Feeling grounded with small children? Don’t let a fear of flying with toddlers keep you from making vacation memories! We all know that air travel isn’t ideal with little ones, but with some careful preparation (and a lot of patience) you can minimize the meltdowns and get to your destination without regretting you ever left your house.
1. Rehearse the experience: When your toddler is on his or her first flight, they don’t know what to expect. The process of checking bags, going through security, boarding the aircraft, and the eventual take-off are all routine for many of us, but imagine going into all that with no idea what’s coming next. Encourage your child’s curiosity about flight by pointing out airplanes in the sky and speculating on where they’ll land. Carrie Bradley of Flying With a Baby suggests role-playing the flight experience, putting on a fun pre-flight presentation on a routine drive in your car.
2. Load up a tablet: Don’t be afraid you’re going to water down the travel experience by putting a screen in your child’s hands. Let’s face it, looking out the window can only distract an adult for so long, let alone a busy toddler with places to be and a seatbelt they don’t want to keep buckled. Bundle favorite apps with some new ones, add some age-appropriate stories to your reading app, and add favorite movies or television shows. Check out this list at Working Mother for toddler-friendly apps.
3. Comfy carry-ons: Pillows come in handy for small children, but not all airlines offer free pillows. Bring along a small one and your toddler can sit on it during smooth flying time to see out the window more easily. Prop it against the wall when nap-time hits and make falling asleep (and staying asleep) a little easier.
4. Have a security plan: Get through security with a minimum of fuss by planning ahead. Explain the security process to children so that they are comfortable when asked to walk through a metal detector or scanner. Assign certain luggage-related tasks, like removing laptops and tablets from bags, to one person. Another person can be in charge of removing jackets, hats, and possibly shoes from children. Make sure one member of the party wears something with deep, secure pockets where boarding passes and IDs can be stowed and easily accessed.
5. Bring a ride: Prepare for boring waits and endless airport walking with a ride-along suitcase. Kids love having their own suitcase to drag along, but they’ll like having one with a built-in seat and a strap for a grown-up to pull them along when their little legs just can’t take any more hikes from the terminal to baggage claim. Try Trunki or Diggin for adorable designs like this Italian scooter-inspired design.
6. Make airport time playtime: Find a spot near your flight’s gate where your littles can blow off some steam. As long as everyone is being safe, a little running and shouting now will take the edge off for when it really counts: when you’re all on that plane together. Getting the wiggles out while you’re waiting for the flight might earn you a few stares from your neighbors, but you’ll turn those frowns upside-down at 50,000 feet when your toddler is blissing out on a nap.
7. Skip early boarding: Getting to board your flight first sounds like a great perk. The reality is that you’re stuck in your seat, with nowhere to go and definitely no potty breaks, for an extra thirty minutes. How many times have you sat on a plane waiting to depart, listening to little children get increasingly wound up with boredom and requests that can’t be granted until you’re at a cruising altitude? If you absolutely need every square inch of overhead bin space, try to send another member of your party on for early boarding, while you and the kids wait until most of the flight is on board.
8. Give presents: Make your flight as much fun as Christmas morning! Toddlers love unwrapping presents, and the anticipation of what’s inside the package is just as fun for them as playing with whatever they receive. Wrap up activity books, coloring things, small soft toys and even little toys that have been buried in their toy chest for a while. Presents make perfect rewards for good behavior, like sitting quietly with an iPad game for fifteen minutes — probably about as long as your average toddler can manage!
9. Prepare to play: It’s nice to kick back a movie or a novel during a flight, but chances are you’re going to spend some time as the designated toddler entertainer. What will you play together? Reading, drawing, working on brain-teasers, or pulling out a deck of cards for a game of Go Fish are easy ways to entertain a toddler that might just keep you engaged and interested as well!
10. Snack strategically: Snacks are an excellent distraction. Start out your flight with something light that lasts a long time, like a box of raisins. Crunchy snacks, like pretzels or chips, that require a lot of chewing are useful for helping pop little ears during those ascents and descents. You can also use lollipops for ear-popping duty, but we recommend sticking with something sugar-free, especially at the beginning of the flight! Make sure you’ve packed any favorite sippy cups or tumblers with straws, and pick up something they’ll like to drink on the way to the gate, as the airline might not serve their favorite beverage. Swallowing will aid with popping those ears.
Just remember: whether it’s your toddler’s first trip to meet Mickey Mouse, or to splash little toes in the waves at the beach, you’re bound to make amazing memories that make up for any bumps on your flight!