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Leaving on a jet plane (with a toddler)

May 30, 2013


I’ve gotten on a plane with J the last two weekends in a row. He’s quite the frequent flyer by age two and a half. Lucky for me, he’s a really good traveler and has been since he was a teeny baby. I took him on an airplane for the first time when he was four months old. All by myself. It was terrifying. I even practiced at home, getting everything onto the security conveyer belt. (I know, I’m crazy — but at first I couldn’t imagine how I’d hold him AND have two hands to put everything up there.)

In case there are any other terrified new moms out there, here are my tips for traveling with an infant or toddler.


Bring a stroller that fits the infant car seat. The security line is actually really easy. You take the car seat off the stroller, with the baby inside it. Then you throw everything else you have on the belt. Take the baby out of the car seat last and throw that up there with one hand, while you’re holding the baby. On the other side, put the baby in the car seat first, and then get everything together. (This is probably really obvious to everyone else, but it took my “practice session” for me to understand these logistics.) The stroller and car seat can be gate checked plane side for no charge — or if you bought a seat for the baby, you can bring the car seat on and strap it into the seat.

Forget the roller bag. Bring a soft carry on bag instead. If you have a big stroller, it can fit in the basket underneath, or you can hang it across the top of the stroller. I’ve had great success with this one.

Give the baby something to suck on during take off or landing. Pacifier, bottle or breast — choose your own adventure. It helps eliminate any pain from pressure changes.

If you’re using powdered formula, buy a bottle of water and mix it past security. You’re technically able to bring on any liquids you need for infants, but TSA will take it aside and “test” it. Much easier to just bring the powder. Just don’t forget to buy the water!

If possible, try to time naps for when you’re in the air. The loud white noise usually puts babies right to sleep.


Once they’re old enough, bring an iPad or other tablet device. (I wrote about toddlers and technology a few weeks ago, and I clearly come out on the “pro” side. I don’t know how parents entertained their children for the length of a plane ride before iPads.) This is one of the few times I let J watch movies on the iPad. He also loves several games and — even at this age — is amazingly adept at navigating the iPad and finding the games he wants. We bought him these toddler headphones for our last trip.

Check the huge convertible car seat — or have one at your destination. We’ve tried this several ways and it’s easiest to let your toddler sit right in the airplane seat, rather than bringing the giant car seat on the plane. (However, for longer flights, it might be worth it if you really want your child to be able to sleep. The airplane seat is really too big for them to get comfortable. If you are bringing the big car seat with you on the plane, forget the stroller and get one of these. Your child can ride through the airport in style and you don’t have to lug that enormous contraption around.)

Have lots of extra snacks and drinks. Even though they’re past the formula stage, don’t forget to buy that bottle of water once you’re past security. It often takes too long for the airplane service to get to you.

Do not let your toddler have his own rolling suitcase. We made this mistake for our Chicago trip. It was cute for a minute (see above), but then J would alternately not want to carry his bag or demand that he have it. (We also didn’t take the stroller with us because we knew we’d be taking the El frequently in Chicago and wanted to eliminate the need for an elevator. With two adults, these two things weren’t the biggest problem in the world — but I wouldn’t recommend either one on a regular basis.)

And, my biggest tip for both infants and toddlers is — pack light! For my first trip with J, I brought everything I could possibly need in any circumstances. Now, I make sure to bring as little as possible.

We’re grounded for awhile now, but looking forward to our next trip to Illinois in July to see J’s grandparents and aunts and uncles. I will have my iPad with me.

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