How to Fly With Toddlers (And Enjoy It)

Flying with Children

If you think the pain of childbirth is more bearable than the prospect of traveling on a plane with your toddler, read on.

There’s no reason you can’t survive a few hours on the plane, and you might even find a minute or two to relax (OK, maybe a second or two) if you plan ahead.

Listen as FareCompare’s Anne McDermott talks with Kim-Marie Evans of LuxuryTravelMom.com, who has some expert advice on traveling with the kiddies (and pay close attention to the part about the “free drinks“):

Booking Your Flight

  • Booking your flight for mid-morning might ensure a less crowded plane, gives you wiggle room when trying to get out the door on the day you leave, and gives you better odds of getting on a flight later in the day if you’re bumped or there’s bad weather.
  • Flying in the middle of the week is not only an excellent strategy for getting cheap flights, but you might also find less crowded flights.
  • Check the airline for information on traveling with children. Many offer discounted seats for children younger than two. If you can afford to buy your child a seat rather than sitting on your lap, do it. Mother of two Wendy Perrin says with their own seat, toddlers will fall asleep sooner and stay asleep longer, they can move their arms and legs more, and are easier to play with. Your sanity will thank you.

Sharing

  • Pick up a book or DVD, like the “I’m a Good Little Traveler!” toolkit, that will show your child what happens at an airport and explain what it’s like to fly.

Packing

  • Set aside a couple of diapers, wipes, diaper cream, hand sanitizer and a plastic bag to stow in the seat pocket so you don’t have to dig through a big diaper bag on the plane.
  • Pack a couple books and new toys and “new” old toys that your child might have forgotten about. Don’t forget to pack your child’s favorite toy.
  • If your child has his own seat, consider getting a Cares flight harness, which can be attached to a regular airplane seat and lap belt and is designed for kids aged 1 to 4 who weigh 22 to 44 pounds or bring an FAA-approved car seat. This will not only keep your child safe, but also useful for controlling wiggly toddlers.
  • Make use of the in-flight entertainment (check ahead to see if there are kid-friendly channels) or bring a portable DVD player (don’t forget to charge your batteries).
  • Pack dry food your child enjoys (in case they don’t like the on-flight food). Steer clear of super-sugary snacks, but keep a treat or two on hand to bribe them when needed. Remember TSA rules for liquids.

At airport

  • At check-in, ask if the flight is full. If it’s not, ask if you can be seated in a row with an empty seat, which is especially useful if your toddler doesn’t have her own seat.
  • Airports are like their own little countries; don’t check your stroller until you’re at the gate.
  • Tire your kid out while waiting. Research in advance to find out if the airport has a play area for children (check out USA Today’s list of kid-friendly airports). If there isn’t one, look for uncrowded, open spaces where your tot can run around without bothering others.

On the plane

  • Board first and get off last to improve your chances of getting assistance from the flight crew. Or, if you’re traveling with a companion, have them board first with as much gear as they can handle while you entertain your child, that way all you have to do is get your child seated after the rest of the passengers have boarded.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask flight attendants for assistance. They’ve seen enough harried parents to know how to help your trip go smoothly.
  • Offer your child something to sip or suck on during take-off and landing to help their ears. You can also try child-sized EarPlanes.
  • Deliciousbaby.com offers ten great (and inexpensive) ideas for keeping a toddler occupied during a flight, including letting them play with a cup of ice and a straw, and playing “I Spy” with the in-flight magazine.

The best way to survive your flight (and hopefully enjoy it) is to keep a positive attitude. Ignore the inevitable frustrated sighs, angry stares, and head shaking from other passengers when your kid has her mid-flight meltdown. They’ll get over it, and so will you.

To avoid becoming overwhelmed, plan minute-to-minute rather than hour-to-hour. Celebrate each step of the journey (Checking in, getting through the security line, boarding the plane).

Kids of any age are smart and they know when you’re stressed. Make sure to smile and tell them how excited you are about your big adventure. Cheerfulness is infectious and can help put the whole family at ease.

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Published: May 27, 2011