Flying with an almost-three-year-old

Whether they’re planning a trip to see grandparents or mapping out a long-awaited family vacation, most parents get more than a little anxious at the idea of jumping on a plane with a toddler. Will the crying last from take-off through landing? What if there’s a weather delay? How do you handle diaper changes at 38,000 feet? All of these are totally reasonable questions, and having a plan to manage them can help to limit mid-air panic.

Plan for toddler transport

A portable stroller can be a lifesaver in an airport, whether you find yourself racing to the gate for a quick connecting flight or trying to keep Baby asleep during a long layover. Until your child weighs more than 40 pounds and can use an airline seatbelt, it’s also important to bring a car seat that’s marked as FAA-approved for use while in-flight and for ground transportation.

Dress for ease and comfort

While you may love the idea of meeting Grandma at baggage claim with Baby wearing that special outfit she bought, think again if the garment isn’t completely comfortable. An already-long flight will drag on for an eternity if your toddler fusses due to itchy lace, bunched up tights, or clunky snaps or buttons from takeoff to landing.

Even if Baby has been a potty-training superstar, training pants or a diaper for the length of the flight can be a great way to avoid disaster, as they will inevitably need to go the minute the captain turns on the seatbelt sign.

Pack for easy access

From airsickness to hunger to general frustration, in-air meltdowns are easy to come by. To deal with these issues quickly, pack a carry-on bag filled with emergency supplies and keep it under the seat in front of you.

  • Extra clothes: Make sure you bring along a change of clothes for Baby in a carry-on in case they need an in-air change, and at least a spare top for yourself so you both won’t spend the duration of the flight in an outfit soggy from an inflight spill, or worse.
  • Diaper kit: Changing an in-air-diaper tests both parental patience and coordination. To make it a bit easier, put everything you need to change Baby’s diaper in one small bag or container and don’t forget to include several zippered plastic bags for soiled diapers. Because it’s tough to find consensus on the best disposal strategy, once the diaper is safely ensconced in plastic, ask the flight attendant what the airline prefers you do with it.
  • Snacks: Inopportune flight times or delays can wreak havoc with your toddler’s eating routine – and by extension, their mood. Pack portable, non-messy snacks you know Baby loves in your carry-on bag so you won’t be at the mercy of whatever you can grab between flights.
  • Toys: Boredom comes a close second to hunger in the list of toddler in-flight challenges. Always remember to bring along your toddler’s favorite comfort object, as well as their neatest, mos contained go-to activities, like sticker books or stories. Plus, make sure your easy-to-access carry-on bag contains a few surprise toys to pull out if you find yourself reaching the end of your bag of tricks.

Taking the time to prepare before a flight and carefully packing a carry-on bag can mean the difference between a long flight and a very, very long flight.

  • “Travel Safety Tips.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics. July 14 2015. Retrieved September 5 2017.
  • “Family Friendly Flying.” Adapted from Healthy Children Magazine, Winter 2007. American Academy of Pediatrics. November 21 2015. Retrieved September 5 2017.
  • Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention. “Restraint Use on Aircraft.” American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatrics. November 2001 Volume 108/Issue 5. Retrieved September 5 2017. 
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