A Flight Attendant Tells Us How to Best Fly With a Toddler

... and it's not "leave them at home."

A Flight Attendant Tells Us How to Best Fly With a Toddler

I hate flying.

Hate is the wrong word. I have what a psychotherapist once called “anxiety sensitivity” about flying, meaning I’m so afraid of it that I am even afraid of being afraid.

Obviously, I combat this problem like every other life hurdle: by over-planning, researching, and discussing until no one around me can stand it anymore. Control and information are my friends.

My parents always taught me that if something is hard, it means you should — no MUST — do it.

And so it is that we’ve planned a Disney vacation that requires two and-a-half hours of travel by a method I would do anything to avoid.

In planning for this flight, I’ve been strangely preoccupied with the potential judgment of fellow travelers. With this being my first “baby on board” flight experience, I keep replaying the nightmare scenario in my mind: a shrieking toddler from pre-boarding to rental car. 

I’ve even considered resorting to the bribery of fellow passengers.

Information has always helped me be organized and confident in new scenarios. So, to combat my fears, I decided to ask an expert who knows what’s what:

A Canadian Flight Attendant. I knew I was going to get the straight goods from this uber-experienced professional.


How can parents make the flight experience bearable for other passengers travelling with your toddler?

"For each hour of flight, bring one activity for your toddler. You can’t expect there to be entertainment for your children: You are only paying the airline to get you from A to B."

So, I’ll need 3 distractions for my 2.5 hour flight:

1) Duck Duck Moose makes educational iPhone, iPad, and Andriod Apps for children. I highly recommend the Itsy Bitsy Spider.

2) These Alex – Little Hands – Touch & Feel ABC Flash Cards. Each card has two-sides of letters and an illustration for each letter in bright, fun colours. Durable. Our set has already endured much chewing.

3) A good book is a great distraction. Either printed, or electronic, I’m going to spread the risk and bring a handful of our tiny favourites. 


Would you say there are a maximum number of hours that a toddler should fly?

"No. When you gotta travel you gotta travel. Be mindful of other people, don't mind asking for help, and notice when your child is over tired rather than under stimulated. Beds are made anywhere."

Our flight is scheduled to leave after my toddler’s normal bedtime. Since the flight-crew seems to encourage in-flight sleeping, I’ve decided to pack these comfy items to help my toddler settle:

1) My toddler loves (nay, demands) to be held when she’s fussy. In a pinch, and when the seatbelt signs allow for it I’ll be packing her into a Tula toddler carrier for some potential ZZZZZs.

2) For the moments of quiet calm and sleep we will be packing a soft blanket and her special lovey. Comfort will be key (for both her and I).


Is there a best time of day for toddlers to fly?

"Nope. If anything make it a time that will benefit the adult. Plan your jet lag. If you aren't used to time change allow one hour of adjustment per day per time zone."


What is the most outrageous thing a parent has asked of you during a flight?

"Why they can't change a diaper in the row on the seats and or on the tray table.... 'Its just pee' they say... I'm sure the next person in that seat would be thrilled..."

Fair enough! But some airplanes are not equipped with change tables in the bathroom. So, if your baby is small enough you can use the closed toilet seat or sink surface as a steady change area.

My toddler is a healthy 26 lbs, so that isn’t an option.

On a recent train trip without change tables, I used this amazing Skip-Hop Pronto change clutch on the floor of the washroom, and it worked like a charm. It opens up into a super-plush change pad with pockets for all your changing supplies.

You’ll also want to have hand sanitizer for your post-changing game routine. I love this 10ml travel-size spray.


Have you seen any parents or toddlers on-board that really impressed you? How did they stand out?

"Yes, there are great people everywhere and most traveling experiences ARE exciting. There was one mother in 2012 who was taking her two kids (both under 3 — one less than 12 months) across the whole country. On 3 different flights.

She needed help and didn't hesitate to ask me for it. I became buds with the 3 year old — but also the authority figure the mother was looking for. She wrote to my company about her great experience and that really boosted my moral. Your flight crew work long hours, work a portion of their day for no pay and are away from home. Telling your airline about your crew is the only way for us to be recognized. It lets us know months down the road we really did our job well and it's appreciated."

My chat with this flight-attendant had revealed something important: I was much too worried about the perceptions of other passengers. If the flight crew is travelling with toddlers and frazzled parents EVERY DAY and they don't seem to be stressed about it, why should I be? These professional travellers are there to help when you need it. Ask them! They've likely seen it all.


Any funny flight stories to share?

"Well, this one time we landed on the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii. The runway there is shorter than most so the landing is always a bit harder than normal. This one was a particularly big THUD... The pilots came on the PA after we turned off the runway and said "aloha ladies and gentleman, that hard landing wasn't my fault it was the asphalt""

I’ll be packing my sense of humour then, too. With a little planning and organizing, and some patience, I’m hopeful that the travel-portion of our vacation can be smooth skies.

Wish me luck, and please share your toddler-travel organization tips and stories!