Ok. Now that I’m on the other side of it, I can say with the utmost certainty that flying with a toddler is like childbirth. You can plan all you want and most likely it will go the opposite way you hoped for. But the upside is you will forget the pain and want to do it all over again.
James was 19 months old when we took our first flight. He was (still is) a walking, talking, boisterous, wants to climb on everything, full of mischief toddler. So I was under no illusions that it wouldn’t be tough. I researched and planned everything as much as possible. And to give myself some credit, it helped, but FML it was rough going at times. So here’s my guide on how to fly with a toddler and not want to strangle yourself with a muslin in the process. But also know that I have firmly forgotten the pain and no sooner did we get back did we we book another flight for next year. *shrug*
When booking do check the airlines restrictions when flying with a kid. Most airlines will allow you at least 1 bulky item for kids who require them, without charge in addition to your hand and hold luggage. We flew Easyjet who allow 2 items, so we brought a buggy and the travel cot.
Another moneysaver is that children under the age of 2 years can fly sitting in your lap and although some airlines will charge a small fee for this you don’t have the expense of paying for their seat. The downside with flying with a toddler/baby on your lap is that they don’t have their own baggage allowance, and my god, we all know how much stuff kids need. So you may want to pay for extra luggage. Had I known then what I know now about flying with a 1 and a half year old in your lap I’d have absolutely booked a separate seat for James. Having a whole row to ourselves would have been bliss and made for a much more comfortable journey for all of us.
I also recommend choosing your own seats if you can afford the extra cost. I personally wanted to be as close to the doors as possible (so we could make a speedy exit) and be near the toilets. If you’re flying with a toddler in your lap then most definitely you want an aisle seat unless of course you’re flying with 2 other people and you can book out the aisle.
We were allowed 2 pieces of hand luggage between us. Thankfully James is not at the stage of needing a Trunki (cause carting that thing around would have tipped me over the edge). We opted for 2 rucksacks: one for us and one for James, and I cannot recommend rucksacks enough. Our hands were free to push the buggy, chase James around the airport, hand over passports etc. And it made life *easier*. I also bought a moneybelt (not as bulky as a bumbag but same idea) and this contained: the passports and boarding passes, my cards, cash, phone, and earphones. It just meant I wasn’t constantly pulling the rucksack down to rummage around to find the passports or cash or phone. It was just there, under my hoodie. Easy.
In here we had:
- Portable charger & necessary cables
- Large refillable water bottle (which James also used)
- Metal straws x 2
- Hand sanitizer, lip balm, deodrant
- Spare top for each of us
In here we had:
- Pull-on nappies: These are much easier to get on & off in a rush and in small spaces. Pack more than you think you need.
- Nappy sacks (lots of them: handy for nappies, wet clothes, banana skins etc, and when you can’t find a bin)
- Jumbo pack of wipes
- Fold up changing mat
- Travel sized hand sanitizer
- PJs & slippers (if flying around bedtime) or change of clothes
- Muslins x 2
- Bib x 1
- James sized spoon x 2
- Glow in the dark dummies x 4 (easy to find under a seat)
- Tablet with favourite shows downloaded
- Teddy & blanket (his go-to items for comfort and bedtime)
- Toys: small wooden cars, sticker book, 2 new books
- Snacks: boxes of raisins, giant tub of baby biscuits, several packets of baby crisps, breadsticks, tub of raspberries from home
We brought along our spare umbrella style buggy, which we keep at my parents and also use when travelling. We have the Cugl Maple bought from Argos, and at £70 its cheap enough that if something happened to it I wouldn’t be devastated. Its lightweight, has a big canopy hood which is good for the hot sunny weather, folds up easy, has a decent sized basket, and the seat lies down flat which is comfy for James and great for naptime.
I highly recommend getting a buggy bag if the buggy is going in the hold. The chances if it coming out mangled in the baggage reclaim is lower since its contained. I got this one from Amazon for £15 and the bright colour means its easy to pick out at baggage claim. Just remember to stash it in the basket of the buggy so you don’t forget it.
What to wear
I dressed how I normally dress when flying: comfy and with layers. I went for the same idea when dressing James. I put him in leggings, a long-sleeved top, socks, and trainers but had a change of clothes and a hoodie in case he got cold (he didn’t) for him in the hand luggage.
Right the first thing to know when flying with a toddler for the first time is to give yourself BAGS of time plus a little extra. It doesn’t necessarily remove the stress from the day, but it gives you one less thing to worry about. Arrive at the airport as early as possible cause you do not want the stress of rushing through security and rushing to the gate on top of everything else you need to deal with. Our flight was at 4.30pm and we had booked parking and arrived at 1pm. Even something as simple as walking the 2mins from the car to the airport entrance took us almost half an hour: and that was without any drama. Everything just takes longer with a kid.
Get the kid into the buggy or baby carrier, grab all the luggage and head straight to check in desk to check your luggage. If you’re taking the buggy then hang onto it (the check-in desk will assume you will). We didn’t use it an awful lot in the airport, but I’m glad we had it for the short times we did. We kept James strapped in heading to security and when heading to the gate: it just meant we could go and not wait for a dawdling toddler. He also had a lot of fun pushing the buggy in the quieter parts of the airport.
When packing, stash all your liquids into just one section of the hand luggage. That way when you arrive at pre-security all you gotta do it scoop it all into the plastic bags provided: no rummaging around several hand luggages trying to find all the liquids. Remember to empty your water bottles but baby bottles/food etc I *hear* are fine but do check airline policy before flying. I’ve no experience of bringing liquids through security for a baby/toddler but I did see a women with several baby pouches and these appeared to be accepted with no problem.
Use the dedicated family lane at security, these are generally a lot calmer and slower than the normal lanes, and you’re less likely to get people rushing you through or getting exasperated at you. The security staff explain what needs folded up, how to walk though scanners with a baby/toddler etc. Just take your time and don’t worry about holding people up. You can’t push the baby though security scanners in the buggy, you will need to lift them out, so this is worth bearing in mind if you’re arriving at the airport at naptime.
At the airport, R was in charge of minding James while I dumped everything into the trays. We handed the buggy to the security people who pushed it through the scanner, then we walked through the scanners with one of us holding James, and got the buggy at the other end.
Straight after security we strapped James back into the buggy and headded straight to the shops for essentials: snack, magazines etc. Then we found the water fountain to fill up the bottle and finally we checked when the gate would be announced for our flight. Our plan was to have a late lunch/early dinner and let James just run around before the flight. During lunch we let James binge watch his tablet while eating chips and ketchup so he was in his element while R and I could relax with a couple drinks.
I strongly advise anyone flying with a toddler to relax all rules you normally have at home. We have quite a structured meal & snack-time routine and James doesn’t eat outwith those times, we don’t allow much TV or tablet time, we certainly don’t allow it at the table, and chips are a real rarity etc. By relaxing these rules it just allowed us to chill out a bit more cause James was happy (plus, it was his holiday too). And when we got home it wasn’t a problem getting him back into his routine and back to the rules we have.
Scout out the airport websites in advance to see what facilities they have for kids. Edinburgh airport for example has 2 very small but good softplay areas. We took it in 15mins slots to mind James while he played here, and basically we let him run himself ragged. The idea was that he’d be tired out for the flight, but it didn’t work. But hey ho, full marks for trying eh?
Change their nappy as close to boarding as possible, and if you’re flying around bedtime, then consider changing them into PJs too. We changed James into long sleeved PJ top and trousers, and moccasin style shoes which we use as slippers at home. This meant he was comfy, warm, and ready for bed when we arrived at the hotel on the other side. If you think its likely your kid will fall asleep on your lap when you get on the plane then remember to use the toilet yourself before boarding and make sure you have snacks you can eat 1-handed too.
I don’t know why there is such a focus on families boarding first. Who really wants to sit in a confined space with a restless kid while everyone else is fussing around you for up to half hour before you take off? I strongly urge anyone flying with a child to board last and reduce the amount of the time they’ll be confined. That said, I do understand that people mostly board first so they can stash the luggage in the overhead lockers. We weren’t intending to use these. We preferred to keep them under the seat in front which made it easier to grab what we needed and when we needed it. So weigh up your options before boarding.
We waited at the gate and let James watch the planes, then boarded last. We folded the buggy in advance and stashed it into a buggy bag then handed it over to the cabin crew. We carried James up the steps to the plane with no fuss. The noise didn’t bother him and he was fascinated by the whole thing.
If you’re flying with a child in your lap then the flight crew will hand you a child extender lap belt. It’s really easy to use and just loops onto your belt. James hated this part of the flight and screamed the entire time he was wearing it and had to be bribed with raisins on the flight going home to stay quiet. Another example of how snacks are your friend on flights.
In the air
Earpain is always a big worry when flying with kids but I don’t think its as bad as we worry about. We gave James calpol on the way out but didn’t on the way home and each time he was fine. He did however have his dummy so I wonder if that alone was enough. It’s worth relaxing the rules around dummy use or giving them something to sook on or drink when take off and landing to relieve any ear pressure.
During the flight, do yourself a favour and save your sanity (particularly if you have the child on your lap) and let them play on the floor. I know I know it looks like they’re feral, and you end up looking like a bad parent, and the floor isnt likely to be clean….BUT screw it. If it saves them throwing a barmy let them play on the floor. We just smeared hand sanitiser on James’ hands when it came to eating.
Also, don’t feel you need to be confined to your seat. Let them walk around the plane, engage with other passengers (that way if they’re screaming later passengers have a cute face to remember), take it turns to have the child in your lap, and make the most of the drinks cart if you can. It’s amazing how much more relaxed you can feel after one of those mini bottles of wine. And if you have a tablet with downloaded shows, let them binge watch it to their hearts content. Throw some snacks into the mix and you might be ok. I like snacks that are small and fiddly to eat, it keeps James entertained. So raisins, dry cheerios, dried cranberries etc. Just remember to bring plenty in the hold luggage for the trip home too.
Sometime before landing, give yourself plenty time to re-pack the hand luggage and get organised. As soon as the seatbelt light was turned off we grabbed our bags and immediately stood up to leave. The benefit of being the near door was that we were first off the plane.
This was the bit I dreaded the most. It was 9.30pm, James was 2 & half hours past his bedtime and he was sort of feral/hyperactive. I did have a moment when he was crawling on the airport floor and trying to eat a fake plant, whether people might have been judging me but I honestly couldn’t have cared less. If he wasn’t having a meltdown from tiredness then I was happy.
If you can afford it, I cannot recommend a private transfer enough. Since we booked it quite far in advance we didn’t pay much more than a coach or minibus transfer would have cost. But the private transfer was just SO easy. They collected us at arrivals, helped us with luggage, and as soon as we got James settled into the carseat he fell asleep for the whole 1hour journey. The private transfer also meant we weren’t waiting around for other passengers, nor were we stopping along the route to other hotels, and James was in his *own chair*. Praise be.
Flying with James was a challenge but I’m glad we done it and we’ve learned what works for the next flight (which mercifully is MUCH shorter). It’s easy to think the worst when flying with young kids and put it off, but I think by controlling the things you can control and just, I dunno, relaxing a little about what you can’t control is probably the best way to cope. I’d love to hear your tips for flying with babies, toddlers, and children so please do leave your comments below or head on over to Instagram and leave them there.