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.
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.
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.
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!