Advice on Flying with Toddlers


I am currently in the midst of planning my son’s first mid-western adventure. While we drive back and forth to North Carolina at least every two or three months we have yet to board an airplane with the little fella.

So far he is excellent travel partner and almost never complains during our long six hour haul north or south. We keep him fueled with lots of snacks and try our best to drive during his nap time, but when he wakes he usually smiles, looks out the window and asks if we are at home or the ocean, depending on which we are traveling.

I’m not particularly nervous about taking him on an airplane, but if I have learned one lesson in the first two years of his life it’s that I have to plan as much as possible to ensure easy sailing.

Here’s the advice I’ve gathered so far:

  • Take the car seat on the plane. Kids won’t wiggle and ask to run around the cabin if they are strapped into a car seat. They know once they are buckled in they can’t get out until someone assists them. Plus, although it’s a pain to drag a car seat through the airport you’ll have one ready when you reach your rental car. Rental car companies cannot guarantee the availability, safety or cleanliness of car seats you rent.
  • Consider purchasing a lighter car seat to make travel in and out of the airports easier. We currently own a a Britax car seat, but a friend recommended the Cosco Scenera, because it’s slim enough to fit within the confines of the airplane cushion and only weighs 11 pounds. (Not sure it’s worth buying an extra car seat when we already have one?)
  • That same friend also recommended purchasing a car seat trolley to save our backs and keep one hand free to wrangle and chase after our son. (Anyone own one of these? Are they worth the $65 price tag?)
  • Use a baby carrier in the airport rather than a stroller.  We own an ergo baby carrier, but haven’t used it much in the last year. (Any advice on this topic?  Do you check your stroller with the rest of your baggage and what type of stroller do you bring for a toddler? I am considering bringing an umbrella stroller, but I don’t know how useful that will be if it snows while we are out west. I could also bring an older stroller we used for my son’s first year. If it’s damaged while traveling I won’t be upset about it.)
  • Travel with a back pack. Again so one hand is free for wrangling.
  • Pack twice as many snacks as I would typically provide. Choose treats that take awhile to eat like raisins or cheerios. This will keep my son occupied longer then a drinkable snack or something that can be easily chowed down.
  • Pack small toys to serve as distractions for the three and a half hour plane ride. Stickers, Crayola invisible markers and dry erase boards with crayons are just some of the examples. Pick a few favorites and include a few new toys that might keep him occupied.
  • Allow my son to play with my iPhone, iPad and any other digital device he seems interested in. Give up on any rules for limited screen time. If electronics keep him happy then have no fear handing them over to him.
  • Bring a change of clothes for my son and a clean shirt for both my husband and myself. This ensures we can change if we get doused in milk or God forbid vomit during our trip.
  • Don’t board the plane early. This forces the little one to sit still for an even longer period of time than typically necessary. (Any advice on this topic? I’m a little worried about waiting and then trying to wrestle the car seat into place while people are waiting in line behind me.)
  • Buy a book about airports or check out one from the library. Point to the details in the book that explain what an airport is, how people board, etc. This will introduce my son to the process well in advance. My son always behaves better when he knows what to expect and what is expected of him.
  • Bring along a sippy cup to help ease ear pressure.

If you have any advice on the bulleted items above or any additional words of wisdom please send them my way. I really could use it.

7 thoughts on “Advice on Flying with Toddlers”

  1. Great advice…I’ll be sure to review these before we go travel with the little one. He is only 6 months but I have many friends who are already traveling with their babies that age. I don’t know how they do it…we have a hard time just leaving the house and going places locally!

  2. We just flew to Florida with our daughters and it went so much easier than I expected. We did not bring car seats because we didn’t need them in Disney World. Our baby was a lap child, and our two year old sat in between me and my husband. We let her have a lollipop for take of and gave the baby a bottle. I brought several new small toys and stickers to occupy them, and really the time flew by pretty fast.

    We used a baby Bjorn in the airport and had our two year old walk. We flew southwest so we did board during family boarding to guarantee that we would have seats together. We made sure to do diaper changes and potty breaks shortly before boarding and didn’t have any problems there. On the flight home my two year old used the planned bathroom, which was probably the hardest part of the flight. Those rooms are too small for two people, and then my daughter wanted to touch every button in the bathroom. I think we did let her play some Ipad games to help part the time.

  3. We’ve travelled many times on long flights internationally (extended family lives in another country) and frankly never had the need to lug carseats around. (Never seen anybody else do it either) We got a bassinet from airlines, just for first time when she was just a yr old. Other times, she was happy to sit in regular seats… We lugged a bigger stroller, not huge…but certainly a small umbrella stroller would have come in very handy. Backpacks were fantastic. I suggest atleast 2 set of change of clothes for the child and one for parents and maybe an extra tshirt. She was also allowed to use the kids games / movies that the airlines provide (they do for international travel).

    We havent travelled on planes yet, after we got the iphone/ipad… but we do use it during long car trips and it is a huge help. We do ration the timing though. one hour of screen time and then do somethign else – liek reading/drawing or anythign else. You bet, we’ll take atleast one device when we travel on planes again.

    • Thanks for the comment Kay. It seems a lot of my readers do not think we need to lug a car seat on the plane either. I like the idea of two backpacks and two changes of clothes. We will definitely let my son play with the iPad on the plane, though we scheduled our flights around nap time so I hope he might sleep for a bit on there too.

  4. In regards to buying another car seat when you already have one, have you checked at your destination city for a baby supply rental company? I have heard of places that will rent out whatever you need during your stay in their city and most will drop off the items right at the airport to you if you need the car seat from there.

    Something my friend does is finds a car seat that someone is giving away or selling for really cheap (maybe it is close to the expiry date) and takes that with her when she is travelling. She checks and it with her luggage and if it gets lost or damaged it is no big deal as she still has her good seat at home. Since it is a temporary seat to her she leaves it (usually discards it) at her destination.

    I’m a big traveller with my child and always try to borrow a seat from family or friends as most of my travels are for visiting and they all have kids too. My parents (who we fly to visit often) actually bought a car seat for my daughter to use when we are there.

    • Hi Sarah — We don’t know anyone who could lend us a carseat at our destination sight, but I did find one for $30 at Walmart, which must beat the cost of renting. I actually looked into buying a used one, but they cost more than the one I found online. We’ll bring it with us, either stashing it with the rest of the luggage or bringing it on the plane, still to be decided, but I am leaning towards stowing it. I actually considered asking the car company if they want it after we return to the airport. We won’t be needing it, but would prefer not to lug it all the way back home.


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