Practical Survival Guide To Flying With A Toddler

Pragmatic survival guide to flying with a toddler - Header Image

Key Points

  • Planning and being early to the airport are key when flying with a toddler
  • Keep them occupied with an assortment of activities and consider relaxing your rules on screen time
  • Sharing in your toddler’s excitement can make the flight more enjoyable for both of you
  • Read the information your airline sends about flying during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Help your toddler follow good hand hygiene at the airport and on the plane

Are you apprehensive about flying with a toddler? Many parents are. And not without cause because this is an entirely different experience than jetting off by yourself or with your significant other on a romantic holiday.

There’s no more packing at the last minute. No more relying on in-flight snacks to get you through. And certainly no chance you’ll be enjoying leisurely drinks at an airport bar before you board the plane.

Instead, planning, being early and focusing on the safety of your little people will be the go. But don’t worry. If you let it, there are parts of the flying with a toddler experience that can be fun too.

Before the flight

Pack activities galore

The best way to keep your restless toddler contained on a flight is to keep them occupied. And that means packing plenty of activities that they can do from their seat. You’re looking for ones that aren’t sticky, messy or noisy. And if they're simple and don’t require your supervision or input, well that’s even better!

Kid sitting on luggage on the way out the house

Things like colouring books, sticker books, reading books, puzzle books, or an etch a-sketch are great. And our favourite tip is to include some surprise activities. It will up the excitement factor for your toddler when there are some activities tucked into their bag that they don't expect!

Pack snacks galore

A plane flight is no different than any other outing - you must always be prepared with snacks! Relying on the in-flight service is not a good idea. They may not have what your toddler likes, they may come around at a time your toddler doesn’t want anything, or worst of all, your toddler may have to wait too long for his turn to choose from the cart!

Things like colouring books, sticker books, reading books, puzzle books, or an etch a-sketch are great. And our favourite tip is to include some surprise activities. It will up the excitement factor for your toddler when there are some activities tucked into their bag that they don't expect!

Pack plenty of wipes (in carry-on)

Make cleaning up a breeze with a pack of wipes large enough to last the entire flight and airport experience. Whether you’re dealing with the mess from eating snacks or the dreaded travel sickness, you’ll be glad you came prepared!

Pack a change of clothes (in carry-on)

Messy accidents always happen at the worst times. Make it easy to recover by packing your toddler and yourself a change of clothes in your carry-on bag. It will help you both feel fresh for the rest of the flight.

Pack regular medications (in carry-on)

If your toddler takes any regular medications, it’s a good idea to have them on you at all times. Not only in case you need them during the flight, but as a fail-safe if your checked baggage happens to get lost.

Children’s pain relief might also be helpful if your toddler’s ears are hurting.

Pack comfort items (in carry-on)

Are there any items your toddler depends on for sleep or to help them cope when they are upset? It’s essential you take these on board with you - whether that be a dummy, a lovey or favourite stuffed toy.

Pack kid-safe headphones (in carry-on)

If you are taking devices for your toddler to use on board, or are hoping to take advantage of any in-flight entertainment on offer, we recommend you take kid-safe headphones.

Child listening to music on plane with headphones

Not only will this keep your toddler entertained, but it will also stop the noise from the devices bothering other passengers (including you!)

Choose your seats wisely

There are a couple of ways you can go when booking the ideal seat for your toddler.

Toddler sleeping across multiple seats on the plane

An aisle seat is helpful for fast toilet trips (no clambering over other family members or strangers seated with you). It’s also ideal if you want to give your toddler the opportunity for walking the aisle when safe to do so.

However, if your toddler is likely to jump out of their seat whenever they please, the window seat will be a better choice. Not only will it give them something to look at, but it will mean arms and legs don’t get bumped by food and beverage carts, and they won’t be underfoot other passengers and cabin crew. In fact, CASA recommends that window seating is safer when flying with a toddler for these reasons.

Choose your flight time wisely

For longer flights, many parents choose to fly at night in the hopes their toddler will sleep for much of it. For short flights, it might be helpful to fly in the morning, while your toddler is fresh from a good night’s sleep (although not too early because you need to allow that extra time at the airport!).

It will likely depend on your individual toddler and their routine. If you’ve been on any longer car trips lately, this might give you some clues as to what time will suit your family best when flying with a toddler.

Request special children’s meals

If you are going on a longer flight and meals will be provided on board, you should request special children’s meals from the airline . This way you can choose something they will be happier to eat and that meets their needs.

Boarding and disembarking the plane

Arrive at the airport early

Whereas you once may have dashed through the airport to your departure lounge with seconds to spare, when you’re flying with a toddler it’s best to be extra early. Much like planning to get out the door on time for any outing, you need to add some “buffer” time for unexpected nappy changes or toilet trips, spills that need cleaning up or time for diffusing a tantrum.

Excited toddler in pram arriving at airport with luggage

There are other benefits to arriving at the airport early too: your toddler will get to enjoy what is going on around them. They will probably have a lot of questions, they may want to take a few extra turns on the travelator or see other planes taking off and landing.

It also means you’ll have time to explain what will happen before you go through airport security, and allay any fears they may have.

Tire them out before getting on the plane

This is another reason it’s beneficial to arrive at the airport early. There’s not a lot of opportunity for your toddler to stretch their legs on a flight, so burning off as much energy as possible at the airport will make an enormous difference. They should be happier settling in to do some of those activities you’ve packed, or even better, take a nap!

Board last

Standing in a long queue to board a plane is one of the things we’ve been conditioned to tolerate as adults. Unfortunately, our children have not. So, why should we expect them to do so, when we can let them continue playing happily for a while longer?

Toddler sitting on suitcase on Tarmac waiting for plane

Once the queue starts to dwindle, then it’s time to board. And another thing, why add to the time your little one has to sit still on the plane, when you don’t have to?

During the flight

Give them something to suck on take-off and landing

You toddler might suffer from ear pain when the plane takes off and again when it lands. Giving them a drink bottle or healthy treat to suck on at these times could make a huge difference to their flying experience. Not only will it help in those moments, but it will also mean they don’t start building up a negative association to flying.

Keep seat restraints fastened when seated

“Infants and children must be secured in an approved child restraint system throughout the flight .” This will help to keep them safe during any flight turbulence that occurs.

Additionally, your toddler should never be allowed to sit on the floor because they may be difficult to see and become accidentally injured underfoot.

Relax your rules about screen time

It’s completely up to you, but we would suggest that relaxing your rules about screen time may help make the flight more enjoyable.

Toddler watching tv from their seat on the plane

We aren’t suggesting your little one remains glued to a screen for the entire flight, but if they are allowed to watch an episode or two of their favourite show, particularly on longer flights, they’ll be thrilled.

Share in their excitement

Flying should be an adventure in your child’s eyes. It will probably all be new to them. No doubt they will have plenty of questions and be excited to fly through the sky! If you embrace their excitement, you might find the trip will be more fun than you expected. Encourage them to be friendly to the cabin crew too.

Flying with a toddler during the COVID-19 pandemic

In normal times, “children and young adults are generally more liable to become ill while traveling than are older adults in terms of travel-related illness attack rates.” This is because their behaviour often means they are transferring germs into their mouths and are therefore exposed to more pathogens than adults.

During the COVID-19 pandemic you may be even more concerned about health and safety when flying with a toddler.

Your airline should be sending you information regarding health and safety measures before you fly so you know what to expect. For instance, they may supply masks and sanitizing wipes to clean surfaces that you will be touching on the plane.

To minimise health risks it's important to follow good hand and personal hygiene, both at the airport and throughout your flight.

According to “If you’re wondering whether your child should be wearing a face mask in addition to other physical distancing measures, it’s important to consider:

  • your child’s age and developmental stage
  • your child’s medical history
  • your child’s ability to put on, wear and remove a face mask correctly and safely
  • your ability to provide close supervision while your child is wearing a face mask.”

Even though flying with a toddler might take more thought and preparation than you’re used to, there’s definitely room to have fun with it! Flying in a plane is a huge novelty to your toddler, so try to share in their awe and excitement and you’ll find it goes much better than expected.