Secrets to Surviving a Long Airline Flight with Toddlers

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Traveling with kids, especially toddlers, is just tough! Long gone are the days when you could show up to the airport and scuttle onto your flight with only a purse in tow. However, if you plan well and pack thoughtfully, you can make your flight with your kids as efficient and enjoyable as possible.

Hi everyone, I’m Dawn.

We’ve traveled a lot with our three kids as our family is in Scotland and we live in California. After a lot of trial and error (and some horrible flights), we finally know how to survive a long flight with toddlers.

Today I am sharing all of my tips for flying with toddlers with you!

Packing for Your Older Toddlers

If you have older toddlers (2.5 and up), they can carry their own little backpacks!

I pack their bags with new activities that I know they’ll love and some favorite snacks too. They are only allowed to open them once we’re on the plane. They LOVE unpacking their bags and seeing what I’ve put in.

You need to consider your total travel time when prepping your bags as that determines how many activities you will need. Here’s what I packed for my 2 and 4 year olds on a recent 8 hour trip:

  • Mess free coloring book (we love Melissa and Doug and Imagine Ink)
  • Small puzzle (get the ones that come inside a frame so it isn’t as easy to lose pieces)
  • Stickers
  • Sticker activity book (we love Dover Little Activity Books)
  • Some type of surprise toy that can be unwrapped
  • A small apple
  • Nuts (they are loving pepitas right now)
  • Favorite snacks (cheddar bunnies and veggie crisps are our faves)
  • A treat (small pack of chocolate or candy)
  • Kid Headphones
  • Kindle Fire

You’re probably wondering about the results, right? Well, we managed to survive another long flight with toddlers!  They happily did all of the activities and ate all of the snacks.

We did pull out the Kindles when needed, but they always wanted to go back to their bags after a while. I don’t usually like screens, but flights are the exception where I completely lift the restrictions. I make sure to have their favorite movies and shows downloaded, along with their favorite games.

Packing Your Diaper Bag

As you can see, it is easy enough to keep older kids occupied if you’re prepared. However, keeping a young toddler busy on a long flight is no easy feat. Yes, they will likely nap at least a couple hours if you’re lucky, but you will still have a lot of time to kill. Here’s what I decided to put in my diaper bag:

  • Baby snacks that take time to eat: multigrain Cheerios and raisins were a hit for us
  • Variety of small, lightweight books: babies love lift the flap and puppet books
  • Magnetic Tegu blocks: these were the BEST purchase as we used on both flights and at meals on the trip (Get yours here)
  • Finger puppet: we had this in the house so I decided to bring it
  • Baby sunglasses: babies like trying on stuff and making you try on as well
  • Post-it notes: can occupy younger and older tots with these
  • Buckle toy: we have this one
  • Straws: I always keep straws handy
  • Very thin dry erase board and marker: for toddler learning to write
  • The Diaper Bag Essentials:
    • Emergency meds and bandages in a little pouch or case
    • Wet toilet paper for toddlers
    • PLENTY of Baby Wipes
    • Portable changing mat
    • Nappy bags (I use these for dirty diapers, but also for food trash I collect on the flight)
    • Vomit bag (my daughters get car sick, so I don’t like to take any chances)
    • Travel Sized Aquaphor
    • Diapers (I recommend taking one per hour of travel)
    • Zippered bag that came with my diaper bag (I use this for soiled clothes if there are any)
    • A change of clothes for everyone (including parents): we have been barfed on, pooped on and had drinks spilled all over us…bring yourself a change of clothes and prevent embarrassment!

So, what worked best for us?

My one year old loved her snacks, the puppet book, the magnetic blocks and the Post-it notes the most.

If you can choose snacks that take a long time to eat, snacking can be an activity!

My baby loves singing, so the Bingo puppet book was a guaranteed win for her. The Tegu blocks I almost didn’t buy because they seemed overly expensive, but BUY THEM! She was so entertained pulling them apart and then stacking them back together.

The Post-its were a last minute thought, but I am SO glad I packed them. The toddlers liked drawing on them and baby loved sticking them on the seat and then taking them off one by one. She played with them for nearly 45 minutes!

I packed a lot of stuff, so you may be thinking: Is there is anything I wouldn’t pack again? Yes! The drawing board got maybe 5 minutes of activity so I wouldn’t pack it again…Otherwise, we actually used everything else!

This was my first long flight with three toddlers in tow (our youngest was barely sitting on our last trip). I can say that it gets easier once your oldest can start to help entertain the younger kids. My almost five year old is like a mini mom to the others and it is SUCH a lifesaver!

General Flying Tips

Other than helping you figure out what to pack in your carry-ons, I have some tactical tips as well for those long flights with toddlers. Here they are:

Choose your flight time carefully. When we fly to Scotland (11 hours), we do a red eye at the kids’ usual bedtime. When we fly to the East Coast (5-7 hours), we try to go in the morning so we’re on the plane during nap time. You want to maximize the time your kids spend sleeping on the flight.

Choose your seat carefully. Splurge for extra legroom and try to sit towards the front of the plane. You will get to board last so your kids get longer to run around and you will get to leave the plane first. We made the mistake of sitting at the back on a recent flight and the kids were literally screaming by the time we got out.

Introduce yourself to flight attendants and nearby passengers when you board. If you are kind, usually people will reciprocate with kindness and understanding. There are some people that just hate kids too, so be prepared for that possibility.

Bring your baby carrier on board. Sometimes it is the only way to get baby to nap in a strange place.

Ask for help! Usually flight attendants are super accommodating. This last flight, the flight attendant held my sleeping baby while I took one toddler to the potty and brought me a “Captain’s Cup” with a lid so I could enjoy a coffee without fear of spilling it on my kids.

Let your baby sit in the seat some of the time or play on the floor. Mobile babies HATE having to sit on your lap for that long, so try to switch things up. If you have extra leg room or seat room, take advantage of that.

Have bottles, pacifiers and/or lollipops ready for takeoff and landing. Little ears are extra sensitive to pressure changes and sucking on something helps. My 4 yo doesn’t seem to be bothered anymore, but the younger kids still need comforting.

Don’t be afraid to use the stuff in the seat pocket! Baby loved ripping and crinkling the magazine and also taking everything out of the pocket and putting it back in. Even the toddlers wanted to “read” their magazines.

Don’t forget a change of clothes for yourself! The one time you think you won’t need it will be the time your kid throws up all over you…I mentioned this above, but I wanted to reiterate as it is super important.

Keep baggage claim and gate checked stroller tickets. Usually you won’t need these, but the last flight we took our gate checked stroller got lost and we were SO glad we had the claim ticket.

So there you have it…Everything we’ve learned from 4+ years of flying around with kids! I really hope this guide helps you as you’re planning your next trip and just wanting to survive a long flight with toddlers.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my post on road trips with kids. If you have any more tips or tricks up your sleeve for flying with kids, I would love to hear about them in the comments below!

 About the Author

Dawn Gajri is a wife, stay at home mom to three toddlers (1, 2.5 and 4.5) and a new blogger. She writes about organizing tips, mom hacks, easy crafts and simple recipes. If you’d like to read more, visit her page at www.breaksofdawn.com.   You can also find her on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook.

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