Home » 30 Must-Have Tips for Flying With a Toddler
Travel Tips Travel with Kids

30 Must-Have Tips for Flying With a Toddler

Reading Time: 13 minutes

Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

Have a toddler and want to travel? Fear no more! While toddlers are the most difficult to fly with, in my opinion, I’ve got loads of tips to make your flight smooth.

Take heart. Parents around the world travel with toddlers every day. You CAN do this. It just takes planning, dedication, and looking forward to getting to your destination.

In case you are new around these parts, we’ve been traveling the world with our five kids for over two years! To date, we’ve flown nearly 100 flights with kids of various ages!

Table of Contents

Planning and Booking Your Travel With A Toddler

1. Pay Attention To The Flight You Book With A Toddler

The cheapest flight might be appealing, but remember it’s the cheapest for a reason. Ask yourself:

  • Is the layover too short? Airlines will sometimes have a 45-minute layover, which is pretty much a guarantee for missing a flight. NEVER take less than an hour and really two hours is much better.
  • Is it a red-eye flight? Meaning it flies overnight? Flights to Europe are almost always red-eye flights.
  • Does it leave very early in the morning? Many people miss early morning flights and this is the best time to get on standby for this reason.

You can do early and overnight flights with a toddler. You know your toddler and what the limits might be. Just be aware of why it is cheap!

Grace onboard an airplane

*Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Opinions shared are my own, and I only endorse products I support. By clicking on any of the links below, I may get a small commission if you purchase at absolutely no additional charge to you. I appreciate your support.*

The other important thing to think about is where you are sitting. Most of the time now, you have to pay for seating assignments. Flying with a toddler overseas? For sure pay for seating assignments.

For a shorter flight, you can maybe risk it. I’ve found that we have had flights, however, where we were all assigned separately and I had to beg for help to sit by my 4-year-old.

2. Try To Avoid Flights With Layovers

Direct flights rule flying with toddlers. If at all possible, get a direct flight. I promise you’ll be glad.

If you need to have a layover, be strategic. Maybe find one with 12+ hours and look for an airport hotel so everyone can sleep well before the next flight.

If you want to have a nice meal, allow at least 2-3 hours.

3. Picking Your Seats On The Plane With A Toddler Is Important

If you have one child, picking seats is easy. Parent on each side and toddler in the middle.

If your toddler is less than 2 years old, they can be a lap child. Know that you must bring their birth certificate to prove their age at check-in and you must check in at the desk.

What if you have four seats across? You can risk it and leave a middle seat empty, hoping no one books that seat. We’ve had about 50/50 luck with this strategy. If that person does show up, they are always willing to take the aisle instead of sitting between you and your toddler.

Ideally, you want a window to seclude yourself away, set up an inflatable bed, or install a car seat. There also tend to be more families at the back of planes and not in the front with the business travelers. Keep this in mind.

What to Pack For Your Flight with a Toddler

Packing for travel

4. Pack Smart For Toddler Travel

Perfecting the balancing act of packing your diaper/travel bag with a toddler takes time. You’ll probably overpack the first few times until you know what really works with your child. That’s OK!

The two most important things to pack with a toddler are snacks and toys. I tend to pack enough snacks that they could serve as a meal in a pinch because we have been in that pinch many, many times.

Food is a form of entertainment for a toddler, so pack the very favorites. Some of my favorite snacks for toddlers are:

  • fruit snacks
  • small crackers
  • yogurt melts
  • baby food packets or applesauce packets
  • small things they have to eat one at a time

I don’t recommend big crackers or things that crumble as they eat them. Hello, big mess!

You also need lots of lot of things to play with. You don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of new things. Usually, the ones that last the longest are the things you already have. What does your toddler love in your purse right now? A water bottle and the lid can be very entertaining.

Bottom line: bring things you know your toddler will love, that don’t make noise (or much noise.. no loud toddler toys with songs or beeps) and that you are OK to lose. Heading to the dollar store can also be a great option! They are new, you can trash them after and they can entertain for hours.

Prep time with a toddler

5. Pack Some Extras Of A Few Things

Other things to pack:

  • Extra change of clothes
  • Double the amount of diapers you think you’ll use
  • Ziploc bags. Can be amazing for stashing dirty clothes, catching vomit, and more
  • Wipes, even if your toddler is potty trained
  • Melatonin and tylenol

6. Bringing the Right Toddler Gear On The Plane

You might be bringing a car seat with you on your trip. We traveled the world with one. However, bringing it on the plane isn’t always a good idea.

Many airlines get picky about them or don’t allow them at all. Instead, consider an airplane harness instead. Restraining your toddler is an excellent idea. Once they realize they can’t get up, similar to the car, they might be calmer.

Strollers can be very handy, but most need to be checked at the gate unless you got foldable.

I still prefer baby carriers, even at the airport. MiaMily Hip Seat Baby Carrier is my favorite.

There are several travel pillows for sleeping on the plane but here’s my favorite because it creates a bed for a toddler, even in the economy (where we always fly), but not all airlines allow it. (However, if you wait until after the meal service on an international flight, the flight attendants all but disappear and I usually can get away with it anyway!)

I also like this inflatable cushion for kids that works sitting up.

Melatonin is our favorite sleep med for toddlers

7. Have Travel Documents Easy To Grab

Having travel documents organized and ready to grab makes life much easier. Consider a passport holder, and mark the front of your passports with washi tape and the name of the person. With 7 passports, it’s hard for me to find the right person sometimes!

With Covid restrictions, which hopefully are on their way out, you can almost always just show these on your smartphone.

Note that all humans, regardless of age, must have a passport to travel outside the country. Even a new babe!

8. Set Expectations and Build Excitement With Your Toddler Before the Travel Day

Prepare your toddler for what to expect. I always tell my kids if they have to sleep on the plane, how long it will be, and roughly how it will go. Tell your toddler the rules before you get there and get them excited! If they get upset on the flight, remind them what to be excited about.

9. Get Enough Sleep, At Least For The Toddler!

Getting enough sleep

You might, mistakenly, think that keeping your toddler awake will make them sleep better on the flight. Nope! Overtired kids sleep LESS than rested kids. Another inverse relationship in parenthood. Cortisol builds up in them and makes it harder and harder for them to sleep.

Let’s face it… you might not sleep well (or at all) before your flight. There is SO much to do before a travel day. However, you can get your toddler to bed on time. It will be worth it, especially when you are exhausted.

Travel Day With A Toddler

10. Calm Your Emotions

Be calm. This is my TOP tip and the most important. If you haven’t realized it yet, your toddler is quite in tune with you and your emotions. Have you noticed how your toddler acts out when you are tired and stressed? It’s a bit cruel how it works that way, but it’s true.

For this entire flight, you will project calm. Nothing is going to ruffle you. Screaming, throwing goldfish, hitting you, kicking the seat in front… these things will not throw you off. Expect your toddler to act terribly and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when they don’t!

You need to be firm, but calm. If you have a partner to share the responsibility with, take turns when you feel your book starting to boil!

Visualize yourself in that scenario and see how calm you will be. Your emotions are going to be the most important part of this journey today. If you are calm, no matter the other circumstances, your toddler is going to take comfort in this and be calmer as well.

Making memories with our toddler

11. Plan Enough Time To Get To The Airport With Your Toddler

Arrive early. I am late for everything. I struggle to not over-commit, in general, and our schedule gets the worst of my ambitions. We were late a few times to our initial flights with kids and I swore to quit that habit right away. You do NOT want to be late for your flight, ever, but especially with kids. It is so stressful!

We now plan to arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before our flights. Often we budget more time for an international flight.

If we only have a few hours in a city before our flight, we don’t try to fit in any more sightseeing and we just head to the airport instead. Better to relax at the airport, trust me! Bring books, homework, work, whatever, and plan to do that instead while you wait for your flight.

How To Get Your Toddler To The Plane

12. Check Your Carseats

Did you know all airlines, worldwide, check car seats for free? Not all airlines allow car seats on the plane so it’s a safer bet to just check your car seat at check-in. You don’t really want to wrangle them around the airport anyway.

If that doesn’t feel comfortable to you, consider getting a bag to carry your car seat around.

I would NOT check your stroller. It’s too expensive and will likely get broken by baggage handlers. Check this at the gate instead (at the entrance to the plane).

We also traveled with a travel wagon (in place of a stroller) for over a year. We loved how it works and it was so handy! You can check it at the gate like a stroller.

13. If Possible, Babywear Your Toddler

Wearing your toddler in the airport (and at your destination) can be fabulous. You don’t stress about stairs and finding elevators. My favorite for toddlers is the MiaMily Carrier.

14. Know What To Do With A Toddler Going Through Security

Dealing with security checks demands patience from everyone, but parents have extra challenges. Little ones bring extra gear and demand more attention through security.

With toddlers, your biggest challenge will be all your gear.

  • Collapse your stroller and get it on the belt, going in straight on into the machine
  • Put your diaper bag in a bin. Take out sippy cups, baby food packets, etc in a separate bin. This is in addition to the regular liquids and gels you might have (think diaper creme, lotion, and other baby liquids).
  • For more info on security with children, read up on Traveling with Children by TSA.
Travel with kids

Consider Global Entry if you travel internationally regularly. It gives you TSA Precheck in the USA as well which is amazing. This is a shorter security line that allows you to skip many of the required rules for security (like removing shoes, taking out computers, etc.).

Also, see if security has a family lane. Many foreign countries have this and you’ll go through a separate line for families.

After Airport Security

15. Check Your Gate Information Regularly

Find a notice board after security and double-check your gate and flight info. Sometimes, in the process of boarding a plane, your gate might have changed. Even worse, your flight might be canceled! Best to find out now and not at the gate.

16. Wear Out Your Toddler In The Airport

Get out all the wiggles! Walk on the moving walkways, play hide and seek, and let them crawl around as much as possible.

17. Go To The Bathroom Before Getting On The Plane

Either change diapers or go potty right before getting on. It’s always easier than on the airplane.

18. Go To The Flight Counter For Any Stroller Tags

In order to leave your stroller at the end of the runway, right before the plane, you need a stroller tag. It’s a big hassle and embarrassment when you go to board the plane and don’t have it, so get it now. Ask the desk attendant in front of your gate.

19. Board The Plane As Soon As You Can

Ask about family boarding. Every airline is a bit different about family boarding. While you are getting your stroller tags, ask about family boarding, and make sure you are in the right spot at the right time.

Boarding the Plane with a Toddler

20. Drop Your Stroller At The Gate Unless You Have a Travel Stroller

Take the stroller to the gate. Roll it all the way down the runway to the plane itself and then fold it up. Leave it outside the door of the plane and it will be stowed underneath the plane.

Usually, you will get it when you get off again, but some international flights send it with your other luggage to the baggage claim. If you aren’t using your car seat on the airplane and didn’t check it already, leave that now too.

21. Ignore The Haters

Kids enjoying the moment

The big moment is here! Remember to BE CALM. You are now looking for your seat.

You’re going to get some looks. People are worried your toddler will make their flight miserable. You’ll get some smiles too.

Once you are settled on the plane, take a minute to meet your neighbors. Clear the air right away and chitchat for a minute or two. Ask them about themselves and they will see you more as a person than an annoying toddler mama.

Never be ashamed to be on a flight. You paid for a ticket, you deserve to travel and your toddler will benefit from this travel with you. If your toddler starts to fuss your new friend might even offer to grab the dropped toy or give you a consoling look.

I’ve heard of bringing small gifts for the people sitting around you. Think of a cute gift/snack/candy to share with your immediate neighbors. You might even include a note with something like, “Grace is taking her second flight today near you. She promises to do her very best, but sometimes toddlers are unpredictable! Thank you for your patience today!

22. Get Settled In Before Take-Off

I like to make important items easily accessible. I put them on top of the diaper bag or carry them onto the plane. Getting to your seat, buckling, and dealing with fellow passengers and a toddler can get tricky.

Get your diaper bag where you can reach it and take out the things you’ll need right away: a sippy cup, snacks, any travel accessories like your neck pillow, headphones, etc. Get comfy and be as relaxed as possible!

23. Restrain Your Toddler In Their Seat

As stated above, restraining is best! Use this harness to keep toddlers still. They know how to unbuckle the regular seatbelt about two seconds after watching you do it.

Handling a Toddler on the Plane

24. Entertain, Entertain, Entertain, Sleep, Entertain Some More

Flying with a toddler requires you to be an entertainer. All of the flights. Lose those grand dreams of reading a book or taking a nap. You are going to cycle through toys like a master until it’s time to nap, then cycle some more. As soon as interest wanes, switch to a new toy.

Most toddlers will not be interested in screen time until 2.5 – 3 years old. You’ll wish for this day and it’s glorious when it comes. If your toddler likes screens, let them go for it! We have no limits on screen time for flights until it’s time to sleep.

See this page of my favorite toddler toys for planes. Big winners: gel clings for windows, water pen coloring, or erasable drawing pads. Other ideas: headphones, things with buttons that snap (like a small wallet), lipstick or chapstick (but be careful with this one!), stickers, and a small notepad.

25. Nap Only When It’s A Long Enough Flight

Flying with a toddler can be tough but you can do it!

Speaking of naps, don’t force it. Expect it not to happen. When they are tired, but not ballistic, use some Melatonin to ease them off to sleep.

If the flight is less than 5 hours and during the day, I wouldn’t even worry about a nap.

26. Medicate When Necessary

This mama’s opinion: medicate if necessary. Does your toddler seem fussy? Could your toddler have an ear infection? Are you just worried about pain? Give your toddler some Tylenol when you settle on the plane or just before you get on.

Use Melatonin to get a nap in if that makes sense.

27. Expect A Toddler Tantrum

It’s going to happen eventually. Expect it. When it does, do your best to ignore everyone else and stay calm. Imagine yourself and your toddler in a private room at home. Pretend no one else exists.

Remember, you have as much right to be there with your toddler as anyone else on the plane. Calmly and slowly use your techniques to soothe your toddler. Is he/she hungry? Overtired?

Try handing the toddler to your partner, if you have one with you. This will give your toddler a change of scenery and let you chill for a second. Take turns if you can. If nothing works, just keep doing you and endure.

When Your Flight Is Nearly Done

28. Get Ready To Land

When you hear the 20-30 minute announcement for landing, hit the bathroom. No one wants to stress about not being able to get up and having a dirty diaper or squirmy toddler. You might need to do customs when you get off anyway.

Start gathering all the toys, shoes, etc. slowly and get ready to land. Stay calm. You are almost there!

29. Don’t Rush Off The Plane

It’s ok to take your time and not pop right up. If your toddler is sleeping, be the last one off. Let all the anxious people off first.

30. Brush Off The Emotions And Get Ready To Vacation!

Family vacations are the best!

You made it! Congratulations!! No matter what happened on the flight, leave it on the plane. It’s time to start relaxing now and highlight all the things to your toddler they did right.

Remember that we all get better with practice. Our kids are absolute experts and so easy to fly with, but it didn’t start that way.

At the end of the day, your flights are just the stepping stone to amazing memories together. Travel days fade in your memories, but this trip won’t. You won’t regret going, I promise!



Book a flight for your family on Booking.com, Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, or Expedia

Find affordable hotels from Booking.com, Expedia, or Vrbo, (we also love Tripadvisor and Hotels.com)

Discover fun family activities from GetYourGuide, Airbnb Experiences, or Viator

Need a car? Rent one on Expedia Rental Cars

Get your family’s travel insurance from World Nomads

Capture your best family memories while traveling with a GoPro, Sony camera, or our favorite drones: DJI FPV, Air, and Mini

Check out other travel necessities from a comprehensive list of all the 7Wayfinders Travel Must-Haves. Click Here!

Additional Reading

Flying with a baby too? I’ve got tips for Flying with a Baby.

How To Save Money When Traveling With Kids

10 Tips For Surviving Jet Lag When Traveling With Kids

One Comment

  1. I’m flying to New York with my 3-year-old son this December, and since it’s his first flight, I’m worried he might not be comfortable during the trip. It’s good that you mentioned that food is a form of entertainment for toddlers during travels, which is why we should remember to pack their favorite snacks and small things they have to eat one at a time instead of those that leave crumbs. I’ll make sure to remember this and look for good airplane snacks to consider packing for him once I find a blog online to check for toddler travel advice before our trip.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *