How to Survive a Flight with a Toddler

I’ll admit. I was a little nervous leading up to our flight to Bali late last year. Sure, Evie had already been on a few flights when she was a baby, both to the Cook Islands and to Byron Bay.  But she was older now. She was a toddler! She’s so busy and active now and hates being cooped up anywhere. So I did what I always do when I’m worried about something – I overprepared. Luckily, it worked! While not exactly relaxing (gone are the days of luxuriously watching a movie onboard), the flight was fine and a lot better than I expected. If you have an upcoming flight with your small human and don’t want to leave things to chance, here are my best tips on how to survive a flight with a toddler.

How to survive a flight with a toddler:

Allow extra time and get to the airport early

As a parent, I’ve come to realise that when I’ve got Evie in tow, I need to allow extra time for everything. A good rule of thumb that I like to live by when travelling with her is to get to the airport a whole hour earlier than I normally would sans baby. Everything just takes longer. I’ve also noticed that if I feel frazzled or stressed, Evie picks up on it and starts to get upset herself. For our trip to Bali, Evie had a light breakfast on the way to airport in the car and then a bigger, second breakfast at the lounge at the airport. Getting to the airport earlier also allows you to change nappies or make bottles if you need to minus the stress.

Let them move before the flight

Toddlers love to move their bodies but on board, they don’t have much chance (unless you’re prepared to do aisle laps on repeat, which we weren’t!). For this reason, it’s a good idea to encourage them to move before boarding. This will burn some energy and hopefully help them sleep on the plane too. At the Qantas lounge in Melbourne, there’s a great kids area with toys, books and puzzles. Evie loved exploring this space while we were waiting for our flight.

Don’t be in a hurry to board

Remember, once you’re on the plane, you’re stuck there. Before kids, I loved being one of the first to board – to set up my area and to secure that precious overhead cabin space. Now, flying with a toddler, I don’t want to spend any extra minute stuck in a small, enclosed space if I don’t have to! Trust me when I say that even though you get priority boarding as a family, it’s actually better to board later.

Pack ALL the snacks

Toddlers love snacks. Snacks are the way to their hearts. Always. Eating is a great distraction, for all of us really. My bag was overflowing with snacks – fresh, chopped fruit, boxes of sultanas, crackers and corn puffs. If the babe had a snack in hand she was happy.

Purchase a travel activity bag

There are quite a few travel activity bags on the market but I ended up ordering a Very Busy Bag for ages 1-2. It was filled with a whole host of age-appropriate activities to keep little ones busy. Inside were stacking cups, crayons, a colouring book, stickers with activity sheets, a board book, stuffed animal, maraca, playdough and more! It all comes in a cute little canvas bag that you can just throw over your shoulder. I made sure that I kept it hidden away until the trip as I wanted all the activities to be new and exciting. We took one thing out at a time and she played with it until she was bored and only then would we take out the next thing. When we arrived, we packed it away until the flight home so that everything inside was still interesting to her.

How to Survive a Flight with a Toddler, Activity Bag

Have them sleep in the carrier

Going on a plane is a VERY exciting thing for toddlers and there are many more interesting things to think about than going to sleep! Unless you have a baby that can feed to sleep or is used to drifting off in noisy, busy environments, the chances are that they might have a hard time switching off to get some shut-eye. Taking the carrier was a lifesaver for us as Evie didn’t want to miss a second of fun on board. To get her to sleep, I needed to strap her in, cover her view and walk laps of the aisle all while shushing and patting her bottom. It worked… for 30 minutes!

Consider booking an additional seat

For longer trips, I’d definitely consider booking an additional seat so that we could spread out. We were very lucky on the way over as the seat next to us was empty but on the busy flight home, we had someone next to us. When you’ve got a wriggly child doing acrobatics on your lap, it’s very crammed. Don’t even think about lowering your tray table to try and eat a meal! Because it was a fairly short international flight, we just put up with it but on a longer flight, I think we would definitely book the row so we could spread out a bit more.

Pack a nappy changing clutch

Airplane toilets are horrendously small and when you’re trying to change a wriggly toddler’s dirty nappy, you don’t want to be fishing through a bulky bag looking for the damn nappy bags. I used a small packing cube to create a handy nappy clutch that I could just take to change her with instead. Inside were the essentials – a few nappies, nappy cream, wipes and nappy bags. It was really convenient.

Pack activities for their fine motor skills

Stickers, little parcels to unwrap, a ‘decoy’ or fake wallet filled with receipts and old cards they can pull out – these kinds of activities are gold when you’re trying to survive a flight with a toddler. Evie loves using her hands and these things kept her occupied for ages.

Whip out the iPad if things go pear shaped

Evie doesn’t have much screen time at home but if we’re on a flight and a meltdown is imminent, I won’t hesitate to whip the iPad out. I’m definitely of the belief that when you’re stuck on a plane, you do whatever it takes to keep sane. We downloaded a few Wiggles episodes from Netflix onto the iPad before we left and I’m so glad we did! There were a few times when we needed it and it worked a treat in keeping us all happy.

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