A Mom's Guide to Flying with a Toddler
Maybe I'm a little crazy, or maybe I just really enjoy challenges because I am about to embark on a long, and hard journey: flying across the country with a toddler by myself, during a pandemic, and while wearing masks. Now, I ask you, what sane person would voluntarily do this? In all honesty, I have so much anxiety and worry about this trip, and have for quite some time, for many reasons, on many levels.
You see -- my family has been doing all the right precautions since March 2020. We practiced social distancing, we always wear our masks, we are vaccinated, we amped up our vitamins, we try to stay away from big crowds, and also limit interaction in hot spot places. So, why the hell am I taking my almost 4-year-old on an airplane to Los Angeles? For family.
Long story - May 2020 I get a random message on Facebook from a girl saying she's my sister (WTF!?!?!?). Fast forward 16 months later and my sister is my best friend, I found out I have a brother, and after 30 years of separation, I am beginning a relationship with my father. That's why I am boarding a plane during a pandemic with my toddler; because of family. When we first booked the trip, numbers were pretty low and we felt safe with our decision. I guess we could have guessed that summer would be a cluster you know what and the numbers rose and we see the outbreaks and the Delta variant running rapidly across the country.
With those worries, I called my PCP; he does not sugarcoat, he cares about me and my family, and so I asked him some hard questions about our trip. His advice:
1. Get N95 masks for both you and your toddler
2. Be hypervigilant on cleanliness (sanitizer, washing hands, touching things, etc.)
3. Throw your masks away the minute you get off the plane, and use a new mask at every new location.
4. Stay away from restaurants.
5. Amp up vitamin intake
6. Enjoy the sunshine, it's therapeutic.
With that conversation had I felt so much better, and as a planner, I felt confident that I could pack for any type of issue we may encounter on our journey. I've done the hard work, and spent countless hours researching and getting everything ready to travel so here is my Mom's guide to help you.
Before Going To the Airport
One of the things I will do the day of the flight is call the airline and see if there is a way we can board early because of Braxton having sensory issues. Sometimes they will allow you to board first with a child that needs a bit extra time, and to also get their bearings before everyone else boards the plane. If you are also fortunate enough, your little one may be able to look inside the cockpit and meet the pilots as well. The few extra minutes to board the plane with out being overwhelmed with people moving and making noise can really help the child acclimate to the new experience.
Things to Take on the Plane
I have one and I got B a small one from Walmart ($5) that are bright colors so they are easy to find. See below for what I packed in each of our book bags.
I wanted to save the fee and hassle of checking a bag so I am packing diligently. Because we are visiting family a lot of things we may need my sister or a cousin would be able to help us in a pinch, so I felt less worried about packing extra medicine, toiletries, and beach towels. This saved a lot of room. For our bags, I have a hard case carry-on and a duffle bag. Why did I choose these two? The carry-on is on wheels and easy to haul, and the duffle bag can go on top of it, which leaves me one hand available at all times to hold on to B. I also have a strap for the carry-on that our backpacks can hang on if we need to take them off.
3. Plane activities
I tried really hard to get a direct flight, but that was a bit cost-prohibitive. We have a one-hour layover in Phoenix on our way which means we are in the air about four hours before we get a little break. I made our flight a 5 pm flight so B would be a bit tired, and more likely to fall asleep on the plane. I am having him do his normal routine that day -- get up go to school and play. I'll pick him up an hour early, make sure he eats a good meal and then head off to the airport. I plan on us getting to the airport at least two hours early for multiple reasons.
-B is a sensory kid so sight and sound can overwhelm him. He will need time to process the airport, the noises, and the people. This time allows us to get in, get settled, and explore.
-Going to the bathroom! I want to make sure the little dude can work some energy out before we get on the plane and use the restroom so when we sit down we do not have to do the up and down potty game.
- Storytelling. For toddlers, creating a story of what is happening can help lessen fears. I have some pictures printed out on coloring pages for B to be able to color a story of our trip. This helps in two ways: I can tell him what and how the plane is operating and our next steps, and two, he can begin to retell the story in his own words which helps him process what we are doing.
Now for what we will do once we are on the plane?
On The Plane
1. Ipad or streaming device.
I am very fortunate that we have an iPad and this will help tremendously on the plane. If you have Disney+ or Netflix you can download a show or a few movies to your iPad or phone to watch offline. I downloaded three of B's favorite Disney Movies and a few episodes of a few shows he likes on Netflix. Doing this ensures that if our flight doesn't have wifi that he can still watch something for entertainment, especially if there are no movies or shows as a potential option on the plane (again, plan for all potential meltdowns). I also found a great set of padded headphones that are Bluetooth synced to take on the plane. We found ours at Five Below, but you can find them on Amazon too.
B also loves watching learning videos on Youtube. Some of the videos you can download, and some you can't so --- worst case scenario -- if your kid loves the same 4 minutes Youtube video *cough Ryan's World* -- you can always screen record the video for a few minutes and save it to your phone.
2. Window clings
Thanks to Aunt Merdy who found this hack for us when we went to Disneyworld two years ago. The window clings are an easy activity to pass time. We purchased ours from the Dollar Store, but you can find them on Amazon and Target too. The best part is that if they get yucky, you can just throw them away, and they take up little space in your carry-on.
My kid is an eater. I already mentioned that I would be giving him a meal before we get on the plane, but snacks are an instrumental tool for compliance as well. I packed things that would travel well, less like to crumble and break, and also have a decent amount of nutritional value. Like many places the airports are also understaffed, so places to get food or snacks may have long lines, which means a potential meltdown, so planning not only saves a few dollars but a lot of potential issues.
4. Blanket or a lovey.
We love blankets at our house and no exaggeration when I say Braxton probably has a dozen. For this trip, I asked him to pick out one that he wanted to take with him that would make him feel cozy. He chose his shark blanket. I washed it and added extra fabric softener so it would smell like home. Because it is a smaller plush one, I rolled it uptight, and it can fit in the straps of my bookbag, which makes it super easy and portable for us to take on the trip. The blanket is a comfort item, a piece of home on this long, new journey, and also great because planes can get cold.
5. Plane games
I found some cute magnetic activities at Target (thanks Bullseye Playground). If you can't find them there, Amazon has them as well. These are compact and easy to take, and because they were inexpensive, I won't be upset if we lose it, or it gets lost. Key to travel -- take one item your kid loves as a comfort, but not something irreplaceable, like their baby blanket. I let B pick out a few toys from a grouping I put out to take on the plane. I picked specific toys, that if we lost, wouldn't be a big deal or I can order again.
Other items we packed that made sense for us, and may for your family too include:
- An Apple Air Tag
- Cell phone charging brick
-Mask Refresher from Royally Fit
- Cell phone/iPad charging cords
- Travel Emergency kit (this has a few things to help with pain and nausea)
-10 oz travel cup for toddler and mommy
The best tip for traveling --- be prepared and be ready to have forgotten something, it's inevitable. Every family's needs are going to be different-- so what I needed for my trip could be completely different for what you need. Also, the time of day and duration of your flight can also dictate the things you may need to take on the plane to occupy your child. You know your kid better than anyone else, so go with your gut instinct and you will do great.
Happy and safe travels to you!