Becoming a parent means that your world changes upside down. Even the regular daily routines need adjustments, let alone long-distance travels. Traveling on a plane with a toddler is a challenge in its own right and it might seem utterly distressing unless you take a deep breath, do everything by the books, and inevitably, hope for the best. Although flying with children is probably one of the top five parents’ nightmares, carefully planned flights can turn out to be smooth sailing after all.

Traveling on a plane with young children

Tips for traveling with toddlers on long-haul flights

Words of Wisdom from the Experts

Although it may seem that toddlers are still way too young to understand what they are being told, child psychologists claim that even a 6-month old infant is capable of understanding many spoken words. At the age of 3, they already have a highly developed sense of language and mimics so it is recommendable that you start introducing the concept of flying at this stage of their development. The sooner you do that, the better. Experts strongly suggest that you should prepare your child for as many aspects of air travel as possible and they have a few tips for traveling with your little ones. First of all, introduce them to the upcoming change in the environment, especially if it is your first time. Let them know that there will be some strange noises and sensations, such as ear pressure and bumping upon landing. In addition to this, you should praise them and offer rewards if they behave the way you want them to once you are on the plane. Finally, not everything is up to them. You should work on your stress management and bring fits of anger to the bare minimum. If you have a fear of flying, you are more likely to project it onto your child so don’t lose your wits and work on that weeks before the flight if necessary.

Take Baby Steps

Having a 2-3-year-old child aboard the plane and not wreak havoc implies that the child should see flying as a fun activity. In order to reach that level of comfort, try and feign a flight in a home environment. If the need be, repeat the game for as many times as it takes for your baby to see that activity as something amusing and enjoyable. Make the situation resemble an actual flight as much as possible- i.e. arrange dining room chairs so that they look similar to the seats in an aircraft, pretend to buckle the child, or even play the sounds of engine humming and rambling. In addition to this, read bedtime stories that talk about flying in a way that a child finds pleasant. Books such as Peter Bently’s Those Magnificent Sheep in Their Flying Machine or Hilarye Fuller’s Monsters Don’t Ride on Airplanes do that wonderfully. In some cases when experimenting is possible, see how your toddler behaves on short-distance flights and learn all the ropes on that occasion instead of taking a long flight straight away.

Child on long-haul flight

Know Your Child

As unpredictable as children might seem, there are things you simply know can do the trick in calming them down or keeping their focus for at least an hour. It goes without saying that their eating and sleeping habits are on that list as well. If they love bedtime stories, don’t forget to pack their favorite books. If there is a teddy bear they can’t fall asleep without, bring the teddy bear! In case you are in two minds about the travel hours, plan the flight around their usual schedule.

Get Acquainted with Travel Etiquette

One of the main reasons why parents find flying with their little ones so distressing is the fear of being the most abhorred person on a plane at that moment. Kiddos running riots all over the plane is something no one wants. Those confined flight hours demand constant control over the child and expecting your fellow passengers to do that job instead of you is downright unacceptable. By the same token, yelling at a child, using foul language or otherwise having insulting and degrading bursts of anger are equally impermissible. Another thing to keep in mind is to learn your child to have boundaries and not invade other passengers’ private space. What is more, try to teach your child not to play mischief with the seat in front by kicking it, shaking the back, or climbing on top of it to tease the person sitting in front. Rummaging the bags in the overhead lockers to fetch something is equally annoying so be sure to know where everything is packed and easy to reach.

Read more: Must-have Travel Packing List for a Family Trip

Don’t Forget Their Majesty – the Toys!

Obvious though it may seem, selecting the toys for the flight is an art of its own. In order to keep the kiddos entertained, you need to prepare an arsenal of toys that are small enough to fit in your bag and still manage to engage the little ones. Resist the temptation to bring them all and instead, make a well thought-out selection. Ideally, besides bringing the selection of their regular favorites, make sure to bring a new toy they haven’t seen before. This trick is simply magical because you can pull it out in case the youngster throws a tantrum and doesn’t react to the old toys. In case you are in for a long flight, consider bringing at least two. Those new toys are more likely to keep them engaged for a longer period of time so that you can breathe a sigh of relief. On no account should you bring any toys that have swallowable parts or sharp edges. Additionally, download their favorite songs on an mp3 player and also have an audiobook to play during the flight. As far as gadgets such as smartphones or tablets are concerned, DailyMail’s survey conducted earlier this year notes a significant drop in the number of parents who resort to gadgets during long flights. Instead, they claim stationery is all the rage.

A toddler listening to an audiobook

Mind the Documentation and Airline Regulations

Before you book a flight, make sure to read individual airline regulations concerning the required toddler documentation and other policies. Some airlines have country-specific fees or discounts which may vary to a great extent. This is especially important for families traveling on a budget. Upon request, certain airline companies such as Delta Airlines even offer to seat family members together. On a similar note, in the case of flight cancellation, some companies go the extra mile in taking care of their passengers and provide overnight hotel and motel accommodation. The best part is that they offer it at no additional costs. If you are flying with an EU airline, make sure to check your passenger rights because it might get fussy when there is a child to look after. As far as the airport scanner check is concerned, all children toys and bags have to be scanned on the X-ray and smaller children are allowed to be carried in arms when going through the walk-through detector. While domestic flights might only need you to show a birth certificate, if you are traveling with a toddler on a plane on an international route, you will definitely need a child’s passport. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) provides an insight into international flight documentation so make sure you do everything by the books.

Read more: Can You Take a Pen on a Plane?

Pick the Most Convenient Time of Day for Travel

Knowing your toddler’s rituals, especially those concerning sleeping habits, means that you will know when to plan the traveling hours. If you throw long-haul flights into the mix, it only adds up to do your calculations properly and wisely. Some kids may get irritable and fidgety after hours of sitting so it’s best to get them onboard during their usual nap time. Well-versed parents will tell you that red-eye flights are a gift from God. Scheduled to depart after the sun goes down, these night flights work like a charm in dodging the jet lag and can lull your little one into sleep in no time. Not only are these flights less crowded (meaning you’ll have fewer grumpy passengers to think about) but they are also cheaper and easier to book. Generally speaking, any stress-free flight is basically workable as long as it’s not scheduled for early morning hours (6 AM or earlier). In all probability, you kid will wake up cranky because you are bound to leave home at least an hour before the flight. This translates into waking up around 4 AM to get everything in place and no one likes that, not even the adults.

Pick the Right Seats

The question of the perfect seat in an airplane has been raised far too many times. What it all comes down to is that everything depends on the number of people within your party, including the children. The unwritten rule is that family should seat as close as possible but this is not always a viable solution for many reasons. For example, if you are traveling in a gang of four and your airline holds only three seats per row, then it’s best to split and sit in pairs, preferably behind one another. That way you can easily swap positions if necessary. This is extremely useful in case your little ones often bicker over toys, for instance. In case you are flying with a toddler and it’s just the two of you, think thoroughly whether you will book two seats or hold the child in your lap during the whole journey. Most airlines allow toddlers under the age of 2 to sit in your lap provided that they wear an additional harness. Child Airplane Travel Harness by Cares Safety Restraint System is incredibly easy to install and takes pride in being the only aviation child safety device to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Bulkhead seating has its perks, too. That way, you can cross out the kicking of the seat in front and you will also have some extra leg space. On top of that, some airlines have bassinets fixed to the bulkhead wall which is super convenient in case your toddler hasn’t grown out of the crib.

Perfect seat for your child at a plane

Pack the Essentials and Beyond

One thing is certain – you will need a lot of things right next to you. This is not the regular situation of the single-travel mode you were in before traveling with your kids – packing too many things and not using half of them. The chances are you will need almost everything you bring so hope for the best and expect the worst. First of all, go light with the bag and desirably, go for the one that is almost weightless but has enough space and side-pockets on it. That will help to keep everything organized so that you don’t have to fumble through it for ages to find what you need. Secondly, a lot of adults – let alone young children, suffer from airsickness. In case your youngster has an accident, chances are both of you will end up mucky, so make sure to bring a change of clothes for you and the kid (don’t forget a bag to wrap those in afterward). Assuming your child has already started drinking from a sippy cup and regularly eats solids, ask the flight attendant to fill the cups prior to the flight. In addition to this, pack their favorite snacks, preferably those that don’t take up too much space in your bag. Cereal, dried fruits, and packs of crisps are perfect for these occasions.

Read more: Best Place to Buy Luggage

Make a First Aid Kit

Even when you set off in perfect health, there still might be a chance of you youngster developing air sickness, fever, and other minor ailments. There should be a bag packed with all the ointments and medications you might once on the destination but you should have a smaller bag of first aid essential right at hand during the flight. That bag would desirably include anti-diarrhea medications, antihistamines to keep allergies at bay, suckable tablets to alleviate motion sickness, and of course some alcohol-free steriwipes and bandaids. You also have to bear in mind that not all medications and liquids are allowed to be brought in during the flight. It is mandatory that you declare each medication upon airport security checkpoint. Health items you are allowed to carry in are the majority of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, breast milk and baby formula, or any other item necessary for a specific medical condition. Still, in order to be on the safe side, get acquainted with the rules and regulations of traveling with medications internationally.

Toddler at the airport

Best Baby-friendly Airlines

According to thousands of mums and dads who have been through thick and thin with toddler travel, airline companies and their policies make all the difference in the world. Not only does this point refer to the simple things, such as an airplane’s interior and amenities, but also to the way these airline companies charge additional fees for children onboard. Last year, The Points Guy did an extensive study on the best airlines for families and their findings are extremely useful, if not priceless. They took several aspects into account when assessing the baby-friendly aspects of the companies and the criteria included seat comfort, in-flight entertainment, kid-friendly food and drinks, early family boarding, and family award availability, just to name a few. Their research was primarily focused on the US airlines and the list goes as follows:

  1. Southwest Airlines
  2. JetBlue
  3. Delta Air Lines
  4. Hawaiian Airlines
  5. Alaska Airlines
  6. United Airlines
  7. American Airlines
  8. Frontier Airlines
  9. Spirit Airlines
  10. Allegiant

On the same note, Skyscanner did similar research but chiefly focused on the financial perspective and other practicalities that make all the difference in the world.

Read more: How to Find Extremely Cheap Last Minute Flights

Before the Takeoff – Time at the Airport

Assuming you have already made all the necessary preparations at home, don’t neglect the time you might spend at the airport, especially if there is a flight delay. There is a big possibility that your airport will have an area for kids to play so make sure you arrive earlier and have them exhaust as much energy as possible during the play because they will likely sleep much better once onboard. In case you haven’t made a reservation for an additional seat, never hesitate to ask if there is a spare seat at the check-in. If you feel up for a little bit of experimenting, learn through trial and error – take a test trip to the airport and see how your little one reacts. That way you will know what to expect through observing their reactions so that you can take all the necessary steps toward overcoming those obstacles. Wear the passports and other documents in a bag preferably strapped around your neck or else hanging in front of you so that you don’t get tangled upon check-in. Lastly, there is a great chance that the staff will prioritize young families with children so you should be fine.


Although it’s not always manageable to have everything working like clockwork, especially if you are a bit pressed for time, careful planning is probably the golden word. Traveling with a toddler on a plane doesn’t have to be a nightmarish experience, after all. If you follow these tried and trusted methods, you will make your journey with the kids memorable, but in a good way.