Tips for Taking a Toddler on a Plane

Gen X Moms has moved to Don’t forget to update your bookmark!

This is a follow-up to the Scrivener’s blog about traveling with a baby.

Check out some air travel books from the library

Tough as it may be to take a baby on the plane, a full-fledged toddler is a whole different ball game. Not only do you have to worry about the crying, there is potential for all out tantrums. Toddlers are used to being mobile; sitting still is just not what they want to be doing. And they will let you know when they are bored or uncomfortable. In fact, all the passengers around you will know. Now they are too big to fit on the miniscule diaper changing tables found in airplane bathrooms. Does this all make you want to skip flying with a toddler altogether? Don’t lose hope. Here are some things you can do to make the ride a little smoother.

A few days before you go, talk to him/her about the thrill of flying and what to expect. Sell it to your toddler as a great adventure. Most kids feel more secure when they have some idea of what is about to happen. Explain the rules about the captain’s orders to buckle up when the light goes on, how the ride may get a little bumpy at times and that the flight attendants are there to help when you need them. You can do some playacting, read some books about planes and come up with a “plan” on how to combat those popping ears during lift off and landing. Basically, the child needs to be chewing or swallowing during this time. Let him come up with some ideas. Things are always better when you think it’s your idea. It’s the same with kids.

Buying a seat for your child is now a must because toddlers are too big to remain on your lap and are therefore not allowed. Bringing a car seat on the plane is a cumbersome thing. At this point I was really missing the much lighter infant carrier! I have found three ways to go regarding the car seat:

Child Aviation Restraint System

  1. Deal with the car seat which is usually only feasible if more than one adult is traveling with the toddler. After all, you will be carrying bags and probably handling the stroller as well. A small umbrella stroller that you can check at the gate is easiest. I learned after my travels that you can also get a stroller/car seat combo that will ease the burden a bit. Here’s a review of it. Cost is an issue. It runs about $250.
  2. Go without it and make your child buckle up. I struggled with this one because it is not the safest option but it was the most practical one at the time.
  3. Bring an FAA approved child restraint system you can buy for about $75. I wish I had found this earlier. Hopefully it’s not too late for you! Find out more at

Just as you did for baby, you must bring snacks. If there will be no meal served, bring lunch/dinner as well. Variety is key. Cheerios was always a good choice for my kid. Not only can your toddler eat them, you can bring a piece of yarn and kill time stringing them. Fruit, crackers, granola bars, etc. Water is better than juice to keep them hydrated. Kids enjoy having the power to choose what they want rather than being told what they have to eat. Beware of anything that might upset the stomach. McDonald’s may tempt you at the airport but you may regret it later. It will probably be a bad day as far as his diet goes but a happy kid is a happy traveler.

Unlike with baby, trying to wear my toddler out before getting on the plane only served to make him grumpy and less willing to try a nap. If at all possible, invest in or borrow a portable DVD player. Don’t rely on the airline to provide entertainment for your child. Again, give the child some choices as to what movies he wants to bring. Just by sitting and watching a movie, the lull of the airplane almost always put Rocky to sleep. This is golden! IMPORTANT: don’t forget to charge the batteries before you leave.

During those times when you can’t use any portable devices, bring some books/games/small toys along. It helps if some of these things are a surprise. We always purchased a new sticker or activity book ahead of time. Other good things to bring are silly putty (much cleaner than Play-Doh), cards, notepads and crayons, easy puzzles. Check out any dollar store or the bargain bins at Target for more ideas.

If you are traveling far, switching planes is not a bad idea. This gives the child a chance to get up and stretch those legs between flights. If you need to change a diaper, this is also easier at the airport than on a plane. Otherwise, you may need to let the kid roam the aisles when it is safe to do so. Try to visit the bathroom when you can to avoid messy clean up. Make sure you always have at least two changes of clothes, just in case. If your toddler will tolerate it, having him/her wear a pull-up diaper will give you some peace of mind in case you are not able to get up when the child decides he needs to go NOW.

If you have room in your bag, bring along a small blanket and/or pillow.

Finally, try to stay focused on your child and not worry too much about what others think when things don’t go perfectly. I’ve found that most people genuinely appreciate that you are making an effort. If they don’t, it just has to be their problem and not yours. You’ve got enough on your plate already! Happy Travels!

The Librarian