Traveling with toddlers can get tricky. Even the sweetest, most well-behaved two-year-old will act up when he is tired, over-stimulated, or bored—and that’s all bound to happen on a plane. However, with a little planning (and a lot of patience!) you can sidestep many emergencies and meltdowns.
1. Get the most kid-friendly ride.
When you buy your ticket, ask your airline which flights to your desired destination tend to fill up more slowly. This is your best bet—your plane won’t be crowded and you are more likely to get good seats. (Car seats must be installed in a seat next to a window.) Stay away from any flights that have a long layover, or those that will have you changing planes after dinnertime. Hell hath no fury like a toddler woken up in the middle of the night.
Also try to reserve seats (even if the airline can’t gurantee final seating arrangements) and then arrive at the airport early so you can get first priority.
2. Buckle up.
Air turbulence can cause a serious injury to a toddler. So get him his own seat (at least you only pay 50% of adult fare) and bring the car seat.
3. Pack a bag of toys and books.
Fill a small bag with fun, cheap loot to entertain your child during the car or plane ride. Don’t give everything to your child right away. Instead, pull out a treasure one by one, pacing it so that it lasts you for the whole trip. You can include coloring and activity books, the give-aways from Happy Meals, puzzles, kaleidoscopes.
4. Shift the zzzz’s.
In the weeks before your flight, slowly adjust your child’s routine so he’ll be ready to sleep by the time he gets on the plane. Since he may have trouble falling asleep in an unfamiliar environment, bring a favorite book or small toy.
5. Use layers.
Instead of a thick shirt, dress your child in layers of clothing that you can peel off if he feels too hot, or add on if he feels too cold.
6. Take off the pressure.
Sucking on a bottle or sippy cup (and swallowing its contents) can help ‘pop’ the ear pressure during takeoff or landing. However, kids may feel excruciating pain if they have an ear infection, so watch for any symptoms of that in the week before the trip.
Keep drinks close at hand. Flying is even more dehydrating for children than it is for adults, so make sure they get plenty of fluids.
7. Find a nappy spot.
Don’t wait for a diaper emergency. After the crew’s settled down soon after takeoff, ask the flight attendant if the plane has a changing table. If it doesn’t have one, request if you there are any empty seats at the back of the plane that you can use.
8. Psyche your child for the trip
Toddlers hate changes in routine, and the experience of being hustled through a crowded airport, waiting in line, and then sitting in a cramped seat for several hours make the disruption twice as overwhelming.
So, prepare your child for the trip. Show pictures of the place you will go to, a picture of a plane, and describe what she can expect at the airport. Emphasize how fun it will be to fly and see the clouds.