How to Survive a Flight with a Toddler

Here’s a few words that will strike fear into even the bravest of parents: toddler, four hour, flight.

Yep, Baby Lighty’s very first flight was four hours long. We’d originally thought we’d pick something shorter – you know, an hour, possibly two – and then we discovered that it was a lot more economical to go to the Canaries and thought, “Aaaah well. Four hours on a flight with an almost three year old…how difficult can it be?!” And the optimists in us maintained this thought even though every time we asked Baby Lighty if he wanted to go on an aeroplane, he replied with “No thank you, it go in the sky!”


But to get to Gran Canaria, go on a flight we must. And this meant thinking of ways to entertain Baby Lighty for four long hours. When I wrote about the holiday activity packs that I made for our caravan holiday last year, I based them on what I’d do if I needed to entertain Baby Lighty on a flight. Remember when we were kids, and you used to get a little entertainment pack on a flight? Well, let’s face it, nowadays you’re lucky if you get luggage allowance, let alone a kiddie pack! Which is why I’d always said that I’d make my own flight activity pack for Baby Lighty when the time came.

And so that’s exactly what I did for his first flight. I decided that it needed to have plenty of things that we could sit and do together – colouring, sticker books, etc – some novelty items that he hadn’t seen before, and of course, plenty of snacks!! Here’s a little look at what I included in his flight activity pack:

Baby Lighty’s Flight Activity Pack:
New items:
  • Holiday themed sticker book.
  • Colouring set and pencils.
  • Tiny Tourists ‘Gran Canaria’ activity and keepsake book (one of my favourite items! It was lovely to sit with him and learn about the island, teach him some Spanish and realise how much he learnt from the holiday!).
  • Snap cards (not just good for the flight, also good for getting a reluctant Baby Lighty out of the pool!)
  • Magnetic board game.
  • Children’s magazines x 2 (the free gifts on these were distraction enough for Baby Lighty!).
  • Magnetic drawing board.
  • A new set of toy cars.
  • A ‘monster’ surprise bag.

We also included two of Mr Lighty’s old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures which he happened to retrieve from his parents’ loft the weekend before we flew, as we knew that, being new to Baby Lighty, they would grab his imagination and attention.

Old Items:

We also included a few items that we already had at home, and which we knew Baby Lighty liked to play with. These included:

  • A small amount of play food (this was played with both on the plane and in our holiday apartment).
  • Dinosaurs / small action figures (we could have got away with not including these, as Baby Lighty didn’t look at them at all during the holiday).
  • Books (I had a few books kept in stock at home which Baby Lighty hadn’t seen before, one of which was about an aeroplane, and another about a helicopter, and so I included both of these are they were flight related!).
  • ‘Crunchy’ apples (packets of dried apple!)
  • Cracker packs.
  • Mini breadsticks.
  • Raisins.
  • Ginger biscuits.

On the way home, Baby Lighty was also allowed a lollypop that he’d won as part of the kids’ club’s pirate day activity, to help his ears with the pressure. I think this was one of his favourite parts of the holiday!!

Top Tips for Surviving a Flight with a Toddler

Of course, surviving a flight with a toddler is not just about the amount of toot activities you take with you on board the aircraft. There’s definitely more to it than that. So what worked for the Lightys? Here are a few points that worked for us as a family:

  • As always, our beloved babywearing came into its own. We actually decided not to take our buggy at all, and just relied on our sling. In terms of the flight, this worked well for us, as we wore him in the airport during check in, through security (where we didn’t even have to get him out to go through the X-ray machine in our outbound journey!), during duty-free shopping and until we stopped for breakfast. We then popped him back in the sling for the (Stansted Airport) shuttle train to the departure gate. It meant that he was safe and we didn’t have to worry about him running away from us, nor did we have to worry about our buggy getting lost or broken during transit. I think it also made him feel safe when he was a little unsure of what was going on and where he was. And a sling is a lot easier to carry than a buggy when you’re lugging suitcases around!!

  • Remember that if your child is prone to travel sickness, you should pack a spare pair of clothes in your hand luggage. We did this, and actually needed them just as we pulled into mid-stay car parking, oops!! So I was really glad that we packed a spare. We also used travel sickness bands, ginger biscuits, an over-the-counter travel sickness medicine which was age-suitable for him, and we asked the air stewards for sick bags as we boarded the plane, just to be on the safe side. It has to be said though, he was absolutely fine on the plane, it was just the car journeys that defeated him!
  • If you’re able to prebook your seats, it might be worth doing so. I’d be very surprised if an airline separated a family, but it may well be that one parent is seated with the toddler and another parent elsewhere on the aircraft – across the aisle, for example. This means no respite for the parent with the toddler (unless you swap over during the flight), and you’ll also be worrying about disturbing anyone else sitting in the row next to you. If there are three of you, and you book to take up an entire row of three, you’re not disturbing anyone else when your child wants to get up to go to the toilet, for example, which is one less thing to worry about (I appreciate this doesn’t work with bigger families or a different aircraft configuration!).
  • Layer clothing. Planes can often be terribly hot or cold and you don’t want a toddler complaining about this. Also, the likes of spare hoodies can be rolled up and used as a pillow; Baby Lighty was small enough to be able to curl up in the seat and use his hoodie against the armrest as a pillow!
  • As much as is safely possible, follow your toddler’s lead and trust their instincts. Baby Lighty was adamant on our return flight that he ate the baguette sandwich we’d purchased for him at the airport as soon as we’d taken off, and no amount of us trying to tell him that he’d have another four hours on board the aircraft with only snacks to eat could persuade him otherwise. Eventually, we gave in and let him eat the sandwich, and to give him his due, he fell asleep straight after finishing it and stayed that way for 3 hours!!
  • Download some videos and programmes on a tablet if you can. If all else fails, some screen time is more often than not a good distraction when on board a flight.

And you might just get to do Something a Little Special…

One of the best parts of our first experience of surviving a flight with a toddler? Telling the stewards that it was Baby Lighty’s first flight, and them arranging for us to go into the cockpit on landing! Baby Lighty actually got to sit in the pilot’s seat; I’m not sure who was more chuffed, him or Mr Lighty!!

We were really lucky with our first toddler flight experience (so much so that Baby Lighty even managed to sleep for three hours of the slightly lengthened five hour flight home, thankfully!!). It’s never going to be a walk in the park, or the most enjoyable experience, but needs must, and at the end of the day, we got a lovely holiday out of it.

And let’s face it, if you can survive a flight with a toddler, you can pretty much survive anything!!

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