The first time my son and I were going to travel by plane, I did a lot of googling. It can be nervewracking to travel with a small child (my son was 3 months when we took our first flight) and it's hard to know what exactly to expect. A little over 2 years later, 12 flights and 6 security checkpoints later, I can say, it's still hard to know exactly what to expect when traveling with a child. Each of our experiences has been slightly different, particularly when it comes to TSA, but below are some tips that I believe will help any parent of a toddler prepare to take a flight.
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Make sure you know the family boarding policy for your airline.
It wasn't until my fifth time boarding a plane with my son that I figured out that not all airlines automatically offer family boarding. I had a group number and there was no call for passengers traveling with young children or families. I immediately jumped in line to talk to a gate agent. Turns out, I had to ask. Make sure you know whether or not the airline allows early boarding for families and whether or not you will automatically be given pre-boarding (or if you have to inquire). Also, make sure you know the age limit for family boarding when you board (some airlines have families board after elite and first-class passengers) and whether or not preboarding is only for families with strollers or car seats. (You can read about airline family boarding policies in this post.)
Carefully think through your seat selection.
I had initially planned to tell you where to sit but when I had asked for tips on traveling with a toddler on my Instagram account, someone had suggested the exact opposite. Her points were valid, so I think the important thing is to really give some thought to your seat selection. My son has yet to potty train and on all but our most recent flight, he was nursing. So far, having a window seat has made the most sense for us. I've been able to at least try to be private about breastfeeding, especially, when he was older/young toddler aged and wouldn't stay covered! And when it comes to exit the plane, we can take our time and not feel rushed because there are passengers wanting out of the row. Now, next time we fly he will be potty trained (at least, I hope he is) and this might completely change (I'm still undecided but I'll let you know in a few months!).
Buy a couple of new airplane friendly toys.
Before your flight, buy some new toys to give your toddler. Your little one will be excited to have something new and, hopefully, it will help keep him occupied. I suggest buying new toys for both your departing and return flight. Keep the toys for the return flight tucked away during the trip. Crayola Mess-free coloring products and Melissa & Doug Water Wow's are great for the airplane!
If you are like me, then you might like to disregard the suggested time to arrive at the airport. Yes, unless you are flying out of an extremely busy airport, most of the time it doesn't take that long. However, when traveling with kids, follow the suggestion and arrive early. You just never know what is going to happen.
Carry your child's birth certificate or passport.
Minors are not required to show photo ID but you can be asked for your child's birth certificate. I have yet to be asked but I did notice on our most recent flight that my son was asked his name either by the person checking our bags or TSA. Now, my son does not go by his legal first name, so I wonder if it will only be a matter of time before I am asked to show his birth certificate. If you have a passport for your child, that's even better. Again, just make sure your child's documents are in an easily accessible place!
Pack plenty of snacks.
You just never know what's going to happen when you're traveling, so be prepared with plenty of snacks. We love Annie's snacks.
Put snacks in a plastic bag.
While we're on the subject of snacks, I suggest putting your snacks together in a ziploc bag that can be easily removed from your carry on. On our last flight, TSA told me to take all of my snacks out. At this point, my son was already out of his stroller which made it a little stressful to dig for the snacks, not to mention embarrassing since I had shoved them into every nook and cranny.
Take an empty sippy cup.
I know this probably doesn't need to be said but we've all forgotten a sippy cup before. Make sure you have an empty one packed in your carry on (one that won't be stowed in the overhead compartment).
Take a lightweight stroller.
A stroller is a must-have when traveling with a toddler and a lightweight stroller will make navigating through the airport and TSA lines much easier, especially if you are the only adult.
Don't forget the tablet and headphones.
Regardless of what your feelings are about screens, do yourself a favor and take a tablet and volume limiting headphones. Both Netflix and Amazon Video allow you to download. Tip: Don't do this too far in advance as the downloads expire. Also, be sure to download again before you return home because, again, they expire!
Don't forget to the wipes.
Toddlers are dirty. Planes are dirty. Trust me, you'll need the wipes!
Carry an extra outfit for your little one.
I know space is limited but toddlers are notorious for wardrobe changes. Be prepared with an extra outfit, just in case.