Flying with a Toddler

Travelling with a lap baby

Rocketing thru the sky appx 39,000 feet from land while trapped in a metal can with a bunch of strangers and your toddler is something that can be quite fearsome! Before we had our daughter, I had been on countless flights all over the world from China to Peru, but even still I was a nervous wreck about our first flight with our daughter in tow. I did so much research and planning leading up to our first flight to New York. Would she scream because of her ears hurting? Would she throw up? As she got a bit older then I worried about potty training disasters mid flight, jet lag, and the list goes on and on.

Our first flight wasn’t too bad. We traveled to New York, and had one lay over. The total fly time was about 6 hours. Our second trip was definitely a marathon. We flew to New Zealand, and had a fly time of appx 18 hours/ travel time of appx 24 hours. After NZ, our subsequent trips felt like a walk in the park! 🙂

Here are some tested tips that have worked for us, and I only hope they can help you enjoy your travels with your bambino!

At the Airport: Children do not need identification when flying with parents in the domestic USA (this is still so strange to me). Children will NEED identification when flying with anyone internationally.

You are allowed to check a stroller and/or car seat with most airlines free of charge, and they do not count toward your baggage allowance. When we opt to check our car seat, we always put it inside a huge laundry bag and write our name/details on the outside of the laundry bag. I always choose to utilize my stroller in the airport, and then tag it free of charge at the gate.

At security, most of the time small babies/ toddlers are allowed to keep their shoes on during screening. There is usually a family/express lane for screening with children. We never allow our daughter to go into the 3D imaging. We always opt for the step thru metal detector or a pat down. Different airports are different with their requirements, but most of the time I was allowed to carry my daughter thru the metal detector with her strapped in my baby carrier. A few times, they asked I remove her and a few other times she was asked to walk thru the detector by herself.

You are allowed an allowance of liquids when travelling with baby/ tots. You are allowed formula, juice, medicines, etc. I used to always utilize this allowance when my daughter was younger, and they do a hand swab test as well as some additional screening on the liquid items.

Playgrounds in airport: Most airports have children play areas so take a look at whichever airport you will be in! For example, in Dallas they have 5 play areas for children. There is one in each terminal except for E. During our last flight thru Dallas, we visited the junior fliers playground area in concourse C. There is a 33 foot dinosaur skeleton in the Atlanta airport located in the Atrium. In Orlando there is an entire aquarium in the food court. Last time I was in the Boston airport in terminal C, I noticed the Kidport interactive playground created by the Children’s Museum of Boston. This is a great way for children to burn off energy before boarding a flight!

Lap Baby versus Seat: Under the age of 2 years old, a baby can fly free of charge as a lap baby meaning you hold them in your lap for the duration of the flight. We have done this, but we have also chosen to buy a seat as well. From our experience, if your child is under 18 months old and the total flight time is 6 hours max or under this can be done. That’s our personal maximum. The benefits to booking your tot as a lap baby is obviously it is free, they do not have to occupy their own seat during take off and landing (this is a plus as if the baby falls asleep on you, you do not have to wake them up and strap them in to their own seat for take off / landing), and if there is an available seat on the airplane then your tot can occupy it at no cost. Also of note, if your child is small enough at the time of travel you can also book a bassinet for use for your lap baby at no additional cost on most airlines (more on this below). The benefits of buying your tot a seat is that they have their own seat/ space (especially important for long haul), having their own seat means you could also bring their car seat for use if you wanted, they get a checked baggage and carry on allowance, and they get a kid friendly meal on board. We have only ever flown coach by the way. If you are in first class on a long haul, you may could get away with always flying with a lap baby if under 2!

I chose to wear my baby in her sling in my lap when she flew as a lap baby. With that being said, of the 14 flights I did this on almost all had nothing to say about it. However, 2 of the flights did state I could not have my daughter in the carrier strapped to me for take off and landing. They stated this was because if it was an emergency situation, they would not be able to easily evacuate her. I thought it would be much easier with her being strapped to me since I could bolt from the plane with my hands free should anything happen, but I chose not to argue with the flight attendants. My number one motto, “Don’t argue with the flight attendants”. They are there to make your flight safe and enjoyable. Try at all cost to operate within their directions if possible. The only time I have ever spoken up and questioned the flight attendant was when my 18 month old was asleep on me. We had purchased her a seat for the flight, but she was still young enough to be counted as a lap baby. She had fallen asleep on me, and the flight attendant wanted me to wake her up and strap her into her own seat for landing. Seeing as how she had just fallen asleep, and for the mercy of the other passengers I did not want to wake her so I told the flight attendant she was young enough to be a lap baby, and even though I had purchased her a ticket she could still be held as lap baby for landing due to her age. The flight attendant checked with the other attendant, and they both agreed this was ok as long as the seat belt was fastened underneath the carrier and not on top of it. The seat belt extender then went around the carrier/baby. (Not all planes have seat belt extenders either. I have found they are all different domestically/ internationally/ airline specific so just follow directions) So definitely speak up if it is a legitimate concern, but always do so respectfully. I have seen my full share of people screaming on planes, and I will NEVER be that person.

Book the Bassinet: If your child is under the weight limit and small enough, then BOOK YOUR BASSINET for international travel. These bassinets attach to the bulkhead walls, and allows your baby to sleep without you holding them! You must book your seats in the bulkhead rows, and reserve your bassinet in advance. They are subject to availability so definitely call as early as possible to reserve. Each airline has different weight restrictions/ capacity. I have found that United Airlines has the largest bassinets of the airlines I have traveled. Big enough to hold up to 22 LBS / 2 years of age. British Airlines and Emirates also have reportedly big bassinets. I have found this website to be the most comprehensive guide to airline bassinets!

Kid Friendly Meal: If you purchase a ticket for your tot, you can pre-order a kid friendly meal. This must be done in advance so they can stock the plane. They deliver the kid meals before the meal service begins which is great so that you can help your tot eat before your meal is delivered. So far my daughter has enjoyed spaghetti, a cheeseburger meal, and a sandwich meal cut in the shape of a butterfly along with all of the sides as well.

Little Ears: Ear pressure can be quite painful for babies/toddlers. When our daughter was still young, and used her pacifier we found this did the trick with clearing her ears. When the pacifier wasn’t an option anymore, we found that lollipops and fruit chews work wonders! They also make baby child ear planes that can be inserted to regulate pressure. We have purchased these, but have not used them to date.

Flight Wings: Especially for your child’s first flight, be sure to request their flight wings, and request a chance to visit the cockpit and to meet the pilot. Our daughter really enjoyed this on our first flight, and made her very excited. The captain’s wings and the flight attendant’s wings are different as well as different from each airline so you can start a collection over time.

My daughter's first pair of flight wings from Delta

Board the Plane LAST: It always amazes me that people are clamoring for a chance to board the plane first for a long haul flight. I don’t want to be on the plane longer than I have to be!!! I understand that if you need overhead space this may be a valid reason for boarding the plane first, but realistically on a long haul flight there is enough overhead bin storage available. Especially with a child in tow, my suggestion is to board the plane last. Allow them to run and play in the airport then board the plane, strap in, and fly. I usually send my husband on ahead of us. He will store the luggage and wipe down our entire sitting area (seats, tray tables, arm rests, windows, etc) with antibacterial wipes. (There really are so many germs, and I desperately don’t want my tot getting sick heading into vacation). Then we board, and I have our daughter’s activities ready in her personal backpack stored under her seat. If you are travelling alone with a tot, it is rightly understandable you would need more time to get situated with all of your stuff and a baby so definitely don’t board last and feel flustered, but there is no reason to board first either!

On the Plane: We always seek to get our daughter involved in any upcoming trip. She has her own suitcase and carry on backpack which I think is VERY important! We discuss her “special” activities that will be in her backpack that she can only access when we are on the plane! What to PACK:

1.) Number ONE thing to NEVER forget to pack: A change of clothes for both BABY AND YOU. Better yet, on long haul pack a few changes just in case. You don’t want the off chance of your tot getting sick, vomiting on you, and being stuck without a change of clothes.

2.) Ear planes, Pacifiers, Lollipops, Fruit Chews: As already mentioned, pack something to assist with ear pressure.

3.) Medicine: As already mentioned, airport security makes an allowance for travelling with children’s medicine. Have the medicines you need or may need packed and on hand just in case.

4.) Antibacterial Wipes/ Baby Wipes: Every mom knows you need these! A lot of these!

5.) Diapers / Pull ups/ Underwear: Bring more than enough!!! They do have changing tables in certain bathrooms on the plane, but they are SMALL! I suggest organizing like I do. I always pack 3-4 diapers in a gallon zip lock bag with a small thing of wipes, powder, and a change of clothes JIC. I usually have 4 of these zip locks so that I can just grab one and go. Everything is in there! The loud suction of the toilet flushing on a plane also scares my child! So I always allow her outside then flush! Just an idea because the tears and trauma were fierce the first time I did this with her inside!

5.) Activities: The dollar store or the Target value section are my favorite for filling up on small inexpensive toys/activities for flights. I usually pack 1 new toy for each hour of travel time. (Travel time / not just fly time). I then wrap a few of the new toys in wrapping paper so that it makes it extra special. Unwrapping the present then becomes an entire activity, and takes up more time which is the goal on a flight!

Stickers are a big hit for our daughter especially the cling ones. She puts these all over the window, tray table, etc and they just peel right off with no trace. We also bought a cheap little photo album and before each trip I fill it with pictures she has not seen before. Pictures of her family, friends, places, etc. This is a great entertainment! Finger puppets are a hit, small dolls/toys, invisible or water paint books are fantastic! As well as a Rubik’s cube (even small children that don’t understand the concept like these) One great tip I picked up when I was researching our first flight, was to pack kids snacks in a clear plastic small tackle box. It keeps them assorted and contained. I also think a pair of children’s ear phones are a must. We bought these in the tiger motif, and have loved them. There are lots of different animals to choose from. Our tot gets very excited about watching movies with her “special” ear phones on. The ones we chose are here!

And I ALWAYS, ALWAYS have an ace up my sleeve just in case of a meltdown. I always buy one or two toys that I know will be beloved and coveted. I hold onto these, and pull them out when the going gets tough. There was one instance I can remember. My daughter was so tired. We were 5 hours into a 13 hour flight, and all the lights on the plane had been turned off, etc. I had just gotten her to sleep, and BAM the lady sitting directly behind us decides to turn on her light to read. This immediately woke my baby up, and she began crying and crying and crying. I immediately pulled my ace out. For her it was a new mermaid doll. She immediately stopped crying long enough for me to get out of the seat with her and the new doll. I then went and stood in the back with her in the carrier and swayed her back to sleep. Upon returning to the seat, I built a fort. I took a blanket and my scarf and draped it over the seat and pinned it back with my safety pin. The blanket / scarf kept the light out. It shielded her even in the morning when the lights were back on and breakfast was being served, she still slept. That leads to my last tip:

I always bring a scarf and a safety pin. A scarf can be used for so many different things: A scarf, a blanket, hide and seek, to build a fort as per above. 🙂 And a safety pin is an amazing little contraption that has come in so handy in so many different situations. Just pack it, it can’t hurt!


Safe Travels!

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