With cramped airplane seating and busy waiting areas, flying isn’t the most pleasant experience—and all of the frustration increases exponentially when you add a rowdy toddler into the mix. Little children simply don’t have the patience for airport security. They despise sitting quietly for hours on end, and they get scared of the ear-popping changes in air pressure.
Thankfully, though, you can have a worry-free travel day with proper preparation and planning. Whether you’re jetting off to your relative’s house or Disney World, check out these stress-reducing strategies for flying with a toddler.
Book An Early Morning Flight
It’s your best chance to avoid delays at takeoff and landing, a flight attendant named Patrick explains. “These flights are usually less crowded, too,” he says, “and everyone is basically tired and just wants to nap—kids especially.” Also, if possible, avoid flights with long layovers or late-night connections.
Save your mileage upgrades for toddler-free travel
Traveling in first class with kids can be more stressful than it’s worth. Mom Joanna recounts the story of traveling with her loud, lively toddler and incurring the vocal wrath of her first-class seatmates for the entirety of the flight. “It’s not fair, but you’re just going to get more empathy and support with kids in economy,” says a flight attendant.
Talk to your kids about what to expect
“My experience is kids do so much better when they know what to expect,” says Shireen, a mom of three from Australia who’s traveled to the U.S. several times with her kids. She recommends watching this Let’s Go Play video on YouTube, which goes over the entire flight experience, from baggage check-in and ticketing to onboard etiquette and safety.
Dress in layers, and skip shoes with laces
Be ready for drastically changing temperatures when flying with a toddler. Wendy, a flight attendant and mom, suggests you dress your kids in comfortable layers—preferably without buttons, zippers, or anything that could prevent them from getting to the bathroom in time. The same principle applies to shoes: Avoid laces and opt for slip-ons. “There’s the added benefit of getting through airport screening that much faster,” she says.
Consider using a smaller stroller
Getting through an airport without a stroller is unthinkable for some parents, so consider switching out your regular-size stroller for an umbrella stroller. Also, check your stroller at the gate before boarding; the crew will have it waiting for you when you get off the plane.
If you’ve got more than one little traveler with you, consider a kid harness (leash), Wendy suggests. “I was so against them until I saw a woman with three young boys using them in baggage claim. It made so much sense,” she says, “with the exit doors to outside right there. Look, flying is stressful enough. Do what you need to do to protect your kids and your sanity.”
Flight attendants urge parents to pack enough essentials for the flight. “Unfortunately, you can expect there to be zero food on a plane that would interest a kid,” says Lynn. “And we are so limited in what we can offer in terms of comfort items as well.”
On the flip side, parents will struggle if they zealously overpack. “Usually, when it’s one parent traveling with one or more kids, they’ll bring way too much stuff in an attempt to keep their kids happy,” Wendy says. “They forget they have to carry all that stuff off the plane with them, along with their kids.”