Flying with Baby… Travel Tips for Flying with Toddlers and Preschoolers

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I Got This…

Flying with toddlers – the very thought of it is probably the single biggest stress that families cope with when they’re considering a family vacation. And as even the most-traveled families will tell you, once a kid hits two, all bets are off. Although for us *three was the new two* in a lot of cases, I’m actually quite proud to say that we have not once been kicked off a flight, that in spite of a mid-flight barf-o-rama and the odd airplane toilet drama, we’ve made it through our years of flying with toddlers relatively unscathed. I say relatively, since on our last flight when Bub was just-turned-three (so technically a preschooler, not matter how much that hurts to say!) he threw a full-on, screaming red-faced tantrum. Dun dun dun.

Flying With Toddlers or Preschoolers…

I am pleased to say that we flew a fair amount with both our daughter and Bub during this age range, and for us (aforementioned whopper tantrum aside) it has been pretty painless. Now my kids have flown a lot, and that means they know what kind of behavior is expected on an airplane, and they know they’re on their way somewhere fun so they can manage to sit for a few hours. They also know they will be plied with treats and technology not usually forked over with such abandon. Needless to say, my kids actually like flying.

But my nephews didn’t go on their first trip until they were four and two. And the eldest was actually quite scared and the two-year-old was very two. That was a tough flight.

Biggest concerns:

Toddlers are busy. Bub was and is busy. He doesn’t sit still. He doesn’t like hearing no for an answer.  And though he’d flown well for all of our trips, I am not smug enough to think his unpredictability would not bite me in the behind. I didn’t want to be a Negative Nellie so I hoped for the best, and prepared for the worst – my typical parenting mantra, actually.

The reality:

So. The tantrum. THE tantrum. After an amazing week driving across Alberta and then attending a family wedding, Bub was tired – we all were. And as we boarded our 7am flight from Edmonton to Toronto, we took advantage of Air Canada’s family pre-board and headed on back to get settled. On the way out, Bub had the window seat, so the flight home meant it was his sister’s turn. But he wasn’t having it, nosiree! This was a screaming-hitting-kicking-knock the coffee out of my hand-frothing at the mouth-trying to pull my hair- kinda tantrum. And I was paralyzed. The flight attendant’s clipped and perfunctory, “Can I do anything?” didn’t help. In between trying to restrain him in his seat belt while avoiding getting knocked out by baby Balboa, I turned on the seat-back entertainment (thank you, Air Canada!!) And it was truly like a switch had been flipped – he immediately calmed down, put on his headphones, and watched The Wiggles. And thanks to the pre-board, none of our now boarding fellow passengers was the wiser, except maybe the other families on board who were thanking their lucky stars it wasn’t them! Bub slept for most of the flight. It was glorious.

I know *the tantrum* happened not really because he wanted the window seat, but because he was exhausted and the seat was the last straw.  Whether your toddler or preschooler has their own frequent flier account, or it’s their first flight, you have to approach flying in almost the same way you do with a younger baby. Follow the five Ts. Have an arsenal of snacks and treats and don’t be afraid to use them. Make sure they have something to eat or drink during take off and landing, and try to book flights for “sleepy” times. If you’re considering trying to dose your child with Benadryl or Gravol to make them drowsy, please consider some other options, or at least test it to know they won’t get hyper instead – it happens!  Embrace technology, but save it for last. Once the tech is out it’s hard to top.

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He Was Born A Travelin’ Man…

Extra consideration:

If they’re inexperienced fliers, they will likely be very excited. But they might also be scared. Toddlers and preschoolers at this age understand enough to know that flying in a plane is not a natural state of affairs, and it might freak them out. And if they’re too excited, you run the risk of them being too excited – and impossible to reason with or sit still which will make an unpleasant first flight for both of you. Some advocate letting them run around at the gate to let them blow off steam before boarding. We have seven stitches in a (then) preschooler’s eyelid that tells us that’s not the right choice for our kids. Plus they’re tough to wind down. Keeping calm with stories and eye spy and watching the hustle and bustle on the jetway works better for our family.

You may consider buying some children’s books about flying – there are a couple of great ones out there and they offer the added bonus of also showing your child how they are expected to behave while en route. With both kids we did a lot of “Well, mommy and daddy and everyone else is wearing their seat belt, so you have to as well.” And also, “Please sit down and be quiet or you’re going to be in big trouble with the lady over there.” (Sorry, Flight Attendants – I know I am not the only parent who feels the pang of knowing my kids listen better to other people than they do to me. I take advantage of that at your expense ;))

And if you’re potty training? Trips to the bathroom take up a nice amount of time, and allow you to get up and stretch your legs. Make sure you have a change of clothes (or two) in case of accidents, and if you’re not that far into it – don’t be a martyr. Being in a pull-up for a travel day will help save your sanity, and won’t cause any appreciable regression towards your hard-fought toilet teachings. It WILL happen. Just try not to stress over any setbacks.

Toddlers and preschoolers of this age are actually a lot of fun to travel with. They look ever-so cute pulling their own little carry-ons. And you know this kid now – inside and out. Make sure your bag is packed with enough to keep them fed, busy, and engaged, and you might actually enjoy your flights. Promise!

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14 Responses to Flying with Baby… Travel Tips for Flying with Toddlers and Preschoolers

  1. Hi Corinne! I pinned this for you on the Sheblogs parenting board. There are great tips here! Have a wonderful weekend! Angie xo

    • Amy at 03:07 #

      What a terrific, well-written article. I LOVE the ‘that lady over there’ flight attendant trick and you are SO right; technology is the big guns, can’t top it so save it lol. Thx for sharing from a Mom of a 3 year old with a few loong travel days coming up! 🙂 -Amy from Idaho:)

  2. Monika at 00:45 #

    Thanks for all the tips! Just wondering what type of headset you have on your LO…looking to get a pair that cancels out the airplane noise.

  3. Jesscia at 12:38 #

    I am combing through this site with a fine toothed comb…I am about to fly ALONE with my 10-month old and my 3.5 year old. I am a nervous wreck. Flight #1 is about 1hr 15min min, but then flight #2 is almost 3 hours. Pray for me… hope there are LOTS of understanding and considerate folks on my flights!!! Love all you tips, I am making notes!

    • Corinne at 16:06 #

      Hi Jessica. You will do great–we are rooting for you! Let us know how it goes 🙂

  4. Petra at 23:09 #

    aah your web helped me way back then in 2012 when I took my 9 month old for a trip to Vienna (from Denver) – to see my Grandma. my baby is now 4.5 and his little brother is 1 month old – may travel at 2 months or 4 months of age. I am going over to Vienna again, on my own…I feel scared but I will remind myself of your ‘Nellie’ bahahah spot on. My hubby will join me on a way back ae he can only come for a week. I just want to thank you for such an uplifting article. Wish me luck, overall it takes 15 hours to go there and 18 back….or something like that haha. anyway would you have any recommendation for how jugle one snugride and one nautilus with 2 kids and carryons with 2 hands only? Thank you!

    • Corinne at 09:57 #

      Thank you so much, Petra, for your kind words! Hoo boy, you will have your hands full! Maybe try this: make one carry-on a rolling bag, and put your 4.5 year old in charge of it. Wear your baby in a lightweight carrier, use a backpack as a diaper bag/purse, and get an umbrella stroller that can be pushed with one hand, and put the Snugride in it. The Nautilus is for your 4yo? Is he still harnessed or do you use it as a booster? If it’s in booster mode you won’t be able to use it on the plane, so you may want to look into another car seat to use on the plane, or gate check the Nautilus in a padded bag, using a trolley to get through the airport. OR, if you have a stroller frame that your Snugride clicks into, wear your baby and use the Snugride/stroller frame combo as a trolley for as much as you can. You will need a hand boarding, so check in with the gate staff once you’re through security, and make sure you leave yourself LOTS of time to check in and go through security. Have a great flight!!

  5. Peter at 20:25 #

    Hi Corinne, just felt like getting some informations online about travelling with a preschooler. Mine is almost 26 months old but started pre-nursery. I’ll be flying with him from Vienna to Nigeria in July but I’m kinda worried because his mother will not be flying with us. He likes planes but has never been on one. Our flights to Lagos is over 15 hours with a stop over in Paris. Any idea what I can do too keep him calm because he’s the type that hardly listens to strangers. Thank you 🙂

    • Corinne at 14:57 #

      Hi Peter!

      That is a long flight buy your son should be old enough to be distracted by shows or games on an iPad. I realize there’s only so many shows a two-year-old can watch, so try to structure your flight as a typical day, with activities, meals, and snacks–and hopefully some sleep too. You will be very busy! Have a great trip and try not to worry about it too much 🙂

  6. Hannah at 09:45 #

    I am so nervous, my family is getting ready to move to Alaska from Mississippi. My husband is leaving first, meaning I have to make that long flight by myself with a 5 year old and a 14 month old who have never flown. I will have one short flight of about 4 hours and then one long flight of like 12 hours, then we will have a hotel stay and a 4 hour flight on a puddle jumper. I plan on nursing the 14 month old during take off and landing, and giving the other one a juice to suck down during the same. I’ll bring as many snacks as allowed and just found out the airline offers on board entertainment for $10 Praise the Lord. Any other tips for me?

    • Corinne at 09:59 #

      Hi Hannah! This will not be a relaxing journey for any of you, but you are already in the right mind set! Make room for a few changes of clothes for all of you, and bring a carrier or something to help you wear your toddler if your 5yo needs a break in the stroller. Try to think of a few surprises or *bribes* to have on hand, too. Good luck!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Flying tots, buying toys and lying to the boss | BrighterLife.ca -

    […] Fly the tot-friendly skies Have Baby Will Travel shares the latest installment of an entertaining (and very useful) series on travelling with young children. The writer has survived airplane toilet dramas, tantrums and a “mid-flight barf-o-rama,” and you can, too. Flying with baby: Travel tips for flying with toddlers and preschoolers […]

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