When Daniel went up to Alaska this February, I was supposed to stay home with our daughter for the two weeks he was away. Supposed to. But the day he left, I did what I normally do and got a wild idea. The next thing I knew, Emelia and I were booked to fly up to Fairbanks to meet him.
We've flown with Emelia to and from England, the Bahamas, and back and forth across the continental United States all at her ripe old age of two, but I'd never flown with her by myself. And what a trip to start off with . . . about 19 hours of travel with three flight connections.
With one week to prep before we took off, Google searches for "how to survive flying with a toddler" and "things to keep a toddler happy on an airplane" quickly took over my browser history. I wanted to keep our carry on baggage as minimal as possible, so all of the lists I read through were quickly pared down to the bare essentials.
So here you have it -- what we took with us on the plane, what worked, and what I wish we wouldn't have bothered with.
MUST-HAVE ITEMS FOR FLYING WITH A TODDLER
This one came up on quite a few lists. Reviewers were saying that it was helpful for keeping their kiddos seated because it reminded them of being tucked into their car seat. It's FAA Approved, comes in a handy carrying bag, is pretty simple to use . . . and aside from taking it out of the bag to give it a look-over when it first arrived, I never used it once. I know, I'm a bad parent for only using the strap seatbelt on the airplane, but giving kiddo a little extra room to wiggle made her much more docile for the long haul. Plus, when the seatbelt sign was turned off, it was much easier buckle and unbuckle the regular airplane seatbelt while she was snoozing.
Verdict: Yeah Sure, Why Not
These little things actually ended up being pretty helpful. What I liked about buying headphones made for a toddler was that the volume only went up so high (less chance of her cranking it up to 11 and blowing her little eardrums), the band portion fit properly so they stayed snug on her head, and they have a real, at this point "old school" cable so that they can plug into the airplane TV. They were surprisingly sturdy and must have been comfortable, because kiddo wore them for I'd say about 50% of the flight time . . . which is impressive, when you consider that was about 7 hours.
Oh! And bonus -- the cord on the particular set I purchased (link above) was wrapped in a woven fabric, so it was well protected and stood up to all the times she yanked the cord out of the jack.
Plenty of people raved about how this helped their kiddo fall asleep and stay asleep on the plane, but I found that it was just too bulky for Emelia -- it forced her head forward because it was too much bulk between her and the back of the airplane seat. I tried deflating it a bit, but it was still just too much for her. She did use it for an actual pillow for . . . about 0.2 seconds, but that's it.
Buy it. Buy it right now. Don't have a flight planned yet? Don't care. If you have a young child (maybe 5 years old or younger) and you have even the whisper of a thought of airplane travel in your future, this is the best thing you could possibly buy.
Why? Oh, let me count the ways.
It SAVED my sanity, which was unexpected -- after all, I just bought this for Emelia's comfort. BUT . . . have you ever dropped something on the floor of an airplane? One, it's disgusting. And two, it's impossible to retrieve without doing some sort of bone-crunching yoga move that unavoidably leaves you with a side cramp and wondering if you'll ever be able to sit back up again from your crunched position. NOW. Think about how many times your adorable little angel drops things. By accident. On purpose. Solely to make your life a living hell. All of those times around the house, the grocery store, Target, you name it. Now imagine all of those drops happening . . . on an airplane. It's enough to make any parent have a Stage 5 meltdown and never want to fly with their child again. But with this magical footrest contraption, things don't fall to the floor . . . they simply sit there, cradled at your fingertips by the soft fabric that is easily within arm's reach. The footrest perfectly takes up all the space between your child's seat, the seat in front of them, and the wall of the airplane (I put Emelia in the window seat), so nothing falls to the floor.
Not enough to convince you? Well, hold onto your baby wipes, my friend. You're about to be convinced.
This airplane footrest is the only reason my child slept on any of the flights. It was the perfect height, so it essentially turned her short little airplane seat into the toddler equivalent of those fully-reclining first class seats that we all stare at longingly when we're boarding. She could lay down, get cozy with her teddy bear and a blanket, and catch some zzz's. It was amazing.
Now, you do get a bit of oxygen overload trying to blow it up, and you do catch some looks and even some questions from neighbors asking what on earth that is, but trust me -- all of those things fade away when your kiddo stops fussing, jumping, eating, saying "mommy" ten million times, and just goes.to.sleep.
Maybe you could also call these no-brainers, but hey -- they were helpful.
Airplanes can get damn cold. Bring your kiddo's favorite little snuggly blanket and things will be much more enjoyable for you both.
I mean of course, right? Your little travel buddy needs their little travel buddy.
Imagine alllll the people who have sat in your child's airplane seat. Lovely thought, right? Now imagine your child touching that seat. And then sucking their thumb. You get the picture. Wipe that seat down niiiiiice and clean before your kiddo gets settled in. We can only imagine who was in that seat before them.
You really don't need kiddo spilling their apple juice all over the place when the plane hits some rough are. Do yourself a favor and pack one of these along (we use the Munchkin sippy cups) to put kiddo's beverages into.
Change of Clothes
Because even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. Maybe there will be a diaper blowout. Maybe you'll have the lovely discovery that your child gets air sick. Either way, a change of clothes is never a bad thing.
iPad with Pre-Downloaded Shows and Games
We're all a bit spoiled with so many airplanes having screens now, but on our multi-let journey we did have a plane without a screen. Luckily, I had the iPad all charged up and pre-loaded with some movies and games. The pre-loaded part is crucial, because you can't always depend on airplane wifi to work, and even if it does, it's not going to be lightning quick when you're frantically trying to download Frozen 2.
Emelia felt like such a big kid carrying her book, a couple toys, and some snacks in her own backpack. Bonus: It also helped as a quick grab handle when she started to veer into the path of strangers while walking through the terminals.
Any pro tips of your own to share? Or how about some funny anecdotes about your travels with a toddler? Drop them in the comments below!