Tips for flying with a toddler

For travelers without children, the goal is to get from point A to point B. When you add a small child to the mix, the challenge is to adapt all your important, carefully calibrated and time-consuming rituals and routines, from sleep to sleep. feed – in the chaos of flight, while managing to get to your destination.

I’m not going to water it down: it’s complicated. But it is also doable. My first flight with my 4 year old son was daunting, but I learned a lot from the dozens of subsequent flights. Now, I hope these trips to the ends of the earth, to more than half of the 50 U.S. states and 14 countries, along with advice from child health experts, will help you understand what may be going on in the your little one’s mind and body as they travel. plane. When you know that, you’ll be better equipped to make sure everyone stays happy, healthy, and safe.

Help your child prepare mentally

Discussing the flight process and even role-playing the experience of visiting an airport using imaginary stuffed animals and the bags you plan to pack is a great way to help your child understand what is about to happen and how to handle it. prepare to enjoy the flight. the big day, says pediatrician Jen Trachtenberg, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. « Play pretend airport [and] walk through a safety maze line, wait to board the plane, set up rows of planes, and pretend the passengers and toys are the others in the row,” she says.

With our toddler, who seemed to ask above the average number of questions children ask per day (i.e. between 73 at 390 within 24 hours), we enjoyed explaining each stage of the journey, step by step, for several days (or even weeks) before the big day.

For example, we explained that to check in we had to drop off some of our bags, show our ID, go through security, take off our shoes, and have our bags scanned. And that we had to wait at the gate until it was our turn to board, proceed to our assigned seats, and put our carry-on bags in the overhead bins. We even covered what we would eat and do on the plane, how our ears might feel pressure, how we needed to get our bags back at the end, and what the next steps on our journey would be. Doing all of this helps set expectations, so there are no major surprises and makes the unknown a little less daunting.

Pack smart

You definitely don’t want to end up without the right number of diapers (been there), the amount of milk or formula (which happened to us), or enough extra clothes for you and your child (yes, I did). experienced this one too) at the airport or on the plane, with no choice but to improvise. These types of scenarios are sometimes unavoidable and, if they occur, can become part of travel traditions that your family will talk about for years. But you can anticipate such incidents by deciding what you want to take with you at the gate and on the plane by planning with the worst-case scenarios in mind – think flight cancellations and delays, lost baggage, and more.

Here are the essentials to keep close at hand (not in a bag in the hold):

  • Healthy snacks for you and the family. As Trachtenberg says, “Hunger can make kids and adults grumpy.” She and other child health experts recommend avoiding foods and drinks high in sugar, junk food and caffeine, all of which can cause sleep and stomach problems in children. Instead, look for snacks that include a balance of protein, healthy fatsand complex carbohydrates.
  • A change of clothes. In anticipation of damage, spills and temperature changes on the plane, plan to have at least one or two emergency gear for each member of your party.
  • Entertainment. Bring your child’s favorite activity books, picture books, puzzles, small toys, stuffed animals, music, movies and TV shows. Trachtenberg says that while best practice might say to limit screen time for youngsters (and yourselves), it’s okay to be more flexible in flight, as familiar shows can help keep your kids occupied, especially when they have to remain seated for their safety.
  • Other essentials. Be sure to bring wipes, diapers, diaper rash cream, baby bottles, sippy cups, formula, travel first aid kit, baby thermometer (a digital or traditional will do). case), medicines (see the list of medical supplies in our travel guide). with young children), a portable potty trainer, travel cot, baby carrier or collapsible stroller, and everything your little one needs on a regular basis.

Know what to expect at the TSA

Be sure to check out the latest TSA guidelines before leaving home and expect the entire screening process to take twice as long as when not traveling with a child. The good news is that families traveling with infants and toddlers are allowed to exceed the standard liquid limit of 3.4 ounces when transporting formula, breastmilk and juice for your little one.

[Related: 3 solutions for when you can’t find your baby’s formula]

While children won’t have to remove their shoes or light diapers, you will need to remove them from a baby carrier. All of their items, including stuffed animals, blankets, baby formula and juice, will have to go through the X-ray scanner and liquids may require additional testing “for concealed explosives or prohibited items.” As advised by the TSA, we always notify agents of any liquids we bring with us, so they know the items belong to us and that we are permitted to exceed the 3.4 ounce limit.

Use your time wisely before boarding and taking off

You have successfully gone through the TSA. Go ahead and celebrate. But the time you have before boarding is also a good opportunity to refuel and have a meal. After all, staying hydrated and sticking to meal times are both important for everyone’s well-being.

It’s also a good time to get some exercise, especially since it’s hard for kids to get their usual level of physical activity on an airplane. Try to get as much energy out of it as possible before you get on the plane, Trachtenberg says. Ideally, this would start before you even arrive at the airport, perhaps with a few extra errands at home. Then, when you’re waiting at your door, you can do family jumping jacks and toe taps, play charades, or take a stroll. The more you move, the more ready your little one will be to sleep — or at least stay seated — on the plane, says Trachtenberg.

When the time comes, be sure to take advantage of your early boarding privilege, so you have plenty of time to disinfect your seats and trays, put away your child’s belongings so that the most important items are easily accessible, ask a sickness bag (in case your little one suffers from motion sickness; more on that below) or a blanket from a flight attendant, and go to the bathroom or change diapers one last time.

Get ready to sail smoothly through the air

One of the most important things you can do is try to stick to your child’s routines as much as possible. Predictability, which can help make travel smoother, Trachtenberg says. If you’re curious, this same tip will also help you on long car trips.

You can start this step as soon as you start booking your flight. If you know your little one sleeps well while traveling, choose an option that coincides with their usual nap or bedtime, so they can quietly catch a few Zs while you’re in the air. Here’s a pro tip from Trachtenberg: make sure to feed your baby or toddler before asking them to sleep on the plane, so they don’t go to bed hungry.

[Related: For better sleep, follow the bedtime routine of a toddler]

If you know (or fear) that your child can’t sleep, my advice is to fly when you would normally be awake. That way, if your child can’t sleep, it doesn’t matter if you can’t either, as a result. It doesn’t take a seasoned traveler to know that night flights where neither parent nor child sleep are far from pleasant.

In addition to sticking to your usual routines, it’s also important to stay ahead of common health issues related to flying with young children. Start by being aware of the risks and taking the necessary precautions to avoid them, including:

  • Travel sickness. To prevent your little one from getting sick mid-flight, make sure they avoid eating sugary snacks and junk food and getting dehydrated or overheated. It may help to keep your child’s top vent in the up position, have them look at the horizon, and play soothing music. Reading or looking at screens can make nausea worse, Trachtenberg says.
  • Burns or accidents due to hot drinks. The safest seat for your toddler is near the window, to avoid any mishaps when flight attendants arrive with drinks, especially if you have a toddler who likes to move, she explains.
  • Ear pain. Due to changes in atmospheric pressure, Trachtenberg says your child may scream or complain of ear pain during takeoff and landing. Chewing food, drinking water, sucking on a pacifier or bottle, or breastfeeding can all help relieve this discomfort.
  • Airborne illnesses (such as colds, flu, and COVID-19): To protect against COVID-19, Zachary Hoypediatric infectious disease specialist Pediatrix Nashville, said PopSci young children should wear masks in enclosed spaces such as airplanes, where it is not possible to distance themselves from others. Check CDC guidelines for what to look for in a face mask for your child.

Be patient with your little ones and yourselves

Sometimes a simple little gift like these airline wing pins can help keep a child calm. Marie Kerl

Delays and unexpected events can and will occur. Once our family of three survived a 7pm flight delay thanks to the kindness of strangers – who gave us extra milk at no cost when our supply ran out – and by being kind to us- same too.

Know that things can get stressful for you and your child, and try to keep your cool. Reacting to kids acting out can only make their temper tantrums worse, Trachtenberg says.

Remember, your end goal is to get to your destination safely, so there’s no need to feel guilty if you give in to your child’s demands more than usual, she adds.

And don’t forget to take lots of photos and videos you can enjoy over the years and ask a flight attendant for your child’s “wings” – a commemorative pin many airlines offer children (see photo above).

During quiet times, I try to appreciate the little things – like the experience of seeing the wonders of the world for the first time through my child’s eyes – and it’s times like these that I remind myself that although the journey can be more difficult with children, it is also all the more rewarding.

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