Flying with toddlers can be tricky. Worse, most of the travel advice for parents out there revolves around either flying with babies or flying with children. Toddlers fall into the gray area in between older kids and young babies.
The main difference between traveling with toddlers and babies is that toddlers are much more mobile. More precisely, toddlers are more squirmy than babies. Toddlers are also much less likely to sleep the whole flight or at unusual times just because there is the steady hum of an airplane engine.
On the other hand, the difference between children and toddlers on an airplane is that toddlers are less likely to be entertained for hours by simply playing their favorite kids movies back to back on a portable DVD player.
What are the best tips for traveling with toddlers?
The most important tip for flying with a toddler is to get more than one seat. Even though a child under 2-years old can fly free on the lap of a parent, it is virutally impossible to keep a toddler in a single seat for all but the shortest of flights. This is not to say that you should pay for your toddler to have their own seat. If you are traveling with another, older child, or with another parent or adult, then that extra seat of roaming room may be enough. However, if it is just you and your toddler flying on the airplane, you should give consideration to buying the toddler an extra seat.
DO NOT USE DEEP DISCOUNT AIRLINES TO FLY WITH TODDLERS. If you do fly deep discount, make sure you pay extra to reserve your seat positions. There are plenty of horror stories of parents who arrive at the airport to find out that they are in seat 18C, and their two-year old is in seat 27B.
Most airlines will allow you to spread out into more seats if the flight is not full. However, these days, carriers have cut back on the number of flights, and only off-hours flights on off-peak travel days are likely to have enough room to make it work out for parents traveling with kids who need more space. If you do want to try for a free seat of extra room, follow these toddler travel tips.
Assuming you are flying on Southwest Airlines or another flight that does not have assigned seats, these tricks might make getting an empty seat more likely. If you fly Southwest a lot, you might be interested in the Southwest credit card that lets you earn miles to get free flights faster. You can use these free tickets for toddlers or babies you are flying with to keep costs down.
First, sit near the back of the plane. This not only puts you closer to the restrooms that you are more likely to need, the rear of the plane is generally considered less desirable. Chances are that if there is a window or aisle seat further up, people will take that one instead of walking further back.
Second, since most people want and aisle or window seat, be sure to sit in one of those. Some people will judge a window seat next a toddler as a better seat than a middle seat between adults. By sitting in a window or aisle seat, you take away one of the desired seats in the row.
Finally, don’t settle your toddler down right away. Keep your toddler in your lap. If possible, keep them standing on your lap. Travelers who see the toddler in the row from a few rows away might be more inclined to take seats that they would normally pass up for a “better seat” when they see that those better seats might be right next to a toddler who may or may not be crying or fussing the entire flight.
Regardless of what kind of airline you are flying on, don’t depend on the flight attendants for your baby supplies. They don’t come around often enough for multiple water refills and don’t really have a way to heat a bottle. Instead, prep a bottle before boarding and stick it in a pocket or bag, preferably one near your body to provide extra heat. Be sure not to make the bottle too soon so that you don’t break any of the baby formula rules or breast mile rules.
Given enough time, your bottle will be room temperature without a microwave, which they don’t have on airplanes (at least not the kind that can heat a baby bottle.) At the same time, you can be pretty sure that your toddler will be interested in a bottle shortly after take-off, so you don’t have to worry about the formula or breast milk expiring before it is used.
Of course, you’ll need tons and tons of toys to keep your toddler entertained. Don’t worry about bringing noisy toys. The background noise of an airplane is surprisingly loud and will drown out or at least normalize the sound of even the loudest children’s toys.