I’ll admit, after 20+ flights with Jimmy, I still get a little nervous flying alone with a toddler. It’s tough to keep little ones entertained for that long, especially in a small space. Having my husband there is a huge help because we can trade off, carry more, and work together.
Recently, I flew cross-country with my (just barely) two-year-old son — alone. And to make things even more interesting, we had a layover on the way out. Jimmy is right at the age where he wants to touch everything; he’s still testing out his vocal chords and loves to yell; and since he is officially a toddler now, he loves to throw the occasional tantrum. Okay, so how to make sure none of this stuff happens in the air?
If you’re flying alone with a toddler (or maybe you just want to make things a bit easier), try these ideas out:
Consider how best to get your little one from the car to the plane
One important factor is how you’re going to get from A to B. Be sure to pack light and travel smart. You have a few options, but for the most part, think about what your little one is most comfortable with.
- Stroller: Bringing a stroller along is probably the most common option. Your stroller should be light (20lb restriction for gate-checked strollers) and compact. I use the Mountain Buggy Nano Stroller and love it. In fact, it folds up so small that it actually fits in the overhead bin – which is a huge win. Some gate agents make a fuss about bringing it on board so be prepared to gate-check it if they insist.
- Baby carrier: This option only works for babies and small toddlers, but it sure is convenient. These are so nice because you’ll have two free hands for doing things like carrying luggage and browsing Instagram.
- Nothing: Some kids just don’t like to make things easy. Jimmy has outgrown baby carriers and just entered a phase where he’ll spontaneously refuse to be anywhere near a stroller. So, I decided to just go for it without any assistance. I’m not sure I would recommend this approach, but as long as you’re comfortable carrying a child for a bit, it’s not a terrible idea.
- Ride-on suitcase: Products like the JetKids BedBox are becoming more and more popular. For kids between two and six, I think this is a reasonable option. Jimmy loves riding his BedBox around the airport, but we are slow-moving when he uses it. The “bed” option is great too, though I mostly use it to expand his play area. He has never actually slept on it.
Check in with the gate agents and flight attendant
I always do a quick check in with the gate agent before boarding. I’ll confirm my seats and ask if they have anything better available. Let them know you’re traveling alone with a child. It’s no guarantee, but usually they’ll do their best to help you out. On my last flight, the gate agent found us a row of our own, giving Jimmy the space he needed to feel unrestricted up in the air.
Be strategic with the electronics
I have a strict “no tv – no electronics” rule for at least 24 hours before any flight with my son. Like most kids, Jimmy loves watching his videos and playing phone games. After a day of no electronics, he is much more engaged and excited about them on board. It’s also teaching him that flying is fun and has bought me hours of peace and quiet on board.
Bring all the snacks
This is especially important for longer flights — come prepared! I like to bring a few different options as well as a travel placemat so they’re not eating off of the seat-back trays directly. Make sure you’ve got something for them to drink too. I always bring a sippy cup too. Make sure it’s cheap so you can easily throw them away, they don’t spill, and it has a straw to help relieve any ear pressure they might get during takeoff and landing.
Pack only a couple toys
You’re probably going to want to bring a ton of toys. More options are better – right? Well, that’s not actually true. The more things you have to lug around, the harder it’s going to be flying alone with a toddler. Plus, kids throw toys and smaller objects will roll around and get lost. Stick with one or two toys that don’t roll and leave the rest at home. To help prepare your little one for the flight, let them know you’re going on a plane and ask them to pick out their favorite toy. This will help mentally prepare them for the ride and also give them the responsibility of choosing a toy. Books are a great option too because they take up limited space and you can read them multiple times.
Grab a glass of wine and relax — you deserve it for flying alone with a toddler!
Flying alone with a toddler can be stressful so do your best to relax and enjoy the ride. If Jimmy falls asleep or is busy with toys, squeeze in a movie and a glass of wine. And then I cross my fingers he’ll let me finish the movie!
Updated: June 15, 2017