Tips for Flying with Toddlers and Preschoolers

We’ve talked about how flying with infants can be stressful, but flying with toddlers and preschoolers comes is another level of extra! And it is more likely that you’ll be flying with a small Houdini (child, I mean), than with an infant. You’re at the point of feeling confident in your parenting prowess and it’s time for that long-awaited vacay.

Yes, it can be a vacation! You just have to get prepared, have a bag full to the brim with tricks and treats, and be savvy and slow!

  1. Practice, practice, practice! Yes, you kind of have to practice, but how does one do that if like, you don’t have a plane? Each time you take a trip to Target, practice your pre-departure expectations, and tell your child explicitly what you expect. Make it fun, and have them repeat the “rules” back to you. Let them know that they can express to you when they are bored, angry, sad, etc. but they must use their words. And you, practice anticipating your child’s needs; keep communication open. You already do these things as a parent, so it will be easy, but it is more pertinent that you are semi-rigid with this particular event.

  2. Have an awesome Barney Bag (you remember that right?) “I’m looking in my Barney Bag to see what I can….” Okay seriously, the reason the bag was so damn cool was because you didn’t know what he was going to pull out of it! The novelty of the toys and tricks was enough to keep us interested. This is what you want for your kiddo. So start collecting new toys and activities weeks before and put them aside. If you know that a particular toy is well-loved, put it away for a while and get it back out on the trip! I do this all the time with my “bag of tricks” in our kids yoga classes. Kids like to shake things up!

  3. Choose smart times. This is critical. Believe it or not, early bird and red eye flights are better to choose than mid-day. It is much more difficult to coax a nap at this time since they tend to be overtired at this point. Your child most likely wakes early anyway, so take advantage of that and by the time the plane departs and gets in the air, they will be sleepy. Red eyes can be great since their internal clock already wants them to sleep and the cabin is usually dim and quiet. TSA lines can be hit or miss though so….

  4. Get TSA Pre-Check. Just do it. It makes travelling so much easier. And it is totally worth the $80 or so bucks to not have to take off shoes or try to pull out the Cheerios without your little detective seeing. This alone may be the golden ticket! I travel alone and kick myself every month that I haven’t done it. To be able to just waltz through the metal detector….sigh….

  5. Budget an extra day for travel. If you are traveling within two hours, you can ignore this, but anything longer than that, yep, budget an extra day. Long flights and multiple connections are physically exhausting and mentally taxing for adults-they are even more for littles. So choose day-long layovers or separate flights if possible that way you can go to a hotel or Airbnb and rest. This also allows you to stay closer to your daily routine. Plus, a shorter flight means less entertainment on your end!

  6. Dress simply. You and your little one. No button ups or onesies! The airplane bathrooms are for hobbits and fussing with clothes is nightmarish in such a small space especially if the aircraft is hopping on the clouds and knocking you all over the germy bathroom. And, if you don’t use the bathroom, the chair is just as difficult the more you have to coordinate. Also, layer up so that if you are hot or cold, you can easily take off or put on a cardigan. Simple flats and slip-ons for shoes also make for a much easier journey.

  7. Bring snacks. Yea they come around and give you refreshments so long as you aren’t with the bare minimum airlines. But, that takes at least 30-40 minutes and you’ll want to bribe your little one’s stomach much earlier than that! Plus, your finicky toddler might decide that pretzels are no longer edible.

  8. Have a helper. If possible, hire out help! Yes, there are people who will travel with you just to give you an extra set of arms. These baby/kid experts can also help you entertain your kiddo and predict if things might turn sticky. An additional bonus of taking a helper is that you and your partner/family/co-workers can enjoy an night or lunch together!

  9. Be caffeinated. Yea, even if it is a night flight, drink some coffee if you can. You’ll want to remain alert to meet your child’s needs. It will be difficult to rest/sleep no matter what, so you might as well grab a cup of joe and download a book onto your tablet, which by the way, you should totally download awesome apps for your child too.

  10. Bring a car seat. Just as in our previous blog, bring a seat for safety. Turbulence can injure a smaller human and having a car seat is of max importance to prevent injury in these high G-force environments. It also allows you to have some space and might make it easier for kiddo to sleep.

There are tons of other tips and tricks for flying with toddlers and preschoolers-too many to list! Remember not to worry about other passengers and to extend your child some grace if they are overwhelmed with travelling. The journey will pay off when you reach your destination!

Bon voyage!