Flying with babies and toddlers

flying with baby

Hey! You’re flying with small folk. Well done. Way to choose adventure.

Flying with babies and toddlers may fill you with dread. It gets bad press. There’s a significant amount of advance prep. Air pressure can be uncomfortable for small folk, as can long periods of time in a tiny space. They might wail. Your fellow passengers may harbor strong opinions about your kid’s right to fly. The scenario gets stressful fast.

You’ve read our ninja tricks ‘8 things you need to know before flying with a baby or toddler’. You’re calmly preparing for travel. You know how to get a baby passport, and count out enough diapers. Here are some other parenting ninja tricks to help handle the airport and flight.

How to fly with babies and toddlers

1. Be systematic.

Channel that annoying, super organized friend. Keep baby food, toddler snacks, milk, formula, and water in one place so you can whip it out in one go at airport security. Same for baby toiletries. Security staff will take long enough poking through all of it, you don’t need any extra delays due to poor organization.

2. Gear decisions: strollers versus baby carriers.

Wearing your infant in an Ergo or other baby carrier can make security and boarding faster and easier because you’re hands free. You don’t have to worry about folding up your stroller for the scan, or pre-boarding. You can check it through to your destination. One caveat: you are not allowed to wear your baby during take off and landing, so it’s better to snuggle them to sleep once you’re up in the air, as opposed to waking them to unstrap and restrap.

With toddlers, or families with babies and toddlers, travel strollers are your best option. They’re light and easy to collapse and tote. Even the most energetic tot tends to get tuckered during flight connections on a long travel day, and will appreciate the sitting option.

3. Dress nicely.

People judge books by their covers, craft beer by the label, etc. Branding is a big business. You will have an easier time you and yours avoid the yoga class look and dress comfortably yet adorably. The exception is night flights for infants, when pjs are both cute and required.

4. Make friends with flight crew.

The flight crew members are your allies. They can advise, assist with logistics, assist with emergency clean ups, provide distractions, stow bags and strollers, show up with treats, and even let you preboard on airlines where preboarding is deemed an out-of date policy. Make friends; ask for favors. Remember, many of them are also parents.

5. Take advantage of the stuff in the seat pocket.

For no known reason, babies and toddler like flight safety cards, tray tables, and sick bags. Before you break out your parent-planned entertainment, let them make full use of the free stuff in their face. Many airlines will also bring you a kid pack with stickers, coloring and even small books. Note: You may want to sanitize the safety card and table area before they get involved with playing.

6. Bring small surprises.

We’ve read articles about parents packing bribery bags for adults sitting near them to apologize for flying with babies. Instead, focus on you and yours. Invest in some small, shiny, new things for your baby and toddler. You don’t have to spend a lot to make an exciting goody bag. Pipe cleaner wiggly worms. A new coloring book. A small glitter baton. A bejeweled tiny box in a tiny box, in a tiny box. Finger puppets. A stretchy dino. Monster stickers. You get the idea.

Pick up three small, creative novelties. Don’t take them all out at once, or your kid will expect you to pull a rabbit out of a hat every twenty seconds. Keep expectations realistic. Take your time. Play with each one.

7. Containerization.

New novelties and old toys are made infinitely more appealing to babies and toddlers by containerization. Wrap things. They will use time on and take joy in unwrapping stuff. Box things. Bag things. They can play by hiding things, pretending they have a purse or wallet, and generally putting things in and out of containers such as cloth pouches, small boxes, and zip bags.

Also bring extra plastic bags for explosions of poo, food, or anything else messy, so you can transport the gross item to your new destination for cleaning.

8 Have a safety blanket.

Pack one item that is a sure-fire comfort to the kid. Their stuffed dog. Their favorite story. Something familiar to soothe for naps or crises.

9. Snack attack.

We pack healthy snacks because sugar, like too many new toys, can bring on burst of enthusiasm followed by massive mood crashes. It’s better to be even keel. If you have special treat, break it out at the very end to congratulate them on being so well behaved on the flight. A lollipop for a toddler at landing can soothe air pressure problems and serve as a surprise treat.

10. Moderating screen time.

The iPad is your friend, but not your only friend. It’s important to detox from screens before flying so they’re more effective when you deploy them. Have one comfort game or film, and one new one. Don’t plan on relying on a screen the whole time, especially on longer flights.

11. Deploying meds.

We know a UC Berkeley professor and father of four who sedates his little ones Benadryl before flying. You’ll even find some pediatricians backing this up, with advice on age, proper dosage, and advance testing. They test in advance because on some kids, Benadryl can cause hyperactivity.

We have never sedated kids. We’re not advocates. But we have had to dose a little one with Tylenol on board to relieve ear pain during a flight with teething. It’s not a bad idea to bring a small bottle of pain reliever just in case. Once they’re pain free, they can nap or play.

12. Reacting under pressure.

Little ears are sensitive to cabin pressure. Help small folk feel better by giving milk or water to suck during take-off and landing, or using a pacifier. For landing with toddlers, chewing gum or a lollipop can be used as a reward and a cabin pressure antidote.

13. Handling crying or tantrums.

Babies and toddlers cry. It can be about eating, sleeping, discomfort, fear, or not getting their way. Be calm. If a passenger reacts rudely, remember to keep your cool. It takes two to tango. Your calm is important for you and your kid.

You’re a good parent. Crying happens. Go through the checklist of ways to solve it like you always do, whether it’s about needing a nap or relieving ear pain. If it’s a tantrum, use your tantrum system. Talk to the tot, indicate this isn’t acceptable, offer them a way out. If possible, take them for a second alone in the loo.

If everything fails, remember that you will never see these people again after your flight. This episode doesn’t necessarily mean your kid will lose it on every flight. We’ve had a few bad flights and a lot of good ones. Keep it in perspective. Disembark from that plane, let it go, and have fun on your travels.

14. Bring a back-up outfit.

Your kid may be capable of going through multiple back up outfits on one flight. Just pack one extra. Your carry on isn’t your suitcase. Use the back up outfit for a major crisis like poo-tastrophes. Worst case scenario, they show up slightly grubby.

15. Don’t over pack.

We keep listing things to bring. On the other hand, over-preparation can cause problems. If you over pack food, toys, clothes you will be more stressed because you won’t be able to find anything, or fit your carry-on in an easily accessible place. Read an article on minimalism before you start stuffing your carry on. Prioritize diapers.

8 things you need to know before flying with a baby or toddler

Lead image: FabulousTerrah


About author

Small Folk Travel

Small Folk Travel is a family travel site by mama and travel writer Taraneh Jerven. The Jerven family (two toddlers, one bun in the oven) travels incessantly. When researching our trips, we couldn't find the family travel coverage we were looking for. We did our own research. We wrote the family travel guides ourselves. Taraneh Jerven writes for international travel publishers including and DK Eyewitness Travel. We cover good stuff for discerning parents and their little ones. Often these overlap. If they don't, we take turns.

1 comment

  1. Becks 2 April, 2016 at 20:01 Reply

    Some great tips! I’m a big fan of taking small surprises and gift wrapping them in a few layers so my sons take forever unwrapping them 🙂 Isn’t it funny how kids love the stuff in seat backs – a crumpled old in-flight magazine kept my baby entertained for an hour once!

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