Toddlers are not exactly ideal in-flight companions. With short attention spans and propensities for temper tantrums, flying with toddlers can be a challenge. Many first-time traveling parents are surprised to find that their one or two-year-old can be much more difficult on a plane than a sleepy infant.
Don’t stop traveling, however, just because your child has not yet successfully navigated the terrible twos. There are things every parent can do to improve the toddler air travel experience.
Here are 6 tips to make flying with toddlers more manageable.
1) Bring a Variety of Distractions
Toddler attention spans are extremely short. While older children are easy travel companions as long as you have a tablet or in-flight entertainment system, toddlers are not likely to be entertained for long by anything. Bring a wide variety of books, games, toys, and snacks (this list of toddler activities has some excellent age-appropriate suggestions). Switch it up when your toddler gets tired of the activity of the moment. Need ideas for what to bring for your toddler? This packing list for toddler carry-on bags is a good place to get started. As a last resort, you can always take a stroll up and down the airplane aisle to help your child use up some of that pent-up energy.
2) Consider Connecting Flights for Longer Trips
At almost every age and stage, I recommend selecting non-stop flights for travel with children. The only exception to this rule might be when you are traveling with a toddler. Flying cross-country or internationally with a one or two-year-old can be quite hard. If you have an active child, it can be a good idea to break up a longer trip into two shorter segments. You can use the layover to allow your toddler to walk, run, and explore. And sometimes you can even save money by booking connecting flights instead of a non-stop option. In this situation, choosing a connection with a toddler can be a win-win.
3) Prepare Your Toddler
Even if your toddler is not at an age where discipline works just yet, it is still important to explain what to expect before your flight. Sometimes toddler bad behavior is caused by fear of a new environment, so take the mystery out of the experience before your travel day. Also, explain the importance of good behavior, even if you are not sure your message is being understood.
4) Bribery is Okay When Flying with Toddlers
Even though you have done your best to prepare your toddler to fly, there is only so much that preparation will do. On board a plane is not the time for a discipline battle with your terrible two-year-old. Your goal should be to keep your child happy and relatively well-behaved so as not to disturb others. Bribery with a treat or two is perfectly acceptable on a plane and won’t undo all your hard work to establish limits the rest of the time. Just make sure to return to your normal rules as soon as you land.
5) Use the TSA Family Lanes
It always surprises me to hear stories about traveling families who still don’t know about the TSA family lanes now available in most U.S. airports. Family lines are often substantially shorter than regular security lines, which is essential when traveling with a testy toddler. Agents at these lanes are often (but not always) more knowledgeable about the rules for traveling with liquids like formula and juice.
Be sure to investigate the rules for using these lanes at various airports before you go. While some airports allow anyone with children to use these lanes, other airports only allow use of the lanes if you are traveling with a stroller.
6) Consider Booking a Seat For Your Toddler
A lot of parents try to stretch their travel budget by flying with lap baby right up until their child’s second birthday. While airlines allow lap children between 12-24 months, I don’t recommend it at this stage for anything but the shortest of flights. Toddlers want to move. It is often extremely hard to contain a squirmy toddler in your lap for hours on end in a small airplane seat. Instead, book a seat for your toddler and bring a car seat, which can be a great place for your little one to take a much-needed nap. You might even get to watch the in-flight movie.