Planning a trip with a toddler this summer that includes a flight? Terrified about what might be in store? We’ve flown several times with our daughter (now 2) since she was 1. It’s always gone great with her, and I end up being the one who’s stressed out. Every time we go, I stress less. Here are some tips from our experiences:
Use a CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System) toddler harness instead of lugging a carseat if possible (www.kidsflysafe.com). It’s FAA approved for all aspects of the flight and super-easy to use. It also only weighs one pound and easily stows in a carryon or diaper bag. You can rent a carseat when you rent a car if necessary. If you’re not renting a car, but need a carseat, some larger cities offer child equipment rental. The CARES is a little expensive, but if you travel a lot, it will pay for itself by saving hassles. If you don’t travel often, consider co-purchasing it with another family (or families). The odds are pretty slim you would need it at the same time, and cost-sharing makes it more affordable.
Plan the flight for nap time if you can.
Let them have a pacifier (if they use one). It helps keep their ears clear and their mouths closed and is usually a comfort object.
Bring a sippy cup. If they start screaming from pressure in their ears, get them to drink (tell them it will make it better). The swallowing helps relieve the pressure.
Take favorite snacks (obviously). Again, the chewing and swallowing helps with pressure in the ears.
Take a diaper bag/carryon that’s easy to carry and easy to organize. I would recommend a messenger bag style or a backpack. We use a Short Haul Backpack from Baby Sherpa. It’s a little more expensive than some bags, but TOTALLY worth it, in my opinion. I also know we’ll use it for years when traveling – even in the car. It has lots of great compartments for organizing and it makes airport navigation a breeze (hands-free!). There is a larger bag (the Baby Sherpa) available with more compartments. We found the Short Haul to be plenty for us, but if you have more than one child, you might want to size up. We chose our bag in cobalt blue for easy visibility during airport maneuvering.
Take a variety of small toys. I saved the great, zip-up plastic packaging from Robeez shoes and collected misc. small toys before the flight. Mostly old favorites are great, but throw in a few new ones to cash in on the novelty factor. Here are some things we’ve packed: Matchbox cars, FP Little People, Schleich plastic animals, *safe* kid’s-meal toys, finger puppets, etc. In the absence of Robeez packaging, a ziploc bag works just fine too.
Take a few small, paperback (light) books. Our Baby Sherpa bag has a back pocket with a changing pad. We left the changing pad at home, packed a couple of lightweight disposable changing mats, and put the books in that outside pocket. Perfect.
Pack a favorite stuffed animal or “lovey.”
Take a travel pack of tissues.
Take a mini bottle of hand sanitizer if you’re a germaphobe like me.
In case of puke, take a plastic shopping bag or 2. (Check to make sure there are no holes!) They wad up nicely in a corner of your bag and can be used for catching puke or putting soiled clothes in afterward (firmly tie them shut after use). A gallon sized ziploc works well, too. Also pack a change of clothes, wipes, and 1 or 2 cloth diapers.
Talk about the airplane ride beforehand, including the fact that it might be bumpy and noisy, that their tummy and ears might feel a little “funny” but that it will go away, that there will be a lot of people and, finally, that they will have to stay buckled. Don’t forget to talk up the fun factor: being in the sky, seeing the clouds, getting to your vacation FAST, etc.
Don’t forget to talk about the security checkpoint. For some reason, this was probably the scariest part for Jenna. Maybe because of the line of strange “big” people? Maybe because everyone is pretty tense and she picked up on it? Maybe because of the stern looking people in uniforms? She was especially hesitant and alarmed about placing her stuffed animal buddy on the belt to go through the x-ray machine. I wished I would have prepared her for that stage a little better. Tell them there will be a big line of people, that they’ll have to take their shoes off, that there will be people in uniforms (like police), that bags, shoes and animals have to go through an x-ray machine so the “police people” can see what’s inside them and make sure they’re safe, that they’ll have to walk through a doorway while a “police person” watches to make sure they’re safe, that you put your shoes back on and get your bags and stuffed animal and then go find the airplane.
Dress everyone (you too) in shoes that are easy to take off and put back on for the security checkpoint. It just makes that whole process go more smoothly.
I’m probably forgetting something, but you’ll do fine. Remember, a flight is just a small brush stroke in the big picture of life. Even if it goes poorly, it will be over before you know it. And you’ll probably never have to see those other passengers ever again in your life. Happy traveling!
Flying with an infant? Check out this review at Thingamababy