Our first flight with our toddler was going to be an early morning departure from Toronto Pearson airport to the Caribbean Island of Barbados. Flying with a toddler can be challenging. We tried to do some research on how to make the flight bearable and learned some lessons along the way.
Things you need to know: My 17-month old son is a very active, busy toddler, our parenting style lies somewhere between the helicopter and free-range chicken, and I have changed the name of my son in this article for security reasons.
10 Tips for Flying With a Toddler
Tip 1: Arrive at the airport earlier than normal to allow your toddler to run around and explore.
Even if you’ve checked in online, you still must see an agent when flying with a child under the age of 2. If you’ve planned to arrive early, add at least another 30 min to that time for unanticipated long line-ups. If you’re travelling with another adult, allow one adult to venture off with your toddler for a bit, keeping an eye on the line-up. Art installations can be great entertainment. Mac loved watching the coloured blocks float around in the huge tank of water at Terminal 1.
Tip 2: If you’re potty training, bring a travel potty seat for the plane.
It’s tough enough when potty training, let alone plucking them from their crib early in the morning and taking them to a loud place filled with people. You might find some regression in your child’s potty-using behaviour, but it’s best to keep things as normal and close to routine as possible. I found a great budget-friendly Mommy’s Helper Cushie Traveler folding padded potty seat, complete with carrying bag on Amazon. The airport toilets are wider than our home facilities, but the seat worked, and it fit nicely in my diaper bag.
Tip 3: When Flying With a Toddler bring food and lots of it!
Since we weren’t going to the United States, we were able to pack as much food and milk as needed on the flight for Mac, along with some cold gel packs to keep the milk fresh. We packed enough milk for the entire day, a sippy cup of water, some organic food squeeze pouches, crackers, and granola bars.
Tip 4: On take-off and landing, offer soothers, bottles, sippy cups, and crunchy snacks to help ease the effects of pressure change on your toddler’s ears.
For some babies and children, take-off and landing can cause much pain, while others feel nothing at all. A Calculated Traveller is always prepared: offer various sucking devices to prevent the issue and help the ears pop, and console your child if he or she is crying at these points. Don’t worry about other passengers—they were all babies once, too—your only concern should be your child. You should also offer water and milk often to counter the dry conditions of the airplane and airport.
Extra tip: Toddlers often want what’s not theirs. If your toddler refuses to drink, offer water from your own sports water bottle.
Tip 5: Bring various quiet toys/activities but only use them one at a time throughout the flight.
Toddlers love to explore their surroundings so take advantage of that time. People watching, playing peekaboo with other travellers, and even running up and down the aisle (escorted) can help pass the time. Mac became fussy when bored so we read him books one-by-one, he watched an episode of his favourite show (Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood) that we’d pre-loaded onto a tablet device, and we gave him a few small toys as needed.
Tip 6: Bring medications for your toddler just in case you need them.
Early wake ups, the hustle and bustle of airports, and noise of plane engines can be overwhelming for a toddler. The stress can cause headaches, a mild fever, or your child might experience an allergic reaction to something in the environment. It’s best to be safe than sorry. We packed Tylenol and Benadryl (in the required TSA 3-1-1 Ziploc bag) for Mac.
Extra tip: Though it didn’t work for us, Benadryl can help some toddlers sleep.
Tip 7: Don’t expect your child to nap as long on a plane as he or she does at home.
Even if it’s clear that your toddler is tired, he or she will likely struggle to sleep in a new environment. You might need to put your toddler to sleep to stave off a meltdown. We put Mac on the seat between us, covered him with his blanket, and gave him his favourite stuffie. If the flight is full, you will have to hold your toddler. Both legs of the flight Mac only slept an hour… but at least he slept an hour.
Tip 8: Pack and change your toddler into clothes suitable for your destination.
At many airports in hot climates, passengers descend the stairs from the plane onto the tarmac and then proceed to the airport. Ensuring your toddler is as comfortable as possible can help prevent a meltdown. I had packed shorts and sandals, as well as sunscreen, and I changed Mac on the plane when we were approaching our destination.
Tip 9: Pack 2 days’ worth of clothes and toiletries in case your baggage is delayed.
Lost or delayed luggage happens, especially if you had to run to catch your flight. Pack pyjamas, necessary toiletries, and plenty of diapers and wipes—and bring more than you think you’ll need. The increased intake of fluids will mean more wet diapers (or more trips to the potty… or more clothes).
Tip 10: For late-night arrival flights, change your toddler into pyjamas.
If you’re arriving at your destination or home late at night, chances are your toddler is overtired and cranky. Be understanding but also be prepared. Change your toddler into a nighttime diaper and pyjamas on the plane so that you can transfer your (hopefully) sleeping angel to his or her crib smoothly. Changing your child also offers a mental signal that it is time for bed.
Extra tip: Don’t forget a travel stroller! Here’s a guide to the best light-weight travel strollers