This is the second post in a small series on travelling with a toddler. Check out the first post here if you want to read up on my thoughts about to what to pack!
Isla is a great kid. For the most part, she sleeps well, and has always been very well behaved, which has meant that we’ve always had great experiences with her on flights. We’ve flown with her at so many different ages – we had a lot of flights from 5 months old through to 10 months old (both short and long haul), again when she was 15 months old, and this trip at 21 months old.
We’ve found each age to be a fun age with flying, both with their pros and cons, but by far the easiest age was when she was 5 months old. Isla had only just started sitting up, was sleeping 3-4 times a day, and hadn’t started on solids yet. That meant that most of the flights she napped for a few hours, then would wake up and play (and this was easy to do with her on our laps, as she wasn’t mobile), before going back down in the bassinet for another nap.
Most of our flights with Isla are long haul as we are normally going to or coming from Australia. Flying to Europe is normally a 24hr+ flight, and East Coast USA (which is another location we often head to) is around the same. This means we don’t often do legs shorter than 8 hours, apart from when we are travelling within Europe. Hopefully these tips will be useful for however long your flight is though!
At the airport
We always get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, normally aiming to be there 10 minutes or so before check in begins. There is nothing more stressful than running to your flight (which we’ve done once when I got the time of our flight wrong), not knowing if you’re going to make it. I’d prefer to have 3 hours to spare at the airport, and have enough time to grab a coffee, rather than not enough time to relax.
Most aircraft have bassinets that you can use if your child is small enough (they normally have a weight restriction of 11kg/24lbs). If your child fits within the weight range, call up the airlines in advance and request one. Even if you don’t use it, sitting at the bulk head means more room at your feet, which can be a great area for your child to play during the flight.
If you haven’t purchased a seat for your toddler, and they are too big for the bassinet, when checking in ask if the flight is full, and if not, if they can block a seat for them to sit in. If they’re not able to do this at check in, you can also ask at the gate – both have worked for us. This worked perfectly for our flight to Paris this time round, and Isla had a seat to herself on both legs. If the flight is fully booked, I would ask for an aisle seat, so you can readily get up and down without disturbing anyone.
We have a Mountain Buggy Nano, which folds up to carryon size, so we just bring it on the plane with us as a piece of carryon luggage. If, however, you have a larger pram, you’ll have the option to check it when you check in, or at the gate. We always opt for the gate, as it means we can pop Isla in the pram going through customs & security, and it can act as a place to hold all of our stuff when she’s walking with us.
Most airports have priority access lines for security and customs, which means we generally get to skip most of the queues. We find most officers and staff members of both the airports and airlines to be really accommodating and helpful when they see us travelling with Isla, and normally go out of their way to make life as easy as possible for us.
After you’ve gone through customs and security, let your kid run wild! We play chasing games with Isla through the airport, let her roam around and do whatever she wants, tiring her out as much as possible.
We normally also eat a meal before we board, just so we know that Isla has had something decent to eat, in case the airplane food isn’t suitable for her.
90% of the time, Dave, Isla and I board first with other families with small kids known as priority boarding. This has made our time so much more relaxing as we don’t have to compete with everyone else wanting to get on the plane and settled in their seats. I’ve heard though from some people that they prefer boarding last, using the most amount of time possible to let their kids run wild before being confined to a seat.
On the plane
Having a well organised nappy bag does wonders for your flight. We always separate everything into little zip lock bags, so a new set of clothes or new snack is really easy to access. As soon as we get to our seat we normally unpack a couple of toys, wipes, and a snack to put in our seat pouch, nice and accessible for whenever we need them.
Always pack lots of nappies, more than one spare change of clothes (for both yourself and your child), and lots of snacks. You will need them!
Before your flight, check to see what sort of meals your airline offers. We always request a child meal for infant (if available) for Isla, as she eats everything, and doesn’t need a baby meal (typically purees and milk). We found though this most recent flight (we flew Vietnam Airlines), that even though we requested this, we either didn’t get a meal, or only got bottles of purees. They also didn’t have extra adult meals, so we weren’t able to get her those either. As our flight was 25 hrs long in total, this was a little bit difficult, as our snacks weren’t good enough for meals, and she didn’t really like our adult meals. The airline offered instant noodles though, so we gave Isla a few of those throughout the flights. On our way back, we will probably buy a meal or two at each airport that we can save for the plane for meal times, so she’s not left wanting.
We bought Isla a few small toys before we left, and wrapped them up for the flight. She really enjoyed the process of unwrapping the present, and then having something new to play with! This can easily take up a good half an hour to hour of play time, which really is so good, especially when you’re on long flights.
We treat the flights as a special event, which means making a big deal out of everything – from finding our seats, to setting up, to meal time etc. We let Isla watch movies and tv shows when she was interested (we bought her these headphones, and let her practice using them at home, so she was comfortable on the flights. She preferred watching things without them though). We basically want the flight to represent something super exciting, and for it to be a positive experience for both her and us, rather than something we all dread, or feel apprehensive about.
Book flights that work with your child and their ability to nap. Isla generally sleeps well on planes, so we booked our flight for the longer leg (12hrs) to be at nighttime, and the shorter leg (9hrs) being during the day. This worked really well, and although Isla only slept for 40 minutes on the first leg, she slept really well on the second.
We tried to replicate Isla’s bedtime routine for her when we put her down. We popped her in her pyjamas, did her regular bed time things, before either popping her in the bassinet (which worked for an hour or two), or getting her to fall asleep on us. It takes her much longer to fall asleep on us, but we try to make it as dark as possible with blankets, pat her back and quietly sing to her until she finally drifts off to sleep.
Use all of the space you have to your advantage – wander up and down the aisles, use the extra space on exit rows to let your child play, if they’re not in the way of other passengers. Make friends with other kids and let them interact with one another.
Remember to try and take time for yourself, when possible! When they’re sleeping, watch a movie, or read a book. Take turns in spending time with them so you each get a bit of time to turn off. This will definitely change for us when we have two kids, but it’s worked great for us so far.
During long haul flights you’ll normally experience at least one layover. Use these times to stretch your legs, let your child run around and shake out their sillies. Grab some food if it’s a meal time or if they haven’t eaten well on the plane, and let them enjoy their time not sitting down! Know where your next flight leaves from, and if you have to go through security, see if they have priority lines to make the process smoother and quicker for you.
Know that at the end of the day, it’s only one day (hopefully!), and that even if it is hard, or your kid is acting up, it will end, and you’ll be able to relax and detox at the end of it. Kids are so resilient, and I’ve been so proud to see Isla take long travel days in her stride.
Go with the flow, don’t have too many expectations. Make it as comfortable as possible for both yourself, and your children, and try to have fun!
I’ll be posting about settling into new environments, jet lag, public transportation, and a few other things in my next post – do let me know if you have any particular questions about travelling when you’re at your destination!
What are your biggest tips when it comes to flying? What age do you find the easiest to fly with? This trip will be our last just Isla, and I can’t wait to experience flying as a family of four!