There's good news and bad news about traveling with toddlers on airplanes. The good news is, airplane flights are shorter than driving, so your trip will be much shorter than it might have been otherwise. Plus, if your child is under two and you're willing to have them in your lap for the whole flight, they'll fly for free. The bad news is, flying with toddlers can be lots tougher than driving because you don't have the option to pull the plane over if your child gets too rambunctious, and instead of just annoying you and your family, they have the potential to annoy a flight of several hundred people.
Still thinking about flying? If you are, here are some tips for making the experience more pleasant for everyone involved.
Bring along something new
Babies love variety just as much as adults. Instead of bringing along the same old toys she always plays with, go to the dollar store and get a couple new items for her to examine on the plane. Look for things that rattle, move, or light up, but be wary of noisy, music-making toys, as they may annoy the other passengers. Don't get the toys out until you're on the plane, and if you have several, consider introducing a new toy every hour or so. I'd also suggest (from personal experience) that you stay away from light-up toys that don't have off switches. Otherwise you may end up walking through the airport with a red light blinking suspiciously from the depths of your diaper bag.
Get window clings
Window cling stickers bring all the fun of stickers, just without the sticky mess flight attendants hate so much. Window clings can be stuck on and pulled off as many times as your toddler's heart desires and you'll get a few blissful moments to relax or read a few pages of the Sky Mall Magazine
Tie strings to important objects
The unfortunate thing about airplane seats is they have gaps beneath them which tend to allow toys, books, and sippy cups to roll away during takeoff, landing, and turbulence. To prevent a precious binky or lovey from being lost to another row, tie strings around them and hold on tight. Or, for the crafty mom, get ribbon and velcro and sew one end of the ribbon to the toy with the velcro to the other end then you can wrap the velcro around your toddler's wrist for an easy, no-hands safety string.
Have several snacks on hand
Don't rely on the piddly snacks provided on the airplane. Bring along several healthy snacks of your own to supplement your ever-hungry toddler's diet. Make sure the snacks are easy to clean up, as it'll be tough to wash messy hands in the close quarters of the airplane. Avoid sugary snacks, as well, to avoid the hyperness sure to follow. It's especially important to get your toddler to eat or drink something during takeoff and landing so they'll keep swallowing, thus allowing them to easily equalize the pressure in their ears.
Utilize mobile devices
Most airlines no longer require you to completely power down mobile devices during takeoff and landing as long as they can be placed in airplane mode. Prepare yourself with fun apps for kids and movies. Even if they can't hear the sound they'll enjoy the changing colors and pictures. Instead of earbuds bring earphones as the toddler might be more likely to keep those on his head.
Keep everything within easy reach
Getting items out of the overhead compartment is a pain when the plane is in motion, so keep everything you think you'll need within easy reach in a purse or diaper bag small enough to be placed beneath the seat in front of you. Also, check beforehand to find out whether your airplane has a changing table and make sure you have easy access to diapers, wipes and a change of clothes. My most recent flight didn't have one, and my son soiled his diaper during takeoff. Changing a wiggling baby on the lid of an airplane's toilet is not an experience I ever want to repeat.
Do something nice for your neighbors
If you anticipate your toddler will be fussy or whiny on the flight, it's nice to make an overture of kindness to your seat neighbors. Make little treat bags and hand them out to the people around you with a note that says something like this: “Hello! I'm a 14-month-old boy on my first flight! I'll try to be on my best behavior, but I'd like to apologize in advance in case I get scared, bored or my ears hurt. My mom and dad (AKA my portable milk machine and diaper changer) have ear plugs available if you need them. We are sitting in 20E and 20F if you want to come by to get a pair. Hope you have a great flight!”
Traveling with toddlers is tough, but nothing can match the pleasure of seeing their wonder when they look out the airplane window. It will remind you to pause and see what an amazing world we live in, even though a moment later you'll be back to wiping runny noses and grabbing flying crayons. Here are some more tips for traveling with kids.
Katie Nielsen is an adjunct English faculty member at Brigham Young University – Idaho and mother of one. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org