I wouldn’t consider myself an anxious person, but thinking about flying with kids gives me some serious anxiety. Something about being stuck in an enclosed space for hours surrounded by strangers with my almost 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter sends a sharp shiver down my spine. As our family trip to England drew closer, my anxiety grew into something I hadn’t felt since sitting down for my Math 108 final. I’d lay in bed at night imagining my energy-filled honey badgers sprinting up and down the narrow aisles, hurling salted peanuts at innocent bystanders, and screaming at the same decibel level as the South American howler monkey.
But, after flying to and from London, England, over four flights and 25 hours of accumulative flight time, my wife and I discovered five tips for flying with toddlers. (We also flew with our minions to Maui a year prior, so this wasn’t our first airborne rodeo. (You can hear all about our magical drive on the Road to Hana here.)
I’ll provide you with simple, useful tips that’ll help you and your children not only survive flying long distances but enjoy it, too. Let’s kick it off with No. 1.
#1: Stock Up on New Toys and Activities
I’d like to take credit for this one, but my wife is the mastermind of this trick. She scoured Amazon (the website, not the rain forest) to find a variety of small, interactive kid-friendly activities and toys for the long-haul flights. These toys were a godsend when the kids showed signs of boredom. At the verge of a mile-high meltdown, we’d whip out an all-new toy or activity that drew their attention and satisfied their senses.
Our kids wore mini backpacks that they wore as carry-ons throughout the journey. These bad boys were also equipped with harnesses, which are handy when navigating busy terminals and keeping your kids within arm’s reach. But, to keep them from finding their new crafts and toys, we kept those in our bags instead.
Here’s a quick bullet pointed list of the fun, engaging toys and activities that worked well to keep our kids happy mid-flight:
- Doodle pad – These are fantastic. No markers, no mess.
- Lacing Cards– Our daughter loved “knitting” these kid-friendly lacing cards.
- Foam sticker books – Who doesn’t like a good, reusable sticker?! I especially enjoy when my kids stick them to my forehead.
- Keys and Locks – These weren’t a huge hit for our kids, but maybe yours will love ’em.
- Baby Shark Wonder Pages – It’s another mess-free way to play creatively with your kid.
#2 Invest in a Compact, Collapsible Stroller
I can’t stress how helpful a good, compact stroller can be while running to catch a connection or winding through a complicated concourse. We’ve got a double stroller at home, but my clever wifey found us an old-school umbrella stroller and a second compact stroller with storage that were incredibly useful during our journey to and from England (and in England, too).
Many major airlines allow you to use the stroller right up until the moment you reach your gate. Airline staff work with you to tag the stroller with your next destination so that you can drop it off as you board the flight, and it’ll meet you as you exit the plane at the next airport. That way, you can use your stroller during long layovers or quick connections. It’s much easier than throwing your kid over your shoulder like a sack of flour and hoofing it to your next flight.
I’d also recommend securing your child with the stroller’s built-in harness for safety; I say this from experience. Story time! As we jogged through Denver airport to catch our connecting flight to Spokane, I ran towards a set of elevators while pushing Mya at a high rate of speed. I whipped the stroller around to push the up button near the elevator door, then felt my stroller become noticeably lighter all of a sudden. Apparently, as I was turning the stroller to reach the button, Mya went airborne, blanket and all, and fell onto the floor with a muffled thud. Trisha held in a laugh as I picked up our bewildered daughter. She luckily landed perfectly on her side, so she wasn’t harmed, but it was enough to make me slow down and reassess the importance of a harness…
Quick Tip – We’d suggest investing in a flight-specific gate check stroller bag to protect your stroller from damage during transit and for carrying convenience. The bag was a tad small for our strollers, which gave me flashbacks of all the times I spent shoving my fluffy sleeping bag into it’s ever-too-tiny storage bag. But ours came with a handy handle and a drawstring.
#3 Pre-load a Tablet with Favorite Movies, Shows, and Interactive Games
I understand that strong views exist on if and when it’s appropriate to equip children with handheld electronics, so feel free to skip this tip if you’re firm on avoiding toddler tablet usage. However, if you choose to surprise your bundle of joy with a pre-loaded tablet on a long-haul flight, I can almost guarantee your journey will be smoother (if they’re at the stage where they enjoy TV).
Our toddlers got giddy when we pulled Amazon fire tablets out of their mini backpacks. We’d downloaded a handful of their favorite movies and shows from Netflix and Disney+ to keep them occupied between the other surprise activities, napping, and in-flight meals.
And, if you’re kids are like ours in the sense of being volunteer product durability testers, Amazon is chock-full of tablet cases that are quite toddler-proof and drop resistant. There are even some cases that are shaped like dinosaurs. How cute is that?! You may want to look into micro SD cards for added storage, too.
Also consider investing in a pair of over-the-ear headphones so you don’t have to blast Cocomelon to the whole plane.
#4 Sleepytime Stuff
I’d like to take credit for this next tip, but this was Trisha’s idea. I’ll be honest – most of these ideas were Trisha’s, but I’ll happily take full credit because she’s an extension of me and everything is “we” and “us”. So, to make the 9-hour flights more pleasant for our kids and those around us, we reserved seats at the front of Economy class, which is situated next to the bulkhead that separates the royalty from the peasants. Some airlines, including our United flights, offer complementary bassinets that bolt to the bulkhead wall directly in front of you. These particular units provided 25 lb. capacity, so Logan was borderline too big. In fact, you could see our little dude’s boots sticking out of the bassinet at a 45-degree angle while he slept. (He loves his rainboots, which is why he slept in them.)
And for our daughter, “we” found a pair of inflatable footrests that we shoved in front of Mya’s seat so she could lay out completely flat with her head on her seat and legs on the blow-up cubes. Trisha also sourced a pair of inflatable neck pillows, which double as a life preserver for your head in the event of a water landing.
Finally – pajamas – because who doesn’t like feeling comfy on long flights? I think changing our kids into jammies helped them get into the sleepy-time mindset, too.
#5 A Snack for Every Occasion
If your kid is eating, that means they’re not screaming. That’s one reason why we packed a variety of snacks into our carry-on luggage. We avoided sugars because our kids go nuts when it hits their bloodstream (it’s similar to giving a Gremlin water), and instead stuck to individually-wrapped Uncrustable Smuckers sandwiches, granola bars, and Goldfish. We stuck to things we knew our kids would enjoy. And don’t forget about getting stuff for yourself! You never know when that 2-hour layover can grow to 4…
Our international flights provided a couple surprisingly good meals, snacks, and beverages (including cold milk), but it’s always nice to have a bagful of goodies when the hanger strikes.
Bonus Quick Tips
In an effort to help you on your toddler-flight adventure, I want to provide you with a few more quick tips.
- Airport Playgrounds – Some major airports have indoor playgrounds in some of the terminals, which is ideal during long layovers where your kid needs a way to blow off all that bottled-up energy. Check in advance to see if and where one is located on your journey.
- Nursing Stations – Some airports offer nursing stations where women can breastfeed or pump in peace.
- Wait to Board – The boarding process takes forever. If you get on when they allow families with small children to walk on, you’ll be waiting in a plane for a longer period of time before taxiing out. Also, if there’s two of you, consider having one person load the plane with all your stuff while the other stays with the kids with carry-on stuff.
- Show Up Early – Airport security and customs take longer with kids and all the stuff that comes with ’em. Try keeping your electronics accessible so you can pull them in and out of your bags quickly.
- Bring a Sippy Cup – It’s always nice to have a spill-proof sippy cup to use on the go.
And finally, if your little one(s) have a rough flight, just know that many of the passengers around you are parents and they’ll sympathize with your situation. It’s only one part of the journey and it’ll be over before you know it. Just breathe and enjoy the ride.
Have you traveled with toddlers by air? Please feel free to share your tricks and tips in the comments below. Also be sure to subscribe to our blog so you can receive the latest content and connect with a community of outdoor enthusiasts on our Facebook and Instagram pages. And check out our Etsy shop here if you’d like to rep MTN Talk apparel on your adventures.
Thanks for reading!