I have been meaning to write this post for weeks now but since I just wrote about changing diapers on a plane yesterday, I thought it would be appropriate to continue with the topic of flying. For the most part, many of the recommendations that I made in my flying with an infant post still apply to flying with a toddler. However, it appears that since that post, many airlines are no longer allowing pre-boarding for families with young children. I think this is especially terrible when traveling with a toddler. Toddlers are at an age where they're beginning to assert some independence and having extra time to board without too many distractions is a great benefit. When flying, unfortunately, many of us are at the mercy of the airlines and I hope that my experiences can help some of you have a more enjoyable experience.
Flying with a toddler can be uncomfortable if they are still being held on your lap without their own seat during the flight. There are two devices that I started flying with to help ease the "pain" of flying with a lap child. The first was a Baby B'Air Flight Vest. This is a vest that you can put over the baby and attach to your seat belt. It is designed to "tether" your baby so they don't go flying out of your arms during turbulence. It is not FAA approved for take offs and landings but for the cruising portion of the flight. I have to admit that I was very happy to have this device after we experienced over two hours of turbulence on our flight to Spain. It wasn't the worst turbulence I ever felt but definitely the longest. We couldn't get any food, beverages or even use the bathroom during that time. It just left me a little more at ease knowing my baby wouldn't fly out of my arms during turbulence.
Another device that I always pack in the event of an open seat on our flight is the CARES harness. It is FAA approved and you can use this in lieu of a car seat for children that weigh at least 22 pounds. On our way back to the US from Spain, there was an empty seat in our row that we were able to safely secure our toddler to the seat. It is lightweight and folds compactly and it doesn't take much room in our carry-on luggage. Since we travel a lot, it is worth the investment since we'll be using it on every flight now that our toddler is over two years old and we are required to buy a seat for him. It sure beats lugging the car seat around the airport! We did not have it on our flight to Rome which we regretted. There was an empty seat on that flight as well but since we checked in his carseat, we had no way to secure him to the seat during the flight.
I think one of the big things with flying with a toddler is to be prepared with lots of distractions. I pack a separate bag filled with "goodies" for the flight. I stow that under the seat in front of me so it is easily accessible. I bring a snack cup and a bag of snacks to put in the cup. I also use a "secure a toy" to help keep it from falling on the ground. I also pack his favorite sippy cup and tether that with a strap to also keep it from falling.
I've learned that on shorter flights, they may not always have milk available on board. If that is the case, it is not a bad idea to buy some milk at the airport before boarding. I thought I would outsmart the TSA and bring boxed milk with me but they made me open it so they could test a sample. Lesson learned. It is easier to just buy it at the airport than trying to bring it from home. When I was breastfeeding, it wasn't an issue but as my toddler began weaning, having milk available suddenly became very important. There is nothing like having a screaming toddler on the plane crying for milk when there is none available.
I also buy one new book and bring it out during the flight. Thankfully my toddler enjoys reading so a good book is always something that can keep him occupied. I also make sure to pack some of his favorite books to bring something familiar from home to remind him of his usual "routine." I also make an album of pictures for him. I buy those cheap plastic picture albums and fill it with pictures of our dog, his grandparents, cousins, friends, etc. I try to find pictures that I know will bring him comfort in unfamiliar surroundings. I use a cheap album and prints of digital pictures so he is free to bend pages without fear of damaging important photographs.
I also pack his pajamas so when it is "bedtime," I try to mimic our usual bedtime routine as close as possible. I change him into his pajamas, read him a book and give him his blanket and stuffed animal to cuddle with. Luckily he is not "attached" to a specific blanket or stuffed animal so his travel blanket with ties (made by ROSK) and his backpack "child safety harness" doubles as a stuffed animal.
What is a child safety harness? It is basically a backpack that a child straps to his body that is connected to a strap that a parent can hold. The purpose is for parents to keep their toddler "attached" to them to avoid them from wandering off and getting lost or hurt. It can be controversial since many parents oftentimes compare it to a "leash." I for one, have no problem using them since I know especially when in an different environment, kids can wander off and get lost. I use it a lot at the airport to prevent him from getting lost amongst the hundreds of travelers. It is also especially handy when we venture out at home. Being 35 weeks pregnant, I'm not necessarily as fast as I used to be and chasing after a toddler can be downright dangerous since he outruns me these days.
As an absolute last resort, I also pack our old iPhone. I load old pictures and videos on it and have his favorite movie on it as well. He has never really watched a movie other than on an airplane before and even with the limited exposure, he has grown quite fond of the Cars movies. I can let him play with it without fear of him mistakenly deleting pictures on our phones (which he's done before). It is also nice to have at our destination since we can use the GPS features without fear of being charged outrageous data roaming prices.
To make my life a little more bearable on the flight, I pack a reusable wide-mouth water bottle. I've had more than one occasion where my little guy reached for my inflight beverage and spilled it everywhere. It is easier to just have the flight attendant pour the drink into the cup so a lid can be tightly fastened over it. It is also handy to have at your destination for filling up on the go. It was nice to have in Rome with all of their public water fountains.
Eating on the flight with a toddler as a lap child can be quite the challenge. I pack a bowl with lid and an eating mat along with a bib and utensils. I always pack the bowl with lid so I can store food and have it ready if he is not ready to eat when they bring food around. We've also discovered that stacking two trays on top of each other will allow one parent to eat while the other holds the toddler. It can be tricky but worth it when you're hungry. Obviously, if you were on a short flight with no food, it is always a good idea to pack food for the flight because kids get hungry quite frequently. I either bring food from home or buy some at the airport before boarding. Once again, the bowl with lid is handy for storing food until they're ready to eat.
It's been a few months since our last trip and I am already going through travel withdrawal. With the baby due in a few weeks, I don't think we're going anywhere anytime soon. I'm sure I'm probably forgetting something but if I am, I'll just write another post at a later time. My severe lack of sleep due to pregnancy insomnia is making my thinking a little cloudy at the moment. Please write a comment if you have any questions or if you have any suggestions.