Toddler Flight Survival: Tips and Tricks


We are headed to Chicago in just a few short weeks to visit family and go to my cousin's wedding. We're really looking forward to it, except for one thing, the flight. Dun dun dun. Actually, knock on wood, but the last flight with Caleb went pretty smoothly. With more attention span, it seems there are more ways to entertain. More ways to entertain mean a better flight. Can I get an amen?! 

Growing up my mom had a severe fear of flying. In fact, she had to go to a fear of flying class just like Meg Ryan in French Kiss (my family loves this movie). A few weeks before we traveled, my mom always got nervous and weird. In a way, I have a fear of flying like my mom but for a different reason. It's a fear of flying with a toddler. I picture a manic toddler screaming the whole way and me crying. Just like my mom, I get all weird a few weeks before our flights trying to come up with some magical trick that will keep Caleb happy. 

When I get nervous, I tend to go overboard on research. I scour the internet for ideas, I ask friends, and over think as I'm trying to fall asleep. I hope I'm not the only one like this...please tell me I'm not the only one like this.

Luckily, I'm feeling much more confident this time around as I've acquired quite a few tips from all our previous flights. I figured I ought to share! 

Apps for Phone/Tablet

You might recall all the apps I shared in an earlier post. This is a great way to pass some time on the plane. Caleb seems to head straight to the Kids YouTube app these days, so I might hide that on the ipad/iphone so he goes to the games first. 


Bring all the snacks. Depending on what your kiddo likes to eat here are some suggestions: String cheese, blueberries, pouches, applesauce, crackers (wheat thins, goldfish crackers, corn chips, etc), pretzels, trail mix, nuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, granola bars (Nutri-grain, oat bars, Lara bars, Cliff bars, etc), green bean snaps, fruit leathers, freeze dried fruit, popcorn, or cheese puffs. Grab a few napkins as well; I always seem to need them before the flight attendants make their food/drink rounds.

Oh, and I hear these suction bowls are good for flights! They'll stick to the little table and cause fewer spills.


Although you can't bring liquids through security, you can bring empty water bottles. The little cups on the plane are not nearly enough to keep me happy and hydrated especially when I was pregnant and later nursing - oh, the insatiable thirst! I bring a water bottle for both my little guy and for me. Then when I get through security, I fill up both water bottles at a water fountain or I find a restaurant and use their water spout. Voila! Water to get you through the flight. Oh, and this is my favorite water bottle (or here's a direct link to the bottle on Amazon).

Another thing to consider bringing an empty sippy cup. Then you can get juice on the plane for the little one(s) if you so desire.


Before the trip, buy a few new, cheap new toys. The newest of the toy will capture their attention. Also, only bring out one toy at a time. This way you maximize the toy time. I usually go to Target, the Dollar Store, or TJ Maxx for a few things. Make sure they are small for the airplane, but not too small or else you can drop them and they either get lost or you struggle to find it on the floor amid the mirade of bags and things cluttering your foot area. Not that this has happened to me. Nope, never.

Another tip with the toys: wrap them. Who doesn't love opening a present? This also uses up time and we're all about using up time on the plane. 

Here's a list of fun small toys that I've either used with Caleb or had recommended to me:

Activity/Coloring Books + Crayons/Markers

Caleb isn't quite old enough to use coloring books, but you can bring some paper to scribble on. I like to bring washable crayons and markers in case he goes off the page...which is inevitable.

Also, there are activity books that he's starting to be more interested in. We have tried the Melissa and Doug Water Wow books and he'll play with those a bit, but I just saw the tape and scissor activity books, which I think would work great.  


I'm not talking novels here, but flipbooks and board books. I would say only bring a few since they can get a bit heavy. This Slide and Find Truck book worked great for Caleb. This Peek-a-flap board book looks cute and entertaining as well. 

Stickers & Things

Stickers, post-it notes, and dot stickers. Maybe even a sticker book if your kiddo will actually stick it in the book. My guy won't, but he'll stick them on himself and on me. 

TV & Movies

I know, I know we're all worried about too much screen time, but give yourself some grace. You're basically in a metal tube with wings, up in the sky, trapped until you land...with a toddler that needs entertaining. Before your trip, try to download a bunch of TV shows and movies so they are available offline. Get a bunch of them and a variety of them. I use Netflix and Amazon Prime - they both have apps for your phone and tablets. You might consider downloading the GoGo Entertainment app as Alaska Airlines will let you watch shows and movies for free through the app while you're in-flight. 


To go along with the tip above, you might try getting some toddler headphones. This will help them focus on the show and also keep the noise factor down for your neighbors. Sadly, this didn't work for Caleb on the last flight. He liked the idea of them, but when it came to using them it was a no-go. I'm not sure why...maybe just didn't like the feel of them over his ears. Who knows?! I'll try again. 

Get Creative

Sometimes the most random things will grab your kids attention. You just have to look around and get a bit creative.

  • Water Bottle or Empty Cup - When Caleb was younger an empty plastic water bottle was fascinating. You might ask the flight attendant for an empty cup and see what things you can come up with. Maybe the car wants to park in the cup?
  • Cup of Ice - I heard about getting a cup of ice on the flight, but personally, this trick was a flop for me. The ice kept dropping and melting and getting me all wet. I've heard others have success with it, though.
  • In-Flight Magazine - Sometimes I'll grab the magazine or those safety handouts and look at them with Caleb. 

Backpacks - For You and Tot

Generally, I have an over the shoulder purse that I use around town. On flights, though, I switch over to a backpack. There are more compartments and more space. Plus, as you walk in the airport it frees up your hands to tackle little toddlers on the move. I use gallon sized baggies to organize things a bit within the backpack as well. The goal is to make grabbing things easy since your bag is at your feet and you probably have a baby or toddler in your lap or grabbing at you. 

For our trip, I'm hoping to snag either this packing cube set, these file-like bag organizers, or these pouches. I want a new backpack for myself as well. I'm using one that's like 10 years old for our flights. This diaper backpack looks perfect or maybe this non-baby backpack

Another thing about backpacks. If you have a toddler, trying giving them their own backpack. Caleb loves this on our last flight. I put some toys in there for him and he loved having it on his back like mom. This backpack is adorable and I'm sure Caleb would love this one

Get Up

We will often take a few walks down the aisle during a flight. On one of our latest flights, Caleb got a high five from a passenger as we walked down the aisle, and then he proceeded to give every aisle seat passenger a high-five. It was super cute and the passengers enjoyed it. 

We also hang out in the back by the bathrooms or where the flight attendants sit and prepare the food/drinks. This was very handy when Caleb was younger and not mobile. If I needed to get him to take a nap, I could go back there a sway a little. I also try to go back there when we're having a tough time. One time a flight attendant showed Caleb a button he could push without a problem and that was the coolest thing ever (for Caleb).

Take Off & Landing Sucks 

I mean literally, you should have your kid suck. You chew gum on the plane for your ears, right? Babies and toddlers don't know how to pop their ears, yet, so we need to help them especially on take-off and landing with the pressure changes by encouraging them to suck on something. If you're still nursing, these are the best times to nurse your baby. Otherwise, I try giving a pouch or something a bit chewy for them to eat.

Oh, and I heard that on landing, the worst time for the ears is at the initial descent, so be sure to pay attention when the captain comes on the overhead speaker to announce that bit of news.

Change of Clothes

Luckily I have no horror story from air travel...yet. But my friend told me how her toddler vomited all over the both of them during a flight. Yuck! So pack both your kid and you an extra set of clothes. Maybe some leggings and a t-shirt to keep it lighter!

Plan for Extra Time

We messed up our first flight with Caleb and planned for our pre-baby amount of time. WRONG. Plan for extra time. You have so much more to carry and do, so just get there early. They can play in the airport, it's cool.

Blankets & Covers

If it's a longer trip, you might consider bringing along a blanket. It can help with napping as well as staying warm since airplanes can get chilly. Also, if you're still nursing, I found using a nursing cover helpful in keeping baby Caleb asleep. The cover kept out distractions and make it a bit darker for him. 

Seatbelt Harness or Car Seat

I've heard of friends taking their car seats with them on the plane. If your kid is under two, the word on the street is that they gate attendant might try to get you an empty seat for the car seat. Of course, this won't work on a booked flight. Worth a try, though. Otherwise, if your kid is over two and you have a seat purchased, I heard it's nice for them to sit in since they are familiar with the seat. And possibly more likely to nap. I haven't tried either, but perhaps you might want to consider! 

Another option is to use a seatbelt harness. This gives your toddler more protection! Caleb would have nothing to do with this harness when we tried on our last flight. I'm sure some kids will be more willing, though.

Car Seats, Strollers, & Bags

There are some great products out there to help you with your car seat and stroller needs. If you check your car seat in, then you might want to consider buying a car seat bag. There are also stroller bags. For instance, our Uppababy stroller has a special travel bag, expensive yes, but works great. If you bring your car seat on the plane, then this car seat stroller will definitely come in handy as you walk to the gate.

The question you bring your stroller to the gate, or not? When Caleb was still just a baby, we would check in the stroller and use the carrier. As he got older, we've been bringing the stroller to the gate. The benefit of the stroller is it's an extra way to carry all your stuff and probably less likely to get damaged. In the end, I'm now more pro 'bring it to the gate' then check in.

As for bags, check everything in. Don't attempt the mini-suitcase in the overhead bin thing. That's for folks with no kids. My opinion here, but who wants to drag more stuff to the plane?

Timing Your Flight

Here's another I've flipped places on from baby vs. toddler stage. As a baby, Caleb would nap on the plane. Therefore, I scheduled our flights during nap time. This was a great way to fly. However, as he got older, he got more observant and curious. Then everything about a flight was stimulating and exciting. Getting him to nap was killer. Then we'd end up with an over-tired baby/toddler by the end of the flight. Now, I try to schedule around naptime. That said, your kid still might not nap at the destination. It's just going to be a long, tough day. But it's just one day of your life. You can do it. Hopefully, you have help from friends or parents on the other end of the flight!


Aisle or Window? In the end, it's probably your preference. In my opinion, if you have a baby that you're nursing and not really mobile then the window is great. You can get some privacy and get a bit comfier. With a toddler that wants to roam and explore, then the aisle is better so you can get up and down a bit more easily. But never the middle. HA, nobody wants a middle seat. 

Another tip I hear if you have older kids and are flying with a significant other: get seats in different rows. Then you can take turns - decide on a set amount of time. Parent A gets the kid(s) for X minutes, then switch and then Parent B gets to sit with them. This way you get a break and the kids benefit from the change. 

Escort Pass

I haven't tried this yet, but it sounds like a great tip. If you are traveling alone with one or more kids, consider trying to get an escort pass. This way your partner or family member can help get you and the kids to the gate. At least this way you get help to your gate, then all you have to do is survive the flight on your own with kids. 

Oh, and for fun, here are some tips I wrote back for another blog back in 2016! 

And there you have it. I think I got all the tips I've accumulated over the course of being a mom. What are your tips? 

Some Other Sources:

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