I hesitate to call babies in this age category toddlers, though technically if they *toddle* I guess they’re toddlers. I still called Bub a baby even when he’d turned three and was precariously close to being deemed a preschooler. But I digress… Even if you have a well-traveled infant, all bets are off once they enter the world of young toddlerhood. Bub was the kind of easy, dreamy infant that if he wasn’t mine I would not have believed it. However, on his first birthday, he lay down and threw a fit over something minuscule and I was left wondering what happened to my angel baby? He’s still here, but as things change for your little one with toddlerhood, you need to change your expectations, as well as come up with new tricks for managing sticky situations. Flying with a toddler is no exception. And young, pre-verbal toddlers can definitely give you a run for your money.
Flying with a Young Toddler…
Due to school and work commitments, we really did not fly with Bub too much during this age – Jamaica when he was 16mos., a trip to Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba, and a biggie to Walt Disney World. With our daughter, we also had two trips at this age – Florida, and Jibacoa, Cuba – since I was still working full-time at that point and vacation time is pretty scarce. We did not have any major (or minor, for that matter) incidents, though I sure fretted before each and every flight.
Bub was and is busy. He can’t sit still for more than ten minutes. He was slow to talk, and if he got frustrated, he’d sometimes yell, hit, or bite. These were tough stages and phases to get through, and even though his sister flew like a champ at this age, I was nervous before flying with him. In spite of all my in-flight experience and travel preparation, I was pretty terrified we’d be the recipient of massive stink eye (truthfully I don’t care about this, but I tend to mouth off and might get myself in trouble) or worse – be one of those news stories and get kicked off the plane.
Bub was busy – but as a young toddler, he flew well. As with his earlier travels as a young infant and an older baby, we did not have relaxing stress-free flights. But he did sleep for some of them, and though we tired of multiple rounds of peek-a-boo, Bub did not, so we kept going. Plus? Snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. For our first flight when my daughter was a toddler, I discovered the power of potato chips and have not looked back. Snacks that are fun and/or cute have excellent staying power, but I always try to do salty instead of sweet (plus salt = more drinking which is good for clearing ears) and save lollipops or gummies for landing so the sugar is not burnt off mid-flight. Juice is allowed as a treat, but watered down – again to try to cut down the sugar load. We did travel with a portable dvd player, but really the iPad has been the biggest game-changer for us. Bub has a few favourite apps and shows, and will happily sit and play or watch wearing his super-cute toddler headphones. I have actually watched chunks of movie while flying now, so I fully embrace technology.
You know your toddler. And you know best how to manage their moods, and what kinds of things can set them off. Hunger and tiredness are obvious ones, and on travel days both are difficult to avoid. Being prepared with lots of snacks, and their comfort items at the ready, can help. If you’re planning on ditching the pacifier or bottle soon, maybe do so after your trip. Although I’ve heard logic that things are thrown off so it’s an easy way to let those items disappear, for my own sake I’ve never tried. Just knowing I had a “dodie” or “bubba” at the ready but me at ease whenever it seemed a toddler meltdown was imminent.
And the usual flying with baby advice holds here with toddlers – try to keep them eating, drinking, or sucking during takeoff and landing, whether that’s by finger foods, nursing, a bottle, or a pacifier – and don’t be afraid to administer a bit of acetaminophen if you think their ears are in pain. Both my kids flew at nap times but did not sleep during their nap times. Usually they dropped off right before landing (a joy to wake up, let me tell you!) although our flight to Jamaica was a dream – with Bub passing out about an hour after taking off and then playing and reading for the hour or so remainder once he woke up. It was enough to make me smug to think it would happen again for our flight home. Imagine my surprise when he drained his bubba, did NOT fall asleep as planned, WestJet does not serve milk on board (I was tempted to clean them out of the little milks used for coffee) so he and I had a little WWF match in our seat for about 90min as he writhed and squirmed until (blessedly) the in-flight TVs finally restarted and distracted him enough to fall asleep. On our flight to Walt Disney World, I was solo with him on my lap and again he dozed for most of it until he unleashed the contents of his stomach (including a full bubba of milk – blech!) all over us, which then prompted his sister to do the same. It took a while to clean us all up, we didn’t smell pretty, but we made it to Disney and our first stop was The Polynesian’s laundromat!
We all survived. We did not get kicked off planes. And people were actually friendly and nice to us. The horror stories and their accompanying comments on the Internet do not reflect most people’s realities. At all.
I feared this stage of flying with baby the most. Truthfully as people, toddlers are generally easier to manage, but it’s their unpredictability that drives fear into parents before they pre-board (or choose not to pre-board). As with before every flight as a parent, you just have to be prepared.