This blog post was updated on July 30, 2021.
Ah, the joys of parenting. I mean there’s nothing like those “goos” and “gaas” that you swear translate to “mum” or “dad”, those all-important first steps that seem as earth-shatteringly significant as the giant steps for mankind on the Moon, those quiet night hours snuggled up reading stories to the little people who think the world of you (regardless of a boss who thinks you’re mindless microbe).
Hey, you also remember that first flight with your toddler where she spilled juice on the steward, tugged at the passenger’s comb-over who was seated in front of you, tried to grab the little vodka bottles from the meal trolley, and cried for 2 hours straight?
You probably do, but if you had one of those mind-erasing blinky thingies from Men in Black, you’d definitely want to forget the whole experience.
Traveling with kids can be challenging but it doesn’t have to put a damper on how you enjoy your flight. With a little careful planning, you and your family can get from Point A to Point B with minimal mess or fuss. We can’t guarantee there won’t be any mid-air meltdowns, but these tips for flying with a toddler for the first time might just make your first flight with your little one memorable … for all the right reasons!
Pick a Nonstop Flight
You might be tempted to save money and go for that flight with layovers, but the quickest flight between your origin and destination will definitely make things a lot easier when traveling with kids. Going for non stop flights will ensure that there are no disruptions in case your little one just wants to snuggle up with you (if below the age of 2 and still a lap child) or stretch out on their very own seat (if over 2 years) and get some sleep. If you can time your flight to coincide with their nap time, then bingo — you’ve got a winning combination that can help you and your partner have a breather and enjoy your flight! If getting a nonstop flight is proving to be a bit more challenging than you expected, and you had to resort to a flight with a layover, make good use of that stop. Find some space at your stop-over airport to let your child run around and expend some energy — if you’re lucky enough, they’ll be so tired they might even want to take a little nap on the second leg of your journey.
Book the Aisle Seat
While you might feel cozier right next to your comfy window seat (minus passengers jump over you to use the bathroom), an aisle seat might come to your rescue, especially if you’re on a long international flight. Diaper changes and potty breaks might go a lot smoother when you’re not the one doing the jumping over passengers WITH a child in hand! If you’re traveling as a family, then you and your family can place your toddler/s in the seats between as you and your partner, so that they can have access to both the aisle (for using their cute smiles to get free snacks from the cabin crew) and to the window (for when they need to lean over and watch the world shrink during take off).
Plan Around Your Child’s Vaccination Schedule
If you think flying with a toddler can be a test, you’ll be really pushing thing if you choose to travel with a child who has just been vaccinated! Vaccinations can have side effects like fever and rash, and putting a child in this state up in the air in a crowded flight might just about be the tipping point for that angelic child to turn into a raging tantrum monster. Make sure you work your trip around your toddler’s vaccination schedule. If you really can’t adjust your travel dates then talk to your pediatrician at the earliest. Pushing a scheduled vaccination shot won’t really have any effect on your kid’s well-being, and your child’s doctor will be happy to do it if you involve them in the conversation at the earliest point of planing your trip.
Introduce Your Kid to the Idea of Flying
All the build-up in excitement after you’ve booked your airline tickets to your dream destination may make you forget one important thing: breaking the news to your toddler who has never flown before! In the weeks leading up to the trip, it’s important to talk to your toddler about flying. maybe this conversation will occur when you are at the playground and see a plane overhead. Maybe it could be through a cartoon that highlights traveling in a plane. Maybe it could be through a fun book at bedtime. However the opportunity presents itself, it’s important to teach your child about what to expect and how exciting and fun flying can be. If you have the chance to take your kiddo with you to drop family or friends at the airport, make sure to do it. Being in a airport and having that chat about “Aunt Emily is leaving on a plane and going to be flying high up in the sky! Wouldn’t it be fun for you to fly on a plane too?” is a great way to get your child intrigued and interested in what lies ahead of them.
Satisfy Appetites & Keep Hands Busy
Make sure to pack some items so that your toddler can keep busy on their first flight. Your child’s favorite toys, books, and other items will go a long way to making sure they don’t get too fidgety and restless. Also remember to pack in some school supplies like paper, glue, stickers, and crayons, which can help keep those idle hands out of mischief. All you have to do is to make sure that their creative efforts don’t end up in too much of a mess! Snacks are another essential to remember when you’re packing for your trip. Bring along healthy options like cheese, cut veggies, and crackers to keep your toddler happy, and the occasional sweet treat (like low-sugar gummies and juices) that gives them a sense of comfort in case of irritability or a full-blown tantrum. Try to keep screen time as your absolute last resort, and if you think you might have to indulge your cartoon-loving kid, then make sure to download a few of your child’s favorite shows on to one of your devices beforehand.
You may also like: Ways to Keep Your Kids Busy on a Flight (Without Screen Time)
Be Ready for Security
No one likes long security lines at airports, and if you think they’re getting on your last nerve, then imagine what they could do to your little one! If you want to avoid your toddler from losing their patience then just be prepared to get through security as quickly and effortlessly as possible. A light umbrella stroller can be real handy as it will be easy to fold and send through the X-ray machine than clunkier versions. It’s also important to have a durable stroller bag in which to place your stroller as it goes into the cargo hold, as being packed in with tons of other heavy luggage might take its toll. As for making sure your child is prepped for the security check, keep in mind that slip-on shoes that go easily on and off can help speed things along. If they’re wearing a jacket, it’s best to keep some room in one of your carry-on bags so you can place it in there before you get to the checking point. The TSA will also have some rules regarding kids and the gear that goes along with them, so make sure to read up about them on their website. You can also take common sense steps like making sure whatever liquids and foods are in easily accessible containers, and being prepared for liquids like breast milk, formula, and juice to be pulled aside for screening.
Early Boarding? Think Twice
So far so good! You’ve made it to your boarding gate with toddler in tow and no major tantrums. So what’s next? It’s a regular airline practice for families with kids to be boarded first. Wow, what could be more convenient, right? You might have to think again. It’s not uncommon for most flights to take about 20-30 minutes between boarding and actually leaving the tarmac. In case of a repair, inclement weather, or heavy air traffic this could extend to close to an hour. If your child is already feeling a bit irritable after getting through the journey to the airport and the long security lines, then it’s probably a good idea to limit the amount of time they spend sitting in cramped space without really going anywhere. If you and your partner still want to snag the prime real estate that is overhead bin space, then consider one of you staying with your toddler to board at the last minute, while the other goes in earlier with the all the luggage.
Do you have any tips for flying with a toddler for the first time? Share them with us in the comments!