Flying made easy with a toddler

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. It’s a quandary faced by parents up and down the
country I think.  Plus for us there isn’t 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.

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 10 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.


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 direct to your destination
and preferably overnight gives you the best chance of getting your little ones
to sleep. Our flight to Dubai early this year was over night and our two 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 5
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 inflight 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 as purely distraction when the tears are 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 restriction on products like nuts
and honey. A handy hint I discovered was that you can pre-order
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”.

3. Gadgets and Screen

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? Most flights with inflight
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 incase they aren’t
the cartoon of choice on the in-flight kids 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 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 would be guaranteed to end up in my hair and stuck to our clothes.

4. No place
like home

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 a 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 sleepbag) 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 3 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 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
. Tickets cost £8 in advance or £10 on
the door, under 16s are free. For full details and to book tickets please visit



  1. November 2, 2015 / 5:33 pm

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  2. Anonymous
    October 19, 2016 / 7:48 pm

    This is a rally useful article thank you. How did you make up the seat to look this comfy in the photo it looks amazing!

    • January 27, 2017 / 10:44 am

      The seat was the new Air New Zealand couch seat where the foot rest comes completely horizontal. the blanket and pillow came from and was packed in my hand luggage

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