Air Travel with an Older Baby/Toddler

Hello from snowy Michigan!
Henry and I flew in on Wednesday and it’s been great to spend time with my family and I’m looking forward to visiting with some friends while we’re here. When I posted pictures of us at the airport on Instagram, I actually had a few different people reach out via Facebook message, comments, etc. and ask for tips for flying now that Henry is a toddler. I’ve been meaning to put together a travel tips post for some time now, so I figured I’d just go ahead and write them down now while they are still fresh in my mind from this week’s flight! (And since I’m still on West Coast time and can’t sleep…)
First off, let me start this post by saying I’m no expert on traveling with a little one because, when it comes to babies, so much of it just really depends on how they’re feeling on any given day and you really just have to roll with the punches. But we have had the privilege of being able to travel quite a bit with Henry so far, and we’ve definitely picked up some tips and tricks along the way that have made things a little bit easier. So far, Henry has flown 16 times (so each direction, not counting individual connections). We flew with him when he was 7 weeks, 3 months, 5 months, 7 months, 9 months, 10 months, 11.5 months, and now on this most recent trip, 13 months. I shared this post back in June based on our first three travel experiences when he was under six months, and pretty much everything I talk about there still very much applies to traveling with an older baby or toddler. But there are definitely some additional challenges you encounter once your child becomes mobile, and so hopefully this post will be helpful to any of you out there about to hit the skies with older babes!
+Stay calm and stay positive – I know it may seem simple, but your attitude makes such a difference in how the day will go! Traveling can be stressful, especially with a little one in tow, but babies totally feed off of the parents’ energy. If you’re frustrated and short tempered, it’s only going to start a cycle of negativity that can be tough to break. Cameron and I love to travel and hope that Henry will love it as much as we do, so I try to go into each travel day with the mindset that this is going to be a fun adventure and I’m sharing something exciting that I’m passionate about with my child. That may sound a little cheesy, but I’m a big believer that a positive outlook can really have a profound impact on the outcome of a situation. Also, just remember that no matter how bad the day may get, you will get through it. After all, you got through labor, you can get through a few hours on a plane…ha!
+Car seats: To bring or not to bring? – That is the big question a lot of people seem to have when it comes to travel, and my answer is, it depends. When Henry was an infant, we did bring his car seat with us; I talk about it in more detail here, but basically we just checked it at the ticket counter and used it with our stroller at our destination. At that point, it was still handy to have because we were actually using it to bring Henry into restaurants (those were the days!) and it was nice to have him in his own car seat. But once he got a little bit older and and was more at the age where we wouldn’t really be using the car seat at our destination beyond riding in the car, we stopped bringing it along. Thankfully, we’ve been really fortunate that we haven’t needed a car seat on any of our trips after he turned six months old. My parents were nice enough to get a convertible car seat to keep in Michigan in their car, so when we fly here, they just pick us up from the airport and we use that while were here. (If you have family out of state that you’ll be visiting often, I’d highly suggest doing this. There are plenty of convertible car seats out there for under $100 and they can be used for a number of years/future kiddos. It seriously makes life so much easier!) As for our other trips, we didn’t need a car seat when we traveling to Europe or New York City because we got around by either public transit or getting a car service with a car seat. If your baby is in a convertible car seat, I’d strongly suggest trying to figure out a way to not bring it and just rent a car with one at your destination. They’re big and bulky and if the airline loses it/damages it, that’s just an extra headache to deal with. But I realize that option may not work for everyone, so if you are going to bring your car seat, I’d definitely suggest checking it at the ticket counter vs. trying to haul it through the airport and either check it at the gate or bring it on the plane. Airlines let you check one car seat per child for free and it doesn’t count towards your checked bags, plus, if you put it in a car seat bag like this, you may be able to stash some extra blankets and stuff in there with it, so that’s a pro if you do bring it.

+Pack light and check a bag – I mentioned this in my last post, but I’d highly recommend checking a bag! Checking a bag means I can bring a bigger suitcase, which means I can put more stuff in there instead of stuff to bring on board, which means I can get by with just bringing a personal item on the plane vs. a personal item and carry on. It’s so much easier not to have to lug a bunch of bags through the airport with a baby and a stroller and it’s totally worth the bag fee, especially if you’re traveling solo with your little one. Also, take it from me, you’re probably not going to need nearly as much stuff as you’re trying to pack! Unless you’re going to some super remote location, you can buy diapers and anything you may desperately need at your destination so just try to pack as light as possible.
+Use a carrier/stroller combo while in the airport – When we travel, we bring both an umbrella stroller and our Ergo360 because I end up putting Henry in each one at various points during the day. (This is the umbrella stroller we have and I would HIGHLY recommend it! It allows the baby to recline really far and it has the option for baby to face you, which is kind of rare for umbrella strollers, but so nice when you are trying to get them to fall asleep! We took it with us to Europe this summer and on all our trips since. It’s held up really well but it’s also at a price point that I would be annoyed but not totally devastated if something happened to it in transit, which I think is key for a travel stroller.) What we usually do is put Henry in the stroller when we get out of the car while we get checked in, drop our bags, etc. and store the carrier in the basket of the stroller. Then before we go through security, I put Henry in the Ergo and wear him through security, while we fold up the stroller and put it on the conveyor belt to be scanned. (You are allowed to wear your baby through security and you won’t go through the big full body scanner, but a security guard will just need to swipe your hands after you go through the metal detector.) After we get past security, depending on how Henry’s doing, we’ll either leave him in the carrier or transfer him back to the stroller. If I leave him in the carrier, then we’ll use the stroller for a cart for the personal items we’re bringing on the plane. But if we’re trying to eat (or I’m traveling solo and need to go to the bathroom) then I’ll put him back in the stroller. But before we get on the plane, I’ll switch him back to the carrier, that way we can get the stroller folded up to check at the gate before getting on board. (And if you’re trying to fold up your stroller solo, you’re definitely going to want to have kiddo in a carrier!) Plus having him in the carrier makes it a lot easier to get to our seats and get settled once on the plane.
Henry also wanted to spend some time walking around the airport too!
+Bring their birth certificate or passport – So I think we’ve only been asked for this once traveling domestically, but it’s still a good idea to bring it just in case! 
+Put all of your baby food in a Ziploc bag – Baby food/milk/formula doesn’t adhere to the 3.4 ounce liquid guideline for carry on bags, but you do need to put it in a separate bag so you can take it out at security. This includes all those squeeze pouches, yogurts, etc., just make sure they’re all together in one bag vs. floating around loose inside your carry on. (Another tip? Don’t put a bunch of clementines on top of your bag of food so that when you go to pull it out at security, your clementines fall out of your bag onto the conveyor belt. Not that I’ve done that. Obviously.) 
+Think carefully about how to pack your personal item – This is another one I touched on in my last post, but taking your time when you pack the carry on bag you’ll be keeping at your seat with you is really important. When I travel, I just use a black North Face backpack as my personal item and that’s typically the only thing I carry on the plane. It great to have my hands free, especially if I’ve got Henry in the carrier, and it has a lot of pockets to store lots of different things. I try to pack it so that things that I hopefully won’t need during the flight (extra diapers, a change of clothes for Henry, Ziploc bags for holding dirty clothes, a possible change of shirt for me) are at the bottom of the bag and then things I know I’ll be needing (snacks, diaper/wipes caddy, books, etc.) are closer to the top. I also try to make sure that random essential items (Henry’s water bottle that I fill up in the airport, Kleenex, my headphones/phone charger, chapstick, etc.) are in the side pockets so I can get to them easily without having to dig through the bag. It’s such tight quarters trying to get stuff in and out of your bag once you’re at your seat, so taking the time to pack carefully can save a lot of frustration!
+When to board – If you’re flying some airlines, like Delta, they allow families with young children to board first, so definitely take advantage of that if your airline offers it and take the extra time to get settled in your seats. Other airlines, like United, don’t offer early family boarding so I’d suggest hanging out near your gate and getting on the plane at the last possible minute. If you checked a bag and only have a personal item, you won’t need to worry about overhead bin space, and this way you can enjoy having the extra space to spread out and possibly let your toddler run around the terminal and get their wiggles out until the last possible moment.
+Snacks are your friend – If you have a baby that’s over 6 months old, snacks are what will get you through a flight. Teething rusks/puffs are awesome for those babies newer to eating solids. For older babies/toddlers, Trader Joes has tons of awesome snacks that are perfect for flying. Henry loves their dried fruit (the dried mangos are so freakin’ good, I love them too) and it’s a good snack to keep him occupied, but it does get a little messy (aka sticky). I also really like their freeze dried fruit as well, especially for the plane since it’s a little less messy. (I’d suggest going with the freeze dried mangos or apples vs. the berries though because those are smaller and more of a hassle) They also have some great veggie snacks like their Inner Peas or Broccoli Florets (which we brought on the flight here) and it’s a great way to sneak in some extra veggies, especially since travel days can mean your kiddos diet may be a little more hit or miss. Squeeze food pouches or yogurt tubes are great too and so I always make sure to bring a few with us. Henry is also drinking cow’s milk now, so I just asked for it when they came around with the beverage cart and they gave me an individual milk with a little straw which was really handy. Also, I’d start with your kid’s least favorite snacks of what you brought and save their favorite snacks for special treats for a time in the flight when you may really need them 🙂
+Don’t bring too many toys – I know the tendency is to want to bring things that are going to keep your kid entertained, but toys take up a ton of space and usually little ones get bored with them quickly. Snacks seem to do a better job of keeping littles engaged, so I’d definitely save more space for those than for toys. That said, a few small (not super noisy toys) can’t hurt and I usually bring a few along. Books can be great too, Henry loves those lift the flap books so I brought a few little ones with us on our flight Wednesday and we looked though them probably 25 times. But what he was honestly most excited about on the flight was the extra cups the flight attendant gave him when she was handing out drinks. He literally spent half the flight playing with them and they were better than any toy I could have brought from home. But it can be a good idea to bring a favorite toy, even if it is noise making, and keep it hidden until absolutely necessary. If your kid is having a total meltdown, chances are people around you would rather listen to a musical toy than screaming, so having something like that in case of emergencies isn’t a bad idea. 
Playing with his cups…ha!
+Opt for an aisle seat – With a younger baby, I’d prefer a window seat (easier for nursing) but with an older baby, the aisle seat is key for getting up if you need to. A walk around the cabin can be a great way to keep them entertained and a quick diaper change can be something to break up the time. 
+Be prepared to play with your baby – In life, your satisfaction with a situation usually depends on your expectations. If you’re going into a flight with the expectation that your baby is going to sleep and you’re going to be able to watch a movie/read/play a game on your phone, then you’re probably going to be more frustrated when your baby doesn’t cooperate. But if you go into the flight with the expectation that, for the entire flight, you will be entertaining your child, then if you do end up getting some time to yourself, it’s more of a bonus. I’ll be perfectly honest, at home I don’t always spend hours directly playing with Henry. I play with him, then he’ll play independently in his play area while I unload the dishwasher, we’ll read a book, and then he’ll chase Lola around while I fold laundry, we’ll go to play group where he gets to play with other babies while the moms chat, etc. So it can be a little daunting to have to play with your baby for hour after hour…but it’s kind of nice in a way too 🙂 Also, I’m all for screen time for kids on planes, because whatever gets you through the trip is what you need to do. But Henry will watch a video for about two minutes on the plane and then he seems disinterested, so don’t expect that will be an option unless your kid is a little bit on the older side.
At the end of our second flight on Wednesday, when I had broken out all of the snacks and the emergency musical toy
+Taking off/landing/napping – When Henry was nursing more, I always tried to nurse him on take off and landing to help avoid any discomfort with his ears popping. Thankfully though, it’s never seemed to bother his ears, so now I don’t bother trying to nurse him as he likes to look around instead. (If you’re kid takes a pacifier though it’s probably good to have that on hand!) However, I did nurse him on this last flight to get him to fall asleep and it’s pretty much been the only way I’ve ever been able to get him to nap on a flight. So if you’re nursing and baby is ready for naptime, I’d suggest nursing then vs. at takeoff/landing. If you’re not nursing, try to do what you can to replicate naptime at home (pacifier, play white noise, bottle, or whatever might help them realize it’s time for sleep!).
+Leave your germ phobia at home – Germs in the airport and on the plane were probably one of my biggest concerns about traveling with Henry once he got older because he wants to put his mouth on all the things. But I feel like there’s really only so much you can do to prevent them from touching things, so you’re better off not worrying about it. Obviously keeping them in the carrier or stroller as much as possible at the airport helps, but if they get out and they’re walking around and crawl on the airport carpet, oh well. Chances are they are probably going to get more germs from being around other kids in their normal day to day interactions, so try not to stress. On the plane, I don’t bother wiping things down with wipes because I feel like it’s kind of pointless since Henry has already been touching everything in the airport? Just use common sense and try to relax 🙂
+Look good, feel good – This may seem like a really silly tip, but hear me out! Getting ready to go on a trip can be stressful and it’s usually a mad dash getting everyone with all their stuff out of the house. But taking the extra time to get yourself ready to go to the airport goes a long way in helping you feel good about yourself, which in turn helps you feel more confident to face the day ahead. There’s nothing worse then being at the airport and looking in the mirror in the bathroom and realizing you look like a complete hot mess. I’m not saying you need to go full glam for traveling with your baby, but just taking a little extra time to put on some mascara and throw on a cute (but comfortable and preferably black, to hide stains) outfit can make all the difference in how you feel during the day.
I managed to shower before we left for the airport, so I’m calling that a win 🙂
+If you’re traveling solo with baby… – All these same tips still apply, but just allow yourself even more time at the airport. And wear layers, because wearing a baby and getting through the airport by yourself can make you sweaty. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Flight attendants and kind strangers are usually more willing to lend a hand when they can seen you’re by yourself. And even though it’s tiring, traveling alone with your toddler is doable! You got this, mama 🙂
You might luck out and get an empty row on your flight! 
Ok, I know that was a lot of information, but hopefully some of it is helpful to some of you out there!
Happy travels!