Preschooler holidays

How to survive a flight with a toddler

Last updated 11th March 2024

If flying with a headstrong toddler fills you with fear, don’t panic! Just follow our top tips to make the flight a breeze, for everyone. Clue: If in doubt, pack snacks!
by Sarah Dawson

Give yourself extra time - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

14. Give yourself extra time

Parents of toddlers know that getting them to do anything or go anywhere, quickly, is near impossible. Make life that bit easier by giving yourself plenty of time to get to the airport, check-in and go through security. Allowing yourself lots of extra time for toilet breaks, nappy changes and general dawdling, will make the whole experience a lot less stressful.

Be security savvy - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

13. Be security savvy

Think ahead and avoid wearing things like boots or belts when you fly. The less things you need to take off as you go through airport security the better – you certainly don’t want to be chasing after a wayward toddle, barefoot and half undressed!

Wear them out - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

12. Wear them out

Toddler energy levels are off the scale, so it makes sense to try and wear them out as much as you possibly can before they board the flight. Most airports have a children’s play area (it’s always worth having a look online to locate this before you go) so make a beeline for that once you’ve been through security. Alternatively, just let them explore the terminal with you – little legs will soon get tired. If you’re lucky enough to be travelling with another adult, take turns chasing your toddler around, while the other has a moment to relax.

Make it an adventure - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

11. Make it an adventure

Whether it’s your toddler’s first flight, or they’re already a seasoned pro, everything about going on a flight is exciting at that age, so treat it as a real adventure. Talk about it in the weeks running up to your trip, take time watching the planes take-off and land through the viewing windows in the terminal and read the in-flight leaflets together to build up the excitement for take-off.

Remember the essentials - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

10. Remember the essentials

After the age of two, you have to pay for a separate seat for your toddler, so they can take their own piece of hand luggage. Ride-on suitcases for little ones are a parent’s best friend, especially when it comes to pulling tired or overwhelmed toddlers through the airport. Pack it with all of the essentials, like a spare set of clothes, nappies, their favourite cuddly toy, a dummy if they use one and a pair of pyjamas if it’s a long-haul flight.

Pack all the snacks - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

9. Pack all the snacks

Snacks are the number one lifesaver when it comes to going anywhere, successfully, with a toddler, so make sure you’re fully stocked up for the flight. Pack as many easy-to-eat snacks as you can in your hand luggage, to keep little tummies full, prevent a meltdown and to use as bribes – when you’re flying with a toddler, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do! Things like apples, boxes of raisins, toddler biscuits and kid-friendly crisps are great choices, but try and avoid anything with sugar. No one wants to deal with a two-year-old on a sugar high at 40,000 feet…

Beat ear ache - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

8. Beat ear ache

Ear pain can be upsetting for toddlers who don’t understand how to pop their ears properly. Give them their dummy (if they use one) or a sugar-free lollipop to suck on during take-off and landing, and have some Calpol handy if the pain gets too much for their little ears.

Prepare for potty training - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

7. Prepare for potty training

Flying with a toddler in the middle of potty training might not sound like the best fun, but plan ahead and it doesn’t have to be a disaster. Make a toilet stop just before you board the plane, then check-in on your toddler regularly to see if they need the toilet. Take little ones with you when you go to the loo, in case they are holding it in because of an unfamiliar environment. Plane toilets aren’t always the cleanest, so pack plenty of anti-bac wipes and disposable seat covers, and if you’re worried about your toddler setting off the automatic flush mid-toilet trip and getting upset, cover the sensor with a Post-it note. Don’t forget some zip-lock bags for any dirty clothes or consider training pants for the journey if you’re at the start of potty training.

Break it down - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

6. Break it down

Expecting a toddler to behave for three hours may feel a bit like Mission: Impossible, but by breaking your flight down into little chunks of time it can feel so much more manageable. Plan 15 minutes of colouring, then 15 minutes of watching a cartoon, then 15 minutes of eating a snack and playing I Spy, and a stress-free flight seems totally achievable.

Embrace the tablet - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

5. Embrace the tablet

Whatever your opinion of toddlers and screen time, there’s no denying that using a tablet during a flight makes everyone a lot happier. Download some of their favourite cartoons, then a longer film and some games, and the flight will, quite literally, fly by! Headphones are a must, as even the most relaxed fellow passenger might draw the line at listening to Peppa Pig for an hour – just make sure you introduce your toddler to headphones before the trip, so there are no surprises (ie tantrums) on board.

Keep them busy - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

4. Keep them busy

Sometimes a product comes along that has parents punching the air with joy, and the KeepEmQuiet kits are just that. These amazing travel packs are stocked full of age-appropriate goodies including toys, books, puzzles, games, healthy snacks and more, which are certain to keep your toddler entertained for the flight. Take your pick from a short trip, medium trip or long trip pack and then let your child get stuck in. If you prefer, you can space out the fun and let your little one pick something out of the bag every 10 minutes or so, as a reward for good behaviour.

Pack home comforts - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

3. Pack home comforts

Never underestimate the difference it makes bringing your own travel pillow and blanket along with you, when flying with young children. Familiar items, which smell of home, can turn a strange environment into something much more comforting – especially useful on a long-haul flight when trying to encourage your toddler to sleep.

Layer Up - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

2. Layer up

Sometimes you can be sitting on a flight shivering under a blanket, the next you might be desperately removing your jumper, trying to cool down in a stuffy cabin. Make sure you dress your toddler in layers, you can easily take on and off, to keep them comfortable.

Dont stress - flying with a toddler - Family Traveller

1. Don’t stress

Flying with a toddler doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Focus your attention on your child; get excited with them, follow their cues for snacks or toilet trips, answer their questions and comfort them when they need it. As long as you’re being a conscientious parent and not letting your toddler run up and down the aisle without a second thought, you’re doing the best you can. Do not let any other passenger make you feel stressed out or judged and try to ignore any raised eyebrows or rude stares. Don’t forget to look after yourself too – drink plenty of water, enjoy a glass of wine if you like, eat when you can and push any worries out of your mind.