My 17 month-old has flown on seven long-haul flights and two short flights. In total, he has already flown for 73 hours in his 17 months of life. Luckily, my husband and I have always travelled together with our little one. However, in the last two long-haul flights, it was just me and my tazmanian devil of a toddler.
That said, I’ve come up with some tips that I learned while flying long-haul alone with my toddler. I think the only thing scarier than travelling alone with your toddler is travelling alone with more than one toddler. I saw a poor mother with a newborn and energetic toddler, both wailing while lining up to go through security check. I wanted to hug her. But I didn’t. She seemed like she had her hands full.
Worst travel nightmare aside, let’s get to these ULTIMATE TIPS I’ve put together inspired by flying long-haul alone with my toddler:
If you book in advance, you can probably reserve the front seats of the plane. These are usually reserved for families with babies that can fit in the bassinet on the wall in front. There is more space in the front and you can get off the plane faster if need be.
When we flew with Singapore airlines (which is the best airlines for families), we were given a bassinet, child seat belt, baby food, baby blanket and baby pillow. They also gave us teething biscuits, toys and a blanket to keep! At the time, my baby was 8 months old so he still fit (but, barely) in the bassinet. (Read about my tips on travelling with a baby)
Airline Research for Baby Item Regulations
Research airlines to see if they let you check in car seats and what their luggage allowance is for babies. Also, check to see if you are allowed to carry-on a stroller and what the restrictions are on bringing your own baby food and drinks. Lastly, check to see what they offer on the plane for babies and toddlers.
Book to be comfortable
When booking, always choose the more comfortable option. If you see that you can save 20 dollars but will have another layover and extend your trip by 6 hours, don’t do it. Just pay the extra 20 dollars, if you can. If you can, book business class! I can’t afford it, but if I could, I would!
Book around bedtime/nap time
Try to book your long-haul flight around night time when your toddler sleeps. I managed to do this and on the 9-hour flight from Toronto to Warsaw, my toddler slept for 6 hours! Win! I even managed to watch a movie and eat a meal in peace! Luxury!
At least a week before your departure, start making lists of what to bring. Calculate how much baby food, wipes, and diapers you need to pack for the flight and what you’ll need at your destination. Will you be able to find baby food as soon as you get to your destination? Will you need to find a supermarket and see what kind of baby items are available?
Our first flight was to Singapore. I packed enough food and diapers to last us for 2 days in Singapore. I figured that in two days, I would have found a decent store with baby items. Whereas, on our last trip to Vancouver, Canada, I knew that my mom would already have her fridge stocked with baby food and the bedroom drawers stocked with baby items. Therefore, I only packed enough for the plane ride.
Pack as much as you can into your checked luggage. Only bring the essentials on the plane. Your carry-on luggage needs to be organized and light, so things like compartments and dividers are great features to have in a bag. If not, put bags within bags. For example, in case of blowouts or spills, I have a few changes of clothes that are packed separately. I also have another bag that contains a disposable changing pad, diapers, wipes and diaper cream. I have another bag that has snacks, food, spoons and a bib and another one with small toys and a book. Finally, I have a bag with burp cloths and paper towels. All those bags go into the baby bag. Having them separated like that makes it easy to access and find things. Other things to keep close at hand, preferably in external pockets, are the bottle/sippy cup and pacifier.
Minimal packing for Mom and Dad
Before having our baby, my husband and I used to pack our carry-ons with magazines, books, and our iPods. Now, with our baby, it’s impossible to read without him flipping and ripping pages so I downloaded some audiobooks to my iPod and was able to “read” a bit on the plane. I would recommend small Bluetooth earphones so toddler has no wires to tug on.
Pack baby food in one bag
For security check purposes, put all food and drink items in one bag. If you have them distributed throughout your carry-ons, security will have to go through everything and manually check each bag. Not fun. After security check, you can reorganize your bags to prepare for the flight.
Dress smart – Pockets
When you’re travelling with a toddler, chances are you will be constantly in and out of that baby bag with pacifiers, bottles and burp cloths or tissues. My toddler still drools and he already has all of his teeth. I am constantly changing bibs and wiping him down. Sometimes, you can’t reach the baby bag because you’re running after your toddler. Sometimes, you don’t have time to fiddle around and put the pacifier in the right bag or holder. That’s why you need pockets. LOTS OF POCKETS. DEEP ONES. Pockets in your jacket, sweater, pants, baby bag and stroller are all great for quickly stashing and easily retrieving baby items, boarding passes and passports. Did the pacifier just drop on the ground? Pocket! Remember to wash it later.
Dress Smart – Jewelry
Have you heard of these jewelry companies that make jewelry for moms so that their babies and toddlers can play with them? They may be a bit bulky and may not be your taste, but, they can keep your toddlers entertained while you hold them. Not only does my toddler tug on my bracelets, necklaces, and earrings but he also tries to eat them. If he’s going to do it anyway, you might as well invest in these smart-stylish-toys in the form of mommy jewelry.
Dress smart – security check items
Speaking of wearing jewelry, it’s best to wear the kind that won’t set off the alarm at the security check. (Another advantage of wearing mommy jewelry). Also, avoid wearing boots and belts so you don’t have to take them off and then put them back on whilst running after your toddler because, remember, they will not be in their stroller as that has to pass through security as well.
Families travelling with children privileges – line-ups queues
Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for opportunities to skip the line and get in the front. At the airport in Milan, there are signs for family lines. Simply asking an attendant if there is a family line may get you out of a long line up and shorten the wait.
Almost all flights invite passengers travelling with small children to board before the Economy class.
Family privileges – boarding
Some families prefer to hang out as long as possible in the airport rather than waiting in the plane. However, the disadvantage to that is the lack of overhead cabin availability when you board the plane last. Another disadvantage to boarding last is that you will probably have to get off the plane last as well.
If you’re flying solo with your toddler, just board early.
Ask for empty seat availability
Lastly, if your toddler is still under two and you are sharing a seat, ask if there are any empty seats or rows that you can be transferred to. I got lucky finding empty seats on two long haul flights thanks to the kind hostesses.
Bring a baby carrier just in case
Some parents prefer to check the stroller and carry their baby. In my search for the most comfortable baby carrier , I’ve bought about five of them. To be honest, it doesn’t matter how comfortable the baby carrier is, it gets tiring, especially if you have a big toddler like I do.
However, I still recommend taking the baby carrier (as long as it isn’t too bulky) in case they get sleepy, you want to avoid waking them up and you need your hands free.
I was so thankful I brought mine because at the airport in Warsaw, my toddler started to doze off right before we were about to board the plane. Getting him to sleep on the plane is priority number one and I did not want to risk waking him up. Since the stroller needs to be collapsed and sent off before boarding, I needed my hands free but I also needed to carry my toddler onto the plane. Having him sleep in the carrier let me do this without waking him up.
It was tough all by myself as I had an 8 kg. Backpack, a diaper bag across my body and then 12 kg. Of toddler in the front. That was enough to break some blood vessels on my shoulders.
It was worth it though, because he slept for the entire 2-hour flight in the carrier and even I dozed off.
Let toddlers play in the airport
This is self-explanatory. Let them burn off that energy in the airport so they are tired by the time you get on the plane. Find a kids area or go for a long walk if you have enough time. I’d also recommend feeding them at the airport as well. Trying to feed them while they sit on your lap in economy class is tough and potentially disastrous. If you can find a bar to feed them, get yourself a drink. Or two.
The idea of having to go to the bathroom on the plane while travelling alone with my toddler seemed impossible. If I had to go to the bathroom on the plane, I would either have to leave him with a hostess or kind passenger or take him into the tiny stall with me crossing my fingers there would be no disasters.
First, I decided I wouldn’t drink. Bad idea when you’re on a 9-hour flight, as you need to stay hydrated. Then, I decided I would only drink towards the end of the flight so that I could just visit the bathroom at the airport. It was my strategy. It worked. What would you have done?
Would I mind flying long-haul alone with my toddler again? Yeah, I would mind. It’s tough and tiring but being prepared and deep breathing once in a while will help. Despite getting pretty lucky with the empty seats and coordinating nap times with long-haul flights, it was still a challenge.