Monday, February 20, 2012

How I survived air travel with a toddler

On my last trip to Germany I survived air travel with a baby, and then the baby got bigger. I realised that our next trips were going to be a bit trickier. Somewhat ambitiously (in retrospect) I booked flights from Perth to Tasmania via Melbourne (there's no direct route) for a time when our little boy was about 18 months old. We managed the Tasmanian trip with two parents without too much stress, although I cursed my "cleverness" in using frequent flyer points "most effectively" to get all the way to Tasmania when we could have just stopped in Melbourne (that flight change and extra hour was a bit stressful!).

When I realised that once our son turned 2, we'd have to pay for him on domestic flights, I realised I needed (yes needed - I'm a travel blogger, after all!) to squeeze in another trip before then. Unfortunately, my husband was too busy with work and study to come with us, so I bravely (or stupidly) booked flights from Perth to Melbourne for a week-long holiday alone with my son.

As per my tips for air travel with a baby, I thought I'd list my top bits of advice (gleaned from many wise parents and my own experience) to help you if you're planning your first plane trip with a toddler. It's certainly a lot harder than taking a sleeping baby!
  1. Pack A LOT of entertainment. Only you will know exactly what oddities will keep your toddler amused for the longest time possible, but if it helps my bag included a sketch book and box of crayons, several of his favourite books, numerous snacks, especially sultanas and crackers, several Matchbox cars, an elephant (new, a nice surprise), some little animals in a box to take out and put in again, his favourite cuddly sheep, a rubbish bin (his particular interest ...), an iPad with some toddler games loaded on, my iPhone with photos of him and his friends and family to look at, and ... so on. The amazing thing on this latest trip was that I didn't get even close to using all of these - yippee!
    On the plane: complete with bin and elephant!
  2. Time your flights to coincide with naps or sleeping times. But be prepared for this to backfire. Our flight to Melbourne left in the early afternoon so I didn't put him down for his lunchtime nap, but apparently the ten minutes he slept in the car on the way to the airport was enough and he stayed awake the whole trip. Fortunately in a well-behaved way, I must admit.
  3. Check in online as early as possible to get an optimal seat, when you can. On my way to Melbourne I was able to choose a seat at the front of a section, with the wall and bassinet in front of us (even though he was obviously far too big for a bassinet) - not only that, but the flight wasn't very full and we ended up having a free seat next to us, which was ideal. On the flight home the plane was fully booked and we were surrounded by giant men from a sports team of some sort - which I feared, as I sat down, was my worst nightmare - and no spare seat, so he spent the entire trip on my lap - but it was nowhere near as bad as I'd imagined.
  4. Use the opportunities between meals to take a walk. On short haul flights there is a lot of flight attendant action with drinks and meals coming out, and just watching them kept my little boy quite well-entertained for a while. In between, I used the temporarily empty aisles for a walk and some action. I don't really enjoy sitting still for that long - I can barely imagine how awful it is for a nearly two-year-old boy who is usually constantly running around.
  5. Try not to arrive at the airport too early (but of course, don't cut it so fine that you get stressed!). I'm notoriously early to airports but I tried to get there at a more suitable time with my little boy so we didn't have to spend too much time running around departure lounges (while trying to hold all my carry-on luggage).
    Snacking at the airport
  6. Break your rules. My son doesn't usually get foods like ice cream but when they offered him one on the aeroplane, I grabbed it for him and eating it kept him happy for the remaining half hour until we landed.
  7. Use the "these people will never see me again" strategy to survive the trickier moments. I took the small bottle of wine offered to go with my dinner on the return flight (incidentally, eating your meal from a tray table that doesn't quite go down because you've got your toddler on your lap, with said toddler wriggling in your lap and trying to eat it too, is rather challenging). My boy was happily drinking a cup of milk so I thought I'd enjoy my wine - of course, suddenly he really, really wanted my cup and let the whole plane know about it! Without anywhere else to rest the cup I ended up sculling a large glass of wine in a matter of seconds. I don't want to know what the passengers around me thought. And after the wine, I didn't really care! (Joking. It was just one glass. Please don't write and tell me I'm an irresponsible travelling mother!).
Anyway, our time in Melbourne was fantastic and now I'm wondering how long it'll be before I can stretch him into flying for more than three hours (for example, the five or six hours to New Zealand perhaps? The eight hours to Hong Kong?). So far, so good, and although I'm not exactly rushing off to book my flights to New Zealand I am at least believing that I don't need to stay home for the next five years!


  1. Melanie here! I enjoyed this piece, please email me--I have a question about your blog. MelanieLBowen[at]gmail[dot]com

  2. Hi Amanda, I loved this blog of yours. It reminded me of our travels last year to the US! Imani was 21 months. Oh lordy was it tiring! We tried getting seats with a bassinet for some extra leg space but we ended up boarding an older Hawaiin Airline :( So she sat/slept on my husband from Sydney to Honalulu. I was so sick with a migraine I ended up passing out (I took mersyndol when we were in sydney). I think it would have been much easier for us to purchase that extra seat to and from the US.

    1. Thanks Halijah! Your flight to the US sounds terrible. And I must admit we are deliberately not going back to Germany (where my in-laws are) either this year or next year - we think it's too far for a two or three year old (and we're not patient enough!).

  3. Thanks for this. I will be taking a two-hour flight with my daughter for the 1st time. I am nervous as heck!

    1. Good luck Kim!! Hope these tips help. Just remember, the two hours will pass. Somehow! Hopefully peacefully, but they will be over, eventually!!


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