby.

When our daughter came along she stole our hearts, wallets, and taught us more about patience than we ever thought possible.  She’s 16 months old now and she just completed her eighth round trip flight. Most of the flights have been back home to visit her grandparents, aunts, uncles etc. There’s a lot about parenting that we have yet to learn but when it comes to traveling with a tiny human – I’ve discovered some tricks of the trade!

1.)  Flight Times

A successful flight begins with a great game plan. Gone are the BC (Before Child) days of making last minute travel decisions and winging it. Nope, you’ve got to have a plan. Can your child fall asleep in the car or the stroller? If so, it might be worth flying during naptime.

If you have a child who believes sleep is only achievable in their own crib with the perfect amount of darkness and no stimulation you might want to fly after a great nap. Next, consider whether a non-stop flight or a layover is best.

Are you going a long way? Expecting your child to sit quietly for two plus hours might be asking a lot. However, if your child is a sleeper having a non-stop flight might enhance the likelihood that he’ll sleep the whole way (if this is your child – I’m jealous).

Finally, keep in mind the first flights of the day typically mean less crowding at the airports and a better chance of not being delayed. If you’re flying overseas though you might want to think about an overnight flight because you’ll want your child to sleep as much as possible. Chances are you’ll have to take these into consideration along with price and the time you need to reach your destination. After all, the goal is to arrive with as much of your sanity intact as possible!

2.)  Birth Certificate

We’ve already established that you have to be a planner when it comes to traveling with kids. If you’re not convinced, here’s one of the most important reasons:

Many airlines are requiring a birth certificate to prove your child is under 2 and qualifies as a “lap child”, meaning you aren’t paying for a ticket and the infant will be sitting on your lap. It’s a good idea to keep a photo of your child’s birth certificate on your phone or bring a copy with you.

3.)  Checked Baggage

This is a challenge. I’m not going to lie. You’re bound to forget something. Here’s the must haves:

Car Seat – Unless you have access to one on arrival this is the most important item. It’s FREE to check it. Purchase a travel bag to protect the car seat.

Stroller – You’ll also be able to check the stroller for free. If you are comfortable with a wearable baby carrier you can save yourself time in security by sending the stroller under the plane. If not, you can gate check it but you’ll have to wait for a crewmember to bring it up to the jet way when you get off the plane.

Pack and Play – Many hotels have cribs available but if your child prefers familiarity than this one is a must-have.

Clothing – This one is pretty self-explanatory!

Diapers – If you are close to being overweight you can always buy them at your destination. If not, pack them and you’ll have extra room for souvenirs on the way home.

4.)  What to Bring On Board

Here’s what I like to call the meat and potatoes! This is your bag of tricks that will make or break you on your flight.

For infants 6 months and under milk is your best friend. I always fed our daughter on takeoff and landing to help her little ears. This also works for older kids but you can use any form of liquid you prefer.

Extra Outfits – If there is ever a bad time for a blow out – it’s during a flight. It happens, and if it leaks you’ll want to have a back-up plan ready to go!

Extra Diapers – Always pack more than you think you will need. You never know when you’ll be delayed and this is one item you want to have plenty of!

Disposable Changing Pads – These are great for airport restrooms that host thousands of people a day.

Binky/ Passa/ Life Saver – Whatever you call it at your house – if you use one you’ll want to have plenty in your arsenal.

Puffs/ Cheerios – If you child is old enough these snacks can occupy them for a long time. You can choose any finger food but the handy thing about puffs is that they aren’t filling and there are plenty of them.

Tablet – I try to limit my daughter’s exposure to television but the airplane is an exception. I love the Disney Movies Anywhere App that lets you download the movies you own. Fisher Price also has great apps for infants.

Clothes Pins and a water bottle – If you child is old enough, pack some clothespins in the diaper bag. They are small and won’t take up much space. Offer your toddler an empty water bottle and show them how to get the clothes pins in and out of the bottle. It’s super simple but it’s a great way to keep busy hands occupied.

Favorite Toys – Pick one or two of your toddler’s favorite toys and take them away the week before the flight. Then, reintroduce them on the flight. They’ll be new and exciting again.


My heart has softened tremendously now that we have a little one. I have a new understanding for the parents of that child who found such joy in kicking my chair. However, it doesn’t mean that we’ll allow our toddler to behave that way. She understands “no” and the tone of our voices when we are serious. My goal is to keep her occupied and happy throughout our travels and when we fail I rely on my bag of tricks and ultimately a good apology.

I’ve learned that being prepared is the key to success.  We haven’t totally lost our spontaneity though, we just leave her with her beloved grandparents when we want to revisit the “BC” years.