Flight journeys can be a nightmare for parents of infants and toddlers, worse so in cases of parents flying alone. Here’s a plan to help you travel with your toddler, based on my experience of flying solo with my 2 and half year old on a 22-hour flight.
1. Pack Convenient: One bag and a stroller, unless you are travelling with more than one child. You won’t have to wrestle through security, in the plane, and at the airport. Keep your hands free. Carry a backpack if you’ve a laptop. I chose a spacious laptop bag which can accommodate everything in this list and can hang on the stroller. Add a bottle or sippy cup if your kid uses it.
For Your Toddler:
- 8-10 diapers. Diapers last for at least 4 hours. Consider tummy trouble. Don’t obsess changing every hour.
- Changing mat. I recommend fabric-polyester one. It’s waterproof and folds into a small square.
- Small diaper rash cream.
- Diaper and face wipes – it’s not bath time so one pack is enough.
- A change of clothes – anything that’s comfortable.
- A small new toy/storybook/colouring book.
- Children’s Tylenol or a prescribed medicine for fever and stomach pain (ask your pediatrician)
- A woollen cap since long flights are quite chilly.
- A small pack of biscuits or some munchies. Don’t carry the entire kitchen.
- Passports and tickets
- Wallet – cash, credit cards, ID cards
- Documents if any
- Gadgets – laptop, iPad, phone, e-reader
- Portable charger – highly recommended
- 2 pens
- Painkiller. A headache is inevitable
- Hair brush, lip balm, pocket tissue pack
- Small notebook/diary
2. Plan In Advance: You’ll have to prepare for this one journey a few days in advance so it will be helpful to make a checklist.
- Online check-in helps you skip the long check-in queues. Many airports have baggage-drop counters for passengers who have checked-in online. It’s short and fast. You’ll be able to collect boarding passes for your connecting flight as well so you’ll avoid waiting in the check-in queue at the layover airport.
- Book your seat and meal: That’s the major advantage of online check-in. Book the aisle seat in the center row. Center row is convenient for you and flyers next to you since it offers access to both aisles. No one is disturbed. If you select your meals during online check-in, you’ll be served first. Choose the Child Meal for your toddler – it has everything that pampers kids.
- Umbrella Stroller: Highly recommended. Umbrella strollers are lightweight, portable, compact, and fold easily – just a trigger of your foot while you hold it with one hand. If you don’t have one, buy it. They don’t have a lot of storage though. Tie an identifiable tag on your stroller since there are many identical ones. Strollers are checked-in at the gate.
- Attire: Comfortable shoes are a must because your feet have a lot of running and walking to do. Make sure you and your kid wear shoes that are easy to slip in and out since both of you will have to take them off at security. Dress warm since airports and long flights can be chilly.
- Entertainment: Download videos or games your kid likes. You won’t have access to internet all the time. Buy a portable charger – it’s small, valuable, and lasts long. Have something new in your bag to fascinate your little one – a picture or drawing book, a puzzle, or a toy.
- Plan your ride: If you are taking a cab, book it on the eve or morning of your travel. You have to reach the airport hours before the flight so schedule mindfully. You’ll be able to avoid unforeseen situations like unavailability of cabs, bad weather, or heavy traffic.
3. In-Flight Behavior: Infants are unpredictable but toddlers aren’t. You can predict your child’s behavior in a closed environment packed with strangers. Here are a few things that helped me.
- Anxiety: Familiarize your kid with her surroundings. Show her how everyone has a seat and so does she. Show her the safety manual and try to get her to watch the instructions video. Help her relate to it. She might love the photos in the travel magazines as well. These might make her feel comfortable and calm any anxiety in her mind.
- Keep your kid happy: If she wants a cookie, give it to her. You may not like hooking your child to screens, but this isn’t the time to practice ‘ideal parenting’. Whether it’s your phone or the in-flight entertainment, let your kid watch whatever she enjoys for as long as she wants. Play with her – hand games, rhymes, or just make up a story including things or people around. Give her the new toy or book you bought. When she looks upset, cuddle and hug her. Show of affection is soothing.
- Move around: Walk down the aisle with your kid. I created a game for my toddler – run from one pantry to the other, both of which were on either side of my seat. I could easily keep an eye on her and got a high-five every time she passed by. Both of you need a stretch.
- Mealtime: Let your child eat whatever she wants except for what can make her sick. Expect a mess. If your kid doesn’t want to eat, don’t fuss. She isn’t in her usual routine so a few ups and downs are understandable. Most flights have a variety to offer – fruits, biscuits, cookies, nutrition bars, milk, and breads. Let her pick something during her walks. Keep her hydrated.
- Restrooms: Using the restroom on the plane is better than at the airports. An air hostess (not fellow passenger) can watch your kid while you are away. Your baby and bags are safe. Change diapers and lighten up before you land. It’s a mess at the airport since you’ve to manage a kid, bags, and stroller. Leaving anything unattended or with a stranger is a big NO!
4. At The Airport: Airports are a challenge since it’s a place for your toddler to run and for you to fill forms, get through procedures, keep an eye on your baggage, and watch her. Try to make it hassle-free.
- Airport procedures: If phones or iPads don’t interest your kid while you’re handling important airport procedures, try involving them. Give your kid an extra form to scribble on so you get a few minutes to fill up the main ones correctly. At the security, show her how people wait in a queue, her stroller/shoes entering a tunnel, and ask her to look out for them rolling out.
- Airport walkathon: Walk around the airport with your kid – of course, not far away from your departure gate especially if you have a short layover. It would tire your kid enough for her to have a few hours of sleep on the flight, which means you can take a nap too. Some airports have play areas. Stop at a cafeteria, buy her a sweet treat and a coffee for yourself.
- At the gate: Keeping kids busy and grounded while waiting to board is the most exhausting part of the airport ordeal. Watching planes take off and land is a favorite amongst kids and fascinates them to no end. Watch the planes with your toddler and make up a story about them. Offer her your phone/iPad.
- Child-friendly policies: After the First class, families with infants have priority to board. Make sure you’re visible to the staff at the gates carrying an upset, restless toddler. It’s a relief to walk an aisle without dodging or waiting for passengers to arrange their bags in the overhead lockers.
5. Rejuvenate Yourself: You should do at least one thing that will help you hold onto your spirits. Sleep is universally the favorite and most recommended. Take a good nap or just rest when your kid is asleep. It rejuvenates you to deal with the next few hours of your mayhem.
Flying long hours with toddlers are undebatably strenuous. With a plan in place, most of it can be managed sanely. It’s a victory – even though this was just one of the many battles of parenting.
About the author
Nadia Asif is a mom to a charming 3 year old girl. Currently settled in the US, Nadia is an Indian who spent her childhood in the Middle East. She loves to cook and to write. Check out cukzy.com, her food blog and oldest baby.