Turbulent Travels: How to Survive Flying with a Toddler

My husband, son, and I recently returned from a lovely trip to Denver for the holidays. We had incredibly sunny weather and mild temperatures for late-December in the Rockies, and truly enjoyed our visit with family and loved ones. One thing we didn’t “truly enjoy?” … the trek to and from!

Our son is just two months shy of turning two years old, which allowed us to fly with him free of charge. While this meant mega savings for us, it also forced us to prepare for every “worst case scenario” while on the tarmac, in the air, and throughout both the airports we visited. Anyone who knows our son is well-aware that he’s a free spirit with an abundant amount of energy, confidence, and fierce independence. As a lap child on a full flight, this combination is a recipe for stress. While we experienced a few minor hiccups (*cough cough* a 90-minute backup in ticketing at DIA), we departed and arrived safely and somewhat sanely.

Below are my tips for surviving any flight duration with a toddler:

  1. Bring enough snacks to feed a football team: We made sure to bring at least four different snacks for our son on the flight. While not entirely healthy choices, we brought along some of his favorite munchies to keep him occupied during the flight. We also tried to keep the snacks low in sugar to prevent a surge in energy while seated.
  2. Pack an assortment of knick-knacks unknown to your kiddo: I stopped by our local Dollar Tree the day before our flight to buy some of the most random items I could find. My purchases included colorful pipe cleaners, a flashlight, Wet Ones wipes, and Post-It notes. Anything that our son could safety rip, bend, or click kept his attention at times when all else failed.
  3. Include at least two changes of clothing (both for your toddler AND yourself): This tip we unfortunately learned the hard way while flying last fall … Our son, an infant at the time, gagged on a yogurt bite and proceeded to projectile vomit all over my husband right as the plane ascended. With all of his shirts packed in our checked luggage, he had no choice but to don that very dairy vomit-covered shirt for the long, painful three hours home. Lesson learned – always have a spare shirt in your carry-on and bring layers for your little one. The aircraft can change temperatures drastically, so prepare for all temperatures while on board.
  4. Befriend the flight attendants: We recently flew on Southwest Airlines for the first time and our experience could not have been any more positive, thanks to the friendly crew both to and from Milwaukee to Denver. Our son took a fast liking to one particular employee who invited him to hang out in the back of the plane with her during the flight. She held him, talked to him, and let him explore, giving us a much-needed break and allowed us to muster up a second wind for the second leg of the trip. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it’s a glass of water, or just a quick hand. We were incredibly impressed with the willingness of the Southwest Airlines crews to help us out, and would definitely recommend that airline to anyone traveling with little ones.
  5. Lastly, focus on the big picture: Toddlers are unpredictable and no matter how much planning you put into your trip, there’s a good chance things will go wrong. A couple of hours or half of a day of additional stress is chump change in the grand scheme of things. Take deep breaths and remember your transit is temporary and will soon be forgotten when you reach your destination.
The “child play area” at MKE was a lifesaver for the two hours we spent there before boarding.

Have you flown with your kiddos recently? What toddler hacks kept your family at ease during the trip? Share your tips below!

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