Flying with infants and toddlers – 10 tried and tested tips - Blog: how to provide proof of onward travelOur little boy has been on over 25 flights. That’s more than most people we know… and he’s only a toddler. He’s a proper little world traveler! On his first flight, he was only 3 months old. For him flying is as normal as taking a train or a bus. After 10 months of travel, 25 flights and 32.645 miles, it’s time to share some of our tried and tested tips for flying with infants.

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Most of our flights so far were when our son was between 1,5 and 2,5 years old, so we’ll focus on that age (if your kids are younger, check these tips for flying with a baby). During our 10-month travel adventure around South East Asia, we took a lot of domestic flights but also some longer international flights. Flying with kids really isn’t rocket science, but you do need patience.

Tips for flying with infants and toddlers

Flying with an infant really isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Of course, this is easy for us to say, after so many flights with our son. New parents already face lots of challenges and the idea of traveling with an infant can seem quite scary. A lot of things change when you travel with kids and flying does too. We’re more than happy to share our lessons learned so you don’t have to make the same mistakes we did. Also, read these tips for flying with a toddler.

Break up long-haul flights with a long stopover

This has helped us tremendously. When searching for flights, we now actually prefer a flight with a long stopover (min. 12 hours) about half-way. Of course this only works for long-haul flights. I’d say for us a flight would have to be over 8 or 9 hours. Even if you only spend one night at your stopover location, it’ll help shorten the flight time per day. In our experience, it’s so much easier to do two 6 hour flights than one 12 hour flight. It’s especially useful if you’re going to a different time zone as it will also help you adjust to the time difference much faster (also check out these other tips for dealing with toddler jet lag). When we were traveling from Dahab, Egypt to Bali, we did Dahab – Cairo – Dubai the first day. We arrived in the afternoon, stayed the night in Dubai and traveled from Dubai to Bali the next morning. Once in Bali it only took our little one two days to adjust en have a normal sleep routine again. - Blog: tips for flying with infants and toddlers - waiting for an early morning flight
Waiting for an early morning flight after a stopover at Dubai Airport

When the parents are relaxed, the kids are too

We both generally feel at home at airports and have no problems flying. I think this makes a big difference because kids feel your energy and your tension. Because we were relaxed, our son was too. Flying with infants or older children can be stressful. We’ve seen a lot of families where the parents were frustrated and sometimes even shouting at their children. It doesn’t make life fun at home and it certainly doesn’t help ensure an easy flight if kids are stressed. So try to stay calm and collected, give a good example.

Take your time

Nothing stresses you out as much as being late. And we all know leaving the house with a child ALWAYS requires more time. Wet pants, dirty diapers, phone missing because infant thought it was fun to hide it in the trash can… we’ve all been there. And kids don’t respond well to stressed-out parents. So, make sure you have plenty of time to get to the airport and plenty of time to get through customs, have a drink and a snack and find your gate.

Keep your hands free with a baby wrap or baby carrier

I’ve never been a big fan of our 5-meter long baby wrap, but babywearing definitely made flying with our baby a lot easier. I could keep him close to me, he could sleep whenever he wanted, being close to mommy made him feel secure and relaxed. And it was really easy to carry him on and off the plane while having my hands free for some luggage. When we started using a Manduca carrier later on (check our Manduca review here), it was even easier as it just clips on and off.

We wouldn’t be the first parents to lose a child in a busy place like an airport. One second of not paying attention, or fiddling with your luggage, and your child is off wandering around. Besides, the crowd can also be a bit scary for a small child. So it was both practical and safe to just carry him on my back. Some airports offer complimentary strollers, but somehow they were never available when we needed them and you still have to carry your child off the plane with all your hand luggage. Babywearing at the airport definitely makes flying with a baby or infant a lot easier! - Blog: tips for flying with infants and toddlers - baby carrier
Essential item when flying with a baby or infant: the baby carrier

Feed your baby or infant

I was still breastfeeding while we were traveling (definitely recommend, so easy!). Our son used to fall asleep while feeding, so that made travel very easy. I fed him everywhere and he loved sleeping while on the plane, in a car, on the train, in the bus… Milk usually makes small kids relax. Make sure you have a breast or a bottle handy during take-off and landing. Pressure on their little ears may feel uncomfortable and swallowing helps them to equalize. - Blog: tips for flying with infants and toddlers - sleeping on a plane
Jace’s favourite position while flying 🙂

Timing it right & stick to your routine

I’ve heard friends say they prefer night flights because the kids will sleep during the flight so it’s less stressful for the parents. If we have a choice we would never book a night flight. When you’re not a very frequent flyer, there’s a high risk your kids won’t sleep (a lot). And if your child doesn’t sleep, you don’t get to sleep either and you’ll all be cranky when you arrive. So we prefer to travel during the day. Our toddler doesn’t take naps anymore, but when he still did we’d try to take a flight that coincided with his nap time as much as possible, so he’d at least get some sleep during the day. Skipping his nap wasn’t an option yet at that time. Sometimes we had to stretch it a bit or he’d sleep while we were waiting for our flight to leave (in which case we sometimes left a bit earlier, so he’d have enough time to sleep at the airport). Keeping our schedule as much as possible, even on travel days, has helped our son a lot when he was younger. Know your child, find out what works for you. - Blog: tips for flying with infants and toddlers - keeping busy at the airport
A child doesn’t need much to play

Don’t expect any me-time during the flight

Now, I know on longer flights most of us are used to watching a bit of in-flight entertainment if available, read a book, listen to music, nap a bit. You have to accept that once you have a child, the way you travel changes. And flights are no exception. If you’re extremely lucky your child will sleep a bit, but don’t count on it. Kids love to get your undivided attention and your flight will go much smoother if you’re prepared to give them 100% of you. Talk about your next destination, sing songs, tell stories, draw together, play games… Keep them entertained. - Blog: tips for flying with infants and toddlers - infant on a plane with dad
Inflight entertainment rocks!

Take some books, toys & games

While our nr. 1 travel tip is not to pack too much (and definitely nothing you can’t part with), you do need to entertain your kids during the flight. A fun thing to do is to wrap some small toys and make a grab bag. You can even turn it into a little game with the toy as a prize. All kids like to unwrap presents, right? But it takes more to keep your little ones entertained, especially on long flights and picking the right airplane toys for kids can be a challenge. So let us give you some suggestions for the best travel toys for toddlers on airplanes and baby airplane toys you can buy.

Don’t forget to bring food and snacks

Our son isn’t a fussy eater, so he was generally happy to eat the food that we were given during flights. But do your homework so you know what to expect. Will there be complimentary food or do you have to pay for it separately? Do you only get served drinks? We had one flight where we expected there to be some food available and it wasn’t. Luckily I packed some crackers and found a banana hiding in one of our daypacks. On another flight the baby food they served contained so much sugar, we were really happy we brought some healthier alternatives. If you think your child might not eat the airplane food (or there is no food available), bring something else for him or her to eat. Make sure to check the airline’s guidelines on what you can and cannot bring on board. Hungry kids really aren’t fun to be around and it’s so easy to be prepared. Some snacks will also keep them occupied for a while.

The iPad might save your flight (and your sanity)

I know, I know, responsible parents limit screen time… But if all else fails or you really need a few minutes to recuperate, give them an iPad or your phone. Of course, it’s even easier if there’s in-flight entertainment, but we’ve only had that on a few of the longer flights. A few episodes of their favorite TV show will keep them busy for a while, or you can surprise them with a new movie. Especially if your kids don’t get to watch too much TV at home, this will be a great treat. Make sure your electronics are charged and you have some games that work in flight mode. Also works like a charm when there are long lines at check-in. - Blog: tips for flying with infants and toddlers - keep them busy while you're waiting in line
A phone always works to keep the little ones entertained while waiting in line.

Of course, not all of these tips will work for everybody, but they’ve worked wonders for us so I really wanted to share. I hope this gives you some inspiration and makes your flight(s) a bit easier. If you have any more tips to add, please let us know in the comments!

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14 thoughts on “Flying with infants and toddlers – 10 tried and tested tips”

  1. Hi everyone!
    I’m going to be travelling, with my 1 year old daughter to Washington DC, from London for Christmas this year, and I just wanted to know whether an hour and a half layover is a good idea, and whether I should book a ticket where she sits on lap or actually get a seat for her.
    Looking forward to your answers.

    • Hi Peter, for a long flight overseas a layover doesn’t really have any added value. I’d try to find a flight as direct as possible, as a layover will only add more travel time. At 1 years old we always just had our son on our lap or we’d both move to the side a bit so he could lie down in the middle to sleep (we’re budget travelers and were happy we didn’t have to get a seat for him yet!). It’s a looong flight with a child in your lap though and at 1 years old she’s probably to big for a bassinet. Not all airlines will let you book a seat I think. If do want to get her a seat, you probably need to bring an airline approved car seat. Hope this helps!

  2. I am traveling more than 30 hrs on 4 legs of a journey beginning in Africa and eventually the US with 2 of my grandchildren ages 5 and 7. Any tips for that age? They are very experienced international travelers. I am also an experienced international traveler, just not with children. Help😱

    • Wow Karen, that’s quite a trip! Main thing is not to expect too much me-time or sleep during your flights. Our son is 5 now and perfectly happy with watching the onboard entertainment or the ipad. He’s not very good yet at entertaining himself, but he loves listening to audiobooks and music on his mp3 player, so we make sure we upload some new books to it before we leave. When he gets bored of watching movies or playing games, I keep him entertained with some snacks, games or by reading to him. I think at that age they’re quite easy to travel with 🙂 Just make sure you have enough new things to offer them. Pack some travel games, pens and paper, stickers, (comic) books and look up some fun (word) games you can play together.

  3. What a brilliant article! I forwarded this to my younger sister, she is a new mom, hope this article helps her.

  4. I’m taking my little 1 year old in an 8 hour international flight. I am super excited and terrified at the same time! Your post gave me some reassurance and great tips! Von vojage!!

    • So glad we could help! Staying relaxed yourself is definitely one of the keys to success. You’ve got this! Good luck!

  5. Oh completely agree with so many of your points above! You have been on even more flights than us with toddler in tow. Breastfeeding is the best when flying in particular:) My eldest just used to fall asleep under his hootie hider for the entire flight. Stopovers are also great as you say above. Thanks for linking to #MondayEscapes

  6. Aw, Jace is so little in these pictures! I only know him as a 3yo 😮 He is really a globetrotter! I’ve never been on so many flights and I’m 31 😮
    Your tips are great! Especially the one about being relaxed and accepting that you don’t have any me-time. For digital nomads, one of the often given productivity tip is to work on flights… Ha! Not possible with kids 😉 #mondayescapes

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