10 Tips for Long-Haul Flights with Toddlers

KLM_T7_&_sunset_(8128788932)In her two years and two months, my daughter has flown to Kazakhstan, Thailand, Chile, Albania, and Italy. That includes over a dozen between continent, long-haul flights. At this point, I don’t consider myself an expert, but I sure do have a lot of experience with the two and under crowd on long-haul flights.
We have done it all: perfect trips where she cooed, played, and slept; terrible tantrums on board that only a two year old could throw; and more often, somewhere in the middle. While each kids is different and temperament honestly probably has more to do with success than actual parenting, here are my top ten tips for traveling with a toddler on long-haul flights.
10 Tips to Make Long-Haul Flights with a Toddler Bearable

  1. If at all possible, schedule a flight for the afternoon – preferably one where you won’t have to wake her from a nap to go to the airport. Flights that greatly disrupt sleep routines are a recipe for disaster.
  2. If you are able to get a flight leaving later in the day, make sure the morning is filled with activities to tire her out as opposed to last minute packing.
  3. Pack snacks and liquid. Yes, airlines on long-haul flights will feed you— but what about the in-between times? I have successfully transported cartons of milk through security check points. Don’t trust that your airline will actually have milk on board.
  4. Do not order the children’s meal or at least ask what is in it first. On Air France’s flight between Paris and Santiago (13 hours), our daughter was given only one meal. Adults were given two. Don’t airlines realize that kids eat more often than adults? Also, the meal itself was full of sugar and lacking in nutrition and protein. My daughter is not a picky eater; we do well with an adult meal for her.
  5. If your child is under two, she will not require an airplane seat. Obviously, this is the cheapest way to fly! I have done it. Long-haul flights with nowhere to place your child are hard. And tiring. If you can pay for a seat, do it. If not (and I totally understand the not), try and fly on an off day where it is more likely to get an empty seat on the flight for your child to stretch out in
  6. Bring a FAA approved car seat on the plane. Or don’t. Honestly, I go back on forth on this one. On the one hand, your child is much safer in an FAA approved car seat than in your lap. Also, if she sleeps, it will give you the chance to sleep. Most importantly, having the car seat with you will assure you have it at your destination and they airline doesn’t lose it. On the other hand, if your little one likes to move around and hates feeling trapped, she might resist. This resistance may turn into the worst tantrum you have ever experienced (it did for me). In this case, good luck.
  7. Bring toys. Crayons and paper have been a big hit for my daughter, but they only keep her attention for so long. Something new might keep her attention for a while. Toys that make noise will only annoy the person sitting next to you—and probably less so than loud sobs. The plane makes enough noise that people in front and behind you won’t hear. IPad games and puzzles may be a space saving way to entertain your little one. Don’t forget the lovey, blanket, or binkie that your little one can’t live with out– and don’t leave it on the plane.
  8. Bring extra clothes. Airplane temperatures are so unpredictable: one flight might feel like the arctic pole while the next is the Siberian desert. An uncomfortable toddler is going to be a fussy toddler. While you are at it, throw in a change for yourself as well! You never know when someone is going to spill their cranberry juice (or worse) in your lap.
  9. Figure out how you can transport all your luggage while carrying a screaming child. Log this under hope for the best and plan for the worst. If your kid is in a full out tantrum and you need to get to your next gate, can you do it? Employing either an umbrella stroller or ergo might do the trick—but make sure that the airport will actually give you your stroller. Note, Rome will not.
  10. Bring a sense of humility and perhaps a dozen sets of earplugs. Even the best kids and the best prepared parents can have a bad day. My daughter, usually an angel, has had flights that brought me to tears and our neighbors to riot. Do your best. Remember, this too shall pass.


  1. I have done the La Serena-Santiago-Europe-UK flight with my daughters at different ages, sometimes alone but mostly with my husband, (but no guarantee we got seats together!!)

    Some of my tips would be:
    At one time we used a framed backpack which is great up to a certain age, and children can sit in it on the floor in airports.
    A big squishy stuffed toy with Velcro hands so it can hold on can be played with and also used as a pillow in airports.
    Lots of small toys, and a change of clothes, and let people help. I got sick while I was travelling alone with my daughter when she was three, and people helped me on the plane as well as getting from gate to gate.

    And in case one day I should forget, my youngest daughter reminds me of the time I lost her carry on bag in Santiago because I was sick and a bit out of it. She cried for two nights, all of her new Christmas toys were in the bag. And she says airports still make her feel sad because of her loss. She was 6. I know there is no guarantee that bags won’t get lost in the cargo hold either, but now we leave the most loved teddies at home.

    • That is a great point. Losing stuff is always a consideration. And, ugh! The Xmas gifts. That said, I don’t think it really permanently scared her.

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