Toddler at Airport looking out the window at planes

How to Survive First-Time Air Travel with a Toddler

Photo Credit: © Miniimpressions | Dreamstime

If you’re dreading flying with your toddler, you’re in good company. The Daily Mail reported one in four parents admit they’re too scared to take children on a plane. Kids and small, confined spaces with a lot of people isn’t exactly the scenario for smooth sailing. But you can not just survive, but thrive, on a plane with a toddler. Here’s what to do and how to plan.

Toddler in seat on a plane

© Radist | Dreamstime

Game the Seat System

Splurge on a seat for your toddler and set-up their car seat if they’re already accustomed to sitting in it long distance. But if you can’t afford the extra seat, there are ways you can game the system to try to score a free seat. Book a window and aisle seat for you and your travel companion and hope no one sits in the middle. If they do, you can just scoot into the middle seat instead.

Let them Play Before Boarding

More airports are offering dedicated playgrounds for kids to unwind before a flight. If you can’t find one, let your little one explore the airport near your gate or set-up a game in a corner. The idea is to keep them stimulated and work on tiring them out so they’re more likely to want to settle in and rest once they board.

Bring Contraband

It’s not hard to come up with plenty of forbidden snacks to keep your toddlers busy. They don’t have to all be suckers and junk foods either. Think about snacks you don’t buy as often due to the price or availability, whether yogurt melts or fruit snacks. For a crying emergency, consider packing up some sugar-free suckers or baby crackers masquerading as cookies for a quick reprieve.

toddler on plane in seat with teddy bear

© Famveldman | Dreamstime

Pack Surprises

The Dollar Store is your best friend when you’re flying with toddlers. Make a special trip and stock up a handful of small toys like cars, stickers, craft supplies and even Post-it notes. Then wrap up each item like a present and add birthday or Christmas ribbon. Not only will they thrill over the delight in their presents, but it will take some time to open each one. Dole out each one every 15 minutes throughout the flight to keep them busy.

Don’t Medicate

It’s tempting to medicate your child during a flight to get them to sleep, but unless your doctor expressly tells you to do so due to a lingering illness, don’t do it. Not only can it be dangerous for your child, but they could have the opposite reaction. Some children are hyper after a dose of Benadryl, and their reaction can be completely different every time they take it. So instead of a calm and sleeping toddler, you could end up with a completely feral one who is bouncing off the airplane cabin walls.

Offer a Bribe to Nearby Passengers

The stress surrounding toddler travel is often about what others will think. No one wants to be trapped on an airplane with angry passengers focusing negative attention on you and your toddler. Set the tone from the beginning. Once your toddler gets a little worked up, offer to purchase a drink to keep passengers relaxed and happy. Chances are they will (and should) politely decline, but it will let them know you’re thinking of their comfort and happiness.

Get Mentally Prepared

Visit any online baby and toddler forum and you’ll see you will make yourself more miserable and scared about flying than the experience will actually be. Remind yourself the flight is not forever, and even if it’s a horrible experience, you will never see those people again. You owe it to your fellow passengers to try to create a calm and soothing experience, but your child is not a trained animal. He is a little person with needs and feelings and may cry. Everyone around you will survive with a little noise. Make the experience about family togetherness and extending kindness and sympathy to your child and let the other passengers worry about themselves.