I have to fly with a toddler. Suggestions?

My sister is getting married in Ohio this summer, and I’m in the wedding, as is MrWhatsit, so we’re flying out for the occasion. Unfortunately, this means taking young Whatsit Jr. on a plane. I am not really all that thrilled about the prospect, but I’m not going to miss my sister’s wedding, and spending three days in a car to get there isn’t really all that practical, so flying it must be. Whatsit Jr. will be about 18 months old at the time of the flight.

I’ll be flying alone with him on the flight out, because MrWhatsit is joining us a week later in order to avoid taking two entire weeks off from work. Apparently one week with my relatives is enough for him. Go figure. So I’m going to have to deal with an 18-month-old toddler, his car seat, and our carry-on, by myself in the terminal, which is freaking me out major.

Once on the plane, we did buy Whatsit Jr. his own seat, which should help, as should the fact that we’re taking his car seat on the plane with us, so we can strap him in for takeoff and landing. I’m just concerned about the rest of the flight. Has anyone else flown with a child this age? I’m bringing lots of snacks, his sippy cup, and a few books and (non-musical, non-electronic) toys with me. I’m also bringing the Robitussin in case he has trouble clearing his ears. (We’re still breastfeeding so I can also nurse him if necessary.)

I guess I’m just looking for tips. I hate the fact that I’ve become one of the people who instantly gets nasty looks from all the other passengers the second I set foot on a plane, just because I have my toddler with me, and honestly, I do not want to make everyone else’s flight a living nightmare. I’d really rather not fly with my toddler in the first place, but short of missing my sister’s wedding I don’t have any alternatives this time around. What can I do to make this process easier on myself, Whatsit Jr., and our fellow passengers?

Unfortunately I have never flown with a toddler. So, I do not have any valuable advice. However, I think that you should not feel guilty. Obviously, you are going to be as prepared as possible. Obviously, you are thoughtful and considerate of others. This is all that anyone could expect. I am confident that even though it may be difficult for you to manage this trip with the youngster, you will be fine. I am sure some experienced parents will stop by with all of the tricks of the trade. Don’t stress. Enjoy your trip.

Could you get a good friend or family member to go along with you?

Good luck.

Bring some sort of lollipop that the child can consume.

Air flight often induces pressure changes that require one to voluntarily “pop” one’s ears. Most infants and youngsters are unable to do this and high-decible screaming is frequently the result. Having some sort of hard candy for the child to suck upon will help normalize the internal pressure in the ear canal.

For the sake of your fellow traveler, avoid bringing any sort of toy that makes noise.

Lots of wet wipes, towels and napkins.

Try and get the child’s entire diaper bag, toys, etc. into one large carryon. Break it down after you get on the plane, but have it in one honking carryall so you can tote the young’un easily. You will want to check with your airline concerning oversized luggage and the new charges they tack on for it to avoid being gouged.

  1. bring a couple comfort items, like a blankie or favorite stuffed animal or bedtime pillow;
  2. give him a good dose of benedryl just before you board the plane. Do this even if you have to pretend to yourself that he has the sniffles;
  3. give him a brand new present for him to unwrap: a book, stuffed animal, or whatever you know he’ll like;
  4. bring nipple desensitizing cream (this would be for you, as you’ll probably end up nursing him a lot more than usual);
  5. dress yourself comfortably: you’re not going on a job interview, and you’re out there to impress any of the other passengers;
  6. don’t carry ANY carry-ons other than that absolute minimum (see items listed above);
  7. don’t stress out if the flight crew make you take him out of the child seat during takeoff or landing. They seem to inconsistently apply the rules; some say that the seats can’t be used, others say they can;
  8. gate check a stroller;
  9. use this mantra: “Children are much of what life is all about and I’m not going to feel guilty or worry about whether he’s bothering other passengers. It’s good for them to hear a crying, fussy baby from time to time and airplanes and travel and people and business and life should be more child-friendly. I’m not going to expect or try to make him behave like a little angel/perfect child. It’s hard for kids to travel and he’s probably doing the best he can. That’s just too bad for all you spoiled business-class travelers who even consider thinking ill of me or my wonderful child. This, too, will pass.” Repeat to yourself, ad infinitum.
  10. you are a saint for doing this, and God will reward you in the hereafter;
  11. have fun.

I just saw zenster’s advice after I posted and realized I forgot about the all-important ear-pressure issue. Having something for him to suck on, especially during takeoffs and landings, is an absolute must. But then, you’ve got the perfect sucking devices built in, so probably don’t need to worry about a candy sucker. If he doesn’t avail himself of what nature has provided, then he deserves some ear discomfort; I know I would, given the chance. :wink:

And in my previous post, obviously I meant to say that you’re NOT out there to imporess any other passengers.

He might be a bit young for this to apply, but if he’s into TV or other video entertainment, and your finances permit, a portable DVD player can work like a charm.

I flew to Hawai’i earlier this year and (silently) groaned when a family with two toddlers sat down across from me. (Nine hour flights tend to make even the best-behaved kids cranky.) Then Mom set up the DVD player, with headphones of course. Kept the little buggers busy during every hour they were awake.

All of the above advice is wonderful. One other suggestion, though – airplane seats are notoriously cramped, so do keep an eye out for little feet kicking the seat in front of you. I was kicked in the back ALL the way across the Pacific once by a toddler whose parents and I had no common language, and the glares of my neighbor and I were universally met with bright, cheery smiles from the parents and yet more kicks from the child. :smack:


  • Squeegee, father of a former boy-demon who had some really bad flights at about that age.

Agreement w/ Random on the DVD player. Some airports rent them.

Also agreement w/ butrscotch – if my kid kicks the seat, he loses a leg. No, not really, but I’m sensitive that that’s annoying as heck to the person in front of him and make my boy stop as quickly as possible.

We started flying with our son when he was four months. He’s taken three or four flights a year every year and we only had one difficult trip, it turned out he had an ear ache.

He’s always been a good flyer, but here are a few things that you might find helpful:

If it was a long flight we tried to schedule it just before nap time or late enough at night, that we’d let him wear jammies on the plane. Once or twice it made check-in and boarding a little tricky if he was tired because he’d want to be carried, but once on the flight and after a snack, he would sleep the entire flight. This was good until he was older and then the whole flying thing was too exciting to sleep.

Sucking does help so let him have the breast/binky/thumb or even one of those kiddie fruit drinks with the tiny straw that they have to suck through.

Chewy treats, gum is ok, but caramels worked better for our son as they made his mouth water more and he would swallow more.
(Don’t forget a damp cloth or two in a zip lock bag, for clean up.)
When he was as small as yours we used to take a trail mix type treat that he liked and added a few M & M’s, he spent a good portion of the flight picking the M & M’s and other favorites out of the trail mix and handing me the raisins. Those prepacked peanut butter and crackers work great as well as chewy fruit snacks.

In addition to books, paper and fat crayons, try an inexpensive new toy or a toy that he’s only allowed when flying. Even wrapping it up and letting him carry it until he’s on the plane to open. (Although now that I think about it, I think mine was closer to 2 1/2 or 3 when we did this.)

One thing I learned was to not whip out the “special things” the moment we were in the airport or on the plane. Have them and be ready, but wait until he needs them. The novelty of the people and plane might interest him for longer than you think. I would try to let him amuse himself quietly as long as he would. The distract him with a treat or change of scenery just before I thought he was ready for a change. Additionally, not everyone on the plane hates you because you have kids. Sometimes there are other parents, grandparents and even children flying unaccompanied that will visit or play quietly with the baby. The novelty of a new face to play peek a boo with goes a long way, even if you have to share cookies with the playmate.

Teaching them something new is a good distraction to. When he was little the oldest really liked to be whispered to, he would sit so still trying to hear you whisper in his ear on the plane. He most liked if it was a song or poem he was familiar with hearing, but not used to hearing it whispered. We also taught him simple rhymes and finger plays during flying time, he loved nesting cups at that age and they work well on a plane. As he got older often we would get him a new manipulative puzzle. At some point he also had one of those books with the fabric that they play with buttoning a big button, lacing a lace through a couple of holes, large snaps, that sort of thing.

On one trip when the oldest was really toddler young we spent a good deal of flight time with him taking one item at a time out of his bag and handing it to me. I would say “thank you” and tuck it in my bag. When his bag was empty, we did the reverse. I took all his things out of my bag one at a time and handed them back for him to put back in his bag.

One time flying with a toddler and a kindergartener, they discovered a small package of bandaids in my purse while looking for lifesavers. They spent the entire hour flight, opening the bandaid wrappers (not easy for a toddler, but intriguing), and putting bandaids all over each other. It was well worth the two buck for a box of ninja turtle bandaids. Grandma had a huge laugh when the boys came off the plane with bandaids on their fingers, foreheads, shirts and ears.

Another game we played at that age was taking turns quietly naming body parts to touch. “Touch your nose”, touch your toes, where is your elbow? Where is my elbow?

I noticed you said you’ll be going this summer, that means you have a little time to help him “learn” how to behave when flying. What I mean is often it’s hard for toddlers to do things they’ve never done or been prepared to do. So save yourself and your son some frustration and start preparing him now. Find out how long the flight is and then start tomorrow teaching him how to sit in one place. Even if you never get to the full flight time. If things get hairy at some point in the flight, doing just a few minutes of “special quiet time” can be a distraction. It’s a few minutes more than you had. Do five or ten minutes a day of quiet time at about the same time of day you will be flying, when he can get through that, up it to 20 and so on. During this time, do the sort of things with him you are planning to do on the plane.

I realize this takes effort on your part. However, it can be done. I’ve done it. It’s how I taught my son’s to sit quietly through church. At the same time of day as church we’d sit quitely (with books, crayon, a baggy of dry cheerios) on the sofa for 15 minutes and then I’d up it until they could do the hour that church lasts. The older one was reasonably well behaved in church by the time he was 18 months, the younger one was still working on it at 20 months and more, even so he did better than others his age and I do think it was because we “practiced” and it was at about the same time of day that we did it at home. So they were used to having a special quiet cuddle time each day that was for sitting quietly (and wasn’t punshiment). We could look at book’s (but no talking), we would rub or pat backs, or brush the palm of their hand with soft finger tips, or “exercise” our toes (try to wiggle them one at a time). If they got so quiet they went to sleep, all the better I felt. I did not expect the boys to stay awake and listen all the way through church until the were 7 - 8ish.

Also remember that during the actual flight, it’s ok to get up and let him walk to the front of the plane and back to go to the lavatory. It’s pretty much free of sharp edges inside the lav. Your impulse might be to carry him because of the way things or configured on a plane, but I would let him walk holding your hand and use a little of that bundle of energy getting to and from the lavatory to wash his hands or face or brush his teeth or something if he’s not working on potty training. I would tell my oldest that if he walked quietly we could make two laps instead of just one.

I’ve rambled on enough, maybe you’ll find something here that helps at least for a few minutes. I think you’ll be fine, the more you are prepared the better it will go. Remember, that it’s important that you aren’t tired on the flight. Even if you have to get a sitter for part of the day prior to the flight so you can have a nice bath and quick power nap before the flight. You’ll want to feel rested and patient so you have plenty of energy for “toddler taming”.

Good Luck!

MsWhatsit - WhatsitJr is such a beautiful, charming lad, however could you imagine that he’d be anything less than an angel on a plane? :smiley:

I’ve flown with Baby tlw several times, and she’s been very good. I nurse her during takeoff and landing which I believe makes all the difference – even if she’s not actively eating, having something to suck. Rather than drug her with Benadryl, I try to make plane time sleepy time by scheduling flights for times when she would normally be sleeping or adjusting her sleep schedule (keeping her awake when she wouldn’t normally be) so that she’s more likely to conk out if she gets a good nursing in the beginning of the flight.

I second the suggestion that if WhatsitJr cannot/will not nurse at takeoff, have a lolly or maybe a cold banana or something that he can suck on to keep his ears from hurting too much. There are also disposable earplugs which are meant to slow the pressure change in the eustachian tubes which causes most of the discomfort, as well as filter out much of that whiny jet engine noise. I believe that they’re called Earplanes. They don’t make a baby size, but WhatsitJr may be able to use the child size. If so, and he’d be okay with you sticking things in his ears, they may be very helpful. (Maybe get some and do some trial runs before the flight?)

I’d recommend getting an aisle seat for you and a center seat for him. That way, when you need to take him for diaper changes or cleanup trips, you’re not climbing over someone. If the flight isn’t full, you might even manage to get a row to yourselves, which will give you space to lay out some of WhatsitJr’s things. Be prepared for the bathroom, though. The diaper change shelf is ridiculously narrow and doesn’t usually have straps. They’re notoriously hard to use, especially if there’s turbulence or you have a child who likes to squirm during a change. (Or doesn’t like being laid out in that strange, weird smelling, uncomfortable space.) If he has a lovey that can keep him occupied during a change, bring it!

As for toys, ones that encourage a quieter type of play would probably earn you blessings from your fellow passengers. :slight_smile:

But as others have said, relax. Babies aren’t just small adults, and they don’t act like they are. So long as you don’t let WhatsitJr cry and scream endlessly at the top of his lungs (without working to console him) or kick people or run around the plane touching people with sticky hands, it’ll be okay. Dress comfortably, pack lightly, take advantage of every amenity offered (gate checking your stroller, pre-boarding, etc.) and try to focus on the festivity and joy of your sister’s wedding! Whee, it’s a special, happy time!

Speaking as a childless person – I do not hate people who fly with their little kids. I get bored and restless on planes too. As long as the parents in question make a reasonable effort to keep the baby occupied/quiet, the last thing I’m going to do is be rude to them if those efforts fail. I’ve often felt bad for parents of upset kids on planes when other people were giving them dirty looks. Even worse for parents who had happy, but young, kids who were getting dirty looks just because the kids were young. Babies CRY. Toddlers get restless. It’s a fact of life. I don’t have any and I know that much! (Kicking seats, on the other hand, is inexcusable.)

Good luck on the trip, and I hope the wedding is lovely. :slight_smile:

I have no children, and I hate to sound like a grinchy ghoul, but I really find crying children in public discomforting. Temper tantrums are much worse, however. Crying is one thing, but in the case of temper tantrums, the child, often one who knows better, is deliberately making a scene in order to get his or her way. Crying is just a response to stress or duress. Sorry, didn’t mean to go off on a tangent there.

Perhaps a chewy treat, like a granola bar, would help? That’s what my mom gave us when we were kids. Also, those little Golden Books might help keep them occupied. They travel well and are relatively stain-resistant.

For gods sake, don’t give him anything detachable and/or weighing less than he does to play with during takeoff.

Nothing like have an toddler playing “fling every toy my doting mother keeps giving me, despite my have hurled each previous one gleefully onto the floor” And then getting to watch the poor harrassed attendant try to round up all the toys that have been rolling around the floor for the past 5 minutes.

And not to mention the soggy pretzels that were round two of the fling fest.

Actually, 99% of the kids I’ve ever seen are relatively good. This one was more memorable tho.

Having done this a few times, I have just two words for you … Children’s Quaaludes. :slight_smile: Seriously, there has been some very good advice given here, especially the part about having the little tyke sleep for the trip. Keep him awake and let him get cranky before the flight and he’ll be that much more likely to sleep during it. Something for chew/swallow during takeoff and landing is also very, very good. Likewise the earplugs idea. I did a fair amount of traveling a few years ago and the best tip I got was from watching a flight attendant who was ‘deadheading’ back to Dallas. Just before takeoff, she put a pair of disposable earplugs in and read for the rest of the flight. I tried it on my next trip and the difference was amazing. They filter out about 95% of the jet noise so that all you have to deal with is the cramped seats, pusy passengers, overworked flight attendants and lousy food. The disosable foam earplugs should work OK on the little Whatsit, but check with your pediatrician or pharmacist to be sure. You might want to have a pair for yourself, too. Additionally, you could bring several sets along and pass them out to your neighbors in case all of this free advice turns out to be worth just what it cost :smiley: Happy flying.

errr, umm pushy passengers, that is. :smack:

Definitely benadryl. We all use it in our family when we’re on long flights (like to London) so we all sleep and are ready to go when we get there. I always gave it to my kids at the time we were getting settled in our seats. I also gave my babies Sudafed which helps with the ear discomfort. Our kids have flown since they were infants multiple times each year and we were lucky enough not to have any major crying jags. But in any event, you can’t control your kid’s reaction to the things affecting them. Try not to take it personally (I know that’s hard) and feel responsible for the fact that other adults are discomforted. No, we don’t like listening to crying babies but neither do we like listening to adults pop their gum, crack their knuckles, laughing like hyenas, and/or playing their jiveass bass so loud it breaks bones because they think their bass equates with a much desired penis (that’s the only reason I’ve figured out that folks do this.) Your baby will only cry for a few minutes, the rest of these folks we seem to be stuck with.

The other advice about practicing sitting quietly, ear plugs, etc., also sound good, although I never did that. Definitely if you use the ear plugs practice with them, too. I find them extremely annoying myself. Those Bose headsets are great, if you’re planning on investing in headsets anyway, those are great for both blocking out noises which might wake the baby, as well as if you’re using a computer movie, DVD player, whatever.

And for real, check everything except the absolute essentials. It’s much harder feeling in control when you have too much stuff to take care of. I’ve never understood why folks don’t like to check luggage. I don’t like schlepping all this stuff around. So much easier to check at curbside, and have someone who’s picking you up available to help gather it all together at the luggage carousel.

Thanks for all the great advice so far, guys.

One thing I do worry about is the seat kicking issue. I too have left a flight with bruised kidneys due to the incessant kicking of the 3-year-old behind me, so I am sensitive to this issue. But last time we flew and buckled Whatsit Jr’s carseat into the plane seat, it took up practically all the available room and made it almost impossible to keep him from being able to kick the seat in front. I spent the entire flight with my arm braced across his legs, trying to keep him from moving them. This was not aided by the guy sitting in front of him deciding to put his seat into the reclining position. Does anyone have suggestions about how to handle this? Simply putting him in the seat sans carseat and having him use the regular seatbelt won’t work. He’s too little and too wriggly.

I am going to look into those ear plugs for sure. Whatsit Jr. thinks TV is kind of lame, so I don’t think we’ll be doing the DVD player, besides which 1) it’s too expensive anyway, and 2) expensive electronic equipment + 18 month old = bad news. I figure I’d just be setting us up for trouble.

Just kidding, seriously though, just make sure you have plenty of toys and snack things to keep him busy. I flew for 14 hours with a 14 month old and a 2 year old, and that was a hell I wish never to relive. Hopefully your experience will be better.

I’ve heard all the advice about conk-out medication, and I’ve never done it myself. Not that I’m against it, but most of our travel has involved 24 hours of constant travel, so it would hardly be feasible to keep my girls conked out for the entire time. At some point during the journey, they’re bound to be cranky. Advice I’ve heard though is be sure to test it before you travel. Medication that makes some kids sleepy will have the opposite effect on other kids.

I usually try to wrap up several little gifts for them to open on the way. The novelty of the toy is great, and the act of unwrapping is exciting in itself. Heck, I could wrap granola bars and they’d be thrilled.

Be prepared. I packed a change of clothes for myself and my daughter when I flew alone with her at 18 months. She managed to spill her drink not once, not twice, but four times. On me. Other times, her sippy cup has dripped onto the seat. Then there was the time she was a little older, screamed that she would not put on a diaper, then wet herself. Lesson: bring a change of clothes and carry plastic bags to put the wet stuff in.