Tips for travelling by plane with toddlers (Planning a Holiday with Toddlers series)

Holidays with your toddler are a slightly different prospect than when it’s just you and your partner. This blog series provides information on planning a holiday, with part three looking at tips for travelling by plane with a toddler.

Planning a holiday with a toddler

I have put together this Planning a Holiday with a Toddler series, covering the questions I ask myself during the planning process and tips for travelling with a toddler:

Travelling by plane with a toddler

Travelling by air provides a lot more options for your holiday. For us in the UK, it’s a way to head to (almost guaranteed) sunshine, which is nice given our unpredictable summers! It’s an exciting way to travel – but there’s also a lot more to think about, with many more restrictions on air travel these days. Here are the questions I ask myself before travelling.

What is our luggage allowance?
The essential first question before I start to pack! Make sure you know the weight limit for both your hold luggage and your hand luggage (and also the dimensions allowed for your hand luggage) and stick to these – the costs are fairly extortionate if you have to pay for heavy luggage at the airport. If you think you will go over, you can purchase additional allowance in advance, which works out slightly cheaper.

Don’t forget that your toddler will have an allowance too. If they have their own seat, they can take hand luggage and hold luggage (which is generally less than the adult allowance). Even if they are on your lap, many airlines provide a small hold allowance, so it’s worth doublechecking.

Generally, most airlines provide an extra allowance for families wishing to take pushchairs and carseats, so you don’t need to include these in your hold luggage weight allowance (phew!).

Tips for air travel with toddlers

Can we pre-select our seats?
Many airlines now offer a choice of seating in advance of your flight; some charge extra for this privilege. The upside is that you can make sure all members of your party are sitting near to each other (especially if you are travelling with extended family or friends). The downside is that you have to be quick off the mark to book the best seats! Make a note to do this on the day that the option becomes available; for our recent holiday, I left it just one day later to go online and found our seating options were already much more limited.

You can also pay an additional charge for extra legroom seats. We did this the first time we flew with ToddlerGirl, when she was still on one of our laps, and it was definitely worth it. Being crammed with a toddler in the tiny airline seats isn’t much fun… This year, she had her own seat and the normal seats were fine for us (although a heavily pregnant me could have done with some more space!).

How will we get around in the airport?
We choose to keep our pushchair with us to the gate as it is useful to be able to contain our very energetic little girl when we need to (e.g. during check in)!  If you aren’t taking a pushchair or want to check it in with the rest of your luggage, you might want to have a sling to pop your toddler in. If they are going to be walking a lot and you’re worried about them running off into the crowds, consider taking reins.

Are there any special facilities for families?
There may be some family facilities that are worth knowing about. For example, at the South Terminal in Gatwick, there is a special family check in, which is a lot calmer than the main one and geared up for dealing with pushchairs and little ones. At Palma Airport in Majorca, there is a sweet soft play area that was perfect for a run around before our flight.

Another option is to pay for a pass into one of the airport lounges. This can add up for a family but, if you’re going to be in the airport for a while, it may be more comfortable for you all.

Can I take milk/water for my toddler in my hand luggage?
Airports are a lot stricter these days about what liquids we can take through in our hand luggage. Milk in bottles is generally fine as long as you drink a little at security. We’ve also found the same true of water in ToddlerGirl’s cup, although we are always mindful that this may not be the case.

Will we be able to fit in a nap?
I have a vague schedule in my head for the day, thinking about when ToddlerGirl may be able to have her nap. I’m flexible with this, though, as I know that it may not happen or may be a bit later than I intended. For example, last year, we rocked her to sleep on the plane and she went off no problem. This year, we knew she wouldn’t sleep on the plane but we managed to slot her nap in on the coach transfer to our accommodation. Keeping the pushchair with us also means that she could potentially sleep in that if there was a long delay before boarding.

When will we eat?
Toddlers need regular meals and snacks to avoid meltdown situations, so I always think about when we will be able to eat, whether at the airport or on the airplane. It’s a good idea to take a snack supply in case you can’t find anything suitable when you’re at the airport.

How will we keep ToddlerGirl sat nicely in her seat?
Ensuring a toddler is happily occupied on an airplane can be a challenge! My big worry before a plane trip is that ToddlerGirl won’t sit still on the flight or will be whining or, worse, tantruming the entire time to the disgust of the passengers around us – an exhausting and embarrassing situation to deal with, albeit completely normal for little ones. Luckily, we haven’t had these problems on our flights so far (touch wood…). Here are some of our tactics:

  • Prep beforehand – I talk to ToddlerGirl about our upcoming flight and role play being on an airplane, including sitting in the seat and keeping a seatbelt on! We also read any books I can find about going on a plane; we have the excellent Topsy and Tim Go On An Airplane which I think really helps prepare for all aspects of air travel.
  • Blame others – it’s not Mummy and Daddy making ToddlerGirl sit still and keep her seatbelt on, it’s the pilot! (Pointing out the safety belt sign is also useful.) Should I be concerned/insulted that she listens better when it’s supposedly not our rules but somebody else’s…?!
  • Sit next to a window – this is a good distraction while waiting for everyone to board and for take off and landing as you can talk about what you can both see or play ‘I-spy’ type games.
  • Move around – depending on how long the flight is, it’s a good idea to let your little one have a walk up and down the plane to break up the boredom of sitting still for so long.
  • Bring entertainment – make sure you’ve got a stack of activities up your sleeve (see below!)
  • Plan snacks and meals – a hungry toddler is a grumpy toddler. Make sure you have some snacks and drinks so that you’re not relying on the on board service.

What entertainment will we need?
I always make sure that we have plenty of activities in our hand luggage to keep ToddlerGirl busy. These include:

  • Books – as many lightweight books as I can fit in! I try to pick ones that I know she likes to read over again and that either have a lot of text to read or a lot of detail to look at in the pictures.
  • Stickers – a couple of sticker books can keep ToddlerGirl happy for ages, so they are perfect for a flight.
  • Colouring in – ToddlerGirl loves to draw, so I have a small pad for her to colour in and pencils (not felt tips!).
  • Activity cards – we have a great set of wipe clean activity cards that are really useful for plane journeys. At the moment, ToddlerGirl mainly just enjoys scribbling over these with the pen and then wiping this off but it keeps her busy!
  • Aquadoodle travel pad – ours isn’t actually Aquadoodle but a similar idea of using a small pen filled with water that you pass over the paper in the pad provided to reveal the pictures. The water pen has a great novelty factor and also limits any potential mess.
  • Apps and programmes on the tablet – this is always the item that we hold back as long as possible. When everything else has been played with, or if ToddlerGirl is getting a bit tired, the tablet is a great tool to bring out, loaded with games to play and videos to watch.
  • A couple of  favourite soft toys – essential for cuddling and comfort, and can also be used for some pretend play games.

Having some speaking/listening games to fall back on is also a good idea once your toddler is able to join in with these. We also find storytelling to be a good distraction, especially if the story includes a character with ToddlerGirl’s name!

The next post looks at packing – what to take and what to leave behind.

Find links to the whole Planning a Holiday with a Toddler series below:


One Comment on “Tips for travelling by plane with toddlers (Planning a Holiday with Toddlers series)”

  1. If this is your first trip with your children, plan for a slower pace than you might usually attempt. If you want to see more than one place, be realistic about what you can cover with little ones in tow. The less you feel you have to pack in, the more enjoyable and stress-free the holiday – and you’ll be better able to take the odd day indoors in your stride if the weather is bad or the kids need to rest.

    Map Destinations

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