Flying with babies is relatively easy (they can’t move about much and they tend to be easy to placate) and flying with kids who are school aged or older can be made simple with negotiation, but the most difficult kinds of kids to fly with are always toddlers. Too small to really make considered and rational judgments, but big enough to undo their own seatbelt and to cause a real ruckus if they choose, flying with toddlers certainly requires skill. But it possible to master it, so long as you have these handy suitcases&strollers family travel tips.
(If you are flying with a baby, suitcases&strollers has tips for that too.)
· Overnight versus daytime? The big advantage of flying in the day versus the night is that you don’t need to worry about an entire flight of people trying to sleep if your child has a meltdown. In the day other passengers tend to be more tolerant of crying kids and there is lots of stimulation around to distract and help calm your child down (you can walk up and down the aisles, touch and pick up things and interact with other passengers), so it can be less stressful for you as the parent. At night there is more chance your child will sleep but, if they don’t, you will be surrounded by many unhappy neighbours. This just means a more anxious flight for you. So it all depends on the temperament of your child.
When selecting you long haul flights with toddlers, think about the most likely way for your child to behave. Kids who can sit still and are easily distracted with screens, books or games will fare well on daytime flights. For toddlers that must walk, constantly move and need lots of activity, night flights are probably easier to manage as they will simply be more tired.
[For more travel tips on travel-friendly toys, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
· Manage your expectations about the sleeping. Kids will sleep on planes, but don’t imagine it’s anything like a full night’s rest. There are far too many distractions and too much noise for toddlers to ever get more than a few hours sleep at once. Instead of expecting a 10 hour uninterrupted stint, be grateful for any pockets of a few hours here or there that you can get and deal with the consequences when you disembark later.
[For more travel tips on how to get kids to sleep in foreign environments, see the suitcases&strollers interview with baby sleep expert Tizzie Hall.]
· Move around as much as possible. Walk the aisles between food services and find bulkhead areas where you can stand and look out the window so your child isn’t trapped in their seat for the entire flight. If your little one has a tendency to run off, using a safety harness can be a good way to allow him or her the freedom of movement but still be able to keep control of the situation. [For more travel tips on using safety harnesses for kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
· Break up the flight with stopovers. For any flight over about 8 hours, it is wise for everyone’s sanity to break up the trip and get off the plane. Where it’s convenient and easy, look for stopovers in airports that have hotels specifically for airport transit travellers. Then you can pay for a few hours sleep, bed, walk around and recharge the batteries.
· Pay for an extra seat. Flying with a toddler is particularly tedious if kids don’t have their own space to move. If your child is almost two, some airlines won’t even allow you to use the bassinet (even though you have been allocated a bassinet seat). If you can afford it, pay for an extra seat for your toddler so that you can avoid being stuck with a very heavy kid on your lap the entire duration of the flight.
· Always carry spare nappies, clothes (for you and child) and baby wipes. Even if your toddler is toilet trained, accidents do happen and toddlers are particularly messy creatures. (It is a good idea to dress toilet trained toddlers on long haul flights in a nappy for the duration of the flight, just in case.) Have back up gear packed in your carry on so you avoid sitting in wet or soiled clothes. [For more travel tips on what to pack in your carry on when flying with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
For more travel tips on traveling with toddlers in general, see the suitcases&strollers story here.