Finding your groove when flying with babies and toddlers

 In Travel Tips

I don’t claim to know it all, which is why I love hearing about how other families travel with their kids. I especially love to hear about parents who fly alone with their kids. Without an extra set of hands that a partner can offer things can get very tricky. We all have different gear we can’t live with out, and different ways to approach crying babies, security and getting our kids to nap. Shannon Stabbert, a local Seattle mom who blogs on Wilderness Barbie, tells it like it is when traveling alone with her daughter. 

I’ve successfully joined the “Toddler Mile High Club,” meaning that I’ve flown with a toddler (on my own even!), and have lived to tell the tale. My experience comes from several domestic flights with my now almost three year old starting at nine months, mostly with my husband. I share this hard-won knowledge so that you may learn from my mistakes, and genius inspired by desperation, and be spared the exquisite agony and anxiety that comes with traveling with kids.

First of all, ignore people who tell you crap like I just did about how flying with kids sucks. It’s not true. Traveling with kids when you’re not prepared, and/or have Hell Spawn for kids sucks. Otherwise, it can be fun! Seriously. They don’t need leg room or understand about airplane food yet, so the novelty factor still works in your favor. Here are my tips for flying with kids that I haven’t seen ad nauseam everywhere else. Take them with a grain of salt. If something I’ve written makes you want to leave indignant comments in reply, assume I was being sarcastic.

Think of Your Kid As An Accessory

Those Hollywood starlets and their purses stuffed with Chihuahuas are on to something. If at all possible, wear your kid. Make sure your carrier has no metal parts so it will go through security OK. It keeps them out of trouble, makes getting on and off planes much easier and you can use their stroller (preferably a lightweight model that’s easily collapsible with one hand) as a luggage trolley. This also allows you to stash things underneath if need be.

You will need to collapse it for the conveyor belt through security, and get a tag to check it at the gate. I highly recommend a bag for the stroller, since airlines aren’t responsible for damage or dirt. Bonus– you can stash your coats and such in it.

WARNING- Do NOT wear a low-cut shirt that may prove to be too tempting to your little one. It’s like waving a chocolate bar in their face. I made this error once and while I was talking to a TSA Officer about my husband’s stolen cell phone, my two- year-old daughter decided to “motor boat” me. Loudly. Continuously. I completely ignored her and kept talking and that poor guy didn’t know where to put his eyes or complete a sentence after that. I wish I could have gotten video. A nursing top would really come in handy should the need arise. You wouldn’t even need to take the kid out to nurse, not to mention it can speed up your trip through security!

A fun (but baby safe) statement necklace that your kid hasn’t seen before will help keep her entertained as well, and hopefully distract them from shoving their hands down your shirt. Chew Beads are great if you’ve got a teether or kid who must shove everything in their mouth.

Give Your Toddler a Tiara

While a tiara might be a bit much (definitely NO “Go Go Juice!“) it definitely wouldn’t hurt to dress your kid up extra cute. They still need to be comfortable, layered, breathable, and preferably dark colored (stain hiding), but if your kid(s) look extra cute (hint: accessories!), people will be much more accommodating and helpful, especially if you’re traveling alone with them. Fellow passengers and flight attendants will be more inclined to hold a smartly dressed little girl or boy over one in stained, hand-me-down jammies and a snot-shellacked face. Don’t forget to put on a fresh diaper right before boarding. Diaper blow outs ruin even the most adorable haute couture.

Channel Your Inner Martha Stewart

You can make or break your trip based on how organized you are. Stock your diaper bag with only the things you need on the plane. Use zipper bags to group things together if necessary. Make sure you AND your travel partner know where things are.

Get all the necessities out and in position right when you sit down, especially since families generally get to board first so you should have some space to get organized. Some of the things I put in the seat pocket (after ditching the magazines) are– iPad/Vtech/DVD player, baby wipes, antibiotic gel, snacks, water bottle, gear ties (more later on the awesomeness of these), burp cloth, bottle, toys, ear plugs (we find the constant noise on planes to be irritating), and sleep mask (honestly, it is possible that you’ll find a use for this, keep reading). I use small inflatable pillows to help make those horribly uncomfortable seats more bearable and lessen the likelihood of a chiropractic emergency from straining to hold up a FINALLY sleeping kid’s head for two hours.

Plan Ahead

When you book your seats, choose wisely. Get seats at the back of the plane (sometimes the last row doesn’t recline though), so you have close access to bathrooms, flight attendants, water, and, when they are doing drink/food service, you can often get away with stretching little legs in the galley area. You’ll have fewer people to worry about bothering, plenty of time to gather your stuff to deplane, and by the time you make it to luggage your stuff should be out.

If you are traveling with another adult and a kid under 2, book the aisle and window seat. If there is another empty seat on the plane, odds are it will be better than the one in between two parents and a baby, and anyone sitting there will likely be easily coaxed to move (especially if you take this opportunity to hold your kid in that position that always makes them cry, wink! wink!), giving you a free middle seat. If the plane is full, let the flight attendant know and they can help you swap seats with someone. I’ve been told some planes will not allow three adults in the back row with a lap infant due to one of the four air-masks being reserved for flight crew, so you’re more likely to get a free seat there.


I learned this from an interview on NPR with an epidemiologist. Wipe down everything you’ll touch on the plane with alcohol gel/wipes. Seat belt, armrest, buttons, tray– this will greatly reduce your chance of getting sick.

Under Pressure

Remember, everything is pressurized at altitude. This can include hand sanitizer, baby bottles and sippy cups. Use caution when opening. Once, shortly after taking off, I was talking with my husband about breast feeding our daughter just as he opened a sippy cup with a straw built in for her… and it sprayed all over the ceiling and dripped down on the business man in front of us! Luckily, we were able to quickly reassure him that it was just water, but you knew for those first seconds he was sure he’d been doused in breast milk.

Fun With Air Sickness Bags

Take the air sickness bag and use the sticky seal to attach it to the back of the seat in front of you or the wall. Use it to dispose of all the kid related trash they are so good at generating, or with older kids, as a mini toss game, or making puppets.

Take Cover

Wear a nursing cover, even if you’re not nursing. They are great shields from sticky fingers, some have pockets for phone/pacifiers, a makeshift nap blanket or light shield, and in the worst case scenario, protect your clothes from being covered in puke from a kid who suddenly spikes a fever on a long flight (true story).

Pack a change of clothes for everyone in a carry on (see above puke scenario). Not many things can make a flight more miserable than sitting in damp, puke smelling clothes in close confines with strangers. This will also save you in case your luggage gets lost/delayed. Your breast pump, age appropriate Tylenol/Ibuprofen, charging cords, and more diapers are all good things to have on hand as well.


Bathrooms can be great distractions for little ones and a less obtrusive way to burn off some energy. First make sure to wipe down all surfaces you’ll touch with gel/wipes. They are absolute Petri dishes of germs. If you need to change a diaper, look for an indication on the door, not all tend to have one. Once inside, they can play with the mirror (dry erase markers are great for coloring on them), pull tissues out of the box and stuff them back in (save some to put back in for other people), splash in some water in the sink (bubbles!), dance on the toilet seat to some songs you sing or music played on a phone, make balls of paper towels and toss them around. Just peek out every few minutes to make sure there isn’t a line. Don’t forget to have fun playing “clean up time” when you’re done. 

You NEED These Things

Flye Baby Seriously, this thing is amazing! It’s a baby hammock of sorts that attaches to the raised tray table in front of you, and around your waist. This allows you to get some face time, and free arms time with your infant. When my daughter got a bit taller than the limit, I just use the headrest or folded up blanket behind her head to keep it from bumping on the tray. It can also be used as a high chair of sorts to safely secure them to a seat.

Gear Ties I find these all over now, and they’re still a must have with my almost three year old. They secure cups to strollers/car seats, toys to harnesses, shopping bags to stroller handles, and more. Attempting to pick up dropped toys/cups on an airplane with a kid in your lap is laughable at best. They also make for good toys on their own, though only with supervision as they are not designed for kids.

Snack Tower/Formula Dispenser- These are great to feed hungry kids, and also develop small muscle dexterity while trying to get snacks out of them. I fill mine with freeze-dried peas and corn, the ubiquitous goldfish crackers, dried fruit, yogurt melts, animal crackers, shelled edamame and granola.

Baby Headphones- I got a pair of earmuffs at Brookstone that doubled as headphones. They seemed to stay on her head much better than typical baby headphones. They were great to help block out noise for naps or watching videos.

Tile I’ve preordered a few of these handy little locators with a built in tracker that you can watch on an app, but they’re still under production so I haven’t used them yet. However, they appear to be awesome for keeping track of things you don’t want to lose like luggage, tablets, phones, cameras and even kids. I’d imagine they could really come in handy for places like Disneyland where kids who formerly had to be pried off your leg with a tire iron and fire hose to stay with a babysitter, have now turned into over stimulated escape artists who make a break for the nearest animated character every time you blink.

Finally, “dummy check”  EVERYTHING before you leave the plane. Twice. We are usually pretty good at this, however my husband set his phone on the seat to readjust luggage and left it behind. Despite being the very last people off the plane (aside from cleaning crew, ahem), and returning less than five minutes later, it was gone, never to be seen again. Last we heard from it via the “Find My Phone” app was a quick ping in the employee parking lot before it was turned off again. I now make sure my cases are a bright, easily seen color and they’re much easier to keep track of.

Oh, and don’t forget to take advantage of the beverage cart. A glass of wine can help smooth the most frazzled of nerves. Don’t forget to have one yourself as well!

Many thanks again to Shannon, a local Seattle mom, who loves to travel with her daughter and tell it like it is. 

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  • Sally@Toddlers on Tour

    I totally agree with you planning is the key.

    I fly about twice a year with my son, we haven’t had a bad flight yet (he is almost 6 now). I truly believe it is the preparation I have put in – he is naturally not that well behaved, according to the dinner table antics.