I did it. I flew with a toddler…all by myself. I didn’t post much while we were away so if you didn’t already know, Allie and I just flew from California to Maine a couple weeks ago just the two of us. My dad bought the plane ticket back in May so the two of us could come home to visit for a little bit and since Zack had to work and we can’t bring Jack on a plane, the two of them had to stay behind. So I had to tackle Allie’s very first airplane experience all. by. myself. Talk about stressful. And it was.
Now of course since I’ve now flown with a toddler twice (to New England and back to California again), that obviously makes me an expert on flying with a toddler, right? Totally kidding! But I do feel that I learned a lot from this trip. Especially with our first flight (which was kind of nightmare-ish…more on that later). This will end up being a little bit of a series since there’s just so much I want to go over on this topic (and this post was already getting quite long!).
This post is going to go over my general tips for flying and then I’ll have additional posts on TSA, what I packed in our carry-on, what items I opted to leave home, how we dressed for our flights etc. So be on the lookout for those upcoming posts over the next month or two! For now, here are my top tips for flying with a toddler.
Keep All Documents Handy
I always travel with a folder specifically for documents. For this trip, our folder included Allie’s birth certificate, boarding passes, receipts, passports (if needed), etc. This just makes it so much easier to find what I need when I need it so I’m not digging through my bags while trying to keep track of a toddler.
Pack A Couple Extra Outfits
Now, we personally have never ever had any sort of leak or blowout or anything along those lines so extra outfits have always been a waste of space in our bag. BUT I know the one time I do not have an extra outfit (especially on a long plane ride) will be the one time she has some sort of leak. And she did.
I think it was the way she was laying in my lap because she’s not big on leaking. And I had also changed her diaper right before boarding the plane as well (at night she goes 12 hours and this flight was only 5.5!). But once we arrived at our destination, I was able to quickly and easily get her changed into a dry, clean diaper as well as a cute dress to meet her grandparents. So always pack a spare outfit!
Fly At Night
I opted to fly overnight with both flights and am SO thankful I did. With Allie being just over a year old at the time of our flight (13.5 months), I was terrified of having to keep her still for x hours. She’s so mobile and the thought of trying to get her to sit on my lap for that long literally gave me anxiety. I knew it wasn’t going to happen. So we flew at night with the hopes of her sleeping the entire time. And she did.
The flight to Boston, it took her a little bit to fall asleep. Maybe an hour or so. But from there she slept all way until we landed (a good 4.5 hours or so). And then the flight home to California, she was asleep once we were in the air and then slept until we were about an hour from San Diego (another good 4.5 hours or so of sleeping). So this was perfect!
Pack For Morning
This is for if you fly overnight like we did. One of the big things I made sure to do was to pack a second carry-on equipped with morning essentials. I didn’t want to step off the plane looking like I had just woken up. We had a 2-hour drive to Maine from the airport followed by a big brunch happening at Zack’s mom’s house so I wanted to be dressed and feeling refreshed. So our second carry-on came equipped with backup outfits, makeup, deodorant, makeup remover wipes, etc. (more on this in a minute).
Be Smart About Your Carry-On(s)
Speaking of carry-on’s let’s talk about what to pack in them. First, check the requirements for carry-on bags for your airline. For both JetBlue and Alaska, we were able to bring two which was perfect for us but I know some airlines allow more and others don’t. So check before you leave!
First, I packed my large Louis Vuitton Neverfull GM which is my usual everyday bag. I kept this bag pretty basic. It contained snacks for Allie, her sleep sack, water, a sippy cup, a couple toys/books, two diapers, wipes, a backup outfit, etc. Pretty basic since we flew overnight. I figured I wouldn’t need too much.
The second carry-on was our backup/morning bag. This is where I kept spare outfits for both me and Allie, extra diapers and wipes, infant Tylenol, extra snacks, my MacBook, and chargers as well as our morning essentials which I listed a bit of in the previous point.
On the first flight, this bag was a weekend/duffle bag but it ended up being WAY too heavy (more on this in the next point). So on the flight back, I opted to use a small backpack I got from TJ Maxx. This worked a million times better!! Being able to go hands-free is a lifesaver!
Another thing I want to mention about carry-on’s is how you pack them. The big thing is to have all food, electronics, and liquids right at the top. This makes it so much easier to go through security. All you have to do is unzip your bags and pull out everything that’s on top. No need to dig through everything to find what you need.
Watch The Weight Of Your Checked Bag
I cannot stress this enough. Seriously. The fees for an “overweight” bag are INSANE. Like in the 100’s type of insane. I packed everything so strategically prior to leaving. It took a good week to make sure I had everything Allie would need and to make sure everything was packed logically. We arrived at the JetBlue counter and they insisted my bag was too heavy…this lead to having to take out close to 10 pounds worth of stuff to put into my already stuffed carry-on’s. I was LIVID.
This left me with a 22-pound toddler and two very heavy, overstuffed carry-on bags to carry alone through the airport. It was miserable and made the whole security process a complete nightmare because all the food, liquids and electronics were buried under random items from my checked bag. I was SO thankful for the mom in front of me who actually offered to hold Allie for me while I got everything situated. But it would have been nice to not have to pass my child off to a stranger so always check and double check the weight of your checked bag prior to leaving.
Pack For Take-Off
Find something to keep your toddler’s jaw moving on take off whether it’s breastfeeding, eating a snack, drinking something, etc. Pacifiers are another great option as well! I had snacks and a sippy cup of milk ready for Allie at take off. She actually didn’t want either so I opted to give her the pacifier instead. I also had Infant Tylenol readily available in case her ears were bothering her.
Know Your Child
I’m a firm believer in that the more you know about your child, the less stressful parenting can be. Some may find that to be a ridiculous statement, but I believe it wholeheartedly. For example, I know Allie well enough to know that there’s no way in hell she would have sat on my lap for a 6-hour plane ride. Knowing this, I knew to fly overnight during bedtime. I also know that she’s very mobile and loves to explore so setting her down in an airport is a no-go. So I packed lightly and used the stroller on the second flight to prevent her from running away (we are not a leash family so don’t comment with how awesome they are haha it’s not happening here).
If you know your child is going to have issues with something then be proactive in finding ways to make your trip easier on them. Don’t do everything the way you want and hope they adjust and make it work. If they don’t adjust then you’re left with very upset children and this will make your travel experience very far from fun.
Avoid Connecting Flights If Possible
I am so fortunate to have gotten direct flights both times. For some, a layover may be a great way to get everyone up and moving and get a nice break from flying. But then you always run the risk of someone breaking down in that time not to mention, it’s so much back and forth. I wanted to bypass all of that, so we got a direct flight and it worked so much better for us. Not to mention we flew overnight so she was able to just sleep straight through like she normally would at night.
Common sense here. Always give yourself enough time to get your boarding passes, go through security, find your gate, feed the little ones, etc. Always overestimate how much time you’ll need. It’s much better to have some time to kill than to be racing through an airport with a toddler on your hip, hoping you’ll make your flight. For nighttime flights, I recommend getting there 2 hours early and for daytime flights, I recommend 3 hours.
Gate Check Your Stroller
Going to Maine, we did not have a stroller. Our jogger takes up so much space so we opted to leave it home. I did want a stroller in Maine, though as well as for our flight back so my parents purchased us the Graco Jetsetter Stroller. It’s a very light, travel-friendly stroller which folds up completely flat so it’s perfect for traveling! They had it waiting for us in Maine and it was so incredibly appreciated. I SO wish I had had this stroller for the flight out there. Seriously. Trying to carry two carry-on bags and a 22-pound toddler was far from ideal and made the first plane ride so stressful.
When you gate check a stroller, you’re taking your stroller all way to the gate and from there, they will check your stroller and store it below the plane. It will then be waiting for you when you land so you can use it to navigate the airport and get to your bags. This is a great option for car seats as well if you choose not to bring the car seat onto the plane with you. It minimizes the amount of handling it gets so it’s less likely something will happen to it in the travel process. AND you can check both of these items for free! Win!
Most (if not all) airlines tend to allow families to board first. Take advantage of this. This allowed me to get Allie onto the plane and settled in without having to worry about holding up other passengers as I got her strapped into her car seat or stored away our bags or whatever it may be. It made that transition onto the plane so much easier.
Ask For Help
Never, EVER be afraid to ask for help. Especially if you are flying solo with your little ones. On the flight to Boston, I had a lovely mom in front of me at TSA who assisted with Allie while I got all our belongings situated. I then had a really nice gentleman help with my bags we got onto the flight (they were so overstuffed that they couldn’t easily be brought through the aisles….not to mention trying to put one in the overhead compartment while making sure my toddler didn’t dive off the seat wasn’t fun or easy either).
On the flight back to San Diego, I had an insane amount of help. I had an Alaska Airlines employee who made sure our stroller was checked at the gate along with making sure Allie’s car seat was on the plane and installed for me prior to boarding. Our flight attendant actually babysat Allie for a bit when she woke up from her sleep and offered us meals for free to keep her entertained for the remainder of the trip. The gentleman sitting next to us helped with my bags and was beyond sweet and patient with Allie and a nice woman helped carry Allie’s car seat off the plane for me.
I’m not big on asking for help, but there’s no way I could have traveled with Allie without it. So if you need help, ask for it!
Stay Calm and Enjoy Your Flights
As challenging as it may be, always try to stay calm. If you’re beyond stressed out and it shows then your little ones are going to feed off that negative energy. It’s okay to be stressed, but don’t let it consume you. If you need to, have a glass of wine to calm the nerves!