Traveling with toddlers or babies can be a nerve racking experience. You’re nervous that they won’t do well, that you won’t be able to hold it together, and that you are going to annoy everyone around you. I mean, we have all had that moment on an airplane when we see the person with the baby get on and you start desperately praying that they don’t sit next to you.
Well I’m here to walk you through the entire process. My toddler is only 14 months and he’s been on 35 flights to date. We are blessed enough to have a dear friend who is a flight attendant for a major airline that has allowed us to be her pass rider. This means that I fly for free (with Will as my lap child) but we also can only fly stand by. Yes, I have flown standby with a baby/toddler 35 times. And I was always on my own with him. And we are doing it again next week. Trust me, I have this whole thing down to a science.
Planning your trip
If you have the luxury of picking your flight, try to plan times that your toddler is normally sleeping. We try to catch flights that are either super early in the morning, or around nap time. If they naturally are sleeping around that time, they will sleep easier on a plane. If I am actually purchasing a ticket I like to use Kayak. It’s a free app that allows you to super filter your search results. You can tell it exactly what times you want to be flying, allowing you to pick one that will be perfect with your toddler’s nap time.
I would also recommend trying to book a window seat. I know this seems counter productive and that an aisle would be better. Window seats offer a little more space for your little one to move around without grabbing other passengers. They can stand on your lap and play with the window shade and the armrest without touching anyone else or getting in the way of the flight attendant trolley.
Packing the Diaper Bag
This is the trickiest part. You want to make sure you are prepared without being way over packed. It won’t make anything better if you have so much stuff in the diaper bag that you can’t find anything. And believe me, digging through a diaper bag with the tiny amount of legroom on planes is not fun especially with a little one on your lap. So here is what I always travel with:
- 5 to 7 diapers- just enough for one day.
- One package of wipes.
- A change of clothes for the toddler. It never fails that a blowout will happen when you don’t have an extra outfit.
- A bottle/ nursing supplies and a pacifier if you use them. Giving them a bottle or nursing during takeoff and landing helps their little ears to pop and not hurt. A paci does the same thing and can help them quiet down.
- 2 to 3 of your child’s favorite toys. Having an excess of toys is where most parents go wrong. They are going to be way more interested in everything on the plane than their toys so don’t over pack.
- 1 or 2 board books. If you’re a regular around here, you know how much we love to read. A couple books are great to have on the airplane to distract for a little bit.
- Shoe laces. I normally get weird looks when I break these out but let me tell you, they are a lifesaver. Tie a toy to each end of the lace and hold on to the middle. Trying to lean down between seats to retrieve dropped or thrown toys is a nightmare. If they are on a string you just have to pull on the other toy! This also works well with strollers. Just tie the string to the stroller.
- Alright y’all, this is the big one. SNACKS on snacks on snacks on snacks. Traveling with a hangry child is not fun. Plus, if you feed them the snacks slowly (like one Cheerio or Veggie Straw at a time) it takes way more time and keeps them quiet longer. It’s a great time killer on a plane.
- Have a few kids shows downloaded on your phone before you get to the airport. This can be a nice distraction even if it has to be on silent because your toddler won’t keep the headphones on.
In the Airport
I would suggest using a stroller through the airport. It adds a step or two to security but it means you can have both of your hands if you need them and is easier on your back than wearing the child and carrying all of your stuff. However, I do prefer to wear Will once we are on the plane so make sure to keep your carrier with you and not in your checked luggage. I would also suggest checking your bags if possible. If it’s extra money, don’t worry about it, I rarely get to check a bag and always make it through the airport with Will, the stroller, the diaper bag, the carseat, and my carry-on. It is doable, it’s just easier if you can check. That being said, almost all airlines will check the carseat for free. If you are comfortable with it, I would say go ahead and check the carseat to your final destination at the curbside check or the ticket counter. That way you have one less thing to deal with.
Check that your boarding pass has some mention of an infant on it. Some airlines have a separate boarding pass for the lap child and some add it to the adults. Either way, make sure it is said somewhere before getting in line for security. They will not let you through security with the child if it is not stated on a boarding pass that you are traveling with a lap child.
If you are choosing to use a baby carrier through security, make sure to wash your hands right before going through. They swab your hands for different chemicals and if it flags, they have to do a full pat down and check all of your luggage. Some of these chemicals can be found in lotions or other things that you naturally come in contact with. It’s just way easier to wash your hands right before and avoid the whole mess.
Once in the security line, make sure to take any bottles and baby food purees out of the diaper bag and put them in a separate tray. Do not put your shoes in this tray! This tray will get pulled as they have to test the milk and baby foods so you don’t want to be stuck barefoot while they do this. It also doesn’t hurt to put your wipes in this tray. As they are a large organic (wet) mass, they typically look a little suspicious on the x ray so the whole diaper bag could get flagged.
Take your kiddo out of the stroller and walk over to the metal detector. They TSA official will then tell you where to leave the stroller and ask you to walk through. They will then swab down the stroller. Occasionally they will ask you to try folding the stroller to get it to go through the x ray. Most strollers won’t fit but go ahead and try. If you know that yours won’t fit, politely let them know this. Mine does not fit and they are always ok with that.
Once you get through all of that, you are through the hard part of the airport! Pack all of your stuff back up and head to your gate.
I would recommend letting your toddler down once you get to the gate even if they aren’t walking yet. I know this means they are crawling around on a dirty floor but it’s better for them to get some wiggles out before being cooped up on the plane. And getting exposed to some dirt and germs just improves their immune system. I’m guilty of letting my child eat a stick so crawling in an airport is nothing. Find an empty gate or a corner near your gate and let the munchkin down for a bit. Let them run around a little bit and just sheep dog them around to keep them near.
Around five minutes before you are going to be boarding, go to the bathroom for a diaper change. If you do this close enough to take off, chances are that you won’t have to do any diaper changes on the plane. Once back at the gate, ask the gate agent for a pink “Special Handling” tag for the stroller. This is a tag that allows you to leave your stroller at the end of the jet bridge and then they will bring it back up to you when you land rather than having to pick it up at baggage claim.
On the Plane
A lot of people are not a fan of the early boarding for families but I actually prefer it. It means that I have a little bit of extra time to get us settled before we have people in the seats next to us. Once on board, I always put at least one snack, the bottle, and my earbuds and book in the seatback pocket. This limits the need to dig around at my feet until later in the flight.
While everyone else is boarding, you may get some fussiness. This is normal and typical. Once the plane starts moving and especially once in the air, your little one will calm down. During takeoff, give the bottle or nurse. Again, this helps with the pressure change and will keep them happier and hopefully make them sleepy. I feed Will his bottle while he is still in his Ergo. As soon as he is finished with it I pop in the paci and start rocking or bouncing. The full tummy, the motion, and the white noise typically has him asleep within ten to fifteen minutes of takeoff if we are flying at a time that he is normally sleeping. During this time, I read or watch Netflix which is why I always make sure my entertainment is in the seatback pocket. There is nothing worse than having a sleeping baby on your chest and realizing you need something at your feet.
On a really good flight, Will will sleep for around an hour to an hour and a half at the beginning. Once he wakes up, we start an endless cycle of snacks, books, toys, and screen time. With his short attention span, none of these occupy him for very long so constant change is key. We will eat a few veggie straws then play with a toy or the window then read a book then eat a snack then watch five minutes of a kids show then play again. It can get really long and some flights go better than others. A few things to keep in mind:
- These people are all strangers. You probably won’t see any of them ever again so it doesn’t matter what they think of you or your child.
- The plane is loud so it muffles your child’s noise.
- Kids pick up on the emotions of their parents so try to keep calm. I know how hard this can be but just go through the top two points again. Take a deep breath and remember that this flight will end soon.
You made it through! Remember to double check you got all of your items from the seat back pocket and from under the seat. Once you get onto the jet bridge, make sure to wait on your stroller if you used a pink tag. The baggage personnel should be bringing it up. Once you have it, you are home free! Grab your other bags at baggage claim and enjoy your trip!
Don’t forget to grab your free printable checklist and let me know how your trip went! As always, if you have any questions feel free to email me or leave them in the comments below!
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Hey there! My name is Rachel and I’m a 23 year old wife and mother. I’m decidedly in favor of DIY projects and decidedly against mom-shaming. This blog is my place to take a stand against superiority and to share ways to thrive in motherhood. My hope is that you leave this site feeling validated and encouraged in your mom-bilities.
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