The Top 5 Necessities for Air Travel with a Toddler

Dear Erin,

Poor Little Man! That’s really kind of awful, although I’m glad it seems not to have bothered him for long.

It’s good to get back to the writing, starting afresh for the new year. The only trick is continuing to think of things to write about; well, that, and not getting sidetracked by all the other life things going on.

As you mentioned on Monday, we spent the holidays on the East Coast, visiting lots of family. Thankfully Little Mister managed to avoid significant injury, unlike his younger cousin, although we might have come close by the time we were almost home.


He didn’t want to wear his own mittens, but he was perfectly happy with my gloves.

See, much as we love being with family, the travel there and back is a bit of a bear at this point in life. There’s just no denying that. And on the very last flight, LM finally lost it. He had done really well up to that point, but those last three hours were a bridge too far, in his opinion.

Nevertheless, I’m going to play advice columnist and act as though the previous five flights of this trip (and somewhere between 20 and 30 in the last year – at least, I think that’s what Charles calculated) are what really count. This entitles me to give what is surely expert advice on air travel with young toddlers.

So here is my advice – the five things you need to survive a plane ride with a toddler.

  1. Good planning. So, let’s say you’re trying to cross the country, from California to Virginia or Florida. Just as a “for instance.” That’s about 6 hours (more or less) of flying time. Without young kids, you probably opt for the cheapest flight you can bear with the fewest, shortest layovers possible. With kids, it seems to be better to break it up and give them time during a layover (if possible) to stretch their legs and work off some energy. This adds some travel time, but during the journey seems totally worth it. Also, if you can get a seat in the front of the cabin – or plan to have one of you in front of the kid who will kick the seat – that takes off some of the stress of feeling like you’re making everyone around you miserable. Finally, packing the carry on bag wisely is super important. Let’s just leave it at that.


    Christmas morning at our hotel. One of the few pics I could get of him smiling.

  2. Good luck. No getting around this. All the planning can fall in the face of bad luck. Did you try to time your flights around nap time? Better hope the kid decides to sleep and isn’t kept up by another unhappy child two rows away. Hope he doesn’t get sick. Hope you’ve fed and watered him perfectly so that there are no diaper blowouts on the plane, especially while taxiing (or stuck on a runway – an especially exquisite form of torture when traveling with a one-year-old) when you really cannot get to the one lavatory with a changing table.
  3. Non-digital distractionsWe’ve had varying degrees of luck with these, and the more novel they are to him, the longer they will entertain him. Books with lots of flaps he can open like this one or this one, or books with lots of pictures like this provide relatively extended quiet times. Small toys like cars or trains can be good. And stickers have been a surprisingly reliable hit. I provide him with paper, but he prefers to stick them on himself or me.
  4. Digital distractions. Perhaps unfortunately, but without a doubt, the best distraction is the ipad. Charles has found some good apps for LM, and he also gets to watch some saved videos on YouTube. That can satisfy him for nearly an hour at a time (when the good luck is holding). But then there’s the issue of breaking the addiction when you get home. So far, though, I’m finding it still totally worth the hassle today for the peace on the plane.
  5. Husband. Again, if at all possible, it’s best not to try to do it alone. I couldn’t do it without Charles. When one of you gets totally frustrated, the other can take over, because even with all the planning, luck, and distraction in the world, you’re still likely at some point in the journey to get to where we were late Jan. 1st, with a child who hadn’t napped all day, who was on East Coast time, who was no longer amused by any of his distractions, and had had it with not being able to move much throughout the day. And at that point, it became a matter of who had the longest fuse at the moment and could handle him. Until LM completely broke down, at which point he just sobbed in Mommy’s arms until he fell asleep, in less than 5 minutes. Then he slept the rest of the way home.


    Enjoying hibachi dinner and especially the fire.

So there you go; there’s my “expert” advice. Maybe some of that would be helpful for car trips, which you guys do more of. But then again, you have plenty of experience with that, and some of the constraints are very different. You can bring more things to entertain and stop to get out if you really need to. But on the other hand, it’s probably harder to separate them once they start fighting.



2 thoughts on “The Top 5 Necessities for Air Travel with a Toddler

  1. Pingback: Christmas Knitting, pt. 1 | crackersisters

  2. Pingback: Top 5 Necessities for Car Travel with Toddlers | crackersisters

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