As a mother with a 2-year-old who has been to Walt Disney World several times and Disneyland once, I often get asked for advice on flying with toddlers. I was nervous when planning my daughter's first trip to Disney, and I spent a good bit of time planning out the travel days in hopes to help set us up for smooth travel days.
Here are my 8 tips for flying with toddlers:
Tip #1: Plan around your toddler’s schedule. If your toddler follows a daily routine of eating, napping, and diapering at the same time each day, keep that in mind as you plan your travel. If your child only sleeps in a pitch-dark room with a white noise machine on, odds are that the plane will not be an ideal nap setting. For the first time traveling with my daughter, we thought it would be a good idea to travel during nap time...boy was I wrong! She might have slept for 15 minutes, just long enough for me to snap a photo! When we got to our hotel to check in, the room was not yet ready, which created an even grumpier little girl. With this being said, make sure that you know what time check in is, and, if your flight will have you arriving at your resort hours before you can check into your room, think through whether or not that is going to be realistic for you and your family. Additionally, don’t forget to factor in transit time getting to and from the airport. Airlines will typically recommend being at the airport 2 hours before a domestic flight. For me, that means I need to leave my house 3 hours before a flight. If you don’t want to wake your toddler sooner than his or her normal time in the morning, keep the transit time to the airport in mind.
Tip #2: Keep them occupied. One thing I always do is bring a bag full of tricks! One of the carry-on bags is dedicated to toys, books, and other activities to keep her busy. I usually purchase 1 or 2 new toys that she has never played with that are plane-friendly, such as window clings (they stick to the trays and back of seats in most aircrafts, as well as the windows). Another recommendation is to pack your child’s favorite toy in a separate carry-on so that your child doesn’t see it right away. You can then pull the favorite toy out when you have exhausted all other means of keeping them occupied. My daughter loves her tablet. Since we try to limit her tablet time but know it’s her favorite, we always wait to pull this out if she starts having a meltdown or gets bored with her other toys. A tip on tablets: make sure to download any content that you want on the device before your travel day. This includes downloading the airline app, as sometimes this is the only way that you can get on WiFi once you are in the air.
Tip #3: Plan out the travel days. When you sit down to pick your flight times, map out what your day would look like depending on which time you select. My husband and I do this with every flight we book to ensure we are putting our daughter in the best situation (within our control, of course). Keep transit time to the airport and hotel in mind, and don’t forget to consider meals and naps. If you are planning to arrive at Disney World at an early enough time and are planning to enjoy a park that day, be realistic. If you are expecting your little one to have a nap, keep in mind that that might not happen, and they might even be too cranky for Dumbo the Flying Elephant or the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel. If you are taking advantage of using Disney’s Magical Express, make sure to factor in extra commute time as this will take longer than an Uber or taxi. Additionally, if you are using Magical Express to get back to the airport at the end of your trip, keep in mind that your shuttle will pick you up 3 hours before your flight's departure time.
Tip #4: Be familiar with what your airline has to offer. If your toddler does well with watching movies or playing games on their tablet, make sure you know whether or not WiFi is available on your flight. Some airlines don't offer it, and others require that you download the airline app onto your device ahead of time in order to use the WiFi. Some airlines will also sell a children’s activity kit for purchase. This kit usually comes with crayons, a coloring book, wax straws that stick to window and trays, stickers, and a light snack.
Tip #5: Don’t be in a rush to board the plane. My husband and I always wait and try to be the last family to board the plane. This gives my little one an extra few minutes to run around before being cooped up for several hours. The boarding process could take around 20 minutes or longer, and, from my experience, I want to limit how much time we are spending on the plane if it's within my control. Some airlines will offer families traveling with young children the opportunity to board first. I never really understood why someone would want to spend more time than necessary sitting on the plane.
Tip #6: Bring something to prevent ear popping. Make sure you have something for your child to suck on such as a cup, bottle, lollipop, or a yogurt pouch. Be careful to not give this item to your child too soon; wait until you start taking off and actually feel the plane lift off of the ground. We made the mistake of giving my daughter her milk while we were still on the runway, and, although the announcement was made to prepare for takeoff, there was a traffic issue, and we weren't in air for another 30 minutes. By that point, the milk was long gone.
Tip #7: Be prepared for germs. I always pack a baggie with anti-bacterial wipes in order to wipe down the seats, seat belts, trays, windows, and the backs of the seats in front of us. Needless to say, toddlers touch EVERYTHING. A couple of our trips were during flu season and I was particularly nervous about unwanted germs. I usually ask the flight attendant as I am boarding the plane if it is okay for me to use anti-bacterial wipes, and I've never run into an issue. Don’t forget to bring a bottle of hand sanitizer that fits within the airline permitted liquid sizes as well. This will come in handy both on the flight and during your trip.
Tip #8: Get your toddler their own seat. Children 2 and under can fly for free if they sit on your lap and don't occupy a seat. I know that flights can be expensive, but, if you are able to afford it, I would highly recommend getting your toddler their own seat. I would recommend this tip to any parent once their child starts to become mobile. You will appreciate having that extra space to let them wiggle around and play with their toys. Plus, it works nicely if you are flying with another adult and your aircraft has rows with 3 seats next to each other. This will give you the entire row to yourselves, and you won’t need to feel cramped next to a stranger hoping that your wiggly lap-sitting child doesn’t bump into them. Note that car seats are not required. I would recommend against bringing a car seat. It’s just an additional bulky item that you'll need to lug around on travel days.
That concludes my 8 tips for flying with a toddler.
One last piece of advice: don’t get frustrated if things don’t go as smoothly as you would have hoped. Just remember that you know your child best. If you keep this in mind during your travel planning, you should be setting yourself up for a successful flight! Now get to planning your next Disney vacation!
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