I started this post back in the fall and honestly, I forgot to finish it once I had my second baby boy! As I was writing it, my first baby boy had recently gone on his last vacation as a lap child. It seemed that I was just writing my guide to flying with your infant (under 1). And now he will need his own ticket! When I recently picked up where I left off, I realized that next, I will be writing a post about traveling with a toddler and an infant. So stay tuned for that one!
Before we get into specific tips, I will say that it is generally much more challenging to fly with a toddler than with an infant! The key for us was distraction and snacks. Also, if you do a lot of screen time, I think that might make things easier, but since we haven’t allowed much screen time in our family, it wasn’t as helpful as we imagined it would be. Our son isn’t used to it and doesn’t have quite the attention span that it takes to watch a show or movie. He also isn’t really into headphones and I refuse to be the parent that allows their kid to watch a show at full volume on a plane while others are trying to sleep/read/etc.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN FLYING WITH YOUR TODDLER…
Flying with a toddler (at least mine) requires full attention. Forget relaxing with a book or magazine or enjoying a beverage or taking a nap. Your job is to provide constant entertainment. We took a few flights of varying lengths (including an overnight international flight) with our son when he was between the ages of 18 months and 2 years and the experience was pretty consistent during that age range. Mostly we relied on books, songs, snacks, and pictures on our phones. Basic things like an old magazine can also provide a good amount of distraction. Our kid wasn’t too into easily packable toys at this age, so the entertainment was mainly comprised of us.
We flew to Europe with our son when he was 20 months old. This was a tough age to fly generally, but he did remarkably well considering the length of the flights. We downloaded some kid’s shows on our iPad and bought him his own headphones, but he only watched it for about 5 minutes before he wanted to take the headphones off. We read books, sang songs, and ate snacks most of the time until bedtime (which was after dinner service once they turned off the lights in the cabin).
Overnight to Europe
What to do for an overnight flight you ask? We knew this was going to be interesting with a 20-month-old. We are big on our bedtime routine at home, so we came prepared to do it as much as we could on the flight. We changed him into pajamas, read bedtime stories, sang songs, and put him to bed. We laid out a blanket on the floor and had another blanket to lay over him. We brought his white noise (we have a 12 hr white noise track on our iPad). We borrowed an inflatable ottoman from a friend, with the intention of our son laying between us with his feet on the ottoman. That didn’t work out since we were in the bulkhead row and had a barrier between our seats, but the ottoman was still useful as a barrier to block out light and prevent anyone walking the aisles from stepping on him. He actually slept for most of the flight until the flight crew woke everyone up with breakfast.
Daytime flight to US
Our flight back to the United States was LONG. After multiple cancellations/delays, we finally flew from London to Charlotte and then home. We left early in the morning London time and got back to our house just in time for our son’s usual bedtime, so we had a 15-16 hour travel day. Somehow, he stayed awake almost the entire time (he took a nap while waiting to board the international flight) and went to bed right on time. He was back on his usual schedule the next day. What a trooper!
Since our son was awake most of the flight, we watched a lot of videos and looked at photos from our trip. He really enjoyed reviewing videos and pictures of the trip we had just been on and pointing out all of his family members. We also played with an app that does face filters which kept him entertained for a while. We watched a couple of Mickey Mouse videos on the airline’s entertainment system and read a lot of books. We were so proud of him for doing such a great job on that flight!
We flew with our son to Washington D.C. and Las Vegas when he was about 22 months old. The direct flight to DC was less than two hours, but the flight to Las Vegas was closer to four. On the way back from Las Vegas, we had a layover, so he was able to run around for a bit and release some energy between flights.
The good news about domestic flights is that they are generally shorter. The bad news is that there is approximately zero percent chance that your child will nap during this short time unless they are completely exhausted or sick. My husband and I flew together with our son, so were able to trade off to give each other breaks.
We brought our son’s backpack full of books and snacks. Books can obviously be heavy, so we packed as many paperback books as we could, along with a few favorite board books. We also passed about 30 minutes ripping pages out of an old magazine (thank goodness we had an extra bag to throw trash away when we left the plane) and we sang songs like Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald to pass the time.
At 22 months, our son was able to enjoy screen time for a little bit longer than on the Europe flight, although since we don’t often do screen time at our house, it’s not something that he is used to. We downloaded some episodes of Little Baby Bum (British cartoons with nursery rhymes and kids songs) onto the iPad and could get about 15 or 20 minutes a couple of times during the flight. Our phones were also useful because he really enjoyed scrolling through pictures and videos of himself and his family members.
The bottom line is, when it comes to flying with a toddler, you do what you have to do to get through the flight. It’s a tough age because they are very active but not so independent. On our next flight, our older boy will be 2.5 and I have a feeling that we are entering a sweet spot of travel with him. Stay tuned!
Thanks for reading! I’m leaving you with lists of what we packed for our son in his backpack and in our diaper bag for flights between 18 months and 2 years old.
Books (paperbacks are good because they are lighter)
Any toys you think they might like that are easy to pack and won’t get lost easily.
DIAPER BAG ESSENTIALS
Diapers and wipes
Change of clothes
Cup for water/milk (Flights never have milk so you’ll have to bring your own – we brought toddler formula so we didn’t have to worry about refrigerating milk)
Extra bags for dirty clothes and diapers
And don’t forget, while it may be challenging to fly with a toddler, it is ALWAYS worth it to share the world with your children!