We select and review products independently. When you purchase through our links we may earn a commission. Learn more.

Everything You Need to Know About Flying with a Toddler

The YOREPEK car seat bag, the amazon Kids Fire Tablet, and the CARES safety harness.

Flying with a toddler is double the work! These helpful tips can take the stress out of your upcoming flight so your trip goes as smoothly as possible.

When purchasing plane tickets for your kids for the first time, you’ll likely be thinking about how to keep your little one entertained and safe. Whether it’s a quick two-hour flight, or you’re traveling from one coast to another, these tips will help keep everyone safe, sane, and happy.

Book a Direct Flight If Possible

While babies aren’t quite in the walking stage yet, toddlers always want to move, which is frowned upon during flights.

So, when booking your flight, your best option is usually to book a direct flight, if possible, as the logistics are so much simpler. Rather than putting the effort of lugging everything on and off the plane several times, you’ll only have to do it once.

Not to mention this minimizes the risk of forgetting or losing important things. You also lessen the chance of ear pressure problems and reduce the overall spread of germs on the plane.

A Long Layover Is Your Second-Best Option

Sometimes, direct flights don’t work out in your favor, and if you can’t find one at a reasonable price, then try to find a long layover instead. This might actually be a better option for your toddler, as long-haul flights are just too lengthy.

If your little one has to move, having a stop in-between might keep your child from having meltdowns, as they’ll have some space to roam and burn off energy during the layover.

Longer layovers will give your family a chance to use the restroom, grab some food and walk around. Short layovers don’t give you all those options, and rushing with children is stressful and unpleasant for both you and your little one.

Lap versus Purchasing a Seat for Your Toddler

A woman on a plane holding a toddler with an older child in the seat next to her.

You’ve likely seen some young toddlers sitting on their parent’s lap on a plane, while others get their child a seat of their own. Of course, you have to pay for that extra seat, but it might be worth it. Holding a child on your lap for an entire flight—even a short one—can feel like an eternity.

Definitely check the FAA guidelines for flying with children before you decide. While you might think your lap is the safest location for your child, the guidelines advise using a government-approved child restraint system (CRS).

A CRS is a child safety seat that can be used in both motor vehicles and on airplanes. For a toddler, the CARES child safety device is your best option.

Bringing a Car Seat

If you’re interested in taking your baby’s car seat on board, or would just like to know more about checking it in, be sure to check out our in-depth article on flying with car seats.

From investing in the right travel car seat to hauling it through the airport, you’ll find all the info you need to decide what will work best for you.

Give Yourself Plenty of Extra Time

It’s always advised that you arrive at the airport at least two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before international travel. When you’re traveling with children, we advise tacking an extra hour on to either of those recommendations.

From potty breaks to snack stops, you never know what might hold you up. Keep in mind, that loading and unloading your car, then dragging your luggage and kids, the car seat, and/or a stroller takes a bit longer than just getting yourself to the gate.

Security checks are often lengthier, as well, as there are more of you going through, along with extra luggage, and additional carry-on items. If you plan on taking snacks on the flight, they’ll need to check these foods, too.

Flights won’t wait for you, so always be sure to give yourself plenty of time.

Read the TSA Policies Regarding Baby Food

A father giving a baby a bottle on a plane.

The TSA has strict guidelines for every category of carry-on items, but food is one that many people don’t know about. Believe it or not, there are lots of foods and beverages you’re allowed to take on board with you.

Proper packing will expedite your screening process through security, but keep in mind that the final decisions are made by the particular TSA officer present on that day.

From formula and breast milk to snacks and drinks, be sure to read the TSA guidelines and special instructions on permitted and prohibited foods well ahead of your travel date.

If your child has a specific diet and must have certain foods packed on board, be sure to have their doctor write a medical letter of necessity so you can present it to TSA officers.

You can also call the airline ahead of time to inform them or ask questions beforehand. They might have specific instructions that differ from ours. However, in our experience, a letter from your child’s pediatrician will usually speed up the process.

Know What You Can Gate Check

Luckily, checking a car seat and/or stroller is free on all U.S. airlines when traveling with a child. And, even more wonderful, you can check them at the gate.

When you check-in at the airport, just let the agent know you’d like to gate check your car seat and/or stroller. You’ll then be given tags you can attach to both.

From there, push the stroller and carry your car seat to the entrance of the plane. A baggage handler will then take them down for no extra charge. Plus, they’re less likely to be damaged, as fewer people are handling them.

Packing a Carry-On versus Checking Luggage

As a passenger, you have the choice of checking bags or taking a carry-on. When traveling with young children, you have to pack strategically.

Add anything to your carry-on that’s valuable and too important to leave in a checked bag that might get lost.

These include scales used for special diets, your breast pump, medications, or any medical supplies. Again, a letter explaining why you have special items might help speed up the security process.

Carry-On Essentials & Extras

A little girl sitting in a suitcase and wearing a sunhat.
Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock.com

Below is a thorough list of some things you’ll want to pack in your carry-on, diaper bag, purse, or backpack, so you have everything you need:

The items listed are general, but you know your child best, so just pack accordingly. Below are three bonus items you might want to add to ensure your child’s safety and security, as well as your sanity.

The CARES child airplane harness, we mentioned earlier is designed specifically for air travel, for children over 1 year old and weighing 22-44 pounds. It provides additional safety beyond the lap belt, which is vital during turbulence and typical jolts from flights. This FAA-certified harness is just what you need for extra safety.

Two images of children on a plane using the CARES KIDS FLY SAFE safety harness.

There’s no better way to ensure your car seat remains secure than packing it in a car seat travel bag. The YOREPEK car seat backpack is made of durable, padded material for extra cushiony support to limit any damage to your car seat. Not only will it keep the seat safe during transit, and loading/unloading, but it also features straps for easy access and transport.

Two images featuring the YOREPEK car seat bag.

Finally, an electronic device can save the day (and your sanity). The Fire 7 Kids tablet is designed specifically for children, but you can switch back and forth between the kid’s and parent’s dashboard and watch some Netflix after your little one falls asleep.

The case is our favorite part, as it protects the tablet from every drop or accidental smash you can imagine. The built-in stand also makes it easy to watch content on a plane, and it’s available in three colors.

Two images: The left image features a mother and her son using their tablets while waiting to board a plane, and the right image features a young child excitingly playing with a Kids fire tablet.

Tip: Be sure to download a few episodes of fave TV shows or movies beforehand in case free Wi-Fi isn’t available on your flight. This way, you can keep the kids entertained without paying extra.

Flying with a toddler has its challenges, but being well informed beforehand will help your first flight with your little one go as smoothly as possible.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
LifeSavvy is focused on one thing: making your life outside of work even better. Want to know more?