Tips for Flying with a Toddler or Baby

Posted By Katie on Jun 3, 2013

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Hey there!

Planning an airplane trip with a little one? Feeling nervous?

I’ve been there. As much as I love to travel with my family, flying with a toddler is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.  After flying frequently with my five kids for the past 13 years, I have learned a few things to ease my anxiety and make travel a little smoother.  Good preparation goes a long way to making your travel experience as pleasant as possible.

Tried and true tips for flying with a baby or toddler | | family travel | flying with kids


Did you know you can take a bottle or sippy cup with milk, formula, or juice through security?  Offer it to the TSA officer at security and it will be tested for chemicals.  You don’t have to dump baby’s favorite drink just before boarding!  Also, if you need to mix a warm bottle on the airplane, the flight attendants are happy to give you warm water for a bottle.

When flying with a toddler, I always travel with empty sippy cups or water bottles so when the beverage service comes the kids can get a drink, and I don’t have to worry about it ending up all over them or me.  Drinking can help kids’ ears pop on take off and landing, so I always offer plenty of liquids.  WARNING:  Diapers may fill faster than usual when baby drinks a lot of liquid so check and change often.


Too many toys in the diaper bag weigh you down.  Last summer on a flight by myself with my four youngest children, an electric toothbrush kept my 15-month-old son entertained for 30+ minutes.  That same flight, my 3-year-old daughter was in heaven sticking band-aids and medical tape all over her baby doll and herself.

If I could choose only one toy when flying with a toddler, it would be stacking cups, such as the The First Years Stack N Count Cups. We love to hide goldfish crackers or fruit snacks under them and let the kids search for them, stack them, name the colors, etc.  They also make great bath toys in a hotel room.  Wrapping a few new matchbox cars as gifts for a little boy can make the whole flight dreamy. Sticker books are perfect for the older toddler, but babies also love peeling stickers off their arms and noses and sticking them all over you.  If you are buying a new book, I suggest a lift-the-flaps book, such as Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book

Airplanes are filled with fun things for babies.  Once my baby spent an hour searching for raisins one at a time that I hid in the air sickness bag.  A small pack of crayons quickly turns air sickness bags into hand puppets.  Ask the flight attendant for a cup with ice and a small straw.  Most babies love playing with ice, threading it on a straw, and touching it.  Ice can be a choking hazard, so be careful.  I also love thumbing through airline magazines, searching for pictures my little ones recognize.

Check out our top 10 travel toys for kids here.


Obviously you want to bring a change of clothes for baby, but consider dressing yourself in layers in case you need to shed one due to spills or excess bodily fluids.  My friend’s son threw up all over him, and he ended up wearing his wife’s hoodie for the entire flight.  He was so grateful she had tied it around her waist.


As tempting as it is to bring every sweet thing I can think of, I try to avoid too much sugar when flying.  My favorite foods that travel well:

  • string cheese
  • bagels
  • granola bars
  • apple slices
  • grapes
  • raisins
  • fruit snacks

If you do bring a treat, I learned the hard way that chocolate is too messy for airplanes.  I always store a few Dum Dum suckers for emergencies.   Having the emergency Dum Dum sucker is like knowing there is a flotation device under your seat—you rarely need it, but are so grateful it is there just in case.

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Car Seats

It’s a big debate whether to haul a car seat through the airport and buckle it in to a seat on the plane or just check it to your end destination.  I’ve done it both ways.  On a flight that isn’t full, it can be heavenly to have an extra seat to buckle baby’s car seat in and set her down once she falls asleep.  Babies are used to being buckled in car seats and having free hands to help another child or just rest your arms can be wonderful.  However, if you don’t have an extra seat next to you, you will have hauled the car seat through the airport for no reason and will have to gate check it with an agent.  For some of my young toddlers, a car seat was perfect to help them stay put.  It gave me free hands to interact with them and entertain them.

However, for some of my other children, a toddler car seat was a terrible idea.  My son hates to be restrained and he wants to be “big” just like his older siblings.  He does better when his little legs can’t reach to kick the seat in front of him and when he has some room to crawl around me.  Consider your child’s needs and make your best gamble and hope it works out.  I usually travel with the car seat for babies under a year, but when flying with a toddler I usually check the car seat.

Thankfully, flying with a toddler is a bit like childbirth.  Once you get to your destination and start enjoying your vacation, you begin to forget the pain of your flight.  And every once in awhile, a flight will go extremely well and you will wonder what you were so worried about in the first place.  Do you have a great tip that has made your flight with little ones successful?  Please share in the comments below!

Katie is a busy mom living in Northern Virginia with her husband and five children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. When she isn't traveling, she is planning her next trip. Katie loves all types of travel, but she especially loves beach vacations. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a favorite family destination.


  1. Those are awesome tips. You definitely would be the expert. Great post

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  2. My 6 month old lost it on one flight. She was exhausted and I’m pretty sure her ears were hurting her but she refused to take a bottle. The one thing that distracted her for 30 minutes was when we let her rip up the free magazines. She loved shredding the paper again and again. It was a life saver.

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    • Meg, I also tried that once with my baby who loved paper. She tore the magazine to shreds but was happy for 45 minutes. Any distraction will work!

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  3. When returning from Asia with our new 10 mo-old, the airplane sink was the BEST playtoy. You just have to be considerate if orhers are waiting. Thankfully everyone else was sleeping.

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    • Kristine, thanks for the great tip! A change of scenery can go a longs ways toward calming a fussy baby.

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  4. We just got back from Hawaii and traveling with our 21 month old first time flyer. I found that anything “new” was the trick that worked for me. The amount of toys wasn’t important it was the fact that it was something she hadn’t seen before that did the trick. Think of when your kids go to a friend’s house or a new babysitter or daycare. They always seem to be way more interested in the toys at these places then they are with the ones at home. I packed my diaper bag light, but with dollar store finds that gave me hours of enjoyment. And whenever she got bored with one toy, I had a new one at the ready. I also made sure to have lots of new things packed for the destination as well. Keep in mind if you don’t want to or can’t spend the money on new things, talk to your friends and do a toy swap while you are away. It will be fun for your child as well as there’s.

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    • Thanks for the great tips, Emily! Dollar Store finds are a great idea for new toys!

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  5. I lived overseas when I was a child, we made a lot of loooooong flights! My parents had a few little cheap prizes for my brother and I. I remember crayons, and suckers. Everything worked!

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  6. I also agree with putting in an extra T shirt for yourself. I got to ride 2 hours on a bus in Colombia with nothing but my bra and nasty jeans on because of puking kids. Luckily someone offered me their jacket before I left the bus so I didn’t have to walk around town that way 🙂

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    • Wow! I’m glad that you smiling about it! That’s one of the great things about traveling with kids. Whether the memories are good or not, you usually come home with a good story to tell. 🙂

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  7. These are all great ideas but I don’t recommend checking the car seat as you don’t know how to seat is treated during your travels and the way the bag checkers throw items it can make your car seat unsafe for use in a car afterwards!

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  8. Went to Beijing last year with the family and our 1-year-old kid. It was a fascinating trip. Would have been ruined if I did not check in our car seat, thanks to our car seat cover. We were able to gate check our car seat.

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