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Flying With a Toddler: Tricks of the Trade

July 9, 2013

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post giving advice about taking a long(ish) road trip with a toddler.  Well, now I’m back with advice for air travel. 

Before I had Lila, I might have thought—eh, travel is travel.  Air travel, road trip—what’s the difference? 

Oh, there’s a difference.

Air travel tends to stress me out in a way that traveling via car never will, because when we’re in our car, it’s just US.  Lila can cry, scream, whatever—and while it’s not exactly pleasant for me and Ryan, she isn’t pissing off 50 other people in the process.  Air travel is hard, because you don’t just want your child to behave for your sake, or for their sake—it’s for the sake of every single person within a 10-row radius as well.

That being said, there are certain times when you can’t drive—if, for instance, you live in Alabama and need to visit family in Seattle.  Winking smile 

I think there are advantages and disadvantages to either type of travel…and there are definitely different tricks of the trade for both.  Here are some of the things we’ve learned in our recent air travels with Lila:

Try to get a direct flight.

We had to drive almost two hours to Nashville to get a direct flight to Seattle, but those two hours (and hotel stay, etc.) were worth it.  Having a direct flight meant SO much less time worrying about delays, long (or very short) layovers, multiple flights, etc.  Yes, the direct flight was long (4.5 hours).  But, I’d rather have ONE 4.5 hour flight than 2 2.5 hour flights, plus however long of a layover.  A direct flight isn’t always an option, but when it is available, you can bet we’re taking it.

Get some pre-boarding exercise.

One of the things that we LOVED about the Nashville airport was an awesome play area right by our boarding gate. It had a few slides and other things for kids to climb/play on, and Lila was able to burn off a LOT of energy before boarding the plane.  Even if the airport you’re in doesn’t have a kids’ play area, they can still get some exercise in the airport.  We usually try to find a section that isn’t too crowded, and we chase Lila back and forth, back and forth in between the seat rows.  Burning off some energy before the long flight is definitely a good way to increase the odds of a calm toddler when it comes time to sit in a seat for 4 hours straight.

Try to get an extra seat.

One of our Seattle flights was totally, utterly full.  However, we’ve been on flights before where many extra seats were open. When that happens, SNAG AN EXTRA SEAT.  Now that Lila is a little older and much more mobile, having that extra space to spread out is really nice.  That being said, if an extra seat isn’t an option, try to at least get a window seat.  Lila was endlessly entertained by pulling the window shade up and down, and loved looking out the window at the clouds, etc. 

When all else fails, distract them with food.

I think Lila spent 45 minutes of our flight home eating the Southwest graham cookies we received free from the airline.  We broke them into small pieces, set them out on the tray table, and voila—mid-air entertainment.  We also spent about 45 minutes on lunch—I guess we’re advocates of the slow food movement.  Smile 

Try to make air time = nap time.

As with our road trips, we tried our best to book tickets that would fall during a good nap time for Lila.  This is a little trickier than it sounds, because you want to book tickets for a time when the toddler will be tired (ie, want to nap), but not TOO tired (ie, too tired to nap, but not too tired to scream the entire flight).  Our flights left around noon, which ended up being just about perfect.  Lila had some lunch, settled into the flight and played a bit, and then ended up sleeping for a good hour of the flight home.  We’ve flown in the late afternoon before, and it can be a nightmare—morning to early afternoon seems to work best for Lila, so that’s when we fly.

Think outside the box for air travel toys.

Although Lila LOVES watching her Elmo DVDs on long car rides, during our flights, she refused to watch more than about 15 minutes straight of an Elmo’s World episode.  I think she had trouble hearing it, and therefore just wasn’t interested.  The i-pad games were also kind of a fail—she just didn’t really get into them for more than about 5 minutes at a time.  As she gets older, I’m sure her attention to the DVDs and games will increase, but for right now, we needed to think about other ways to entertain her.  Books are always a good option, but they can also take up a lot of room in the carry-on.  She has some small Elmo books that have a lot of lift-up flaps—those are always good because they take a little more time to get through than just a normal book.

In addition to books, something I NEVER would have thought of on my own entertained her for hours: plastic coins.  You know—like, Mardis Gras doubloons?  I have my mother-in-law to thank for that one! She sent us a travel pack for Lila with various things to entertain her during the flight, and one of the things was a change purse filled with plastic doubloons.  I’m not kidding—Lila probably spent an hour of the flight taking the coins out of the purse, putting them on the tray table, and putting them back into the purse. Over, and over, and over.  Hey, whatever works!

Don’t freak out.

I guess you could say that about almost every situation when it comes to raising kids.  Unless your kid is like, growing a horn or something.  Then you can probably freak out.

I’m not going to say that traveling with a toddler isn’t stressful—it IS.  It definitely is.  But, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again—if you freak out, your kid will freak out.  If you’re stressed out, they’ll pick up on that and stress out as well.  Try not to get upset if your kid is crying, screaming, etc.  Even in an airplane, tantrums pass.  Distract them.  Calm them down.  And let them move on.  And just remember, even if it is the WORST flight of your life—it’s just one flight.  You don’t know the people around you, and after you all exit the plane, you’ll never see them again in your life.  Don’t let one bad flight ruin an entire travel experience, or freak you out about flying again—we’ve had great flights, and we’ve had awful ones, and the truth is, I think a lot of it is just luck of the draw.

Photo: Flight from Seattle ---> Nashville: #winning.

Any other tips you want to share??  We’re always looking for new ways to make our travel easier!

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 10, 2013 12:02 am

    Flying with a baby/toddler stresses me out and baby Trey is still 4 months from making his debut. You are a brave mama and I have no doubt that I will be just as terrified when we actually do it! Ha!!

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