Toddlers. An unpredictable bunch of little humans. Flying with a toddler is a totally different league than flying with a baby. Many of the tips and tricks that apply to flying with babies won’t apply to toddlers.
I remember how nervous I was before our first ever plane journey with the little one. She was only three months old then. It was by far the easiest trip with her abroad. And as the time goes, flights are becoming more and more challenging. The worst so far was the most recent one. I was THAT mum with a toddler, who would scream on top of her lungs. Throughout most of the landing stage.
Oops, sorry fellow passengers, especially to you, young and carefree travellers sitting right next to us. I know you were hoping for a quiet and enjoyable flight at your last row seats. Know that I was hoping for the same thing. But at least you know next time you fly, that those last row seats are reserved for those anxious mums travelling with their highly energetic toddlers.
So, with this recent experience still firmly in my mind, I thought it would be a good idea to compile a list of Dos and Don’ts. Some useful tips on flying with a toddler. Lessons I learned during those few solo flights I’ve been on since the little one became a very active, always-on-the-move toddler. I don’t claim to be a pro. But if this list helps only a couple of you worried mamas to have a more enjoyable flight than our last was, then it’s mission accomplished. So here goes.
DOS of flying with a toddler
- Arrive at the airport early. This is the case with babies and toddlers alike. You don’t want to rush things. Travelling with kids takes twice as long as travelling without them. Just the airport security alone. It’s not just your coat, hand luggage, pulling out all your electronics or taking your shoes off and you are ready to go. On top of all that, you need to completely empty your buggy, explain what baby food you are carrying and taking some of it out as well, take your little one out of her buggy, and then repack everything back once you’ve been scanned. And then, don’t forget you still need time for a nappy change and possible change of clothing before boarding, giving your toddler some snacks and letting her stretch her legs. Which brings me to the next point.
- Let her walk whenever it’s possible. Before you board a plane, make sure your toddler stretches her legs. The last thing you want to do is keeping your child in her buggy at the airport, all the time. Make sure she has enough time and opportunity to burn some of that energy off before she is buckled on your lap by that evil child restraint device. Once the seatbelt sign above has been switched off, let her walk up and down the aircraft aisle if she wants to. Not all flight attendants will be overly happy about it, especially on Ryanair flights, as they are always on the move trying to sell you something. But who cares. I’m pretty sure, that your fellow passengers will rather have that than a toddler in a full-blown fit.
- Bring screen entertainment. Smartphone, tablet, whatever you have. Any rules you have about screen time have to go aside here. My little one won’t watch anything for more than 10 – 15 minutes at a time, but hey, you are that bit closer to landing. So that still counts. Seriously, how did parents keep their toddlers entertained before all the today’s technology was widely available? Do whatever you have to do to keep your toddler happy and occupied. Toys, stickers, screen, you can’t have too much entertainment for a toddler.
- Bring plenty of snacks. And a variety of different snacks. Healthy, such as fruits, yoghurts, but I also pack some of the naughty stuff I know my little one loves. I try to feed her the more healthy ones while at the airport so that I don’t fuel her energy levels even more. And then keep those more sugary snacks for an emergency. You know, for the situations where you’ve exhausted the entertainment, failed to put your overtired toddler to sleep, lost all the dummies you carried. It may or may not work all the time (in fact, it didn’t during our last flight), but a little bribery is definitely worth a try.
- Have spare dummies (more than one) or whatever comforters your toddler needs to wind down. When your toddler is overtired, and the dummies start to fly in every direction, you can never have too many of them. Why I didn’t have one of those smart dummy clips, you ask? Oh, I had. But during the rage, they are of no use whatsoever.
- Expect tantrums. They are inevitable. Sooner or later, they will be throwing themselves on the departure lounge floor. Your little one is at that age when she wants to explore everything. And airports are perfect places for a bit of expedition. So explaining to a fifteen-month-old during those leg-stretching periods that she isn’t allowed to touch this or that or run in any direction their little legs can take them may not always go down well.
- Prepare for the worst. And hope for the best. Expect the unexpected. Don’t forget that your little one is out of her comfort zone too. Anything can trigger a meltdown. You may well have a pleasant experience (ok who am I kidding) but if you are prepared for the worst, you are more likely to handle the situation better than if you are caught completely off guard.
DON’TS of flying with a toddler
- Expect a smooth flight like with babies. If you think that flying with your baby is hard, wait till she is an energetic toddler. Of course, I’m not saying flying with babies is plain sailing. They too can be very unpredictable, but once they reach the toddlerhood, you will realise just how much easier baby stage was when it comes to flying. Oh, where are the good old times, when my three-month-old slept through the whole journey? That won’t happen with a toddler. Seriously, our first flight couldn’t have been more ideal.
- Assume that just because you are flying at night, your toddler will sleep. This might have been the case in the first year of your baby’s life. In fact, night flights worked brilliantly for us most of the time. It wasn’t always as simple as waiting for the engine to start for baby to doze off, but with a little rocking and comforting at the back of the aircraft, she would eventually fall asleep. Not as easy anymore. Maybe it’s time to swap evening for daytime flights. When you travel with a toddler on an evening flight, be prepared for a full flight entertainment. Something I didn’t really consider during our last journey.
- Disregard purchasing a proper adult seat for your toddler, if she is under two. I know you want to take advantage of the cheaper fare before you have to pay a full price for your child, once they reach their second birthday. But there are two very good reasons why you should give it some serious thought. First and the most important, your toddler will have more room. My little one hates sitting still on our laps, or any laps really. And if you add the cramped conditions, then a little disaster may be coming your way. I think I will seriously consider purchasing an adult ticket next time. Second, if you are flying with a low-cost airline, and you book your flights well in advance, the fully-priced ticket won’t be that much more expensive than the infant fare you would otherwise be paying.
- Make the eye contact with fellow passengers. Ok, so this is for those situations you never want to find yourself in. The situations when you are THAT mama with THAT screaming kid. The best response? If you choose not to look at the annoyed unlucky passengers around you, you will not see the evil stares. Remember that you won’t see these people ever again, so just chill about the whole situation and run as fast as you can.
- Expect your buggy will be waiting for you by the aircraft stairs when you land. Some airports will only give you your buggy back together with the rest of your luggage at the conveyor belt. Not ideal when you travel solo with your little one. And then it takes you ten minutes to arrive at the passport control, and you have to wait another fifteen minutes at a massive queue, all with your toddler in your arms. Letting her run around in an overcrowded space with a strict security is just not an option. The best thing you can do when you travel with a toddler is avoiding going solo. If that’s not an option, see if your hand luggage can go on hold together with your buggy before you board the plane. So you only carry a baby bag on board. Your arms and shoulders will thank you, trust me.
So these are my Dos and Don’ts tips on flying with a toddler. Have you got any more to add? Please share your own experience below.