Flight Guide for Toddlers!

Traveling with a toddler on an airplane isn’t always easy, and I get it. I travel full-time with my now five-year-old Sam, who’s been on the plane a ton of times. How do we do it?

Here are seven of my best-kept secrets and tips for flying with a toddler. 

Tip #1: Keep their mouths moving

The most important thing you can do is to keep that mouth moving. 

Your kid’s mouth, of course. Not yours. Because as soon as they start crying, you’ve already lost the battle.

Kids find it hard to concentrate on moving their mouths, so always give them snacks, drinks, and other things to keep them occupied. You need to keep their mouths moving so they won’t start crying about their ears hurting.

Tip #2: Worry about your budget later

Flying with your kid is not the best time to worry about your budget. 

Get your drinks and snacks at the airport, past security. Although it’s expensive, it’s much more convenient that way. You’ll have to bring empty sippy cups and other stuff through security anyway, so just buy your drinks once you get past it.

As a bonus, you don’t have to worry about fitting what you bought in your carry-on. The store bag counts as a personal bag for your kid, so feel free to grab some extra stuff.

Tip #3: Don’t go crazy buying a bunch of items

Remember: the airplane is not your minivan, so you’ll have to put away everything your kid ignores. Leave the puzzles and other things at home. If it doesn’t fit in your pocket, it’s probably too big.

Tip #4: Don’t buy gifts for the flight crew

Don’t be that mom who gives out little trinkets because your kid’s acting like a human; it’s tacky, and nobody likes it. Just show up on the flight with your kid.

The pilots and the flight attendants are doing their jobs, so you don’t have to give them presents. That’s just more stuff they have to handle.

Tip #5: Avoid layovers (if possible)

Let me tell you something: Sam and I never take flights that are longer than four hours. Obviously, you want to avoid layovers as much as possible.

If a layover is unavoidable, here’s my suggestion: make it as long as possible, possibly four hours or longer. You don’t want to rush from your first flight to the next and not give your kid a chance to get their wiggles out.

Find an empty gate, play tag, and do whatever you need to stretch your legs. Don’t be afraid to get lost in the airport; just make sure your layover is long enough for you to do everything without losing your mind. Use a stroller if you have to - they’re not counted as luggage so they can be gate-checked.

Remember: your first flight could always get delayed.

Tip #6: Get the earliest flight possible

You’ve probably heard before to schedule your flights around your kid’s sleep or nap schedule. Guess what: getting on a plane is a new and different experience, so it doesn’t matter.

What I think you should do (and it’s what I always do) is to get the earliest flight possible. You’re less likely to get delayed, and people are more likely to be in a better mood - that includes your kid and the flight attendant. Plus, all the people you’ll be dealing with at the airport are at the beginning of their shifts, not the end.

Tip #7: Keep what you need in front of you

I want you to remember this because everybody makes this mistake: you need to have with you or in front of you everything you need to get through take-off, and not in the overhead compartment. 

Remember, keep your kid’s mouth moving, so store sippy cups, snacks, toys, and anything else you need for take-off within reach. Hold on to those items until you reach cruising altitude and can access the overhead bins.

Let me emphasize the first tip again: keep your kid’s mouth moving. Don’t make the mistake of not having everything with you. You've lost as soon as they start crying from ear pain, and the whole plane will hear your kid.

BONUS TIP: When and how to do a cockpit visit

When you’re traveling with a kid, of course, you want to visit the cockpit. I suggest doing that as soon as you get on the plane and get settled. Put your bags away, call the flight attendant, and ask if you can do a cockpit visit. 

Remember that not all airlines allow a visit, and when they do, sometimes they don’t let you take photos or videos. Always ask first before taking any pictures or creating any content in the cockpit. Even if the airline allows them, sometimes the pilot isn’t in the mood. He’s the master and commander of that ship, not you, so defer to whatever the captain decides.

Most cockpit visits happen before take-off; it can sometimes happen in the air but is unlikely after 9/11. Sometimes, they’ll do it after landing. It’s completely up to the pilot when the visit happens, so give them as much flexibility as possible.

Also, let the captain and co-captain decide how the visit goes. Sometimes they’ll let your kid sit up front, and sometimes they won’t. They probably won't like it if you’re being too in control or demanding. Just go with the flow and have your camera ready, if allowed. Let them decide what the experience will be like; it’s guaranteed to be better than you imagined.