Tips for Airplane Travel With Toddlers … and Why They Won’t Work

By Jac


My husband’s brother and his wife just had a baby, so this past weekend I flew to New Mexico to see them and to meet my beautiful new niece. Children under two are free on planes, so it made sense for me to take my nineteen-month-old with me to meet her cousin, and to make it easier for Daddy at home with the others. It seemed like such a good idea at the time … but as I was packing to go, I started to wonder what I’d done. She is just about the toughest age for traveling with — too big and wiggly and independent to sit on my lap, too small to listen to anything I am telling her.

To get to our destination, we had to drive for three hours from Vancouver to Seattle, take a flight WITH a layover, and then drive for another two hours to my in-laws’ home. It was wonderful to be there, and my daughter was doted on by her grandparents and Aunties and Uncle, but the travel days were long. Here is my analysis of several “strategies” I considered using to make the travel easier … or not.

1. Take a stroller. That way you can have somewhere to strap your kid down while you wait in lines and rush to gates. You also have somewhere to stuff all your bags and coats and snacks that don’t fit properly into your carry-on … Also, your toddler will refuse to SIT in the stroller, so you will have to push a stroller while you carry a toddler, and then you will have to check the stroller at the door of the plane while everyone behind you waits for you to stuff all of your belongings into your carry-on.

2. Take a variety of little toys and treats to entertain your toddler on the plane. Each little item should buy you some peace … Also, you will spend the entire trip digging around in your carry-on looking hopefully for specific toys that your toddler will immediately hurl onto the floor of the plane, where they will once again be lost.

3. Sit by the window so you don’t have to worry about people walking by in the aisle and so that your toddler can see what’s happening outside … Also, then you have to stay squished in your seat, asking strangers to get out of your way every time you need to use the washroom or burn energy by walking down the aisle.

4. Take a bunch of healthy snack options because the airlines don’t offer meals anymore … Also, this way your child can squish them into the carpet and steal your food instead.

5. Give yourself lots of time because toddlers move slowly and you can’t predict how long the lines will be, and you will be more patient with yourself and your child if you aren’t stressed about time … Also, then you’ll get to your gate really early so your toddler can spend extra time picking things up off the floor and putting them in her mouth, licking the big windows, running away from you, and trying to make friends with any stranger who is clearly trying to sleep.

Just entertaining herself while we wait by stealing someone else's food.

Just entertaining herself while we wait by stealing someone else’s food.

I’m not even going to tell you which of those choices I made, because N cried so much and slept so little (i.e. none) that I don’t feel qualified to advise you. I just did two things right:

First, if you can, travel with another adult. It’s the only thing that will actually help. I travelled with my sister-in-law, and between the two of us, both focused on entertaining one child, we managed. Lots of people seemed to assume we were a couple (the flight attendant even said, “Thanks Mommies!” when we got off the plane) but I knew that if they had been paying attention they would have realized that we couldn’t be an item. I mean, it was hot, we had about five stuffed bags to carry, and we were squished into a small space with a whiney toddler… If we had actually been a couple, we DEFINITELY would have been bickering.

Second: Take an iPad and download a bunch of toddler-friendly apps and movies. It’s your only hope.

I know this photo is terrible quality, but it's hard to take a good picture when your kid is rolling around on the floor with her head in the aisle and refusing to move.

I know this photo is terrible quality, but it’s hard to take a good picture when your kid is rolling around on the floor with her head in the aisle and refusing to move.

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3 thoughts on “Tips for Airplane Travel With Toddlers … and Why They Won’t Work

  1. Rosanna

    Been there!! Took my than 21 month old from Toronto to Vancouver… alone and on stand-by. It was an exhausting flight!!

  2. Carole M

    I think travelling with an iPad is the best thing. We call it the iParent whe we are travelling. I don’t care if it makes me a bad parent it does the trick. Where in NM were you?

    1. Jac Post author

      The iParent was great, but would be even more helpful we’d had a “lock screen” app of some kind. All she wanted to do was open and close various screens, and she kept swiping with way too many fingers. Even the movies she would pause and play, pause play pause play over and over. And we were in wonderful Gallup, visiting Anton’s family. Do you know it?


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