Flying with a toddler
Toddlers from about 18 months to three years can be the most challenging travel companions on flights. If they are under two, you can still have them on your lap (and avoid paying an extra fare). However unless they can still fit into a bassinet (which depends on the airline you’re flying, the size of the bassinet and the size of your baby) you’ll have them on your lap the whole time.
Toddlers don’t sleep quite as well as babies and need a variety of activities to keep them stimulated. When they’ve just learnt to walk, they are quite keen to try out their new physical skills, up and down the plane. It’s a good idea for every passenger to move around during the flight so this is to be encouraged with kids, too.
Stick to your routine
For night flights, stick to your normal routine. Get your kid into their PJs (there’s nothing to stop you doing this at the airport or during the layover), clean their teeth and read them a story.
Make sure they have their favourite cuddly toy; consider attaching an elastic loop onto it before you leave home so your child can slip their hand through it. (Leaving this toy in a plane or airport could make life tricky for all of you.) Wrap them in a blanket to keep warm and give them a pillow, travel pillow or pillow pet to protect their neck.
Aircraft seats are not designed with small children in mind, and they can slip out of them, which is not only dangerous but also frightening. Most children will sleep better in a child restraint (see child seats and restraints).
Books and entertainment
Bring some favourite picture books, ideally including some interactive ones with flaps and windows that will occupy the kids for a while.
Some older toddlers will be happy playing games on a tablet or iPad; download a few before you leave home that you can use offline. If they are watching shows, you’ll need child-sized over-ear headphones too.
Distraction therapy is an essential part of long flights. Raid the $2 shops before you leave home for small trinkets and compact toys that you can produce one by one during the flight when boredom and fatigue kick in. Wrap them up so the kids can’t see them; the unwrapping kills some time and adds a further element of surprise.
Also, put together age-appropriate activity kits, including thick stubby crayons or pencils (that they can grip easily) and a plain notepad or colouring book.
Bring a sippy cup or bottle to fill with water, juice or milk. Relying on the aircraft plastic cups is a recipe for disaster. Don’t overfill these as the change in aircraft pressure on ascent and descent can force liquid to spill out of them.
A pull-up in the carry-on luggage can be invaluable for desperate children when the seatbelt sign is on for long periods of time.