Last summer I wrote a post sharing 11 tips for flying with an infant

At the time Finn was about eight weeks old and we’d already navigated a few flights. Fast-forward a year and my little traveler has made 15+ round trip flights. And I’ve done them all solo!

First, I will share that traveling with a very mobile one year old is nothing like traveling with an infant. The days where Finn would sleep peacefully through flights are lonnnnnngggg gone! I now go into flights fully prepared to be a human jungle gym and to feel mentally and physically exhausted by the time that we land. It is a GAME ON experience…haha. But don’t let this scare you because I promise it’s not as bad as the horror stories that you hear. Knock on wood, we’ve never had an epic meltdown or a tricky situation we couldn’t handle.

Even if you’re flying with an older baby, I recommend going back and reading my infant post because I share a lot of insights on the ticketing, how to check baby gear and the security process, as well as the importance of accepting help.
For today, I want to share things that I’ve found to be helpful when it comes to flying with an active, older baby/young toddler. These are my best tips for the 9-18 months old range. You CAN do this! Preparation, low expectations and an open mind are key.

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Schedule flight times wisely. 

By the age of one, most children are on semi-predictable schedules. I have found it supremely helpful not to fly at times that interfere with prime sleeping times. There is a flight that leaves Charlotte at 8a to go to Florida and a flight that leaves Florida at 7p to come back to Charlotte. Each time I opt for those flights I am reminded why it is a bad idea, and that it is worth it to pay a little more for a flight that works better in Finn’s schedule. In an ideal world, I love a flight that is after his morning/midday nap.


Low expectations around sleep. 

If it’s unavoidable to book a flight that doesn’t run into bed and nap times, have VERY low expectations around airplane sleep. While I could count on Finn to sleep through flights when he was 0-6 months, once he became more “aware” of his surroundings…that was over. There is just too much stimulation and being out of routine to make airplane sleep an easy thing for active babies/toddlers. Regardless of whether we flew during nap or bed time, Finn did not sleep on a plane one single time between 6-12 months old. I did manage to get him to nap on the plane twice recently but it is not the norm!

TSA PreCheck is worth every penny. 

Last fall I got TSA Pre and I don’t know what took me so long. It is worth ever single penny of the $85 it costs to register for it. And that $85 lasts you five years! I swear that I would pay $85 annually for it.

When you are making your way through security with a wiggly baby and the gear that comes with it, the last thing you want to do is take off your shoes and dig your laptop and liquids out of your bag. I love the simplicity of quickly popping Finn out of his stroller, breaking it down and sending it and my backpack through the scanner.

Also, the TSA Pre lines are typically much, much shorter and this is also a godsend with a small, impatient, active baby.

Stroller or baby wearing through airport. 

Once I started keeping a carseat and stroller in Florida, I would just wear Finn in the Ergo at the airport. That was awesome because I didn’t have to juggle any additional baby gear. We eventually got to the place where it would kill my back to have him on me for so long with a backpack too, and we’d both be really hot from making it through the Charlotte airport. At this point I switched back to a stroller but a super lightweight umbrella stroller that can easily be broken down and sent through security or left at the bottom of the jet bridge for gate check. Actually, the umbrella stroller that I’m currently using is SO small that I can collapse it into a tiny square and carry it on the plane and store it in the overhead.

Use the restroom and make sure baby is dry and clean before boarding. 

Using airplane lavatories with a one year old is a special kind of hell. I strongly advise seeking out a family bathroom in the airport and making sure you go right before you get on board and they are clean and dry too.

Wait as long as possible to board. And while you’re in the gate area, ask about open seats. 

When you make it to the gate area, it never hurts to ask the gate agents if there are any seats with no one next to you. More often than not, we have been able to make this happen. While I cannot for the life of me get Finn to actually sit in a seat right now, it’s nice to have the extra space for spreading out books, snacks, gear, etc and to not have to worry about your seat mates personal space being invaded by a baby that loves to pat everyone.

When the flight starts boarding, DO NOT…I repeat DO NOT…get on the plane when they offer pre-boarding to families with children under the age of two. Instead, wait until the boarding process is winding down and be one of the last people on board. The less time you can spend in that tiny seat, the better.

Bring sanitizing wipes to clean your seat area.

There is no keeping a one year old from touching every single thing possible in your seat area and putting things in their mouth like seat belts and safety cards. Bring some sanitizing wipes and wipe down everything from the tray table to the window shade to the seatbelt.

Snacks are life. 

I never understood the big deal around puffs, cheerios, goldfish, etc until I had a one year old. They are even more crucial when you are flying. I swear, my backpack is half snacks and half books. Bring lots and lots of snack options and also snack cups and sippy cups.

Stock up on books, toys and games. 

Finn is super into board books right now so I bring all different types of them. He especially loves lift the flap books and touch and feel books. I’ll write another post soon with Finn’s favorite books at this age.

Toys are hit or miss for us on the plane. He’s more into things like lifting and lowering the shade a million times, opening and closing the tray table and playing with plastic cups from the flight attendant. Get creative with what can be a toy and different games you can play.

Pacifier, drink or nurse on ascent and descent.

Luckily, taking off and landing never really seems to bother Finn. Even still, I try to make sure he has a pacifier so that he’s swallowing and popping his ears. You can also nurse or give them a drink to sip on.

Change of clothes, extra diapers, diaper bags. 

I think it’s a no-brainer that it’s a wise idea to have a spare change of clothes and extra diapers in your bag but I tend to live life on the wild side and usually have a change for Finn but not for myself. This hasn’t blown up in my face yet (pun intended) but I need to get better about at least packing a spare shirt for myself. Also advised to have disposable diaper bags or old grocery bags to tie off diapers and soiled clothes.

That does it for this edition of air travel with small children. I’ll keep writing this posts as travel shifts and changes for us. I predict the next big change will come when Finn is no longer a lap child and we transition him to his own seat!

Oh also…you might notice that I didn’t mention technology in this post. I am pro-technology in circumstances like air travel but Finn is simply not interested right now. I downloaded Peek-A-Boo Barn on my iPhone on our last trip and it entertained him for like 2 minutes. He was more into spinning my iPhone around and putting it in his mouth. I try to have really clear boundaries with him that my phone is not his toy so it also just feels counter-intuitive to have him play on my phone. Once he gets a little older and is more into sitting and watching a show or movie, I might get him a tablet that is used for travel only.
Would love for you guys to add your tips and questions in the comments!

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