Nervous About Flying With a Toddler? Our Guide to Conquering the Fear and Enjoying the Flight.

Whether you are a frequent business traveller or fly rarely, travelling with a toddler can be a remarkably different experience than travelling alone. It is understandable that may feel apprehensive:

As amazing as toddlers are, they can be as challenging at the most unexpected times and you have so many rules to follow and time pressures during air travel…the last thing you want is a full-blown tantrum, right?

So, what do you do if you are nervous about travelling with a toddler?

There are many different tips and tricks to help reduce stress and give you peace of mind for your travels. Flying with a 1 to 2-year-old, just discovering their independence, can be fun! It’s all about booking and prepping for the flight, packing right for a flight with a toddler, learning how to tame your active toddler, how to address a fear of flying (you or your little one), and how to help special needs toddlers when flying.  

We have you covered!

“Fear is just a message to do some preparation and think things through. It’s not an automatic stop sign that we, all too often, mistake it for.” Ben Hunt-Davies

As a parent with young children, the thought of flying may feel both exciting and overwhelming, especially long-haul. But just because your kids are young does not mean you should put off exciting new adventures!

Many thousands fly with toddlers each year.

The best thing to do is to figure out what worries you the most. If you want, you can jump to that segment straightaway:

If you have an anxious child, you may want to read our 20+ tips and tricks to help them overcome fear.

Here are some great tips to best prepare yourself if you are nervous about flying with a toddler:

Booking and Preparing for the Flight

A little thought and preparation will help you immensely. You may consider spending a bit more to have more comfortable flights.

Explore the airport in tansit
Helsinki Airport- Schengen terminal

1, Keep connecting flights to a minimum

Choose non-stop flights, when possible, over connecting flights. Less stress of delays, missed connections means less stress to transfer to your little one and hopefully fewer chances of tantrums.

Firstly, pressure during take off and landing can be quite painful on children’s eardrums. You can only imagine the discomfort a young child feels – hence all the crying and screaming. (To reduce this pressure, give your child something to drink, offer them gum if they are old enough, or have them “pretend” to yawn as these tricks can reduce the pressure on the eardrum. READ more on earaches)

Second, just simply: the less time spent in transit the lesser the chance of tantrums. 

If you do not have a choice and have to book a connecting flight, try to add a few extra hours on the ground between each flight.

Ideally, adding about two to three hours can give you plenty of time to change a dirty nappy, grab some food, and reach the gate without being stressed out. Use this time to let your toddler walk alongside you to burn some extra energy. While this may not be as quick, the overall travel experience will likely be more pleasant for you and your child. They’ll be more ready to eat and chill with a film after a good walk.

READ: our guide to Non-stop, direct flights, stopovers and layovers with kids to get some more ideas for your trip planning.

2, Should I book a late or early flight? 

There are advantages to both. The best timings are ones that work naturally with your toddler’s sleep patterns and normal routines. Keep mealtimes and naps as consistent as you can, within the travel schedule.

  • Early Flight:
    An early flight has its upsides: Flight crews and other passengers tend to be more relaxed and helpful, as compared to an end-of-day flight. As long as you don’t have to have a super early start, you will have a more cheery toddler going through the airport and one who is ready for their midday nap on the flight.
    Work on sleep cues in advance! And don’t go for this strategy with a toddler who refuses to sleep on long trips in the car; your little one will just get really tired and cranky.
  • Late Flight:
    If your flight is going long-haul, your best bet is taking a late or overnight flight. This will allow your toddler to sleep during the flight, and will minimize worries of hyperactivity.
    Keep in mind: Arriving late is tough on parents, as you’ll have to carry your toddler and all their paraphernalia all through arrivals to your onward transport or accommodation.

Whatever flight you do end up booking, just be prepared regardless: Toddlers are resilient, just make sure to give them a chance to have fun and run around a bit before and after any flight. 

3, Book your toddler an extra seat

If you can afford it, booking your toddler an extra seat will make it easier on everyone.

And it also provides a safer option for them: Children aged 2-years-old and under are safer if they are seated on a government-approved child safety restraint system or an airline-approved carseat than they are when flying on your lap. (Your arms may not be capable of holding your children securely, especially during turbulence. )

4, Make time for everything

Any time you are travelling with children, especially if you have toddlers, make sure to get to the airport at least an hour earlier than the airport’s suggested travel time. This will give you enough time to get checked-in and pass through security more smoothly.

Always remember, that when travelling with children you will run into delays, such as bathroom visits, tantrums and more.

Toddlers are lovable, curious and wonderfully unpredictable, so do yourself a favour and get there with time to spare.

Here’s guide on strategies for conquering those long lines in airports

5, Take a bathroom break before boarding

At the airport, you have so much more space and more hygienic conditions than on the plane for a diaper change. Ideally, it’s best to board a plane with a dry nappy. Some parents even recommend doubling up on diapers for extra protection if you are worried about accidents during the flight. 

If your toddler is potty training, one last potty break before boarding is a good idea. Doing so means one less trip to the airplane bathroom, causing less work for the parents and less inconvenience for other passengers.

Packing for a Flight With a Toddler

In considering how to pack: check what hand luggage allowance your little one has. (This will vary per airline and depend on whether you have booked a seat for your toddler too.)

1, Bring back-ups

Figure out what you need and then add some more: formula,  snacks, diapers, wet wipes, bottles, and clothes. This is to ensure that you have everything your toddler needs in the event your flight is delayed or cancelled, or there are long waiting periods on either end. The extra weight is worth the peace of mind, in this case.

READ more about wetwipes and cloth wipes for travel

2, Bring a stroller with you

Stollers are a great help, if you do have to move quickly through the airport. It will provide a place to contain your little wanderer and place for her to sleep.

You should be able to take your pushchair to the boarding gate and check it there ( usually works with any stroller under 20lb/ 9kg), some strollers will even be allowed on the flight as part of the hand luggage allowance. For this they need to be within the airline’s hand luggage size allowance.

A simple ring sling can also come in handy for carrying your toddler- especially on arrival, if your stroller is returned with the rest of your luggage only- and saving your arms during the flight. …but don’t try to bring your baby carrier backpack to the boarding gate (it’s too big!)

READ more: Can I sit with a baby carrier?

3, Dress comfortably

Always think of comfort and convenient when dressing for travel. You may be tempted to doll up your toddler with an adorable outfit. Don’t!

Dress your toddler in something that is cozy, and more importantly, easy for you to change, if necessary. 

Dress layers– the flight itself can be remarkably cold, whereas your journey may take you to and from a very hot place.

4, Always pack an extra set or two of clothes for you and your toddler

Having a couple of changes of clothes in your hand luggage makes sense. , See to it, though, that you have some extra clothes tucked into the diaper bag, not only for your toddler but (at least a top) for you, too. This is in case a little accident occurs mid-flight. Travelling with toddlers leads to more spills, drools and mess than travelling with a baby.

5, Toys, activities and things to do

Some people advise to buy new toys, activity packs for your child, to keep them occupied and interested for longer. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with this: It’s a total waste to buy something for those couple of hours.

Instead, pack only a few things: my toddlers usually travelled with a little backpack that was also a harness for grabbing onto, in case they turned escapee. The backpack needed to fit toys, a diaper, baby wipes and sippy cup.

Things we carried: colouring pencils/ crayons (though traditional airlines often have these for kids on mid- to long-haul flights), drawing pad, a favourite book and a cuddly toy.

Anything that was small and could be easily lost was left at home if it held any value. There was only ever space for one important toy, that had emotional value for my little ones.

This principle has saved me many headaches and heartaches for my little ones, when a little toy was misplaced during a trip. (It happens all too easily as you are so often under time pressure.)

TUrkish Airline kid's amenity kit

Don’t forget that on mid- to long haul flights you will likely get some things from the airlines too: the best entertainment can be the little bag you get free from the airline with a toothbrush and eye mask and miniature cosmetics. Toddlers just love tipping out the contents and zipping and unzipping the bag!

6, Bring your toddler’s favourite snacks

Always bring an extra pack of your toddler’s favourite snacks and some easy snacks, like dried fruits, that keep hunger away for longer. A hungry tummy is often the reason why a little child is upset.

Bringing your own snacks can save you money as airport food can be a little bit expensive.

Also, see to it that your child is well-hydrated. A water bottle for you and your toddler will also save a couple of tantrums.

7, Medications

If your toddler is a little bit under the weather, but you really have to take the flight, check with your doctor first. If you get the all-clear, you will want to pack prescription and other medications in your carry-on bags.

Liquid medications are exempt from the liquid limits implemented by security. Just be sure that these medications are in their original packaging so they’re identifiable. You may want to store the medications in your diaper bag for easy retrieval. 

TIP: NEVER, give a child any medicine for the first time on a flight or within an hour of the flight! You really don’t want to be in the air if your little one has an allergic reaction.

8, Protect Your Toddler’s Ears When Flying

Airplane landing and take off can cause pressure difference in your toddler’s ears which can be very painful. To protect your child from the pain, let him chew on a cracker or cookie or suck lollipops during landing and take-off.

TIP: Avoid sweets like gummy bears, haribos and the likes. Marnie, our editor and commercial pilot, has faced a situation where child almost choked on a gummy bear slipping down the wind pipe. Had the parents not acted promptly, the plane- in the middle of take-off- would’ve taken another 10 minutes to back around and even longer to get the ambulance service. You never want that to happen to your child!

Ear plugs- earplanes come highly recommended from other parents- are also helpful when flying with toddlers. Pop these tiny lifesavers into your toddler’s ears to lessen the cabin pressure difference and decrease the pain.

READ more information on protecting your toddlers ears – here is a post that covers this in-depth.

On the flight with an active toddler

The flight is the portion of the trip most parents of active infants feel nervous about. After all you are enclosed in a large vessel with lots of other passengers.

1, Don’t mind the haters

First and foremost, keep in mind that toddlers can erupt at any given time. They are like walking time bombs. … this is not helping calm your fears, is it?

Keep in mind- No matter what you do – feed them, kept them distracted with toys, make sure they are clean, have visited the airplane toilets multiple times –  they can still scream loudly!

Go easy on yourself!

The important thing is that you try your best!

Be sure to pay attention to your child and know that he or she is out of his or her routine and may express different needs than usual.

READ: This is great article on LifeHacks.com dealing with toddler tantrums

2, Take a walk on the plane with your toddler

A toddler can barely sit still, especially for lengthy hours. Walking up and down the aisle together with your child will not only let him enjoy all the attention from other passengers but also works as a time to stretch both of your legs.

Explain, however, to your little one that during take off, landing and when seatbelt signs are on, you all MUST be sitting down. It’s also safest to stay seated during any trolley service.

3, Go soft on screen time

Moderating screen time is good in general, but relax the rule during the flight to help your toddler relax.

Load your son’s or daughter’s favourite shows, games and movies on a tablet or your phone. Be sure to bring along child-sized headphones so you won’t disturb fellow passengers. 

TIP: Set the screen to night mode to help your toddler get less stimulation from the screen.

READ more: Safe headphones for toddlers...because some cutesy headphones might damage your little one’s hearing permanently.

4, #sleepismagic

The best way to keep a toddler entertained is by helping them fall asleep. Seriously, though the hum of the plane should help you.

Your flight timings, of course, will play a big role in how easy this will be. If you can, don’t let your little one have a nap at the airport, keep them occupied and engaged there, tire them out. Just take care not to over-tire them… it’s a delicate balance.

5, Use Sleep Aids To Help Your Toddler Sleep

Getting your toddler to sleep in a new environment can be tough.

All the surroundings are so new and interesting! You are probably a little more excited or nervous than normal (and your toddler is picking up on this) . But don’t be disheartened.

Figure out what your toddler’s sleep cues are: a favourite cuddly toy and specific blanket?

Try to block out distractions with a cuddle. A little hoodie will naturally block out some light and noise. Will your toddler take a light-blocking face mask? Some music, through headphones, that you also play at home?

On longer flights, consider getting an inflatable footrest (as long as the airline you are flying with allows it).

Fear of flying: You or your toddler

Fear of flying can affect up to 25% of the population. It is important to keep in mind that not all fear is the same. Try to understand how bad the fear is? where it stems from?

For parents:

If you are nervous about flying in general, it will be important to address that to the best of your ability, prior to taking a toddler with you. Some research suggests that virtual reality may assist in relieving this fear. Other options include exposure and emotional processing– where you can work through the fear with actually taking flights (exposure) and therapies like Cognitive behavioural therapies. [1]

If you have the responsibility of a toddler (especially if you are flying on your own with your toddler), don’t resort to any medication – anti-anxiety or motion sickness meds!

READ more in Psychology Today’s article (which has lots of great sources to learn more about fear of fliying.)

For toddlers:

If it is your toddler’s first flight, any signs of fear are likely to be just a general fear of new things.

For this, I would suggest communication and positive excitement. Talk up flying, the trip, and even tell them what to expect. Getting the child excited will help them forget about their fears and be ready to hop on that plane!

Stories about planes and travel is a great way to ease them into the idea.  

Don’t overdo the excitement, though as that could be exhausting for everyone too. (Our guide for parents of autistic children has some great tips that can be used for toddlers too. )

On our YouTube Channel we have some playlists with the safety briefings. This is a brilliant video by Virgin Altantic:

In both cases, if the fear runs deep or is going to compromise the mental state of either the parent or the toddler, make sure to talk to a professional.

TIP: for the nervous parent- Airlines and airports often run fear of flying courses to help passengers overcome their fear.

Special Needs Toddlers and Flying

The long and short of it is, that each special needs child is different, and you as the parent are going to be the best judge of whether or not they need certain things. Fortunately, the difference doesn’t need to be too drastic.

A lot of simple tips that work for any toddler, will also work for flying with a special needs toddler. Making sure you prepare for bathroom breaks, snacks, bringing a blanket (Weighted blanket, if you’ve had success with that in the past), and make sure you have their necessary medications with you. 

One thing that is different is when booking, many airlines have a special needs box. Tick the special needs/ special assistance box.

Each airline is different, however, on booking. As far as our expereince and research shows, every airline provides services for the special needs to ensure a smooth trip, including cognitive functions assistance, wheelchairs, allows support dogs, and seating help. 

For hidden disabilities, the sunflower lanyard is being adopted more and more widely, as a discreet, but an easily recognisable symbol. [2]

Image courtesy of Headway.org.uk

If you are flying with an autistic child, be sure to check out our guide to helping you manoeuvre through your trip here

Finally: Relax and enjoy

A child’s behaviour on flights is often influenced by a parent’s mindset. Possibly, you being cool-headed and relaxed is going to be the ultimate factor in keeping your toddler relaxed as well.

On top of that, a ready, organised and properly rested parent is more capable in handling any toddler demands, tantrums and complaints. Be firm and kind and let your child understand that somethings, especially safety are non-negotiable.

Enjoy the journey and the new experiences ahead of you!

Do you have any more hints and tips from your experiences? Any further questions you’d like to ask our community? Comment below

[1] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/10609.php#aviophobia_treatment
[2] https://www.headway.org.uk/news-and-campaigns/news/2019/sunflower-lanyards-take-off-for-passengers-with-hidden-disabilities/

Monika Roozen

Monika is a mum of 3, an avid traveller, who grew up travelling the world and has continued travelling ever since. She holds a degree in animal sciences, nutrition and business administration and has consulted for several years for the hospitality industry and customer service departments. Monika loves slow travel- taking time for immersive experiences in culture and nature- sailing and snowboarding. Her personal adventures are chronicled in Inspireroo Family Travel Magazine . (Click to see their family mad ventures)

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