Baby to toddler flying tips

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A snapshot of my “go bag” for traveling with a toddler. (Sarah Abruzzese)

So one thing I’ve already learned about traveling with my son is that every flight is different.

On his first flight age three months, it was easy (I now realize). He was completely immobile and I was his entire world. For the duration of the flight, he just wanted to be held by me, breastfeed and as long as I had an emergency bag prepared, we were fine.  Today at age 2-plus, he’s back to being easy again provided there is entertainment on the flight and that he isn’t confined to his seat for the entire trip. For the past 20 months though, there have been some ups and downs.

Due to living abroad and my husband’s job, our toddler has been on over 24 flights (my count includes every leg of a trip so every take off and landing). I’ve received a lot of excellent advice and wanted to catalogue some of what I’ve learned. Meanwhile, I am still processing the fact that I didn’t have my passport until my late teens/early 20s and my son had his by three months.

So my list: You should have an emergency bag of baby clothes, diapers, wipes (lots and lots of wipes), creams, blanket, hand sanitizer (if you are against sanitizers use a small bottle with soapy water), Baby Tylenol or Advil, drinking vessels and food options (pack medicine, food and drink options in a separate large ziplock and present it to Homeland Security).

Before the flight, I empty and pack away my diaper bag because it is just not enough space to bring everything I need. Take at least one extra shirt for you and if you have room a pair of pants. I like to take dog poop bags or ziplock bags to dispose of the dirty diapers. I include a diaper changing pad and possibly a larger baby blanket as airplane bathrooms are often hideous places to change a child. (One flight attendant informed me that I had to change my six month old only in the airplane bathroom, which I readily agreed to only to discover that there was no diaper changing area. He thought I could just throw the kid on top of the toilet seat or do it on the bathroom floor.

Note to self: Never agree to anything when it comes to a baby.)

As far as toys and keeping them occupied, think about their developmental level and give them a few surprises. For a long time, I could just bring soft tactile toys that he could play with and throw around — now it is small books, train engines, regular stickers, drawing stuff and reusable stickers (Melissa and Doug have some great ones that kept our son busy while we hung out for seven hours in an airport in St. Thomas). We also use an iPad with tons of apps and videos, which I know some people will not want to do.

When he was breastfeeding, I figured people would prefer to catch a glimpse of a breast rather than hear a baby scream for two to eight hours so I always had “a breastfeed as much as he wanted” rule on planes. (Happily, I never had to use the snide response to a heckler: “This is actually what my breasts are for, they are not just for motor boating.”) Obviously you want your child breastfeeding or doing something that requires swallowing so his/her ears don’t hurt on take offs and landings.  We also make a game of yawning during take offs and landings so his ears will pop.

The then baby hanging out in footy pajamas in the airport before an overnight flight. (Photo by Sarah Abruzzese)
The then baby hanging out in footy pajamas in the airport before an overnight flight. (Sarah Abruzzese)

Flying can be stressful but we try to cut down on that message and instead present the flight and trip as an adventure. He’s always been interested in people so he really enjoys public spaces.

I’ve read where parents bring little candy packets to hand out to people on planes with an explanation that your little one doesn’t really fly and please be kind. These packets often include offers of earplugs.

I kept meaning to do this but I never did and I guess I figure at this age we are past the phase. Of course, each trip could prove me wrong. Instead, we try to engage the people around us with the little guy and let them all talk and chat. I try to give off a “we’re all in this together, so we can make it” vibe, which with a few exceptions has worked well. People have offered to carry our bags, get our things from the overhead, hold my son, help with the stroller and they have stepped in at various points along the way.

One thing we learned to do is if we are traveling together as a family, we book the aisle and window seat and let someone else sit in between us. If there are empty seats somewhere else on the plane, your middle seater is more likely to move to an empty seat even if it is another middle seat. If there aren’t empty seats, we wait until the plane is completely full and offer to change seats. (If you offer to switch before, most likely they won’t move from their new aisle or window seat to a middle seat elsewhere on the plane). If I am traveling alone, I ask the stewardess to move whomever sits next to me, which they usually try to do.

And finally when booking your flight remember children usually are happiest and therefore fly better in the morning. We’ve had to fly overnight multiple times and discovered that our son rarely sleeps as much or if at all. He is just too excited, which means you don’t get that precious sleep as well. We set things up for potential sleep by putting him in his pajamas or leaving him in his pajamas for most flights even in the mornings. .

If you’ve got some travel tips that you think I should add, please feel to contact me through my website .