10 Tips for Flying with a Toddler

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The silhouette of a mom with her toddler child and two older kids at an airport, standing with luggage.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I confessed to my mom, “I wish I had traveled more.”

“You can still travel,” she laughed. “Just bring a stroller!”

I find myself thinking my mom was right more often than ever. Nothing held her back from flying with me when my older siblings moved out of the state (or even the country!). We would regularly jet-set from my childhood home in New York to visit family in Minnesota, Florida, Texas, California, Canada, and even Australia. Those experiences were richer and more educational than any lesson I had inside a classroom.

Fast forward 20 to 30 years, and my toddler has flown more in his two years than I have in any other 24-month period of my life. Want to know how we travel with a toddler and keep our sanity?

1. Check your airline’s baggage policy ahead of time.

Some airlines charge for all checked items, while others allow strollers to be checked free of charge at the gate. Some airfares let you bring a carry-on for free, while others only allow a personal item. You can find your airline’s baggage policy on its website. Call if you need clarification on what’s considered a “special item” (which sometimes includes strollers, car seats, and cribs).

2. Consider carrying a diaper bag.

Many airlines will allow a carry-on diaper bag — free of charge — in addition to your carry-on and personal item. Consider this when packing diapers, wipes, etc.! An airline ticket is required if your child is two or older, which means he or she is also allowed the same number of carry-on items. (In other words, more room for snacks!)

>> RELATED READ :: 7 Travel Sleep Tips for Kids Over the Holidays <<

3. Determine your need for a car seat.

After checking your airline’s baggage policy and arranging transportation to and from each airport, consider how you’ll get around your destination. It may be more economical (or practical) to add a car seat to your car rental reservation, or skip a car seat altogether if you plan to borrow one, walk, or use public transit.

If you do bring a car seat, however, make sure you have a car seat travel bag! If you’re short-handed and heavily packed, consider a car seat backpack or bag with wheels. You may plan on using your car seat in the plane, but remember, this will require additional airfare for babies under two. (Lap children under two fly free!)

4. Tag EVERYTHING!

Make sure your name, address, and phone number are on each of your bags, including your stroller, car seat, and playpen. Better yet, Apple AirTag or Tile can help you keep track of your most prized possessions. Forgot your luggage tags? No problem. The airline check-in counter has paper tags and pens available for your convenience.

5. Look into TSA PreCheck.

New enrollment is $78 and covers you for five years. Enrollment is $70 for five more years after that. Keep in mind: While the application only takes five minutes online, you will need to schedule an in-person appointment to provide fingerprints, supply citizenship and identity documents, and pay the enrollment fee.

Once approved, you don’t need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, or light jackets at security. Most travelers get through security in five minutes or less. According to the TSA PreCheck website, children under 12 may accompany a parent/guardian with TSA PreCheck on their boarding passes in the designated lanes. Check out the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s complete list of Trusted Traveler Programs for other ways to get through the airport more quickly.

>> RELATED READ :: Tips for Traveling Alone with a Toddler <<

6. Reduce your wait time at customs with a free app.

Traveling internationally? The CBP Mobile Passport Control App allows eligible travelers to securely submit their info free of charge. It doesn’t require pre-approval and reduces wait times upon reentry into the U.S. You’ll no longer have to complete a paper form or use an APC kiosk. Anything that reduces wait times and long lines with a toddler is a definite win!

7. Bring a bag of tricks.

A pre-trip dollar store run can go a long way in keeping your little one content. Treats like fruit snacks and gummies can keep your tot’s ears from popping at takeoff and landing. Inexpensive party favors, stickers, and fidget toys will keep your little one entertained for hours. Be sure to choose new toys your little one doesn’t already have (to better pique curiosity and engagement) and snacks you he or she craves.

A little girl sits on an airplane watching a tablet.8. Download ALL the videos.

You may not have access to WiFi at the airport or on the plane, so be sure to download your little one’s favorite YouTube, Netflix, or Disney+ content before takeoff. Whether on your phone or tablet, videos can be a convenient distraction in dire situations like these. Don’t forget the headphones!

9. Get those wiggles out!

Some airports, like Dallas Love Field, have play areas, which can be found using the directory on the airport’s website. When it’s safe, let your toddler out of the stroller. The more standing, walking, and playing in the airport, the more likely he or she is to sleep on the plane!

10. Check your credit card perks.

Many credit cards (especially those with annual fees) have travel perks such as airport lounge access, free TSA PreCheck, or flight discounts. Be sure to take advantage of these offers, as they can make traveling with your tot much more convenient!

If all else fails, let it go. Nap time may not happen today. Screen time may skyrocket. Junk food may be the only food. It’s going to be okay, mama. Give yourself some grace and allow your tot a longer leash. After all, traveling is stressful for them, too.

Just remember to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for your little one.

Here are more travel tips from Collin County Moms:

Flying with a toddler can be taxing, but I hope these tips make your journey a little easier. Happy travels!

Lauren was born and raised on Long Island, New York. In 2007, she and her family moved to DFW, where Lauren earned her BA at the University of North Texas. She went on to work for her favorite tech company, and later put her social science degree to use in HR. Lauren met her now husband in 2016, and they welcomed their first child (and bought their first home) in 2020. On any given day, you will find her working as a full-time mom, cooking, practicing yoga or crafting with her Cricut. Lauren hopes to support, encourage and lift up other moms, as her closest friends have done for her.

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