Traveling With a Toddler By Plane
Recently, we took a cross-country plane-trip with our little guy. In the process, some things worked out and some things didn’t. Here are a few of our leanings. We hope that these tips will make your trip with a toddler by plane easier.
- If you have a layover, make sure it is not too short
When traveling as a childless couple, we always bought tickets that had the shortest overall travel time. This often meant a less-than-one-hour layover. However, this is not a good idea with a toddler. Even if you are not worried about the logistical challenges of moving through he airport quickly, it is nice to have some time to get a snack and let your toddler burn off some pent-up energy by running around the terminal. Airport terminals are not nearly as boring for a toddler as they are for an adult. Some even have little attractions and play-spaces.
- Time-zones matter a great deal
We were not prepared for the fact that our son failed to switch time-zones. There was only one day during the entire trip that he went to bed at his regular time according to the local clock. Instead, he slept as if it we were still back home, going to bed when it was bedtime back in our origin timezone and waking up on that schedule as well. This was a problem since Sweetie and I were actually so tired from traveling that we switched to our destination time-zone right away and ended up waking up way before our son, every day.
- Schedule flights so that you will not lose too much sleep to get to them
We figured that we would need to get up a little early. But, as it turns out, we had to get up a lot early because our return flight was scheduled on the assumption that we would be transitioned over to our vacation-location’s time-zone. Since that didn’t happen, we got very little sleep the night before our return trip.
- Get your toddler a seat of his own
Children under two can travel in the lap of an adult. But, this just doesn’t work very well for a toddler, especially a 30-pound one. You are not permitted to share a seat belt with the child and even with two adults, you might end up having to have your toddler sit still in your lap for hours. We were pretty lucky with this. On 3 of our 4 flights, there were extra seats and the cabin crew moved people around so that we could sit with our son between us. But, that fourth flight was rough.
- The extra-leg-room seats are worth the money
Airlines usually have some seats at the front of the coach-section that have extra-leg-room because they have a wall in front of them instead of another row of seats. These cost a little more and they the tray-tables are not as big. But, they are worth it for three reasons. First, there is room for a child to stand up and stretch his legs without getting in people’s way. Second, these seats board in group #1 for logistical reasons. Third, they keep an overhead compartment reserved for these seats even if you are late because there is no “seat in front” to store bags under.
- Download videos to your devices that will work in “offline-mode” and test this mode
If you have Netflix or YouTube Red (which is a no-brainer if you are avoiding showing commercials to your toddler, but not avoiding all video) you can save videos in “offline-mode”. This is essential because the wifi on airplanes doesn’t allow you to watch streaming-content. We saved some good ones, but discovered that one of our devices would not show these videos if the YouTube app was started fresh in airplane mode. Instead, we had to start the app with wifi available. After that happened, we could watch offline-videos even without network access. But, the app had to “login” once (or something) before it would show the content saved on the device.
- Coloring books and stickers work well, blocks and toy cars do not
There is just not enough room for playing with most kinds of toys in the plane and when your toddler is buckled in and drops a toy, it is frustrating for him and awkward for you. Stickers, coloring books, and stencils all work fine on a tray-tale. Story books work well, too. But, the entertainment-time to weight ratio of a picture-book is pretty low. So, next time we will take fewer of these and more coloring books, next time.
Here is the picture of what we got for the plane to entertain our toddler. We bought stickers from Target (6 sheets for $1) and coloring book is from a Dollar Tree. We did not need play dough but if you decide to take it make sure that it is unopened and store sealed.
- Bring snacks in small containers
We were told of this trick by a parent in-the-know. It works well. Eating Cheerios, apple-slices, or dried fruit is a time-consumer, a calming activity, and helps with the messed-up meal schedule that flights inevitably cause. It also seems that sealed squeeze-pouches are allowed through security. But, the TSA website does not explicitly mention this, so attempt at your own risk. Individual small food containers are better than a lunchbox or something because you can space out the snacks to head-off potential trouble.
- Don’t bring things you can have waiting for you
Hotels usually have a cribs (or at least Pack-n-Plays) available for their guests if you give them a few days advanced notice. Rental-car companies (and even taxi companies) can provide car-seats (for a fee with advanced notice). Baby-food is heavy, cheap, and can be purchased at your destination instead of being transported. Diapers take up a lot of space in luggage and can be purchased even in the middle of the night. Basically, with some planning and a trip to the store, you can get away with taking less stuff on the plane itself.
- Strollers don’t count as a carry-on and can be gate-checked
Light umbrella strollers can be gate-checked and don’t count as a carry-on. If you have a layover and need the stroller during it, you can tell the attendant and the crew will unpack your stroller at each stop. They will collect and drop off the stroller at the end of the gangway. So, you don’t even have to walk very far without it. It does take 5 minutes for them to unload, though. So, this is another reason to make sure your layover is a little longer than usual.
Do you have additional tips? Comment below and we will add them to the list.
Posted on February 9, 2017 then Updated July 4, 2017By Geek