My tried and tested 5 top tips on Flying made easy with a toddler
This weekend is the Family Travel show at London Olympia, the UK’s first exhibition completely dedicated to family travel adventures. I’m going to be heading along to see what the specialist operators and family holiday providers have to offer for a family with an energetic and inquisitive 3-year-old. I’m always on the lookout for fun, and interesting things for us to do/places to visit and plus I want to travel like I used to before my little one arrived. That includes travelling to Europe and sometimes further afield. It’s a quandary faced by parents up and down the country, I think. Plus for us, there isn’t a huge amount of time before he reaches school age and we’re legally bound to take our holidays in the peak season of school holidays. Flights with under three’s seem to strike fear into so many people. That’s why I wrote this post about flying made easy with a toddler. I’ve been there and not only do I have the t-shirt, but I also have the stains on the front of it to prove it.
My son went on his first flight aged 12 months, to New York, of all the cosmopolitan starts to have. At 15 months he took his second flight, a major long-haul one. In fact, the flight was very nearly 32 hours from London Heathrow to Palmerston North in New Zealand. And guess what? We’ll be doing it again next year. Since then he has clocked up a further ten flights.
As a new Mum, I had the “fear” about both of those initial flights. I think it’s actually every parent’s fear, the crying child who just won’t settle. Flying with a child is hardly the world’s most relaxing experience after all. Through trial and error (!) I have however been fine-tuning my approach, and I have 5 top tips on how to make your journey as stress-free as possible. In fact, it’s a flying made easy with a toddler power list with lots of helpful tips.
1. Plan ahead
So bloomin’ obvious I know, but getting organised before even booking really helps. Firstly try wherever possible to book a direct flight. OK, this is isn’t going be possible if you’re flying to New Zealand but flying directly to your destination and preferably overnight gives you the best chance of getting your little ones to sleep. Our flight to Dubai earlier this year was overnight and our 2-year-old not only slept all the way there but nearly the whole way through the transfer to the hotel too. Long stopovers aren’t good for anyone, especially not troublesome toddlers. I’m of the mind now that if it has to be more than a 4-hour stopover, it’s worth breaking the trip and having a couple of days in a convenient (and fun) location. That’s my plan for the next NZ trip when my little one will just have turned 4.
2. Think about those tummies
No one wants to have a grumpy toddler who doesn’t like the airline food or the scarier sugar-crazed child on a flight whether it’s short or long haul. After all, it is drilled into us that full tummies are happy tummies. When we travelled to New Zealand, I had a fully stocked cool bag of snacks ready to hand, as well as having ordered the toddler special in-flight meal plan. I also had plenty of heavenly sugar laden bribes on hand, in small quantities (5 smarties for example) it’s a must! I use these purely as distraction when the tears were threatening. I prefer to pack slightly more healthy snacks for our snack-box such as raisins, dried mango, carrot sticks, popcorn and Soreen. Before you head to the airport, DO CHECK restrictions on food and liquids. We all know that the amount of liquids you can take in your hand luggage is limited, but some destinations (and stopovers) have restrictions on products like nuts and honey. A handy hint I discovered was that you can pre-order baby milk at Heathrow Airport here and via Boots order & collect service here. You can also order smoothies and Ella’s food pouches too, all collected after you have been through security so are “airside”. When we arrived in Auckland in New Zealand, for example, we had to ditch all the food we had with us except the cartons of baby milk. It meant that we didn’t have anything for the 2 hour stopover or the next short flight. Cue us dashing to the airport shops in desperation.
3. Gadgets and Screen Time
Where would I be without my iPad? It has been a lifeline to quiet time on many an occasion. It’s common sense to have your gadgets all charged and ready for your journey but also think about investing in a portable battery charger. Many flight operators now have in-seat charging for phones but not all. Plus what happens if you’re on a layover when your essential iPad, phone etc. runs out of juice? And horror of horrors you don’t have a plug adapter with you. Most flights with in-flight entertainment have a kids channel but if your little one is obsessed with Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol probably best to have them downloaded just in case they aren’t the cartoon of choice on the in-flight kid’s channel. My son watched Peppa Pig for 3 hours on the way to New York. I do not worry or feel guilty about my child spending more time glued to his screen on a flight; the benefit outweighs my concerns. However it isn’t the only form of entertainment I bring – see bribes below – but if your kids love reading and colouring then absolutely bring it along and have fun. I have a friend who always brings play-doh, if I allowed my little one to do this it would be guaranteed to end up in my hair and stuck to our clothes.
P.S. Don’t forget headphones! The free ones on the flight probably aren’t going to be comfortable/suitable for your little one.
4. No place like home
One of my crucial flying made easy with a toddler tips, is about comfort. Does your little one have a favourite blanket? A favourite toy? A bedtime ritual? Don’t just ditch these things because you’re on a flight. Plan ahead and consider how you can make your little ones as comfortable as possible. For us, what that means is that on an evening/night flight we go to the toilets change him into his PJ’s, brush his teeth etc. and head back to our seats for a favourite book. He then gets tucked into his blanket (when he was smaller his sleep bag) with his favourite teddy. I know people who bring full-size regular pillows and find it’s a blessing. We indulged ourselves on our New Zealand flight and bought him his own seat, I know not everyone can afford to do this but boy it made the hugest difference.
5. When all else fails – Bribes
The best tip I was ever given (by a friend who flies long haul with her two little boys twice a year) was “presents”. You’d be hard pushed to find a kid who doesn’t enjoy unwrapping a toy or gift. So I stash my carryon with wrapped small gifts like cars, crayons or those surprise bags from the supermarket (the Thomas the Tank Engine ones are a fav in our house). It makes a mess around your seat, but it’s at least three mins of focused distraction just to open it! I think bending the rules, aka bribery, on a long flight is absolutely fine. If that means buying them something little in the airport like their favourite magazine or a packet of fun stickers, it’s a worthwhile exercise in sanity.
I’m a believer that it’s is likely to keep them happy and occupied it’s worth a shot, especially if you have a child who isn’t a fan of “quiet time”, who wants to run around and speak with all the other people on the plane (yup, that’s mine). I’m all for saving those tears and tantrums wherever possible, but realistically you’ll never be able to sit back, drink in hand, for the full duration of the flight with a toddler in tow.
Family Travel Show takes place in London’s Olympia on 31st October – 1st November 2015. Tickets cost £8 in advance or £10 on the door, under 16s are free. For full details and to book tickets, please visit
This is a collaborative post with the Family Travel Show, all thoughts and words my own.