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Tips for Taking Toddlers on Long Flights

Updated on May 30, 2010

There are some parents who avoid taking their children on airplane flights until they're certain to be old enough to sit still without problems. However, there are many of us that don't want to postpone our family air travel until our kids are in their teens. For those of us who want to get back to the business of exploring new places with our families, it's important to find ways to reduce the hassles associated with travel. This can be hard when we've got toddlers and especially hard when the flight is a long one. But it can be done without too much trouble.

Here are some tips for taking toddlers on long flights:

  • Try to plan for a long layover ... or two, or three ... Layovers are nice for kids because they break up the trip. This reduces the restlessness that they'll experience and makes the trip go more smoothly. You can spend the time snacking, resting or exploring the airport.
  • Include a variety of entertainment options in your carry-on. You'll want to make sure that they're noiseless and aren't going to bother the people near you. Things that you and your child can do together will be the best - such as books to read together.
  • Bring presents. If you can fit an extra bag into the stuff that you're carrying, bring one full of small presents wrapped for your child. They'll enjoy receiving them (one at a time to make the most out of the gift) and using them throughout the flight.
  • Bring several types of snacks with you. The key to a good trip is being able to provide your child with choices and variety despite the fact that you don't have a lot of stuff with you. Since your kid is probably going to get hungry, this is one area where it's nice to have some choices.
  • Make sure a comfort tool is with you. A favorite blanket, a stuffed animal or anything else that makes your child feel more comfortable can go a long way towards making the trip nicer.
  • Have certain carry-on items that are for the plane only. Games, books, magazines, toys ... whatever it is that you're bringing along should have be designated for flight time only. In other words, don't let your kids play with their toys in the waiting area because they'll be bored with them by the time they get on the plane. The reward for waiting is that they'll be engaged on the plane.
  • Let your child carry a kid's backpack for carry-on. Yes, you'll probably end up carrying it yourself at some point. But making a point out of the responsibility that your child is showing with the suitcase will encourage your child to try to act more grown-up. This will reduce tantrums at least for a short time.
  • Make sure you have what you need for emergencies and problems. A sick bag and/or anti-nausea medications. Gum and/or earache medication. Ginger ale. A change of clothes. A jacket. Teething gel and diapers depending on the age of your child. You don't want to be stuck with a problem that you could've solved if only you'd had what you needed to do so.
  • Consider whether naptime is a good time for the trip. For some children, a flight that happens during their normal naptime is great because they can just go to sleep and wake up at their destination. However, kids who won't be able to fall asleep in the crowd of people or who get ill on flights are kids who will end up tired and cranky if you fly during their naptimes. Assess your child and plan the timing of your trip with this in mind.
  • Bring a car seat. Many parents don't take advantage of the fact that airlines are generally equipped for the use of car seats. It's safer for your child and is going to help him or her feel like the place is comfortable and familiar even though it's foreign.

All of these tips can help make a long flight with a toddler go more smoothly. However, the real key is in preparing yourself. You need to get yourself into a calm state of mind to be able to deal with whatever comes up. Expect that there will be problems and try to feel confident that you can face them. Give yourself plenty of time to catch the flight and make connections. Pack in advance so that you're less likely to forget the items you'll need. And try not to worry about what other people are thinking if your child starts acting up on the plane. If you're in a nice calm emotional place, there's a good chance that your child will be as well.


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