Keeping an energetic toddler entertained and happy is a challenge on a good day when you are at home! So the thought of being in a confined pressurised metal tube with hundreds of others can be a daunting thought. Time to queue references of Samuel L.Jackson and Snakes on a Plane.
The good news is, help is at hand and these fifteen travel tips for flying with a toddler, PLUS the best toys to pack for your trip will have you smooth sailing (or flying in this case) in no time.
15 Tips for Flying with a Toddler
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
#1 – Organise Passports well in advance
If it’s your child’s first passport make sure you organise it well in advance of travel. Getting the passport photo right can be tricky. From personal experience, I found Teds Camera shop the best. You can find everything you need to know about applying for your child’s first passport here
#2 – Choose your flight time wisely
Don’t book a flight that is late in the day if you know your baby gets cranky in the afternoon. Children are generally in a better mood early in the day…. I say generally though.
# 3 – Seating
If your toddler is over 2 years old, you will need to book them their own seat and the best option is to request an aisle seat for you with the child closer to the window (depending how wide the row is). Trying to get past other passengers in your row to get to the toilet is riddled with issues.
#4 – Take the car seat
Research indicates that the safety of your child on a flight will be enhanced with the use of a child seat. Most airlines will let you check in your car seat in for free but approval cannot be obtained at the airport. You can find all the info on approved car seats and more info here.
If you can’t bring your car seat make sure you’ve organised one at your destination and think about how you’re getting to and from the airport.
#5 – What to pack in your hand luggage
Pack a change of clothes for everyone in your carryon. It’s pretty normal to have a spare change of clothes for the baby on hand, but we rarely think to pack a change of clothes for us. Cue seatbelt sign ding and you’re ready for take off. Next minute your child is sick mid-air and their lunch ends up in your lap. It’s happened to me! Learn from my mistake.
Pack lots of extra nappies at least 10 more than you think you will need in hand luggage. Remember to pack extra in case of delays and diversions.
#6 – Packing the family suitcase
The suitcase itself – Get something with wheels. Trying to carry a (heavy) toddler, hand luggage and a suitcase is not advisable.
Packing Nappies – Invest in good quality nappies and stock up before you go. Brands overseas (especially in Asia) don’t compare with our Australian quality. Best to pack too many than not enough so I average on 7-10 per day. Roll them up and use them to fill holes.
First Aid – Always bring your own baby Panodol, Bonjela, etc. Always handy to have. Also keep hand sanitiser handy and be sure to use throughout the journey.
AT THE AIRPORT
#7 – Wear your bag
By now, the Ergo Baby is past it’s use by date and your toddler probably just wants to walk around themselves. Get a cute backpack for hand luggage (Michael Kors does some cute ones that won’t break the bank) so you have both hands free and don’t have an overstuffed handbag slamming you in the face every time you bend over to tie someone’s shoe and can make a quick dash after them when they try to get away.
If you are taking a pram, check it in. Qantas advises that most mainline Australian airports have strollers available for you to use once you have checked-in your own personal stroller. Staff will be on hand at the boarding gate ready to collect the stroller and to further assist you with pre-boarding the aircraft.
#8 – Ask at check in if there are any spare seats on board
By now your toddler is way too big for the bassinet but if they are not two years old yet, you probably haven’t bought them their own seat. Try to request one of those beside you if they are available for extra space. Recently Emirates gave us an entire middle row of four seats between the three of us and it makes the world of difference.
#9 – Find the bathrooms just before you board.
Use the parents room in the airport. All Australian terminals have a baby change room so allow some extra time to duck in there before the flight to freshen up. Also, go to the toilet yourself before getting on board. It’s not easy to pee in a tiny plane cubicle with a toddler on your lap (especially if you are flying solo) and emerge looking like a decent human being.
#10 – Check out what’s at the airport
If you’re lucky enough to be transiting through the likes of Singapore’s Changi Airport, you may actually want to embrace that long layover. Look for airports with indoor play areas for kids, or airport hotels inside the terminal, or if the city centre or tourist attractions are close to the airport and public transport is reliable consider an outside excursion. And in theory, the more they tire themselves out in the airport, the more willing they will be to sit still, watch movies and play with toys.
ON THE FLIGHT
#11 – Keep it sanitary
The second-worst thing to happen on a holiday is getting sick. The worst thing to happen is to have your child get sick. Not only will it take them out of the action, you will have to sit out and nurse them back to health as well. As a rule buy a travel bottle of hand sanitiser and before every meal, dish out some sanitising love to the little ones (and big ones for that matter!).
#12 – Keep supplies handy
A little trick I did which really helps once on board with nappy changes is to keep a few nappies in a snap lock bag with some wipes and keep it in the seat pocket. You don’t want to be rummaging through the overhead locker for nappies and wipes you, want them to be accessible. Wipes are your best friend; they are so handy to have. Not just for nappy changes but also for wiping little faces, wiping tray tables, getting stains out of clothing.
#13 – Talk to the crew
The crew are there to help you and they should offer to assist before you have to ask. Some useful questions to ask the crew are: Where is the closest infant change table? How do I use the extension seat belt? Can you please heat up this bottle? Can you please sterilise this dummy?
#14 – Stay hydrated
Throw the meal schedule out the window and hydrate your baby with extra liquids. It is so dehydrating up there and it can really help with jet lag and recovery if you are hydrated. If you are still breast-feeding make sure you are drinking lots of water too.
#15 – Try not to worry
If you are doing your best to comfort your child and they are still unsettled, please don’t pay any attention to any eye rolls you get from passengers around you. You and your baby have every right to be traveling and really we all need to be a little tolerant and patient when sharing a space with so many others. It’s not a private jet, it’s a commercial airline and we are all human. So please if you are flying with your baby and you are doing all you can to stop him or her crying, do not feel bad. I’m sure a lot of adults feel like crying when flying too.
10 OF THE BEST TOYS FOR TODDLERS ON A FLIGHT
Whether you’re boarding a long haul flight or gearing up for a short interstate visit, you need to be prepared to help your toddler combat hunger and boredom. To help you stay strong on your next adventure, we’ve found 10 of the best toys to help entertain and sustain your little ones along the way.
#1 Lego Duplo: Great for development of so many skills (e.g. fine motor skills, sensory skills, spacial thinking, speech development), and also a source of endless pretend-play possibilities. Don’t bring the whole huge set of course, only 7-10 different blocks to make some basic towers, fences or houses. We also pack a few favorite Lego characters (dogs, polar bear, boys and girls), so we can play around our constructions.
#2 Play-Doh: buy 2-3 small brightly coloured buckets, make shapes and let the imagination run wild.
#3 Books: Choose ones that are small and light with paper backs. Reusable sticker books also fit into this category and this Fairy one for girls is particularly great. Point out the interesting things, change your voice, make quick reminders (“look this is a pigeon, just like we saw outside!”) and “animal” sounds (“this is a Moooo cow”). Don’t be concerned if the book is over in 30 seconds – kids have an amazing ability to go through their favourite books and toys again and again, and you can just repeat your performance again too.
#4 Koosh Balls: those soft floppy balls with lots of little tentacles. The feel funny, won’t damage anything and won’t hurt anyone.
#5 Finger puppets: Retell a fairy-tale story with finger puppets.
#6 Mag-na-doodle: I got one for $3 from the Reject Shop and it is one of the best purchases I’ve made all year. It came on the plane with us and now also accompanies us to all restaurants and cafes. Make mazes, learn the alphabet and draw things over and over and over again. And if your son (or daughter for that matter) likes Thomas The Tank Engine then this one might be a winner too.
#7 Make some jewellery: Take a mini snap lock bag of Cheerios or any cereal with a ring shape and a piece of string and let them make necklaces. Great for fine motor skills and the kids like making and eating them too. Plus it takes a bit of time.
#8 iPad: Load up games and pre-download favourite tv shows. Now is not the time to be precious about screen time. Many budget airlines don’t have on-board entertainment, so before arriving at the airport, install apps that don’t need WiFi and load up on movies to keep the kids entertained. If you’re travelling a little more upmarket, your carrier may provide access to the in-flight entertainment through an app, so make sure you download it at home first.
#9 Gel window stickers: These are reusable, mess free and very handy if you have a window seat on a plane, or even for the destination if in a car or coach. If you can’t find the Gel ones, then flat sticky bath toys work just as well.
#10 Crayola Colour Wonder colouring books and pens: ‘Magic’ pens which only show the colour on the special colouring book and not on clothes, seats etc.
Other top products we recommend when travelling with kids