Toddlers and Air Travel: Tips for a Successful Flight with Your Toddler


Traveling with an infant seemed stressful at the time. I hate to say it, but traveling with a toddler is worse, in our case. My son usually slept peacefully through flights as an infant, but as a toddler, it’s an all-out battle to keep him in his seat and entertained.  Through lots of trial and error, I’ve found some ways to make air travel with a toddler run a little smoother. Here are my tips for a successful flight.

Schedule your flight around their sleep schedule 

When possible, I find that it helps to schedule flights around my son’s sleep schedule. A missed or interrupted nap often leads to a cranky toddler, which can put a big dent in your travel plans. I used to try to book flights during his nap time with the assumption that he would sleep on the plane, which worked perfectly when he was an infant. Now that he is older, he no longer will sleep on the plane, so I try to schedule flights before or after his nap time. 

Check Your Car Seat (or Buy an Extra) 

For me, transporting a heavy toddler car seat is one of the least pleasant aspects of traveling with a toddler. Here are some ways to make it a little easier.

  • Check your car seat when you check in for your flight. You don’t want to have to lug it through security, plus car seats can be checked for free with most airlines.
  • Be sure to use a car seat protection bag to prevent damage to your car seat. I recommend getting one that can be worn as a backpack, such as this one that I have – anything that frees up your hands for other bags and children will be useful!
  • If there is somewhere that you travel often, consider investing in an extra car seat to keep there. In our case, we have an extra car seat at my parent’s house. When we travel there, we take an Uber Car Seat to the airport, and my parents pick us up with their car seat. It’s a big help!

Bring Your Stroller to the Gate 

I recommend bringing your stroller through security and checking it at the gate. If you can keep your toddler happy in the stroller, this will be much easier than having to chase him around the terminal. Even if he doesn’t cooperate (which, let’s be honest, they rarely do), it will be useful for holding your bags while you run after him. Be sure to get a claim tag for the stroller at the gate before boarding.

Board Early

Take advantage of early boarding so that you have plenty of time to get your child settled with snacks and entertainment. As mentioned above, be sure to get a claim tag for your stroller before boarding. Otherwise, they will send you back to the gate for a tag and you will miss the chance for early boarding (and if flying Southwest Airlines®, you’ll miss your chance to get seats together).

Pack SO MANY snacks

If your child is anything like mine, snacks are an easy way to pass the time. Don’t underestimate your child’s snacking abilities. When you think you’ve packed enough, double it! I can’t stress this enough–pack SO many snacks!

Get them a seat

Children under age two can fly as “lap children” for free. For us, this worked fine for short flights. However, if it’s a long flight and you can afford it, consider getting a seat for your little one. It will make the flight much more enjoyable for everyone. At age two, my son still demands to sit on my lap, but with a seat for him, we at least have a little extra room to spread out. Airfare is expensive these days, so I’m also going to share my secret for scoring a free seat for your (under 2) toddler on Southwest Airlines® (but keep it on the down-low):

  1. Board early, as previously discussed.
  2. Sit your child in the seat next to you and carry on, settling in as though the extra seat is yours.
  3. As seats begin to fill up and remaining passengers walk up the aisle searching for a place to sit, avoid eye contact at all costs.

If all goes well, everyone will sit elsewhere and your child has a free seat! And really, it’s a win-win because most people don’t want to sit next to a toddler anyway. Sometimes the flight attendant will announce that it’s a full flight with no extra seats, in which case, you’ll have to open up the seat – but I’d say it works about half of the time.

Bring Some New Toys & Activities 

Keeping your child occupied and content throughout the duration of the flight can be a challenge. My son tends to lose interest in his regular toys pretty quickly, even his favorites. I recommend bringing a few small new toys or activities that are sure to capture your child’s interest (Nope, I’m not above bribing my child for the sake of my own sanity). For example, pack a new book, activity workbook, or coloring book and a few small toys that you know your child will like. In my son’s case, new HotWheels® are always a hit. The novelty of something new always seems to keep my son engaged for a while. You can find inexpensive toys in the Target dollar section or at your local dollar store.

Invest In or Borrow a Tablet 

I know everyone has their opinions about screen time, which I get. I am a firm believer that there is a time and place to break your screen time rules and that’s on airplanes. Traveling as much as we do, we invested in an iPad for my son and it’s been a lifesaver. I download a few shows/movies on it ahead of time, and he is happy as a clam for a good portion of the flight. If you travel often, I truly think that a tablet is worth the cost. If not, see if you can borrow one for the trip from a friend or family member. Look for kid-friendly headphones that have volume control to protect their ears. We have these cute ones, which work well for us. 

Hopefully, these tips will make for a smooth flying experience. However, keep in mind that toddlers are unpredictable and sometimes, despite your best efforts, your child will be “that child” having a meltdown on the plane. Try to ignore the eye-rollers and focus on the supportive smiles from other parents. We’ve been there and we can see you’re doing your best. You’ll get through it!

Do you have any tips to add to this list? Leave a comment below.

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Mallory is a digital marketer and mom to an energetic toddler. She lives in NW DC with her husband and son. Born and raised in Tampa, Florida, Mallory moved to DC in 2007 after graduating from Wake Forest University (go Deacs!). Mallory went to graduate school for Health Communication & Marketing, so she especially enjoys writing about health-related topics. She’s an advocate for all things in moderation, including moderation. Likes: sauv blanc, Netflix, true crime, all things crafty. Dislikes: winter, traffic, non-adherence to the courtesy wave. All of my opinions are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.