This post about flying with a toddler what to pack for toddlers on a plane was created in collaboration with Admiral Travel Insurance. I’ve taken so many flights with kids so I’m sharing all my tips to make your flight as easy as possible!
Travelling with toddlers and young children can be….let’s call it challenging! Today I’m sharing my tips on what to pack on a flight with young children and how to survive flying with a toddler!
I find flying with toddlers to be the most difficult age. Babies are fine because they’ll fall asleep eventually and give you a break. Over 3’s are fine too because they have the attention span to watch a film or play a game. But toddlers…well they’re a whole different ball game.
I don’t want to put you off because travelling with toddlers is so much fun as they’re amazed and intrigued by everything. You just need to get through the flight so you can enjoy your holiday!
What bag to use when flying with a toddler
Let’s start with the basics, what suitcase or bag should you use when flying with toddlers?
My advice is to use a large backpack and also have a small bag (like a canvas tote) for a few things to go under your seat. A canvas bag is great because you can fold it away when you’re not using it.
Forget about the Trunkis and other suitcases for toddlers. Yes, they look cute and your kids love them for about three minutes but they’re a pain in the arse when your children get bored of them and refuse to pull it themselves. They’re often very small too so you can’t fit much inside them (Trunki, I’m looking at you here!)
If you’ve got an independent toddler who likes to carry their own bag then give them a small canvas bag you can fold away once they’ve eaten the snacks or completed the sticker books.
If you fly with a large backpack you’ll have both hands free when boarding the flight and you’ll also have a spare hand if you need to wheel your own carry-on luggage.
If we have a long flight with toddlers then we’ll take the Thule Subterra 34L backpacks.
I really like these backpacks because they’re big, comfortable to carry, have a large front pocket (good for the things you need quickly like nappies and wipes) and also have a removable packing cube inside so you can quickly whip out a bag of toys and pop it under the seat.
For shorter flights with toddlers we’ll take The Travel Hack Backpack. Again, it has an easy access pocket at the back for nappies and wipes, a slim documents pocket at the front so you don’t lose any important stuff, drinks pockets on the sides and a huge main compartment. It’s so handy and can be used as your everyday bag when you arrive at your destination.
The Travel Hack Backpack is also a stylish, budget option at £35.
What snacks to take when flying with toddlers
Take ALL the snacks!
Take everything. And then take a few more.
We’ve avoided public meltdowns with a well timed snack many times and I’m sure we’ll continue to do this for many years to come!
My main advice when packing plane snacks for toddlers is:
- Avoid anything messy like chocolate, bananas or raspberries
- A lollipop for take off and landing can be handy as it can help equalise their ears
- Have drinks on hand for take off and landing
- Popcorn, crackers, cubes of cheese, chopped fruit, cucumber and carrot sticks, raisins, dry cereal like Cheerios, food pouches and sandwiches are all good.
- Basically, anything from Ella’s Kitchen is brilliant!
- If your child likes food pouches then you can warm them up on the plane using a jug of hot water. The staff on the plane will be happy to give you one and they’re used to doing this to heat up bottles of milk.
We’ll pop all of the snacks into a little cool bag to keep everything fresh and keep them neatly together. Choose a lightweight cool bag so you can fold it away when you’ve eaten everything.
We put drinks in no-spill sippy cups such as the Munchkin 360 cups.
And all these snacks can go into little pots to save on plastic bags.
The iPad trick
If you have an iPad or tablet for your toddler then try this little trick.
We don’t allow our kids to have iPads at home (we’re not anti-iPad but we found they’d fight and moan and whinge about them so much that it wasn’t worth them having them!) so we’ve told them that iPads only work on planes. Yes, we had some initial tears but it’s worked out well and they now get so excited about using their iPads on planes!
Toddlers have short attention spans so make sure you’ve got loads of short TV shows for them to watch. We also like the CBeebies app and any other toddler-friendly app you can find.
If you can, get them a pair of toddler headphones. Our eldest son loved his but our youngest won’t wear them but they’re handy if they want to play annoying games with the sounds on.
Travel Hack Tip: Make sure your tablet has a big toddler bumper case on it. These make it easier for them to hold and protects the tablet if they drop them.
If you don’t have a tablet, I really would recommend getting one for travelling. Our boys have Kindle Fires which I bought for about £35 at Christmas time. They’re not as good as iPads but they do the job!
What toys to pack in a toddler’s hand luggage
Before a long flight with a toddler I’ll always go to the PoundShop and basically spend a tenner on ‘crap’. If you’ve got kids you’ll know what I mean. Pound stores are full of cheap and nasty toys that kids LOVE but inevitably break after about an hour. But that’s OK because you just need the toy to keep them entertained for an hour.
The kinds of things I like to get are:
- Sticker books
- Craft books
- Craft kits
- Little toys like cars, dinosaurs and little men
- Pop-up books
Avoid things like:
- Pens and pencils (I end up spending the whole flight picking them up off the floor)
- Goo and slime
- Things with lots of tiny pieces
Bonus tip for toys: You could also wrap new toys up in wrapping paper and present them like gifts every hour or so. We once flew on my son’s birthday and did this throughout a 7 hour flight and he loved it. If you’re feeling really nervous about flying with a toddler and want to be really prepared then this is a great one!
Travel Hack Tip: Did you know you can shop online with PoundShop? They have a really good section for kid’s toys!
How to help them sleep
My number one tip here is to assume your toddler won’t sleep during the flight. If you board the plane thinking they’re going to have a nap then you’ll be frustrated if they don’t. But if they do nap then it’s a bonus!
Take any toys or comforters they like to sleep with but don’t pack anything unnecessary if they don’t need them.
Our boys don’t have special blankets or teddies so we just ask for a blanket when we board the plane. If you’re flying with a budget airline though it’s often worth taking your own or take a small pillow to help them get comfy (but a soft jacket will work just as well!)
The main way I’ll encourage them to sleep on the plane is by tiring them out before we board. I’ll literally chase them around the airport for a full hour before we depart! I’ll get some warm milk from Starbucks before we get on the plane and get them to drink this during takeoff and, with any luck, they’ll soon fall asleep.
I’m sure I look like a crazy lady as I’m running around the airport but who’s laughing when I have a sleeping kid!?
Comfy shoes and comfy clothes for you!
This one is for you and might seem a bit random but it’s very likely you’ll spend a lot of the flight walking up and down the aisle! I think I clock up more steps during a flight than I do on the ground! It feels a bit awkward when you walk past the same people 8,000 times but I’d rather be walking up and down the aisle than sat in my seat with a frustrated, screaming toddler!
Other essentials to pack on a flight with young children
Nappies or if they’re potty trained consider pull-ups to avoid any accidents
- Wet wipes
- Nappy bags
- A change of clothes
- A clean top for yourself
- No spill cups (we have the Munchkin 360 no spill sippy cups)
Should you take a legs up/hammock?
You may have seen things like a Legs Up or an airplane footrest which is something you can place on the floor in front of your child’s seat to create a bed for them. They’re sold as the ultimate accessory when you’re flying with a toddler but, in our experience, our kids haven’t used them and they’re an extra thing to carry.
Children under two will usually sit on your lap so you won’t have space for them. They sound like a really good idea but they’ve never worked for us.
Should you take a table tray?
You can also get activity trays which attach to your child’s tray so they can play and (hopefully!) avoid dropping things. We’ve never used one of these but, again, it just seems like an extra thing to carry which will probably only give you three minutes of peace anyway.
Should you take a pushchair or carrier?
If your child can’t walk then I’d recommend a carrier as, once again, you’ll have your hands free and it makes it so much easier to get on and off the plane.
I’m a big fan of the Izmi Baby Carrier as it can be tucked away into a little bag when you’re not using it (I’ve got a full review of the Izmi carrier here). The Baby Bjorn carriers are lovely too but they’re more expensive and are bulky to pack away.
If you’re travelling on your own with a bigger toddler then I’d recommend taking a pushchair on the plane – particularly if there’s a chance your little one will be tired when you get off the plane and will want carrying. It makes life easier when you’re trying to get off the plane and through security as you won’t be trying to carry your bags AND your child. You’ll need a pushchair that folds down to the size of hand luggage such as the BabyZen YOYO+ which I am a massive fan of.
Read more: Which is the best travel stroller?
If you’ve got two adults and your child can walk then I wouldn’t bother taking a pushchair on the plane. You can either check the pushchair in as soon as you arrive at the airport or hand it over just before you board the plane. We usually take our pushchair all the way to the gate but don’t take it onto the plane. Our kids rarely sit it in at the airport but we’ll use it like a trolley for all of our bags.
Should you take a car seat onto the plane?
In our experience this hasn’t worked and I’ve actually never seen anyone with a car seat on a plane.
We were once refused our car seat and we haven’t tried to take one again.
We bought one especially that was approved for planes and called the airline to check it would be OK. Then we got it all the way through security and onto the plane only to be told we weren’t allowed it. We were flying with easyJet and, if I’m honest, I think it’s because the staff had never seen anyone with a carseat before and they just didn’t know what to do so they said no.
There you have it, my tips for what you should pack for a flight when travelling with toddlers and young children. If you have anything else to add to the list or any questions, please do let me know in the comments below.
What should you do if you’re potty training your toddler when you’re flying?
We’ve had this a few times when we’ve had a long flight when we’re not quite 100% with potty training.
I’ll admit that it did worry me but it’s always been fine! If the kids aren’t going to fall asleep during the flight then it’s fine. You can get up every 30 minutes to go to the toilet and it’s another easy way to pass the time!
If I think one of the kids will fall asleep then I’ll put a pull up on them.
if you’re toddler it as a stage where they’re refusing to wear nappies or pull ups but it’s 100% dry then consider getting training pants which have a bit of absorbency for little accidents. We’ve never travelled with a travel potty as we’ve always encouraged them to use the toilet at home.
What should you do if your toddler has a tantrum?
My main worry when flying with a toddler is that they will have a tantrum.
Let’s be real here, it’s likely to happen. You toddler will probably be tired, slightly anxious, they’re in a new environment, they’re very excited, they’re frustrated things take so long, they have to queue and wait and wait and queue, they’re bored and they have lots of energy they can’t burn off.
On top of this and you’re probably going to be feeling a little stressed too.
So yes, tantrums can happen.
Here are a few things that help me:
Try to be present and aware of your child’s mood so you can see when a tantrum is brewing and hopefully intercept it before it begins. A well-timed lollipop can help!
A secret stash of sweets can help too. You can let your parenting standards slip when you’re on a plane!
Remember that planes are very noisy so most people actually won’t hear your noisy toddler.
Try to board the plane last so you’re not sat on the plane for an hour waiting for takeover.
Always give your toddler something to look forward to during the boring bits. If you’re in a queue at security, keep them going with the promise of a comic book once you get through.
Keep explaining what is going on. This will all be new and confusing to your toddler so keep explaining what’s happening.
Keep your stress levels to a minimum by packing light and keeping things simple.
Work as a team with your partner so you can each take 15 minutes to relax – giving you more patience for a grumpy toddler!
My ultimate baby and toddler holiday packing list
Monday 25th of July 2022
Such great tips! I had a really intense period of solo long-haul travel with my son between him being a baby and about three years old. I definitely second the take a change of clothes or top for yourself! It’s not fun sitting with orange juice all over you for ten hours. (I got to the point where I would only drink water or allow my little boy water in case of spills!) On the car seat - we only ever used it once from Sydney to Heathrow when my son was three and it was really amazing! He was so much happier and could sleep well. There was still a lot of walking up and down the aisle though ?
Monday 31st of January 2022
Hey, do you have any recommendations for portable car seats? My toddler will be 20 months and the car seats we have at the moment are fixed in the car ones. I’m not sure how I’ll feel him just being on my knee in the car. What do you think? Ps this list is great thank you!
Monday 31st of January 2022
Hi! In my experience, no toddler car seats are particularly portable. They're awkward and bulky. There are some for travel but they always seem a little flimsy for me. We've always just taken our regular car seats (which are ISO fixed into the car at home but they do come out) and struggled with them! It's not a long struggle though - it's only from your car to the checkin desk and then the baggage carousel and into a taxi. Personally, I wouldn't bother buying a portable car seat, just stick with what you have and endure the 15 minute struggle!
Friday 3rd of May 2019
I'm pinning all these tips to use in the future!