This blog post was updated on December 18, 2019.

Remember the time when you used to enjoy your flight? When you used to look forward to settling in your seat and be pampered with the free drinks (on long international flights) and delicious food that tastes so good even though its served on a plastic plate with cling wrap on it? And what about the entertainment options? Isn’t it fun to watch a nice movie with a glass of wine at hand and salty pretzels or peanuts in the other. Wow, you really lived the life, didn’t you?

And now look at you. Older, wiser….and also a parent.

Yeah, you can kiss those good times goodbye.

Now it’s all about lugging that stroller through security, making sure you managed to stuff a million diapers in your carry-on or backpack, and playing pass-the-kid with your partner so you can get two spoon fulls of food in your mouth before another diaper change or tantrum rears its messy head on the flight.

Hey parents, we feel you. But, we also know through our experience of traveling with toddlers that a little planning and preparation for you and your little one can make for a smoother flight, regardless of how far you’re flying. We can’t guarantee there won’t be any spills and frustrated hair pulling when flying with a toddler, but we hope these tips will make your first flight with your tot memorable … for all the right reasons!

Try and book a nonstop flight to your destination

 How to prepare for flying with a toddler: Mother and sleeping two year old baby girl travel on a commercial airliner

This goes without saying. Flights with numerous layovers may be cheaper, but when traveling with troublesome toddlers you should definitely splurge on that nonstop that goes straight to your destination. If you do manage to also book your flight to overlap with your kiddo’s nap time, then you’ve got a double win. Your toddler can snuggle up with you (if below the age of 2 and still a lap child) or stretch out on their very own seat (if over 2 years) and get to sleep, leaving mum and dad with a little time to relax and enjoy the flight. In case getting nonstop flights is proving a futile effort, make good use of that layover. Find a nice, less crowded spot in the airport where your little guy or gal can run around and get his/her wiggles out — they might even be tired when you get on the second leg of your trip and may actually get a nap in. Being prepared in this booking stage for your journey will definitively give you the edge over a cranky little traveler!

Always go for an aisle seat

While your toddler might be curious to look out the window and be enthralled at the shrinking buildings, people, and trees far below, it might be better, if you’re traveling alone with a lap child, to book the aisle seat. While you will have to occasionally protect them from being bumped by the food cart being pushed down the aisle, you’ll be thankful that you can get up for diaper changes and potty breaks without having to hurdle over other passengers with child in hand. If you are traveling as a family and with an older toddler who will have their own seat, you can book the whole row and keep your toddler in the middle seat, with easy access to both the window and the aisle.

Don’t plan on flying right after your child’s vaccination

How to prepare for flying with a toddler: Toddler getting a vaccination by a pediatrician

Flying with a toddler may be challenging enough, but are you really such a daredevil to fly right after your baby’s had a vaccination shot? Vaccinations can come with side effects like fever and rash, which will likely make your usually calm toddler into an uncomfortable little mess. Putting a child in this state into a sealed metal container flying thousands of feet up in the air is just a recipe for disaster. Talk to your pediatrician about your travel plans at least a month (or more, preferably) so that they can look at your child’s vaccination schedule and see how they can administer shots at least a week before you have to take flight. Even if they have to shift vaccinations a week before or after they are scheduled, this is not likely to have any adverse effect on your little one. Pediatricians will be more than happy to help you plan this out — just make sure to loop them in to the conversation early.

Hype it up … gradually

You may have sorted out your airline flights to your destination and be raring to go, but it’s important to keep in mind that your toddler might be a bit overawed by flying for the very first time. After all, it’s a totally new experience where your kid doesn’t get to have a trial run, so you can just understand that from their little perspective, this is a very big change in routine. So what can you do to prepare them better? Well, for starters you can introduce them to the concept gradually in the weeks leading up to the trip. The next time you’re out in the playground and see a plane overhead you can point it out to them. You could get them a little toy plane, and talk about how cool it would be to actually travel in one. You could even find some videos on the Web of people traveling and having fun on planes. All this will help ease any insecurity or fears your child might have before embarking on a flight for the first time.

Make sure their tummies are full and hands occupied

How to prepare for flying with a toddler: A boy draws in an airplane.

Idle hands could well be the root of all mischief for your little traveler on their first flight. Make sure you bring enough toys, books, and other items to keep them occupied. Just some school supplies like paper, glue, stickers, and crayons can help keep little minds occupied for quite a while. All you have to do is to make sure that their creative efforts don’t wind up in too much of a mess! Snacks are another essential to remember when you’re packing for your trip. Healthy options like cheese, cut veggies, and crackers can go a long way in keeping the bottomless appetites of little ones satiated, and the occasional sweet treat (like low-sugar gummies and juices) that gives them a sense of comfort can also come in handy in case of irritability or a full-blown tantrum. Try to keep screen time as your absolute last resort, and if you think this will be impossible for you cartoon-loving kid, then make sure to download a few of your child’s favorite shows on to one of your devices beforehand.

You may also like: Ways to Keep Your Kids Happy on a Flight (Without Screen Time)

Be prepared to pass through security

If you’re losing patience standing in a long security line at the airport, you can imagine how your restless toddler is feeling! While you can’t obviously make the line go any faster, you can prepare in a way that you, your family, and your belongings get through with minimal fuss. A light umbrella stroller can be your best friend in this case, and it will be easy to fold and send through the X-ray machine than more clunkier versions. Make sure you have a durable stroller bag in which to place your stroller as it goes into the cargo hold, as the wear and tear of being packed in with other heavy luggage might take its toll. As for prepping for your toddler’s passage through security, it’s always a good idea to dress them in slip-on shoes that go easily on and off. If they’re wearing a jacket, it’s best to shove it in one of your carry-on bags before you get to the checking point. Make sure whatever liquids and foods are in easily accessible containers, and be patient: liquids — including breast milk, formula, and juice — will be pulled aside for screening so you can do nothing but wait.

Know that early boarding may not be a blessing

Man putting luggage on the top shelf on airplane

So you’ve managed to get this far and you’re waiting at the gate to board. You hear that families with kids are welcome to board first — great! BUT, here’s where you have to stop and think twice. As you know, most flights could take about 20-30 minutes between boarding and actually leaving the tarmac. In case of a maintenance delay, bad weather, or heavy air traffic this could extend to close to an hour. If your child is already on the cusp of losing their patience, then it’s probably a good idea to limit the amount of time sitting in cramped space without really going anywhere. But what about losing first dibs on that precious overhead bin space for your bags? Well, if you’re traveling with your partner, then one of you can stay with your toddler to board later, while the other goes in earlier with the all the luggage to snag your overhead space.

Get ready to pop some ears

You made this this far — you’re in your seat with your family and all ready for take off. So what more should you have prepared for? Well, since it’s your toddler’s first flight, you may have to deal with your child experiencing some discomfort during take-off and landing as their ears get blocked due to the change in pressure. Make sure they are eating or drinking something at these stages of the flight. Food that requires a lot of chewing, like gummies and crackers, will make sure those ears are “popped” at these times and your child is not exposed to a new experience without knowing what to do.


Do you have any tips for flying with a toddler for the first time? Share them with us in the comments!

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Socialite, philanthropist, costumed crime fighter by wait...that's bad ... Musician, writer, travel junkie, dog lover, and database of useless information. I love to learn about new cultures, experience new cuisines, meet new people, and have a few laughs along the way!