Tips for Flying with Toddlers

As a seasoned traveler and dad to 7, I know how stressful it can be to fly with toddlers. Don’t get caught up in the stress this year, follow these tried and true tips for ensuring easy travel with your toddlers this winter and beyond.

Planning Ahead for Toddlers:

  • Buy some books about flying in a plane so that your child will understand the whole concept. You might also buy a toy plane that you can talk about with your toddler. Discuss the people who work on the plane, where you enter the plane, where you sit on a plane, etc. The goal here is to get children used to the idea of flying.
  • Get a backpack or special travel bag that is just for the toddler, and beginning a few weeks in advance discuss how the child can help pack their bag.  Talk about what items they’d like to bring with them to play with on the plane.
  • Discuss with your child all the steps that come with flying on an airplane, such as: the ride to airport, checking bags, going through TSA, waiting to board, getting on the plane, looking out the window, etc. Then they’ll know what to expect when you arrive at the airport on travel day.

Plan in 15 Minutes:

  • Estimate the time and length of the trip from beginning to end and make plans in 15 minute increments.  For instance, if you’re planning for a 5 hour flight you’ll know:
    • The first 30 minutes your toddlers will be excited as they will have just boarded the plane; they’ll be looking out the window, watching the activity, seeing other planes, and watching luggage being loaded. Then you have the exciting take off to look forward to, too.
    • Once the plane passes through the clouds, the show is over for the child and it’ll be time to start to calculate how to entertain your toddler for the remaining 4.5 hours left in the flight.
    • You’ll want about 16 different 15-minute activities with some backups in mind, too, that will keep your toddler entertained throughout a long flight. My suggestions include the following:
      • Start with a book – while they are still excited to fly.
      • Bring a favorite toy – doll or action figure.
      • Play dough is always a good item to have on-hand.
      • Scotch tape can actually be quite entertaining.
      • Don’t forget to factor in snack time – bring a good assortment.
      • You can add 15 minutes for a trip to the bathroom or a diaper change.
      • Get out of your seats (if the seatbelt sign is off) and walk around the plane.
      • Coloring book and crayons are definite staples.
      • Change seats with each other to get a fresh view of the surroundings.
      • Talk to the seat neighbors if they’re friendly.
      • Bring some toy-cars, or play items that allow for imaginary play.
      • Bring some magnetic blocks, or other creative building toys

What to Expect as the Parent:

  • You might want your child to nap on the plane, but you need to be prepared because that won’t always happen.
  • Parents should remain calm, and listen to the child’s excitements and fears.
  • Make each activity last as long as possible. Take a diaper change, for example, walk slowly and explore on the way there and on the way back.
  • Don’t rely on the airplane for a meal. Pack plenty of food for your child.
  • Do not even think about yourself; consider yourself lucky if you get to glance at a magazine or close your eyes for a few seconds.
  • Try to avoid taking out your computer unless your child is napping.
  • Always have a “Def Con 5” item at your fingertips. What I call the Def Con 5 item is a toy you can pull out when your child is reaching melt down mode, and you still have 30 minutes trapped inside a plane.
  • I try to keep the iPad hidden as a last resort, and not as a first choice item. I’ve used the iPad as a reward or something to look forward to.

Consider Your Toddler’s Health:

  • Upon takeoff and landing, children under 3 have trouble clearing their ear pressure. You can help by ensuring they over-exaggerate yawning, drink lots of water, or chew on some goldfish.
  • If you’re able to, I suggest wiping down your airplane area with cleaning cloths. Wipe down the trays, arm rests, front and back of seats, window shades, etc. to protect your child from harmful germs.
  • Have your toddler wash his or her hands after going through TSA.
  • If the child is under 2, I recommend bringing a car seat that they’re already used to and comfortable in.
  • If you are going to bring an iPad make sure you also pack a pair of headphones that are comfortable and easy for the child to use.

The bottom line is the more relaxed and prepared you are, the easier it is for the child to learn to fly.  The more you fly, the more comfortable everyone will become.


Good luck and happy parenting!


Daddy Nickell



Daddy Nickell, father of 7, founder of and the Daddyscrubs parenting blog.

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