Do you have a fear of flying with toddlers?
The very thought of flying with toddlers is probably the single biggest cause of stress that families face when planning a vacation. And as even the most-traveled families will tell you: once a kid hits two, all bets are off. Although, “three was the new two” for us in a lot of cases.
However, I’m actually quite proud to say that we have not once been kicked off of a flight! 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 a flight when our son had just-turned-three (technically a preschooler, no matter how much that hurt to say!) he threw a full-on, screaming red-faced tantrum.
Dun dun dun.
Flying with Toddlers & Preschoolers
I am pleased to say that we flew a fair amount with both our daughter and son during this age range and, for us (aforementioned tantrum aside), it was pretty painless. Now, my kids have flown a lot, and that means they know what kind of behavior is expected on an airplane. 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 ages four and two. And the eldest was actually quite scared and the two-year-old was very two.
That was a tough flight.
Flying with Toddlers & Preschoolers: Biggest Concerns
Toddlers are busy. Our son was sooooooo busy. He didn’t sit still. (Still doesn’t). He didn’t like hearing no for an answer. (Still doesn’t). And although 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 Debbie Downer, so I hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. That’s my usual parenting mantra, actually.
Flying with Toddlers & Preschoolers: The Reality
So. The tantrum. THE tantrum.
After an amazing week driving across Alberta and then attending a family wedding, our son 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 the seat belt while avoiding getting knocked out by our 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. They were likely thanking their lucky stars it wasn’t them!
Then he slept for most of the flight.
It was glorious.
I know THE TANTRUM happened not really because he wanted the window seat. It was because he was exhausted. 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.
Flying with a Toddler or Preschooler: The 5 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.
Flying with Toddlers & Preschoolers: Extra Consideration
Flying Is Exciting!
If your kids are 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 being. It might freak them out.
And, if they’re too excited, you run the risk of them being too excited. Which could mean 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 blow off steam before boarding. We have seven stitches in a (then) preschooler’s eyelid that shows it’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 on a plane.
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 during COVID-19, masks became the new seat belts. Flying with babies and toddlers during the pandemic means finding new ways to “reason” with your kids.
Dealing with Potty Training when Flying with a Toddler or Preschooler…
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, or three) in case of accidents.
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. It won’t cause any appreciable regression towards your hard-fought toilet teachings. It WILL happen. Just try not to stress over any setbacks.
More Useful Tips for Flying with a Toddler or Preschooler:
- Talk about your travel plans. Get them excited about your trip and the plane ride. Keep talking throughout your journey. I’ve been that annoying parent with a running narrative while we’re boarding, etc., and I swear it helps. “Look, the people are walking to their seats. Look, the people are sitting down and buckling their seat belts. Hey, let’s get out your books and toys.”
- Have that tablet loaded and charged. But DO have some old-school distractions on hand and try to offer those first. Once the tech comes out it’s hard to go back to old-school toys.
- SNACKS. MORE SNACKS. AND EVEN MORE SNACKS.
- You will need to purchase a seat for your toddler if they’re over two. Consider also using their car seat on the plane, even if it’s not legally required.
Flying with toddlers is not something to fear!
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 too.
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