Thoughts on Flying with Toddlers

After having kids, I looked forward to business travel. I appreciate those trips all the more now after being on the road for five weeks with two toddlers. While working, I had the benefit of doing mostly day trips, so it wasn’t as if I was necessarily running away from the kids… However, just a few hours on a plane or train provided a much needed break from the insanity at home. I loved the anonymity of being a business traveler and it provided my only opportunity to have large blocks of time to myself.  I could relax with a book (more often People magazine) and sip coffee without worrying about it scalding a child.
While I find business travel relaxing, traveling with toddlers can be exhausting. Ava and Kayan have generally handled flights, from the 16 hour New York to Hong Kong travelathon to the one hour connecting flights from Chiang Mai to Penang, very well. There have been a few tantrums and lessons learnt, but I thought I would share some thoughts we have on making plane journeys more pleasurable for the entire family (and fellow passengers).
Board last. We confine the children to their seats for as short a time as possible. We decline the airline’s invitation for families with young children to board first. Instead, we watch everyone fight for the front of the line, which is entertaining in itself. Once final call is announced, we claim our seats, hopefully just in time for taxi. Ava’s legs are too short to reach the floor, so the carry-ons just go under the seat in front of her.
Fly while asleep. This is only practical sometimes, but we plan to be in the air an a couple of hours after the kids usually nap. This way, they are tired and pass out just as the flight is taking off. Red eyes for long hauls are great for little kids who have strong sleeping schedules. Ava and Kayan slept 13 of the 16 hour midnight flight from New York to Hong Kong.
Eat and fly. Our kids are cranky when they are tired or hungry. Well, sometimes they are cranky around the clock, but it’s worse when they are tired or hungry. We’ve found that having a meal or heavy snack at the airport provides something fun for them to do and fills their bellies for the flight. Eating on the flight is also great since the inflight meals have little dishes to sample. Sorry to my friends back home in the U.S., this doesn’t apply to you, but make the most of those peanut bags. The only time we give Ava and Kayan lolipops is on a plane during take off and landing. It helps avoid ear pressure and keeps them quiet for 15 minute blocks during take-off and landing.
Use the airport playground. We let the kids run around at the airport to burn off energy. Airports are an enormous playground of escalators, ramps, elevators, and observations towers. We make games around finding our gate number and racing down low traffic hallways.
Get excited.  Both kids help us pack when we move on to the next home. It gives them some closure but also gets them excited about reaching our destination and taking out their stuff. We tell them something about our new home that will make them happy. For Penang it was the fact that the pool in our apartment has a water slide. Ava couldn’t wait to arrive so she could see it.

Take little. We already have to lug our computers, camera, diapers, and my refrigerated medication, so we don’t have room for optional stuff. We carry one multi-colored pen and some paper to draw and do origami. Otherwise, we find entertainment in the inflight magazine, duty free catalog, windows and isles.
But don’t forget the stroller.  We debated this one, but in the end, the stroller comes in handy. If it is not carrying a kid, it holds our hand baggage. The stroller is great when we’re trying to balance waiting for last call and not missing our flight. The international departure terminal at Bangkok is huge and it would have taken us 1 hour at Kayan’s glacial pace to reach our Air Asia gate. We strapped him to the stroller and sped on our way. We have a low cost umbrella stroller, though. I think strollers go through some sort of pulverization mechanism in the cargo compartment, so it doesn’t seem prudent to carry around anything fancy.
It may not be as relaxing as a business trip, but traveling with kids has gotten easier as we’re figuring out a groove.
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Filed under Malaysia, Thailand, Travel With Kids

4 Responses to Thoughts on Flying with Toddlers

  1. Jen

    Great tips and I completely agree with boarding last. Why would you want to sit on the plane any longer with kids. The only issue we have is that my son is always eager to board right away. But I always feel a sense of relief when we sit down and they immediately announce the doors are closing for take off.

    • Diya

      I’m sure he’s much happier on a bike than on a plane seat! Love your blog, and am very impressed that you cycled while pregnant. Thanks for reading.

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