How We Plan to Fly With a Toddler

Flying With a Toddler

Happy Monday! Johnny and I will be hopping on a jet plane for DC this week. Johnny’s in a friend’s wedding, and we’re excited to spend the 4th in our nation’s capital! And unlike our last trip, this time Sally’s coming with us. Gulp. Let me tell you a little bit about our girl Sal these days. She’s a week shy of 18 months, and her favorite phrase is “Go, go, go!” And that is all she does. And when she go-go-goes up on the kitchen table or throws something in the toilet, she sits in timeout for a couple of minutes, which is just her and me sitting still in an armchair. This causes her to thrash, scream, and finally, cry. So this week, as far as Sally’s concerned, She’ll be in four hours of timeout on a plane. We’re terrified.

But we’re going to do what we can to keep our girl happy. During those four hours, we’re going to disregard every good parenting rule and spoil her rotten. And here’s our game plan.



When Sally gets hungry, she gets very grumpy. So we want to avoid hunger at all costs. But we also want to offer her food that isn’t messy and doesn’t require refrigeration. She’s never had marshmallows before, so I’m hoping those and the candy (mini Starbursts) will be home runs.



I kind of struggled with what fun items would also be practical on a flight. She’s never seen the light-up ball or the noise putty, so we’ll see if those are attention-grabbers. Sally is at an age where she loves coloring (as our walls have learned a few times already). But she has never used markers, so I’m hoping she’ll love this supposedly “mess-free” coloring set. We’ve loaded Johnny’s iPad with unseen episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, her most favorite show. But Sally is inexperienced with wearing headphones, so that could be a bust. We’re also bringing her favorite books and teddy and her paci — all comfort items, just in case.

I already had some of these items, while others I bought specifically for the flight. We bought the flight with airline miles we’ve built up, so I didn’t feel bad spending a little on possibly saving Johnny and me some sanity.

This is all a shot in the dark, and some of the above items may be very bad ideas. Time will tell. But after those four hours of hell, we’ll be seasoned professionals. So we plan to follow up on what worked and what didn’t. We’ll be the toddler-flying guinea pigs, and you will reap the rewards of our experimentation.

Our flight takes off in the morning, so we’re hoping she’ll take some sort of mid-morning nap about an hour into the flight. That’s a best-case scenario. Worst-case scenario… well, let’s not even go there.

Here goes nothing. Wish us luck! And better yet, if you have your own tips, please share!

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Nalani June 30, 2014 at 7:36 am

    We do at least one 16-22 hour flight every year with our girls (ages 3 and 2). Four hours isn’t so bad, but I would pack a change of clothes for her and an extra shirt for you. I would also add stickers to your FUN pile. Those have always been a lifesaver for us. Also, ziploc bags or the arm and hammer diaper bags for dirty clothes or a trashbag for all of the packages for your food stuff.

    If you plan on eating a meal during the flight, the bags will also help you clear off all of the food, so you don’t have to worry about spilling it all while waiting for the flight attendant to come around and pick up your food. Also, if you go to McDonalds save the toys. Our girls don’t even know they come with toys and we put them in our airplane box . These are quick and dirty toys that we don’t care about losing.

    You might also want to get a kid’s pair of headphones, they can make things easier. We pack all of our stuff in a Zoo backpack with a couple of diapers and we’re good to go. Good luck!

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      You were right about the stickers, Nalani! It was her first encounter with stickers, and she loved them!! I also packed an extra outfit for her like you recommended, but we didn’t end up needing it — thankfully!! Thanks for all your great tips!

      • Reply Nalani July 13, 2014 at 6:00 am

        Glad it went well. We just did our 20 hours trip on Friday, I’m still so tired. It was made worse by the fact that I lost my voice. Talk about a challenge. A new fun entertaining activity we used with the girls was glow sticks! I don’t know how I never thought of that before. I found 5 packs a of 5 that I bought at Target for a $1 and decided to take one with us.

        It was a HUGE hit. even when flying during the day, it’s usually dark enough on the wide-body jets in the middle section to still have some fun with it. We even passed them out to a few other parents. The girls linked a bunch together and had a really great time. We went to the old standby stickers, iPhone, iPad and the inflight entertainment systems were really good, so that also helped. And for Qatar Airways they had a great kids pack. We’re looking forward to collecting another set when we fly back in 3 weeks!

        • Reply Joanna July 14, 2014 at 1:29 am

          Awesome idea. I’m definitely gonna squirrel that one away for our next flight! Enjoy your three-week getaway!!

  • Reply Brian June 30, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Our little guy has been on 32 flights before he turned 2 (including a couple international ones). We found it best to sit in the “baby ghetto” (back of the plane) section. It is a little more noisey back there becuase of the engines so a toddler making some noise is less noticeable. It is also closer to the bathroom and the back galley where you can walk around a bit if your little one is acting up.

    The other thing to do is pack some bribes for the people around you (or offer to buy them a drink). I have found most people don’t really get that upset if you kid throws a fit as long as the parents look like they are trying to calm their little one down. If you do decide to go the “drug” route for your kid, which we had to do once because it was a weird flight time across multiple time zones, melatonin works well.

    As far as what you have packed, I would probably avoid the more sugary snacks, just so my kid didn’t get all hyper-active (not judging giving sugary treats, we do it, just not on planes). You’ll be fine, just don’t let her smell the fear on you… kids know when you are afraid!

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      We were sure to sit in the back both times. We were around other little children, so when Sally screamed, people weren’t sure which of the several toddlers was to blame :).

      And I probably should have clarified that the sugary snacks were a *worst-case scenario* back-up. We didn’t end up having to use them, luckily!

      I think you and your wife deserve some kind of medal for flying with your son that many times!!!

  • Reply Maddie June 30, 2014 at 9:44 am

    We’re flying from NYC to CA next week (a 13 hour ordeal from door to door) and I am terrified, which means I have been over researching and trying to figure out what to buy/bring to make all our lives easier. I got M a toddler backpack (which is way too huge for her, but it’s more for me being able to keep her tasks and snacks separated and in a smaller container than one of our back packs). I got 6 cloth binder pencil cases to make busy bags with. So, I have a “sticky” bag with wikki stix and stickers, a felt snake + felt background bag, a magnetic book bag, a magnadoodle bag… etc. Probably overkill, but it has limited me to 6 themes and I think these activities will entertain her more than the toys I’ve historically brought. Then lots and lots of snacks to give to her one at a time–goldfish, raisins, freeze dried fruit from Trader Joe’s, food pouches. We also have baby headphones for her that I’ve been practicing with (if I remember), and will fill up the Ipad with Daniel Tiger too.

    In our backpacks, I’ll have a change of underwear for each of us as well as shirts for Dan and me and an outfit change for M just in case+diapers and etc. I’m hoping to have a little more leg room by being able to put our backpacks overhead and have just her small bag under the seat+ the dog under Dan’s seat. Yeah we’re bringing our dog too. People are gonna love us when they see us coming! : )

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      Wow, Maddie! I was so impressed when I read how you’ve prepared for your flight! I ended up picking up stickers for the flight home, and they were a huge hit. I love your felt and magnet ideas, too!

      Our headphones worked all right, but the baby headphones probably would have been worth it. The iPad was a lifesaver!! Definitely the most important thing we brought on the flight.

      You are more than prepared, so don’t fret! It will go great. Good luck!!!

  • Reply Retired by 40 June 30, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Haven’t flown with the little on – yet, so I can’t say how well your game plan will go. I would however love an update of how it went?

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      I will be posting an update soon! Some things worked, and others didn’t!

  • Reply jolie June 30, 2014 at 10:36 am

    I never flew with the boys when they were that young. I always admire those who do so, and do so successfully.

    • Reply Ayse Gider July 8, 2014 at 11:57 am


      Agreed. Parents that do this successfully are amazing in my book! I did hear of one set of parents who provided earplugs for all passengers, which was both humorous and helpful.

      • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:22 pm

        The problem is that we book our flights months in advance and assume Sally will be *so much easier* by that point. Ha!! And then we’re stuck flying with her. We lived, and it went better than expected, but I don’t plan to do it again anytime soon :).

  • Reply jenlarson June 30, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Our daughter was 2 on her first flight, and armed with a personal DVD player (it was before tablets were available), and a few of her favorite treats she handled it like a champ! We started pointing out airplanes we saw flying overhead before our flight was coming up, and telling her that she’d get to ride on one, so she was pretty excited by the time of the trip.
    I would maybe suggest letting her run around, or go for a walk while you’re waiting to board the plane, so she can burn off a little energy first 🙂 Good luck, and happy travels!!

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks, Jen! It went pretty well, but we are so glad to have it behind us! Both times we tried to exhaust Sally as much as possible, which made a HUGE difference!!

  • Reply Melinda June 30, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    It looks like you put much thought into your trip with a toddler. Your fun pack is filled with interesting things and I hope they are all homeruns for you.
    As for the food, the goldfish and pretzels are a good idea but will make Sal thirsty. You’ve already thought about that and added drinks/purees to your list. I don’t know if you’ll be able to get your liquids past Aiport Security–good luck with that. If not, and If Sal likes water (I hope) you might want to get some cute little bottles of water after you go through Security. Even if Security makes an exception for baby related liquids, you might want to add water to your mix.
    I also feel the concern of other commenters about the sugar content of the snacks you’re planning to serve on the plane. You might want to save them for those times on land when Sal has room to burn the energy. Each of the snacks is fine alone, but if they are combined while on the plane, you could have one crazed child in a closed space. Could get ugly fast. Unless Sal doesn’t get hyper on sugar.
    So, here are just a few alternatives to consider: Thomas’s whole wheat bagel thins (if she’s not allergic, PB or other nut butters are good spreads which you can buy in little “to go” cups and can spread with a small spoon since knives are still prohibited on planes I think), string cheese sticks, and if she’ll eat veggies, cute little sticks of celery, or carrots for her to gnaw on–these last items will also help keep her hydrated so you could cut down on sugary fruit drinks. Putting these things in little snack bags can kill two birds with one stone–keep her occupied for a few seconds as she opens them and a few more as she eats them. You’ve probably already thought about this but you’ll also want wipes, napkins and an extra bag for trash. A ziploc bag is good for carrying these miscellaneous things.
    I second the “change of clothes” and extra “dirty clothes” bag recommendation other readers have made.
    I pray Sal takes a looooong nap 🙂 I’m looking forward to the “after the trip” post.

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:26 pm

      After I read your comment, I had a major “DUH!” moment. Of course I couldn’t bring the juice — I don’t know what I was thinking with that. But, luckily, the purees made it past security just fine. We also had the flight attendants bring us water and apple juice throughout the flight.

      I should have clarified that the sugary snacks were reserved for a worst-case scenario. We didn’t just offer them up — and luckily, we never got desperate enough to use them. Hallelujah! I love the alternatives you suggested, and the idea to put them in little snack bags! And we brought a ton of wipes and an extra bag of trash, like you mentioned.

      Thanks for all the awesome tips!!

  • Reply Aldo@MDN June 30, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Just give her some booze…. wait, you said 18 months? Nevermind. Never take advice from somebody that doesn’t have kids and that apparently will be a terrible parent, hahaha.

    I’m sure is going to be fine. Don’t worry about others because I’m sure you’ve sat on will sit through other people’s kids crying as well.

    Enjoy your 4th.

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:27 pm

      Thanks, Aldo! Unfortunately, we didn’t take your advice on giving her booze. 😉

  • Reply Rob June 30, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    First plane ride with Sal, eh? I’ll pray for you guys! 🙂

    Naw, just kidding. I’m sure that all will go well. Be sure to tell us your “war stories” upon your return, ok? Sorry that I don’t have any tips for you related to travelling with kids but I don’t recall encountering any drama with our kids when we flew anywhere. But then, my memory is a tad hazy and my wife might have other opinions, based on her personal past experiences! 🙂

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      I’ll be doing a follow-up post very soon. The important thing is that we survived!! And it wasn’t as bad as we though it would be!

  • Reply Lauren June 30, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    I’ve done many flights with my daughter, now 3, and they were overseas trips. I always brought new toys, loaded up the phone with videos, and packed snacks and extra clothes. 4 hours with 2 adults shouldn’t be too bad.

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:30 pm

      Overseas?! Wow, you’re a saint! I can’t say the 4 hours went by quickly, but it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be — thankfully!

  • Reply Halsy June 30, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    We flew with our toddler from ohio to Texas last summer. We had a lot of those same things. I would suggest a cheap mini magnadoodle (we got ours for $3 at Target). It’s also great for dr appts etc! Another thing is wrap some items in layers.

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      The magnadoodle idea is genius, Halsy! I didn’t have a time to pick one up before the flight, but I think I’ll grab one the next time we head to Target. Thanks for the tip!

  • Reply Amanda June 30, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Our daughter is almost a few days shy of 18 months as well, and already a seasoned traveler (only bc family is allllll in NY). On our last flight from Texas, we found the following to be super helpful:
    -STICKERS! She loved them. We bought a pad at Target from the Dollar Spot and she was psyched
    -Videos of herself and our pugs on our iphones ( and we had no shortage of those)
    -Snacks-we chose yogurt melts, crackers, and sliced fruit we brought from home
    -We brought her empty cup and were able to just fill it past security. That way we could offer her milk and water.
    -Her blanket and teddy for naptime
    -We gave her a healthy meal before we left for the airport. Airports have next to nothing as far as substantial food for wee ones.
    As a mom, I see the temptation of the starbursts, but as a pediatric feeding therapist, I have to warn you against those suckers. I child of 18 months most likely does not have the oral motor skills to chew those enough to avoid a choking risk. A choking babe on a plane sounds terrible. When we needed novelty, we bought our girl a blueberry muffin from starbucks and she was tickled pink.
    Good luck!

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      Stickers really were the dark horse that I hadn’t considered. She loved them! And the blanket and teddy were more important that I ever would have thought! She loved having that for both of her flight naps.

      Also, good points on the candy, Amanda! I didn’t end up having to use them, luckily.

  • Reply Amanda June 30, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    I want to agree with those who say nix the sugary stuff – especially the marshmallows and starbursts. This is not a judgement at all, I give my 2 year old plenty of sugar but I’m concerned they could be choking hazards, especially if she has never had them before. Please know this is coming from a place of love, my son has choked on granola (really?!) and the last thing you want is to risk something like that on the plane.

    Also, I recommend wearing her in the airport – you shouldn’t have to take her off for security) and giving her something to drink during take off and landing to help with pressure in her ears.

    I have traveled pretty extensively with my 2 year old, and the best advice I can offer is iPad is your friend. Also, if it is during her regular nap time, there is a good chance she will sleep on the plane. Good luck, it won’t be nearly as bad as you imagine!

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Thanks for the concern, Amanda! A few days before, I’d let her try both, and she was okay chewing them. But it’s probably smart not to risk it! And we didn’t end up giving them to her, so all was well!

      And you are so right about the iPad. It saved us!!

  • Reply Shay July 1, 2014 at 12:20 am

    We made the mistake one time of giving our three children fruit rollups in the car and they were bouncing off the walls! ha!
    I saw one family use pictures/videos of herself to keep a little 18 month old happy, on a train I was on this week, for at least a half an hour. The color wonder is indeed wonderful! We used them a lot when our kids were little. they are amazing.
    I would get a toy that will wear her out like a Magnet Space Wheel. It will make her arms tired and maybe she’ll flip flop between more active games and more passive ones. I have one daughter that was bored after 50 things. The other two could sit and play with one or two toys for 3 hours. I know Sally is active, so I think letting her walk around the plane will be your best bet for the wiggles. Make sure you have her favorite blankey, maybe she’ll take a little nap!
    Good luck!

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      All toddlers do seem to love pictures of themselves! That’s such a simple, genius idea. Sally has a super short attention span, so we were going from one activity to the next to the next the whole flight. We did luck out both times with her taking a nap, though, so that helped a ton.

      Thanks for the awesome tips, Shay!

  • Reply Little House July 1, 2014 at 10:20 am

    It looks like you have it all covered. Someone here mentioned stickers and zip lock baggies, which are great additions. Have a terrific trip and 4th of July in D.C. !

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks! The stickers are such a smart idea! Thank goodness for you guys and your great tips! 🙂

    Leave a Reply