10 Tricks to Traveling on Planes with Toddlers

Traveling Finn

By Jenna Hall

There are lots of great resources out there for traveling with children, but in our experience traveling back and forth from the US to the UK, these are the 10 best tricks to traveling on planes with young children (and getting compliments on how well-behaved they were when we arrive!)

  1. Save your no’s until you really need them. Try to make the whole process from check-in to boarding the airplane as no-free as you can. Let the kids run in the airport, bring them to a play area (most major airports have them now), and let them explore as much as possible before the flight. Not only will it get their energy out, it will also set a relaxed tone for the trip that will carry onto the airplane.
  2. Check your stroller at the beginning. Let the kids walk, and check in extra early if your gate is far away. We bring our carrier for the little one who might get too tired, but make 2-year-old Finn walk the whole way, unless it is a night flight.
  3. Don’t carry-on more than you absolutely need. There is nothing more overwhelming than trying to get into your seat with two excited toddlers, three full carry-ons and a line of people behind you. Pack everything into one small bag. And if not small, at least make it only one bag.
  4. IMG_1143Get a window seat. The hardest part of a flight for children is taxiing and take-off when they have to be strapped into their seat, or on your lap and can’t play with the tray table or move more than an inch. Let them sit next to a window and talk about all the things you are seeing, explaining their imprisonment to make it more bearable: ‘See that airplane take off? We are next! See how fast it is going? Up, up, up it goes! Better make sure your seat belt is nice and snug so we can go that fast too!’
  5. Pack a ‘dangerous box’. Prior to a very long international flight, my mother made 18-month-old Finn a dangerous box that he could open on the plane. It contained all sorts of little things that he wouldn’t normally be able to play with such as nuts and bolts, tiny little trinkets, beads and other things that could be swallowed if a parent wasn’t sitting right there watching. He loved it and played with it for hours and although we had to watch him closely, it was a small price to pay for his entertainment.
  6. Wrap books to open on the plane. I went to Goodwill and bought a few ‘new’ books for the children, wrapped them in wrapping paper with lots of string and ribbon and let them open them on the plane. Huge hit.
  7. Make a surprise ball. Similar to numbers 5) and 6), use crepe paper (or even toilet paper could work) and wrap a bunch of tiny little ‘prizes’ (little plastic animals, cars, a sweet treat, a bracelet, a paper mask, deflated wrapping-surprise-ballballoons etc.) into ball, adding a new prize as you wrap, so they discover a new little thing as they unwrap it.
  8. Let your children explore. Unless it is a night flight, when everyone is sleeping, we will typically wander the aisles with our little one, letting her meet new people, pick up discarded cups to put in the garbage, or even join a motherly stewardess that opens her arms for an adventure. We are all bored on the flight and sometimes other people love to be entertained by little ones.
  9. Bring an iPad or smart phone with a movie or game downloaded onto it. My mother and I disagree on this particular point, but I think it is fair game to have screen time in an emergency. We try not to bring it out unless all other stops failed, but there are times when it can make a terrible flight more bearable for both parents and people sitting next to you.
  10. Give yourself a break when things go wrong. At least half the people on the plane have been in your shoes before. Nothing excites a distraught child more than parents who feel out of control. Relax a moment, take a deep breath, ignore the screaming and then approach the tantrum from a new angle and make sure you aren’t feeding the tantrum. Sometimes letting Finn scream for 10 minutes was better than trying to calm him down for 30.
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