Plane travel with a toddler is definitely not for the faint of heart, although, neither is driving long distances with a toddler. I am a typical type A personality. I always research and plan, pretty much every major or minor decision in my life. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a little bit better with this, but when it comes to something like a cross country flight, I went a bit overboard. After much research, this is how I survived our cross country flight and I’ll write later about a few of the things I wish I’d done differently.
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Plane Travel with a Toddler
We chose to gate check our stroller. I couldn’t imagine carrying a toddler, car seat, and all our luggage from the satellite lot to the main terminal. Plus, we had to have a stroller when we were in D.C. After many horror stories about strollers getting tossed around, I decided to get this stroller bag. It’s nothing special and Southwest actually did give out the red gate check stroller bags. But it kept my stroller clean at least. I love my stroller (we have the Graco Click Connect Aire 3– seriously greatest baby gift we got). I couldn’t have done D.C. without this stroller, Bugs napped daily in it and it’s so easy to fold and take on and buses or down stairs.
Once we were at the airport waiting for our flight our mantra was, let him run, don’t let him fall asleep. So we’d take turns walking with him all over the airport. I figured if he needed to yell and be obnoxious it was better to do that now than on our flight. We did family boarding so that we could all sit together and get his car seat installed. We purchased a seat for Bugs. We didn’t have to, but I couldn’t imagine not having a seat for him. He naps pretty good in his car seat, and I didn’t want him standing the whole flight, so I knew a seat for him was non-negotiable. We flew Southwest. His car seat, for whatever reason, was too big to fit in the seat facing backwards. This was fine though, he was 15 months on our flight, so it was no big deal to put him forward facing. I realize he would’ve been safer backwards, but I figure forwards was better than no seat at all, so that’s what we did. He slept actually for a good chunk of both flights.Our flight took off right during nap time and this was I think the key to our success. I’m glad I didn’t book flights that took off during nap time. That would have made plane travel with a toddler much harder. It was easy to hold him off from sleep until we were about to take off. Once on the plane, I’d get his bottle ready and we’d wait until they announced the doors were closed before we actually would strap him into the seat. He loved the takeoff and he fell asleep almost immediately with the shaking of the plane. We chose seats over the wing. Accidentally on the way out, and purposefully on the way home. The wing is a little louder than elsewhere on the plane, but he loves white noise. The sound of the aircraft helped drown out other sounds inside the aircraft and I think this helped him sleep longer.
Although he slept really well, 1.5 hours on the way out and 3 hours on the way home, that still left about 3 hours, a little more, to entertain him. Now I don’t know about you, but entertaining a toddler for even an hour while sitting eating a meal at a restaurant can be difficult. My little boy only wants to go go go go go. He doesn’t like to sit still at all. So by the end of the flight, we were all ready to get off the plane! But I came well prepared with backpacks full of activities for him. I read that you should plan your flight in 15-minute increments, we were on the flight for about twenty 15 minute slots, so I planned 15 different activities for our flight because I figured he could do a few more than once. Here are the activities for plane travel with a toddler:
- Drawing with Pen
- Coloring with Magic Markers
- Songs on Phone
- Movie on Phone
- Sunglasses – loves to play with our sunglasses
- Purse – open and empty
- Phone play – bubbles
- Walking the aisle
- Paper Ripping
- Stacking cups
I realize some of these are the same “type” of activity, but if you do them not right on top of one another, he thought it was a new thing. The most successful were probably my purse, snacks, the phone, paper ripping, and buckles. He likes to close two buckles together so we did that a lot. While drawing was a success, he mostly wants to throw the caps and markers and have me get them, in a cramped aircraft this is not ideal. The most successful was probably snacks. I brought all of his favorites and pretty much gave him whatever he asked for whenever he asked for it. Also, these all worked much better on the way out there, then on the way home. On the way home, he was completely done, he couldn’t wait to get home. I don’t blame him it was a long week. We landed at LAX during rush hour traffic, so it took us about 2.5 hours to get home. Again, not the best idea, the moment we walked in the front door he was crying until I put him down on our bed and he realized he was home. After getting a fresh diaper, he proceeded to take out all his favorite toys and immediately went to making my house a mess. I was never so excited to see toys all over my house. He was so happy to be home. And so were we.