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When my daughter Adeline was 14 and 15 months old, I took her on eight plane rides in 60 days. On two of those rides, I was by myself with her. My sister-in-law lives outside of Boston and was expecting a baby. In a moment of complete insanity, I agreed to not only attend the baby shower at her house but to bring my toddler along with me. My husband had to work, so I would be doing this on my own. While she had been on a plane before, it had been at least 10 months, and flying with a baby is much different than flying with a toddler. I wasn’t sure how I was going to entertain her, get her to nap (the flight is 6 hours!), and keep her calm.
A lot of it came down to good prep-work (see Flying with a Toddler Part 1), but there are some important things to note about the flight itself. Below are some tips I picked up while taking her on my own, and later on six more flights with my husband.
- Get them a seat. Most airlines don’t require that you purchase another seat for anyone under the age of 2, but if your child is mobile (or even if they are not). I highly recommend purchasing a seat for them. We are all required to wear our seat belts during take-off, landing, and in the case of turbulence, so it only makes sense that our precious little ones be safely secure as well.
- Bring a car seat. I also make sure to bring her car seat on board, it keeps the car seat from being destroyed during the gate check process and it also gives her a safe spot to be strapped into. Because we do so much traveling, I purchased an inexpensive, light-weight car seat. To get around easier, I attach it to this dolly which can easily wheel through the airport and even store some luggage on.
Entertaining Your Toddler
- Bring toys that your child enjoys. Space is limited on a plane, so make sure to bring at least one or two of your child’s favorite toys. My daughter is obsessed with her stuffed unicorn which she calls “Neigh Neigh”, so we make sure not to leave without it. She also enjoys drawing, so we have a little whiteboard with washable crayons that we can easily shove in a backpack.
- Screen time can be an option. While I know the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screen time for children under the age of 2, sometimes it’s the best option for a long plane ride. My daughter watches the occasional Sesame Street, so we got an iPad (a hand-me-down one from my father), and downloaded a few episodes on to it. We also purchased these headphones, that are safe for toddlers’ ears and don’t have any wires that she can get tangled up in.
- Use Guided Access on the iPad. By turning Guided Access on in Settings on your iPad, you can make it so your child cannot pause or exit out of the program.
- Bring LOTS of snacks and water. My daughter isn’t a picky eater, but she definitely has snacks she enjoys (especially bananas, mini granola bars, and pouches). While these don’t make up the majority of her diet, they are easy to take on a plane, and almost guaranteed that she will eat them!
- Naps are possible!: When we fly, I try my hardest to keep Adeline on her regular schedule. This will make things much smoother when we arrive at our destination. I know I am blessed to have a child who is a great sleeper, but I also do things to make her feel more comfortable. First, I strap her in her car seat (as if she were napping in the car). Second, I play white noise quietly on an app on my phone. Adeline sleeps with a white noise machine going for every nap and bedtime, so I try to replicate this on the plane as well. I keep the volume low, and honestly, it blends in with the white noise of the plane so our neighbors don’t seem to mind. Finally, I ignore her. I give her a chance to calm down and put herself to sleep. I don’t look at her, or touch her, and I even try to keep myself out of her line of sight. Within a few minutes, she is sound asleep, and has even gotten a two-hour nap on a six-hour flight!
- Do what it takes to keep them happy: This is not the time to worry about spoiling your toddler. For your own sanity, bribe, play, sing, do whatever it takes to keep your toddler happy and smiling. If your child does get upset, try to keep in mind that their crying bothers you way more than it bothers your fellow passengers. Planes are loud and no one is comfortable anyways. There have been flights where I thought Addie cried a ton, and at the end, our neighbors commented on what a good job she did. So relax, and try to enjoy the ride.