7 lifesaving tips for flying with toddlers – Reader Q&A

AirportI have a trip coming up in December, flying for the first time with toddlers. . . what will I need and what can I use? My kids are not the type to sit! I’m almost afraid to have them on a airplane! Any thing you can share would be great! -Amanda, mom to a 2 & 3 year old

We’re all big proponents of traveling with kids here, as early as possible. But we realize that flying with kids, especially really young ones who haven’t quite mastered things like an “indoor voice” can be anxiety-provoking. I hope the tips below will ease your mind a bit and make your flight as enjoyable as possible for your entire family.   -Christina

Prepare now with books
Since you have a little time before your family trip, now is the time to start talking to your kids about being on an airplane. I love reading and then play-acting using age-appropriate books like Airport (above) and The Noisy Airplane Ride which is especially great if either of your kids seems nervous about being on an airplane.

Cienta shoes for kids

Dress them for travel

For an easier exit from the screening area where shoes must come off, skip the lace-up sneakers and put the kids in easy-on, easy-off shoes that slip-on or use the magic of Velcro. We like See Kai Run’s Carley shoes for girls and John shoes for boys. Or if you’re heading to warm weather, look at a sneaker/sandal hybrid like the Cienta shoes for girls (shown).

While some moms swear by Crocs, we prefer those that aren’t so easy to kick off and lose under the seat while on the plane.

Skip Hop Preschool Bag

Put the kids to work
I highly recommend each child tote their own little toddler-size backpack, like those from favorites like Dante Beatrix or Skip Hop (above). It makes children feel very mature. With
restrictions on carry-on items, this is a great way to bring some of
the kids’ treasured toys without filling up your own bag. Just make sure
you pack them yourself; I’ve left the
packing to my kids and my youngest once brought about 10 pounds of

Tasty Baby Fruit Snacks

Prepare for altitude adjustments
The two standard tricks for helping young ears adjust to take-off and landing are generally sucking on a bottle or chewing gum, but those may not be ideal for your toddlers. I’d turn to something chewy, but not too chewy, like Tasty Baby’s Organic Fruit Snacks. (Just keep an eye on your kids if you’re worried about choking hazards – you know yours best.)


Quiet Book

Busy kids = happy kids
Inside the kids’ backpacks, include items that will keep them occupied for longer than five minutes but–and this is key!–don’t have a million pieces to lose under the tray table. I love small, lightweight items like Klutz’s Incredible, Outrageous Sticker Book, Bendaroos or something called a Quiet Book (shown) for younger children, which your neighbors will appreciate.

Of course you can always turn to crayons. Or a deck of cards for a game of Go Fish.

spin art app

Phone apps are your friend
If you own an iPhone or other smartphone, chances are you already have embraced the awesomeness that is their many kid-friendly apps. My sister swears by the Spin Art App (shown) and Air Hockey App which even little ones can do. Or search our archives, under Tech, for our favorite kid-friendly apps, from educational ones to pure time-killing frivolity. Just remember to adjust your phone to plane settings and shut off the connectivity.

Sony DVD

Don’t fear the DVD!
No matter how you feel about television in moving vehicles, I think that Jet Blue’s decision to put DVDs in each seat was genius for us parents who can’t compete with the attention-grabbing genius of say, Yo Gabba Gabba. If you are flying an airline without personal DVD players, CMP Publisher Kristen swears by her Sony 7-inch Portable DVD Player.

You might also invest in a pair of Airdrives Headphones for kids if you’ve got older toddlers. They grip on the outside of the ear, to protect those little ears, and still let in ambient sound.

Hey, Kristen’s husband is a pilot, she has three kids (soon to be 4!) and flies a lot. She definitely knows a thing or two about what works to keep kids happy on the plane!

Any other tips you’d share with our readers about traveling with toddlers? We’d love to hear them!


Senior Associate Editor Christina Refford loves homeschooling, running, cool kids’ music, and coffee. Not in that order.


  • Reply September 29, 2010


    It it’s at all possible, sit in the bulkhead row–you’ll have to put your bags in the overhead, but you’ll have a little more room!

  • Reply September 29, 2010



    REAR FACE both of their car seats because instead of kicking the seat in front of them they will kick their own seat. I wish I would have figured this out earlier in my life to save the stress.

    I always travel with the double stroller to make lugging two car seats easier and we use Ergo carriers to carry toddlers.

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Kristen Baxter

    I always try to get at least a couple of brand new toys, books that they have never seen before. Keeping in mind the “not a lot of parts” and quiet rules. But, I have found that if it is something new to explore it keeps their attention longer than their old regular stand buys!

  • Reply September 29, 2010


    My son has always loved to throw things (still does). After he threw his Blabla doll on the couple sitting in front of us – twice – I realized that I could not give him any of the hard toys that I had packed (ie, matchstick cars). Something I’ve kept in mind on trips since then. In the end, he played with the in-seat telephone for most of the trip.

  • Reply September 29, 2010


    A pack of post-it-notes & crayons have saved my sanity many times in flight & on long car rides. Why sticking & unsticking a post-it they drew on is so fascinating I sure don’t understand but it’s not for me to judge!

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Gaye Miller

    I use to find the wait before the flight really frustrating, however a couple of trick I have is to carry in my handbag some small toy cars (Matchbox cars). This keeps little boys entertain for a long time, are light and easy to pack away at a moments notice.

    I also try and fly on family-friendly airlines like Air New Zealand or Qantas.

  • Reply September 30, 2010


    For this situation I let my son play my PSP so that he will enjoy his trip while sitting on the plane.Check out these nap mats

  • Reply September 30, 2010

    Goddess in Progress

    I am all about the DVD player. While certainly there should be screen time limits in normal life, plane travel is a time to throw those out the window. We got two pair of kids’ headphones from Amazon and made sure to practice with them at home before we “needed” them on the plane.

    The “Water WOW” coloring books are great – my 3-year-olds adore them, and the worst that will happen is that things could get a little damp. No crayon/marker mess.

    And nothing beats the GoGoKidz Travelmates if you have kids in large carseats. Wheel ’em right to the gate, and then gate-check the carseats. Total lifesaver, even though my kids are now old enough to walk by themselves. Nice to be able to strap ’em in and go for a ride.

  • Reply September 30, 2010


    Don’t forget to throw in a container of wet ones to wipe down the seat, arm rests and what ever else your kid can reach. (Do I sound crazy? I’m not really a germophobe…Just a little when it comes to public transportation…)

  • Reply September 30, 2010


    The book that we loved was My First Airplane Ride. It included a lot of waiting and details about taking off your shoes at security, and the loud rumbling that happens when the airplane takes off.

    I brought lots of new/cool activities but my toddler just loved reading books he already was familiar with. Also brought a new mp3 player and headphones, but it was too loud in the airplane for him to get what they were for.

    Definitely bring the carseat if you can – they are securely strapped in then! And if you have it in too tightly, know that the belt itself can be detached from the seat in order to get some slack to loosen it. It is far too easy to get yourself into a Chinese handcuff situation.


  • Reply October 3, 2010


    We just went to Korea with a 3 1/2 year old and 15 month old. I brought a ton of snacks, books, toys and the DVD player. One tip is to wrap all the toys or really anything that you’re bringing with you. The kids feel like they are getting a present and the unwrapping can be an activity in itself! Using lots of ribbons can also add some entertainment to the unwrapping.

  • Reply October 3, 2010


    We try not to fly with carseats if we can help it and the get them with the car rental. Some companies waive the fee for AAA members.

    We use the CARES harness instead. It’s weighs about a pound and is easy to carry in a small drawstring bag, and it’s FAA approved for takeoff, landing, and everything in between. We have used them for short and trans-Atlantic flights with great success.

    Another thing we did for long flights is load up old iPhones with favorite movies and use the tadpole headphones for kids. No one believed my daughter was only two on our flight back from London last spring. She didn’t fuss at all. She either watched movies or napped the whole time.

  • Reply October 3, 2010

    M Harris

    If you are traveling with a carseat, I second the GoGo Travelmate. I’ve taken my 28 month old on 8 airplane trips (six by myself), and this product has made my life so much easier. Buy one now.

    Also, if you plan on bringing a DVD player or iPad, invest in a pair of noise canceling headphones, too. Your little one will not be able to hear his movie over the roar of the airplane engines with regular headphones and will quickly lose interest.

    Have a treat bag full of those tiny M&M’s ready to go. In the midst of a full-blown meltdown in the security line, nothing changes an attitude like little colorful candies that my son doesn’t normally get to have.

  • Cool Mom Picks
    Reply October 3, 2010

    Cool Mom Picks

    We completely agree – thanks so much for the reminder M. Love the GoGo travelmate.


  • Reply October 4, 2010

    Lisa Bruckner

    Agree with the headphones tip. BIG help in keeping them focused and seated.

    For shorter trips, Play Doh, stickers and a ball point pen and note pad that looks similar to a check book (which is usually off limits) has been very helpful.

    When flying overseas with a toddler, my best friend has been a bottle of cough syrup (as recommended by my pediatrician). She slept like a baby, and the rest of us did too (unlike the first time when we took turns walking her up and down the aisle for nine hours after she became bored with the fifty pounds of snacks, videos, books and new toys we brought).

    Someone should design and sell some hip Travel Grab Bags for kids of different age brackets that parents can buy in a jiff before trips.

    Don’t forget the cough syrup :)

  • Reply June 29, 2012

    Amy C

    Do NOT drug your child. That is an awful way to get through a flight!

    • Reply June 11, 2014

      Kerry H

      Ah yes Amy C….always one that has to come and put their two cents in. Why don’t you mind your own business if you don’t have something helpful to add.

  • […] post-it notes can also be great in-flight toddler entertainment too, as people commenting over at Cool Mom Picks and A Cup of Joe point […]

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