I have been there and done that, quite successfully if I may add. I flew alone with S after he just turned 1 on a 23 hour flight, did not scream or throw anything in frustration and conducted myself with much poise throughout the journey. We both got off the plane with almost no scars; S’s minor head-bumping episode and a lost shoe were the only casualties. We smelled great and looked clean when we arrived at our destination in Mumbai, India and S was cheerful and excited to meet his grandparents. Mission accomplished!
Are you flying with a toddler soon and dreading the flight? I learned a lot from my experience; here are 10 tips to make your life easier.
1. Time your flight properly
I chose an itinerary where the longer flight of 16 hours to Doha, Qatar coincided with S’s night-time. After the flight took off at 7 pm, I fed S and he dozed off around 9 pm. He slept soundly for most part of next 9 hours and I could catch some sleep as well.
Also I traveled in late November which is shoulder season for flights to India. Shoulder season means relatively empty flights and better chance of getting free seat for your lap child. It also means shorter security line. While off/shoulder season travel may not be always possible, you can do simple things like avoiding weekend flights for a less chaotic travel experience.
2. Choose your seat wisely
Bulkhead seats with bassinets are useful only if you have a newborn or an infant that doesn’t turn over or crawl since most bassinets are wall-mounted and just 6-8 inches deep. You can always opt for bulkhead seat for more legroom and ease of getting in/out but I chose the very back row for my flight with S. The back rows are mostly empty unless it’s a full flight. My entire row was empty and S stretched out on 2 seats as he slept. If you are traveling with a partner, book the aisle and window seats and request the airlines to hold the middle seat when you check-in.
3. Demilitarize the food battle
Flying is not the time to force healthy eating habits on your toddler. I armed myself with all of S’s favorite cookies, crackers, puffed rice snacks, M&M’s and some baby food jars. I fed S some baby food while he watched a movie; I gave him whatever he wanted for the rest of the flight as long as it kept him happy. Though don’t go overboard with this, you don’t want to manage a sugar rush. Also keep liquids handy, your toddler needs to be well hydrated during the flight.
4. Remember my rule of 5
I have followed this rule since S was 6 months old; I always have a minimum of 5 types of snacks, 5 small toys and 5 objects that could be used as toys (think straws, plastic spoons, pencil, clips etc) easily accessible in my purse. Most toddlers can be easily distracted from boredom, tantrums and falls when you have 15 things to work with. While I don’t like to limit S-Boy’s screen time, tablets are a lifesaver during flights. If you are an Apple fan, check out this awesome list of educational iPad apps designed to keep your toddler occupied.
5. Have your plugged-up ear popping strategy ready
Our ears are sensitive to changes in cabin pressure and can cause discomfort in the form of muffled hearing, plugged-up feeling and pain. It is recommended to nurse your baby or give a bottle or pacifier to ‘pop’ the ears and relieve discomfort. S did not experience any discomfort but I always keep his pacifier with me as a soother in unfamiliar situations.
6. Flight attendants are your best friends, followed closely by other passengers.
Since we sat in the back row near the galley, many flight attendants waved at S as they went about their work. One walked him around the plane while I had my food, another searched in vain for S’s lost shoe. They played games with him, offered him snacks and juices and made him chuckle by tossing him in the air. They kept an eye on S as he slept so that I could stretch my legs.
My second flight was full and I sat next to two female travelers who offered to help with S as I fed him, distracted him when he got cranky and helped me gather my things as we alighted.
7. Plan a hands free transit strategy
Even if you gate check your stroller you may not get it during transit. This happened to me. Doha International Airport has its own strollers but all of them were taken. I needed to lug a heavy backpack and big purse, and S wanted to stretch his legs and run around the terminal. Fortunately I had planned ahead and brought his baby carrier along. I could easily manage the long walk through security to my next flight’s gate without tiring myself.
8. Plan diaper changes
I use overnight diapers while traveling and always change S between security and boarding. I changed him once during the middle of the night in the 16 hour flight when most passengers were sleeping and toilets were free. Thus I avoided participating in the toilet rush before landing. I again changed S between security and boarding at our transit airport. This is obviously out of your hands when dealing with a poop diaper, but you can always hope for the best.
9.Use family rooms or family restroom during transit to freshen up
I snagged one family room at Doha International Airport, fed S till he was full, changed his diaper, socks and clothes, cleaned the grime of his hands, neck and face, brushed his teeth and combed his hair. He looked so clean and happy; you could never have guessed that the boy just got off a 16 hour flight. Then I freshened up while S burnt off his energy by running around the family room. Just like that, we were looking forward to the next flight.
10. It’s not over when you exit the flight
Getting off an international flight is usually followed by long immigration lines, customs checks, and baggage claim woes. That adds at least 1.5-3 hours to your journey depending on destination airport and is enough to test the patience of a toddler. I again used the family restroom to freshen up S and myself before even reaching immigration desks. Consequently S was relaxed and happy when we finally exited the airport and looking forward to meeting his extended family. The extra time was so worth it!
Have I forgotten anything important? Do you have other great tips to make flying with toddlers a breeze? I invite you to comment and share your experience of traveling with toddlers.