In the 11+++ years that I’ve been online, in spite of my best efforts, not a damn thing seems to have changed. All we see in the media are the extremes: from the legendary infants who scream non-stop with parents who calmly peruse magazines, to a mother of 5-week-old twins who was so worried about being “that mom” on the plane that she took it upon herself to create Pinterest-worthy goody bags to prevent ill will from adults who should really be offering her a hand if they were any sort of good person.
So, based on my nine+++ years of (hopefully) inspiring, motivating, and helping families travel with babies, toddlers, and young children, and not wanting to seem like an apologist for genuinely horrific behaviour on planes (hello, death-stare Grandma with the plane-floor-peeing toddler), I feel the need to reiterate my tips for flying with babies and toddlers in context with recent headlines.
10 Dos & Don’ts for Flying with Babies and Toddlers:
- Do – arrive at the airport with plenty of time to sort out seating issues, clear security, and take advantage of any pre-boarding your airline may offer. Extra time also allows you to manage inconveniently-timed diaper blowouts or spit-up without stressing about the time.
Don’t – expect any help, from anyone. When flying with babies and toddlers I’ve adopted a “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” mindset. I’m left genuinely surprised and grateful for any kindness and assistance extended. And it actually HAS been extended many times.
- Do – try to schedule your flights for when your baby will sleep, or when they are most likely to be in a cheerful mood. Be prepared to be busy while en route, and view any on-board sleeping to be a bonus.
Don’t – ignore your baby’s tiredness, or assume that just because it’s naptime that they’ll doze off. They either won’t at all, or when they finally do it will be just as you’re landing. Also, if you’re thinking of starting sleep training, postpone it until after your trip.
- Do – recreate your bedtime routine while en route on a red eye. That can mean changing into jammies, a story, and then a nurse or bottle. Keep stimulating distractions to a minimum and cut out light as best you can (lower shades, turn out reading lights, etc.)
Don’t – pop an Ativan and expect to doze off the second you’re airborne. Or worse, give your toddler the Ativan and be annoyed when they get sick instead of fall asleep.
- Do – be attentive to your baby and keep him or her busy. A comfortable and engaged baby is likely to be a quiet and happy one.
Don’t – pack treats or goody bags or buy drinks for your fellow adult passengers who are perfectly capable of managing their own comfort and safety needs. Flying with babies is stressful enough, you don’t need to look after the grown ups too.
- Do – pack in your carry-on the food and/or formula you will need for the duration of your travel day. Bring LOTS of extra to tide you over in case of delays. We’ve all heard those stories of planes stuck on the tarmac for hours; now imagine that’s you with a bottle-fed baby and running low on formula…
Don’t – assume it will be easy to find baby- or toddler-appropriate food, drinks, and snacks anywhere in the airport or on the plane. It won’t. Unless your two-year-old actually eats those odd corn chip/flax seed things and drinks tomato juice.
- Do – offer healthy snacks that your baby will be happy to eat and enjoy, and toddlers are usually VERY excited to see chips and cookies being offered as a treat. Does that sound like bribery? Ummm…
Don’t – offer lots of sugary treats or juice. Nobody needs to be dealing with a sugared-up toddler at 30,000 feet for three hours. Least of all, you! Save the lollipops for landing, since you’ll be getting off soon anyway.
- Do – pack enough diapers in your carry-on (I always did one per hour of the flight, just to be safe) with plenty of wipes, plastic bags, and hand sanitizer. Keep a changing kit at the ready in the seat pocket in front of you so you can just grab it and go. Change tables are usually located in the restrooms at the rear of the plane. It is usually small and incredibly awkward to manouevre in there. Older babies might fare better with pull-on diapers. You can stand them on top of the closed toilet lid, after you wipe it (and everything your baby might touch) with anti-bacterial wipes, of course.
Don’t – for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t assist your toddler in peeing on the floor, help your son to pee in an airsickness bag, or cover your seat in newspapers and let your toddler poop on them. Even changing the most innocuous diaper on your airplane seat is so rude and gross. Please don’t do it.
- Do – ensure you have an airsickness bag in your seat pocket. No, not for pee (see above), but for the inevitable vomit that will come out of nowhere even from a child who rarely vomits. Also, do have a change of clothes in your carry-on for baby and for the person likely to be holding said baby when he or she vomits (you).
Don’t – feed vomit-prone babies and toddlers dairy products (stinks SO BAD), or pasta (impossible to remove bits of vomit pasta from fabric). Which is annoying since they are the two things my son will consistently eat. But I did not enjoy wearing them after they sat in his stomach for two hours.
- Do – embrace technology, and enjoy the fact that a gazillion books, movies, and games can now be found in a slim little device instead of the carry-on bag that used to break my back in the olden-days.
Don’t – forget to pack some “old school” distractions like crayons and colouring pads, and even a travel Etch-A-Sketch. And offer those first, because once you bring the tech out, it’s hard to go back to sticker books.
- Do – realize, that in spite of all your amazing organization and preparedness, your flight might still be a sh*tshow. You will be THAT MOM with the screaming infant ruining everyone’s flight.
Don’t – stop focusing on your baby and his or her needs. Don’t make eye contact with anyone low enough to shoot a stressed-out parent cuteye instead of a helping hand. And don’t sweat it. Because you’ll never see these people again, anyway.
TL;DR: Be organized and be prepared. And for everyone else? Be cool, man.
- Tips for Flying with Babies and Toddlers at Every Age & Stage
- Planning Your First Trip with Baby
- Coping with Time Changes & Baby Jet Lag
- All About Travel Car Seats
- Baby Travel Gear Essentials
You left out the most important one: do buy a seat for your baby; never travel with baby on your lap. You wouldn’t put your child on your lap in a car going 50MPH, don’t do it in an airplane going 500MPH.
Agree completely on bringing enough food and milk for unexpected delays. Last time I traveled with my 4 kids, one being 22 months and a true lover of the bottle, the TSA agent questioned me on how far we were flying. He said, “You know, you are only allowed to take enough food and drink for the baby, right? This seems like an awful lot.” Well, dude, thanks for your opinion but I would rather have extra than not enough and have a baby having a heart attack because we don’t have milk for his bottle exactly when he wants it!
And I agree no matter how horrible it is, it will end eventually and you will likely never see these people again…so go ahead and stare some more…
Great advice!! Never count on people to do the right thing and when you are past this stage, never forget what it felt like and DO the right thing!
Well, first of all kudos for having such courage! I always get long looks when I fly with my children and none of them are toddlers!
Great tips for flying with the wee ones. Who buys drinks for fellow passengers as a pre-apology for just flying?! I have bought a drink for the lady who took my baby for 20 minutes so I could scarf down my in-flight meal years ago. But showing gratitude for on-board help is just gracious.
I would add that parents should ensure that their kids don’t kick the chairs in front of them – that’s just poor behavior that I never let my own kids get away with, nor should anyone else. Teaching kids how to mind manners in the air or on the ground is simple, good parenting.
Do people really do those don’ts? OH MY GOSH. crazy!! Fantastic article.
Amen. I totally agree that the media just focuses on the extremes. I have traveled when all three of my kids were babies and have never had a bad experience. Your tips are fantastic!
WAIT. People really let their kids pee in air sickness bags?! If I saw this, I don’t know…I might think it’s genius, but I’d be shocked!
Always good to read the latest and greatest!
Great article thanks Corinne, I remember doing one flight with my one year old, and flying with her on our laps the whole way was a bit of a nightmare. She was fairly good, but wanted to move, and play, and the toys kept getting dropped!
Terrific list! I am re-posting on FB. Cheers!
wait. dont change them on a seat but DO let them poop on newspaper on a seat!?!? Please clarify!
ooooooops! hahaha! i obviously read that wrong! never mind! 🙂
A writeup about getting kicked off Spirit airlines for having a car seat
Thank you , just the tips i was looking for , since i will be traveling soon with my one& a half year old baby ,, I really dont wanna be that mom everyone is avoiding,, im hoping it will be a smooth journey
Have a great trip, Lulu!
Hahaha! This is great! Traveling with a toddler can be a bit stressful. But lets face it. It is either deal with traveling with the kid or stay home. I will take the adventurous travel! 🙂 I always bring toddler busy bags when we go somewhere. They are great to throw in the bag, but also once you get to the destination. I just posted about some of the busy bags I created if you are interested in checking them out.
Thanks for this article, so helpful im traveling to PI for 14 hours from ohare to seoul and has a 16 hours lay over in seol. so im forseeing a disaster in store for me. But im getting super ready following all your advices. so hopefully it will turn our smooth – with few bumps…. is fine.
Have a great trip, Noemi–good luck!
Great tips. We took my first flight about 6 months ago and it went pretty well. One tip that isn’t so much flight but airport related is for a parent to enroll in the TSA pre-check. It costs $85 for a 5 year enrollment for adults and children under 12 years old can go through the TSA pre-check line using their parent’s credentials (so they’re basically free). It can literally save you anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes per flight. The best $85 we ever spent on travel.
Thanks for these tips Corinne! They’ll surely come in handy coz I’m planning to go out of the country with my little munchin in a year or two 🙂 I wanted to take her to Disneyland so bad.. Thank you for this 😀 Will be saving this post as my reference 😀
Thanks for sharing this. My family and I will travel in a couple of weeks and I will surely follow your Dos and Donts. I have 3 small children – 1, 3 and 4. I am crossing my fingers that these tips will be of great help. Thanks a lot!
Thanks you. Useful and amusing.
Thanks for this useful post!! Traveling with toddlers sometimes become too hectic and I believe this would definitely help the parents. Keep sharing.
This information has been SO helpful! We have travelled so extensively and something that has made our lives so much better has been getting more sleep without co-sleeping in hotels. We have been able to do this because my husband made this: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1412560999/pack-n-stay?ref=project_build#
This is a must-read especially for those travelling along with their kids. Thanks for the advice!