Preparing for Take-Off with Toddlers

Flying with an Infant

Planning a trip with your toddler? Anyone who is getting ready to fly with a toddler has concerns about what will happen during the flight.

"What if my toddler throws a fit the entire time?"

"What if my toddler bothers the people around us?"

"How do I keep my child calm and occupied during hours of flight time?"

The worries are limitless. Luckily, flying with a toddler doesn't need to be so stressful.

The following information will help you be prepared, know what to expect, and help you avoid unnecessary stress.

Before the Flight:

Knowing what to carry on the plane with you is important.

Many parents feel that bringing a carseat for their toddler is the safest way to go. Carseats also keep your toddler from wriggling out of seatbelts, or trying to run down the aisles. When a toddler has their carset, they recognize it's time to travel, and they will be comforted by the familiarity of their own carseat.

If your toddler is under 2 years old, decide before booking your flight is you want them to be in a carseat. If your child is under 2, and you want to bring a carseat, you have two options:

1. Book an extra seat for your child (children under 2 are automatically considered "lap children" and aren't given seats unles requested.)

2. If you booked your toddler as a lap child, get a gate check tag before boarding, and bring the car seat on board anyway. Notify the flight attendent directly about your situation. Explain that you would like to be seated in a row that may have an empty seat. They will try to accomodate you. If the plane fills up, they will simply take your carseat and gate check it, and you will hold your child.


What You'll Need On-Board:

 When packing your carry-on bag, make sure you bring lots of diapers and wipes if your toddler is not yet toilet trained. Let me repeat that: LOTS of diapers and wipes. You do not want to run out of diapers or wipes when your sweet little one decides to fill their diaper.

On that note, you'll also want to pack some plastic bags to put any soiled diapers in before disposing of them. This prevents unpleasant smells from emminating through the airplane.

Dress your toddler in light-weight, loose-fitting clothes that will be most comfortable. Toddlers can be messy. Depending on the length of the flight, plan on bringing an extra outfit.

Choose non-messy snacks, like cheerios, diced freeze-dried fruit, fruit snacks, or goldfish crackers. Make sure the food you bring is in sealed containers that can be re-sealed once opened. Pack any utensils in plastic zip-lock bags, so that after they've been used, they can go right back in the bag without making a mess. Bring a sippy cup or two, and have the flight attendedants fill them with water during meal service instead of giving your toddler an open cup. Depending on the snacks your toddler will be eating, bring a bib. There are plastic ones available, for easy clean-up.

Make sure the toys you bring are not noisy. No rattles, no beeps, no electronic sounds. Some good options include:

open-the-flap books

mini-photo books

a textured multi-colored stuffed animal

a pretend phone (silent of course)

favorite toys with any batteries removed

washable crayons and paper

When I fly with my children (ages 2 and 4) I bring some new cheap dollar store toys that they've never seen before. I tell them that if they can make good choices, after a specific amount of time, I'll give them a surprise. When they are successful, I give them their surprise, and tell them that if they can make good choices for another segment of time, they can have another surprise. This has worked well for me and my children.

Many parents will bring DVD players, or MP3 players, or game systems. These can be great for entertaining your toddler for a longer periods of time. If you choose to bring electronic equipment, try having a new DVD or a new game available to them. You can borrow one from a friend if you don't want to buy a new one. The likelihood that your toddler's attention will stay on the provided entertainment is greater if it's something new.


What to Expect:

Toddlers are fidgety, and have short attention spans. If you make it through the entire flight without a peep from your little one, consider yourself lucky.

Crying, if it happens, is most likely to occur during boarding, take off, and landing. Toddlers can get caught up in the stress-levels they feel around them, and it makes them anxious too. Once the plane is in the air, the hum of the engine, and getting settles into their seats should help to calm them.

Before the flight, think of a few games you can use to distract your toddler if they start to whine: play peek-a-boo, "this little piggy," hide an object in one hand, and have them guess which hand it's hiding in, or "I spy" are all great options.

If your toddler refuses to calm down, walk the asiles with him or her, but make sure to tell them beforehand that they have to hold your hand, they can't run away, and if they don't behave, they'll be having a timeout. A good timeout would be to hold them back by the galley. Don't let them down, don't let them hold any toys. Soon, they will want some form of entertainment and will be content to sit back in their seat and play with toy, or watch a DVD.

If your toddler throws a screaming tantrum, take them into the lavatory, where their crying will not be as disruptive to the people around you, and where you can be more calm, and in turn, better soothe them.


Ear Pressure Myth:

Nearly everyone believes that the pressure build-up from take-off and landing can be painful or harmful to children's ears. Parents frantically shove a sippy cup, or something to suck on into their toddler's mouth, believing the sucking motion will prevent their little one's ears from bursting.

Calm down. Your toddler's ears will not explode. The primary reason toddlers cry or complain during take off and landing is due to the tension they sense from the people around them. It can be a stressful time for some young children.

If you are still concerned, just know that if your toddler does start crying, the crying is actually the best way for infants to relieve any ear pressure they may experience.

If your child has an ear infection, (in which case, there's not much you can do to prevent any pain they might experience) it's important to note that they'll feel the most ear pressure during initial descent, which occurs about 45 minutes before the plane actually lands.


Flying with an toddler does not have to be overwhelming. Be sure to check the TSA guidelines for traveling with children. Plan ahead, be prepared, and you will enjoy a smoother flight.