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Tips for Airplane Travel with a Toddler by Eden Godsoe

by Eden Godsoe, posted to Travel & Places

I think the toddler stage (1.5 to 3) is the toughest one for airplane travel. Babies will usually nurse and sleep. Older kids can watch movies or play with an iPad until their eyes fall out. Here are my tips and product recommendations for traveli

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Avoid Peak Travel Times


The best times to travel are Mon afternoon through Thurs morning, with Sat thrown in for good measure in the summer. If you have the flexibility, don't book things when all those business travelers are stressed about their work travel.

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Buy Your Toddler A Seat

I highly recommend getting your toddler his/her own seat. Although airlines let children 2 and under sit in a parent's lap, I don't recommend this option for flights over 2 hours or so. You and your toddler will be much happier with an extra seat.

Gabrielle Cullen: This is a personal one to me only because my daughter doesn't want to get up and move around. It's just not necessary for us but I could see how others would love it.

JasmineJ: There is also safety to consider. When you hear what the stewards will ask you to do in the event of an emergency, you'll feel much better about having your little one in a seat. I was wearing my baby in a wrap on one flight, and I was told by the steward at take off that I wasn't allowed to secure my child during take-off or landing because she would likely become a projectile in the event of a crash. Instead, in the event of an emergency, I would be required to put my baby on the floor. Have bought a seat

JasmineJ: ever since. Here is an article worth reading:

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CARES Child Aviation Restraint System

CARES Kids Fly Safe aviation restraint is designed specifically for...more

Parents rave about the CARES flight harness. So much better than squeezing a toddler car seat in. You can always check the car seat if you need it on the other end or simply rent one along with a rental car.

Jennifer: They keep them safe and IN their seats - with three kids so much easier than the hassle of car seats.

Alli: You can even rent one on ebay if you don't want to commit to purchasing one! Hooray!

Lisa: We have the GoGoKidz Travelmate, and have been happy with it so far (3 long trips). I read the comments on the CARES system on Amazon, and it sounds worrisome -- straps hitting kids in the wrong places, having to disturb other passengers to install it -- so decided it was safer to take the seat. The Travelmate makes that as easy as it's ever going to be -- and saves money on the car seat rental.

JasmineJ: I use CARES, and it has worked great for us. Yes, you have to lower the tray table behind you for a moment to install it, but it can be done very quickly and if you pre-board, there is often no one to disturb. It is adjustable, so you should be able to position it best for the child. I also bring along a neck pillow for my kids for when they fall asleep. We love these Noodlehead pillows:

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DON'T Preboard

I know this is controversial but I recommend against preboarding with toddlers. Let them run around the airport as long as possible. If you don't have a carseat to install, no need for much extra time. Or send one parent ahead to get ready.

Jennifer: Saying no b/c you won't get any space in overhead bins if you don't either pre-board (most airlines don't even let you do this anymore) or get boarding A if you are not an elite traveler and get early boarding bonuses - so for say United - it's a good idea to pay for early boarding/baggage/premier security line, etc. so you are not screwed and have some sanity.

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Some Airlines Are Better Than Others

Some airlines are more kid-friendly than others. Virgin comes out high on mothers' lists. The inflight entertainment is one good feature. And the employees just seem to like kids more. You can click on this link to see what airlines other women prefer to fly and share your own favorite.

Lisa: Lufthansa is another good one -- they will let babies under 2 sleep in their bassinets. Their bassinet was just big enough for my long 20-month-old, and was a huge help for sleeping overnight, for naps, and even for a contained place to sit and play. United should be avoided at all costs -- no preboarding for parents, unlike most other airlines (the surly gate agent had the gall to tell me, "children are a gift, not a disability" when telling us we couldn't preboard).

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Well-Stocked Diaper Bag

Check out my other list on what to keep in your diaper bag. For airplane travel, pack some extra diapers and ensure you are well stocked on wipes and sacks for dirty diapers.

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Bring Something To Suck On

Bring your toddler something safe he/she can suck on - sippy cup of milk or lollypop work well - during take off and touch down. If your child still uses a pacifier, you are home free on this one.

JasmineJ: My girls love ring pops. Slightly less sticky and a little more fun than a regular lollipop.

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You Can Never Have Enough Snack Foods

Bring plenty of baggies or tupperware with snacks. Some of my favs: grapes, bananas, dried fruit or raisins, yogurt in easy-to-suck containers, pretzels, goldfish, carrots, cut up grilled cheese or PB&J sandwiches, chicken nuggets (good even cold).

Gabrielle Cullen: I go crazy with this one, just keep it coming!

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Combine Snacks & Activities: Cheerio Necklaces

Who can turn down a cheerio necklace? Especially if you purchase the...more

Suggested by Darya Mead

Remember candy necklaces? It's fun and kills some time on a flight.

Eden Godsoe: Darya - this is great. I love the efficiency in turning a snack into an activity.

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Blue Painter's Tape

Suggested by Kelli Agnich

This is a STAPLE in our travel bag and can be used to make tic tac toe boards on the tray table, hopscotch layouts on the airport floor during delays/layovers, make a collage of photos torn from SkyMall, hang funny items from the ceiling, etc.!

Eden Godsoe: What a great idea. Never heard of it before.

Kelli: It leaves no residue, so the airlines can't complain! ;)

Kelli: can also make impromptu balls, stickers by cutting out shapes, etc. Worth its weight in gold when traveling with toddlers!

Larissa: Either have, definitely something I never would have thought of!

Alli: I never leave home without my blue tape! Keeps the auto-toilets from flushing if you put it over the sensor, keeps shiny-trim pieces in the car from reflecting into kids' eyes, just plain fun to put on a kid's hand and see him try to get it off...I could go on forever!

Jennifer Iacovelli: Genius! Such a simple, but great idea. Thanks!

JasmineJ: Oh my goodness, what a fantastic idea. Definitely adding this one to my arsenal.

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Milk As A Sleep Aid

The amino acid l-Tryptophan found in milk is thought to play a role in making you sleepy by raising the level of serotonin in the brain. So bring a good no spill sippy cup and let your toddler have plenty of milk.

Jennifer: A myth - not proven fact - plus drinking more makes them pee more (lol!).

Stitch Fix: Yes, yes, yes! Even better, if you're still nursing, covertly stick a boob in his mouth under a pashmina!

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Prepackaged Activities From Travel Kiddy has a great selection of kids travel activities. These...more

Check out this company for a variety of travel kits for kids of different ages & stages. You can buy one (there are very reasonably priced) or use the contents as inpiration.

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Bring Some New Items Wrapped Up

Buy some smaller things that you can wrap up and unveil as the flight goes on. A fun thing that your toddler can look forward to at intervals. See this Amazon list for ideas like sticker books, easy art supplies, magnetic games & more.

Jennifer: Inventive - will use this during our upcoming trip!

Lisa: My mother always did this when we were growing up -- we flew transatlantic a lot and we always looked forward to the flights! Harder to do for kids under 2 or 3, though -- they don't understand time and the concept of presents over time doesn't mean much.

Alli: I always do this! I even wrap up the toys they already know but maybe haven't seen for a while. It makes it more fun (and it takes up time to open them) to play with even the familiar ones.

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Portable DVD Player For Each Child

Enjoy movies, music and photos on the go with the Sony DVP-FX750...more

My children started getting into watching DVDs at about 2 years old. Certainly by 3 they can entertain your child for hours. Don't forget to get good earphones that stay on toddlers.

Gabrielle Cullen: We couldn't live without this. It sucks up 2 hours of our usual 3.5 flight time

Jennifer: Heck yes + NOOK for books and games and mom and dad's phones w/ games - whatever it takes!

Lisa: iPads are great for this -- movies, games, books & pictures.

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17 More Ideas on how to Entertain Kids on Planes

Suggested by CiaoBambino

With thousands of miles of international travel logged with six kids under the age of ten, these two moms have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly and they're sharing their advice with you.

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Ignore Rude People

People will be rude. It's life. Just ignore them. There will be others on the plane willing to help. And remember - what goes around, comes around. I always try to offer help to other parents travelling with kids.

Larissa: This list is really well done - love the images you chose, especially this one! Your best work yet :).

Jennifer: Or remind the rude people that they get to sit back, read a mag, listen to their iPod, have a drink and be alone while you will be attempting triage w/ toddlers to keep the plane safe and in the air! Oh, do I have stories! :)

Alli: Truth is, the white noise of an airplane drowns out all but the loudest screams for everyone more than two rows in either direction. It may seem like you're the center of the universe holding a screaming kid, but only a few people will probably notice, and the probability of them caring is far less that way.

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More Family Travel Tips from Delicious Baby

The idea of flying with kids is probably the biggest single cause of...more

A good read for some additional tips and details around planning your travels, checking in, getting through security and boarding.

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Even More Travel Tips including Handling Toddler Temper Tantrums


This post covers a lot of ground and I particularly like the section on handling temper tantrums, Even the best laid plans may result in a tantrum and Glennia does a nice job providing guidance on how to handle such situations.

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Short & To-The-Point Post From A Parent Coach

Kerrie LaRosa, MS, LCSW Parent Coach shares some more advice on travelling with a toddler including getting your child prepped for travel and some good books to read.

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Travel & Navigation Apps by Claudia

Here's a list of apps that have come in handy when traveling and for...more

Many of these travel-related apps may be helpful, especially the "where to find a nearby Starbucks" app if are stuck somewhere and your toddler throws a temper tantrum.

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