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  • Writer's pictureK.C. Dreisbach, LMFT

Take to the Skies: 3 Tips to Flying with a Toddler

Updated: Apr 8, 2022

The time has come... your first BIG family vacation. The reservations have been made, clothes packed, and now... you have to survive the plane flight with your baby! Yikes! I think all parents are weary of this journey, but have no fear. Today, I'll teach you some simple tricks that will help you to successfully take your toddler to the skies!

Traveling with a baby can be tricky, especially if you're stuck on a plane for 5+ hours. Nowadays, there is a lot more entertainment provided on planes that are free for you to use and moving beyond the usual "in flight movie" that everyone has to watch, regardless of whether or not you like the movie or not.

Today, entertainment on planes includes simple video games, TV show episodes, and a huge selection of movies. But these items are only helpful when it comes to entertaining your older child. It does very little to keep your Little One happy during that long flight So, what do you do?

Recently, I just returned from a family vacation to Hawaii. The 6 hour flight there was quite the experience. I had my 5-year-old daughter, and my 16-month-old son to keep busy on the flight. Fortunately, my daughter has traveled by plane many times before, and all of the in-flight entertainment I just mentioned above was really helpful in keeping her busy for the length of the flight. My rambunctious son, however, just didn't have the attention span to watch a TV for 6 hours. These tips I'm about to share with you are the way I survived such a long flight with one VERY active little boy.

1. Make sure you bring something to suck on!

When that plane takes off or lands, you know your ears are going to pop. As adults, this doesn't really bother us that much, and we know how to get our ears to pop if we need to. Babies don't have this luxury. And these sensations can be really uncomfortable for young toddlers who don't really know what's happening to them. This first tip will really help. Use a pacifier or have your older child suck on a bottle or a sippy cup during the take-off and landing of the plane. Any of these things will help the pressure in their ears to equalize and alleviate that uncomfortable sensation.

2. Pack your own entertainment for your child

If you have a tablet or a phone you allow your baby to play with, load it up with fun, interactive apps! Normally, I'm against screen time and try to use it sparingly in my own household, but on a plane, I'm a little more open to the idea. Some items you may also want to load on your tablet might be a variety of ebooks that you can read to your child while you are in flight.

You can also pack puppets, rattles, dolls, coloring books, stickers, small tubs of play-doh, interactive books (such as touch-and-feel books, or flap books), etc... Whatever it is you chose, I recommend picking these items up and stashing them away several days before your flight. This will increase your child's interest in the item because it is something they haven't seen in awhile, and thus increase the likelihood that they will be successful in entertaining your child.

If you really want to maximize this tip, determine your child's attention span, and then pack enough items to keep them busy throughout the flight. Don't give them all of these items at the same time. Slowly give them items throughout the course of the flight. For example, if your child's attention span is about 15 minutes, and your flight is approximately one hour, then you would pack 4-5 items. Every 15 minutes, you would introduce a new item to help keep your child busy.

In the case of really long flights, this might not be doable. In this situation, you might consider rotating through items to help reduce the number you need to bring. Taking the child mentioned in the above example, on a 4 hour flight, 16 items might be too much to bring. Instead, you might pack 8 items, and give your child items 1-8 during the first 2 hours, and then cycling through these same 8 items for the last 2 hours.

For an added layer of fun for toddlers and older children, consider wrapping the items in decorative wrapping paper. Just be sure to bring a bag that you can use to store all the trash.

3. Be Prepared for EVERYTHING!

Ok, so you can't really be prepared for everything, but you can certainly be prepared for most things! When I travel with my kids, I have my personal item (usually a backpack) and my carry-on. The backpack serves as my purse, diaper bag, AND the kid's entertainment bag. I usually reduce my purse down to ID, credit card, lip balm, and sunglasses. The rest I'll pack in my checked bag. I reduce the diaper bag down to some diapers, formula, and bottle/sippy cup. The rest of the bag is filled with the entertainment items. Now, the carry-on bag serves as my "OH CRAP!" bag, and this is where I prepare for everything!

When packing an Oh Crap Bag, you really want to be ready for those things that, if they go wrong, you'll wish you were never born. I usually pack an extra shirt for myself (in case of child vomit), an extra outfit for my child (in case of a poop explosion from their diaper), a thermometer (in case of an unexpected fever), a fever reducer, tissues (for those boogery noses), sweater for your child, some extra formula, and/or blanket.

Although I've never experienced a poop explosion or projectile vomit on a plane, I certainly wouldn't want to have this happen, and not be ready for it. I have experienced my child developing a high fever, however, and having teething pain on a plane. Both of these are miserable for your child to experience, for you to watch, and for other passengers to listen too. When that fever hit, I was SO glad that I was prepared. Because I had my thermometer, I was able to confidently deduce that my child had a fever, and because I had Tylenol, I was able to adequately manage his symptoms until the plane landed.

For your own "Oh Crap Bag," you might also want to consider other medications, such as cough syrup, gas drops, or allergy medication if you have a child who is prone to conditions that might require these meds. Don't forget that each bottle of medication can only contain 3 oz if you are flying in the United States. Normally, airport security is fairly accommodating if you have a child, but I have encountered some who have required me to throw away bottles of fever reducer before because they were larger than 3 oz. As such, make sure everything is "travel sized," which you can usually find pretty easily at your local store.

I hope these tips were helpful. I have flown with both my children many times, with a baby as young as 6 months and a flight as long as 6 hours, and I have masterfully been able to navigate them.

Every time I have flown on a plane with my kids, I have been complemented by fellow passengers afterwards about how well-behaved my children were on the plane; and I am confident that you too can have the same, pleasant experience with your Little One. Good luck on your journey and don't forget to take LOTS of pictures!

For more parenting tricks, hacks, and advice, consider reading my full-length books! Check them out by clicking the link.

Happy Parenting!

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Krystal Dreisbach is a licensed therapist, mindset coach, adjunct professor of counseling, and published author.  Her specialties include depression treatment, anxiety counseling, stress management support, and mindset coaching.  Learn more about Krystal and see how she can help you live a better life.

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