10 Tips for Surviving a Flight with a One Year Old

First off, I am not an expert at traveling with kids…let alone one small child measuring approximately 31.5 inches. Such a small person should be easy to cart around right? I haven’t had a “wow that was such a great relaxing flight” with my one year old who is off to the races on foot.

However, I have flown with her a few times and have come up with a few tips to share with my future self when I have two small children under two and anyone else who might be dreading an upcoming cross-country flight.

If you are debating going on a long trip with your active toddler, it’s worth it. We had one of the worst 12-hour days with Bailey on our flight home from our recent family vacay but after all of that, I would 100% do it all over again to spend that well-deserved previous quality time with my little family. Our goal pre-baby was to fit Bailey into our lives, versus changing everything around to fit into hers. By continuing to travel and get into some unpleasant circumstances is all part of that and will hopefully help round her out as well.

We recently travelled to Florida from California which took us on a 7.5 hour flight with a one hour layover each way. Our flight was delayed both ways and we barely made it to our second flight. We even left our stroller at gate check on the way home to make sure we actually made it home. We had travelled to Vermont when Bailey was six months old but as it turns out, having an active toddler who enjoys yelling loudly and quickly walking around makes things a whole lot tougher.

Based on my newfound toddler-on-flight experience, I have a few tips to share:

  1. Do not have high expectations. And by that I mean, expect it to be one of the worst days of your life. You might come out of the terminal at your destination thinking it was alright.
  2. Buy that kid a seat. Don’t skimp out even though they’re free until two. If you have a flight over three hours it’s worth it to get them their own seat.
  3. Bring lots of snacks. The more variety the better! Veggie straws, baby Goldfish, granola bars, Cheerios are my go-tos. It’s totally okay if they don’t have a wholesome diet for one day.
  4. Do not try to force naps. Bailey has a very set nap schedule that she’s developed over her long 14 months of life and she loves her crib so much that she practically tosses herself into it to get away from me by the time it hits 10 am or 2 pm on the dot. Bailey slept about 45 minutes per flight on the way to Florida. Not bad considering our flight delay, loud announcements, and a bright daytime flight. The way home was a different story. She fought her morning nap HARD and unfortunately fell asleep for the last 20 minutes on flight one…basically the moment the pilot said “we’re getting ready to land”. We woke her up and raced to our second flight (sans stroller). Since it was time for her afternoon nap by the time we took off, I tried to help her get to sleep. Big mistake. She was SO exhausted she kept putting her head down on my shoulder and then yanking it back up…for three hours. In retrospect, I wish I had given up and just entertained her. She would’ve undoubtedly fallen asleep for a bit and we all would’ve been better off.
  5. Do not bring messy food. Smashed blueberries that Bailey loves? Yeah, probably not the best idea considering that both of our pants were stained purple from a few landing underneath us. Food pouches saved us (yes, you can get them through security even over 4 oz!).
  6. Bring a few favorite toys and a couple new ones. We brought a couple of her favorite books, and some wipeable toys along with a new fake remote (so exciting!) and new stacking cups. They fit well in the diaper bag and could be used at our hotel.
  7. Use the aisle to your advantage. Bailey loved walking up and down the aisle. Bonus for when the flight is slightly tilted so they have to work a bit harder to climb uphill, tiring them out faster. Just kidding.
  8. Avoid diaper changes. Unless they have a stinky poop or a diaper rash, try to get away without changing them until you land if possible (if the flight is a couple hours) by changing them right before take off in the comfort of the airport bathroom. I also learned that poopy diapers must be placed in a bag before being tossed. Oops.
  9. Help them get through take off and landing. If they still take a paci – great! A straw cup, food pouch or lollipop will also do the trick.
  10. Bring a carseat on board. I still haven’t seen this on a flight but I’ve heard it works wonders. It would be a lot more comfortable for napping (if they can get one in) to sleep and hang in the carseat than on mom/dad’s shoulder or on the seat since they are still so small. Next long flight, I’ll be trying this out!

To anyone out there reading this and getting ready for their next trip, good luck and have a ton of fun! Once you’re in the middle of enjoying your family vacation, it will be totally worth it!

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