Have toddler, will fly?
May 3, 2010 3:00 PM   Subscribe

Have kid, will travel? Hey parents, what airline tips do you have for your toddler's first trip on a plane?

This summer marks our first family trip via airplane, with our 3.5 year old daughter in tow. We're looking at one to two layovers each leg - Jackson, Miss., to Salt Lake City.

There's got to be plenty of MeFite parents out there who are used to this, and I'm curious what you've learned.

We're taking our usual car seat, as we're renting a car. We're flying AA, and I'm not 100 percent clear on car seat rules during the flight - I think she can sit normally, but please correct me if I'm wrong.

We also have a goody bag of QUIET activities, like drawing, books, and such. We also plan to bring snacks and drinks to help with inner ear pressure.

But beyond that, what other ideas do you have? (And yes, I know the "give her Benadryl!" will pop up...that's on the table.)
posted by fijiwriter to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Here's an earlier AskMe with some helpful suggestions (the poster's asking about a baby rather than a toddler, but the thread may still be useful). Similarly, (MeFi's own?) Maggie Mason has some travel tips for flying with a baby over at Mighty Girl.
posted by hot soup girl at 3:13 PM on May 3, 2010

You shouldn't need the car seat on the plane, but I definitely recommend bringing it through security with you and checking it at the gate. We always do this so we don't have to worry about something happening to the car seat with the regular checked luggage and then discovering it's lost or left behind after we arrive. Also, a case for the car seat (I think we have this one) makes it much easier to maneuver it through the airport.

The only additional thing we usually bring on the plane with our son is either my wife's laptop or an iPod with some videos for him to watch. Usually we don't have to resort to that because he enjoys just being on the plane, but it has helped a couple times when he was tired and didn't want to nap.
posted by sbrollins at 3:14 PM on May 3, 2010

I don't have a kid but the last time I was on a plane the people behind me had a little kid (2-3ish?) and when we were getting up in altitude they reminded him to 'yawn and swallow like a fish!' and made funny faces while they did it. The yawn and swallow thing prevents your ears from popping, I thought it was pretty genius and it was something they had practiced beforehand to help the little guy out.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 3:24 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ear plugs and gum for pressure
posted by surewouldoutlaw at 3:24 PM on May 3, 2010

Best answer: Please try to avoid the Benadryl; no bad experience with it or anything, but it wigs me out that people give little kids meds when they're not absolutely called for. We carried it with us once and never used it.

Snacks and a straw cup with water should take care of the pressure changes.

We've flown with our (now 3.5 yo) daughter quite a few times, and never had any issues. Games & activities are a great idea, but don't be surprised if you don't end up using a lot of them. The novel environment might provide enough stimulation and distraction without ever having to dip into that well. Get up and walk down the aisle at least once with her to explore.

We do have a collection of videos she likes on the laptop, so that would be on our list.

Take the car seat - since you're paying for a seat, you can take it on the plane and strap it into the seat for her, making your daughter's experience that much more familiar (that is, she'll be sitting in the car seat she's used to from home).

Sorry for the disjointedness of the reply... We also have a 17-month old and I haven't been sleeping much lately :-)
posted by yiftach at 3:46 PM on May 3, 2010

Airlines generally ship strollers and car seats for free (at least in my experience).

As for entertaining a 3 year old on the plane, I've crossed the Pacific a few times with kids this age (ie, 9 or 10 hour flights) and it is not easy. Generally, after about 30 minutes the kids want "open the door and get out."

Any toys or movies you have will last for about 20 minutes. Even so, it's always a good idea to buy some new toys and slowly dole them out over the course of the trip. For example, Matchbox and Hot Wheels have great little packages of cars (5 or so). Hand one out at intervals of 20 minutes and it should take some of the sting off.

After a while, though, your child will get bored. The only thing you can do is let him walk up and down the aisles of the plane. Look out the window. Go to the bathroom.

All you can do is endure.

And we've never considered drugging out kids.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:13 PM on May 3, 2010

Best answer: Change of clothes for the kid. Change of clothes for you in case the kid throws up on you. Enough diapers to last through a nine-hour extra delay. Enough interesting different snacks for that, too. Even a stash of junky candy that you would normally never let the kid eat, in case of a serious emergency.

Benedryl makes some kids wired, instead of sleepy. Don't make the plane trip be your first test of this.
posted by Ery at 4:28 PM on May 3, 2010

Dress 'em cute, keep 'em clean. People will be nicer to you if you do.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:45 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I flew with a 3.5 year old from Denver to Honolulu. Our daughter did surprisingly well and didn't want to get up and run around. Obviously, this depends a lot on your kid's personality. I had some fun new toys for her (Polly Pockets - small, lightweight, she liked them. Littlest Pet Shops would also be good is she likes) in addition to books, coloring books, familiar small toys, etc.

Of course, you can't bring drinks through security, so make sure you buy some bottled water or juice once you get through. Sometimes they are great with keeping the drinks flowing on long flights, sometimes they are not.

Unless your car seat is specifically rated for airline travel, just check it at the gate and pick it up after you get on the plane. The crew may not let her sit in the seat if it isn't appropriate for airline travel. The concern is that in the case of an emergency, it may do more harm than good.

I have never tried benadryl. My kid HATES taking medicine, so it is only worth the crying, cajoling drama if she absolutely has to have it.
posted by jeoc at 5:08 PM on May 3, 2010

Oh, and yes - definitely bring a change of clothes for you and her. My daughter dumped a full cup of apple juice on both of us on a flight from Denver to NC. I hadn't packed in clothes in our carry-on, and boy did I regret it!
posted by jeoc at 5:09 PM on May 3, 2010

Use the bathroom when at all possible, just in case there's turbulence, etc later that keeps you in your seat.

Instead of just one bag of goody bags, bring several small bags with a few things in each. You can bring these bags out one at a time, so she'll often have something new. Cheap toys at the dollar store are perfect for this. It's okay to get cheap little things you wouldn't normally get.

Stickers and a nice new notebook are great. So too are crayons to go with the notebook.

My sister loves the invisible markers: the markers don't show up on anything except the special paper you buy with it.

I like to bring candy that takes a long time to eat, with twizzlers and lollipops being some good options (I don't mind more sugar than usual on airplanes, since it can keep kids entertained).

Two parents and one kid are pretty manageable, really. I wouldn't worry about this too much--just plan to spend most of your time entertaining her. (I'm a veteran of multiple overseas trips with two young kids.)
posted by bluedaisy at 5:09 PM on May 3, 2010

If at all possible I try to wear mine out more than usual the day before a trip like that. Swimming, extra-long park trip, big walk... it really seems to help with sitting still for an extended period, even if it's the next day. We also walk in the airport as much as possible.

Even though you can pre-board a lot of times I wait and we board last to minimize the time on the plane (it can take 20-30 minutes to board big cross-country flights), though that depends too on how much luggage I'm carrying. If there's two adults, one could board first to secure bin space and the other could bring the munchkin on at the end. Have fun!
posted by FuzzyVerde at 5:39 PM on May 3, 2010

I just flew with my 3.5 year old on Friday.

She had her own seat and sat without a car seat.

Nthing change of clothes.

Also, my otherwise potty trained daughter was freaked out by the lavatory. Fortunately, I had decided to put her in a pullup for the flight. Unfortunately, the pullup failed spectacularly as we began the descent. I won't scare you with the exact details.

Bring more snacks than you think you will need.
posted by ellenaim at 6:30 PM on May 3, 2010

Best answer: Some wonderful advice in this thread.

I asked a question a few months ago whose answers might be of interest to you: Kicking Children. Airplane.

My last trip with my kids was to Dallas, in March. My kids are younger than yours, so this might not work, but my secret weapons was stickers. On the flight out, I took a bunch of sheets of stickers of all different shapes, colors and sizes, and my daughter systematically covered most of the pages of a steno pad with them. We also decorated the two airsick bags, when she grew tired of the pad. On the way back, my wife and I were armed with one of these. Kept each of our kids busy for more than an hour.
posted by zarq at 6:38 PM on May 3, 2010

Oh, and definitely, definitely bring at least one change of clothes.
posted by zarq at 6:39 PM on May 3, 2010

Response by poster: All good advice - thanks.

Just to be clear, I'm no big fan of doping up my kid to get her to pass out. I have been told it might help relieve some pressure, but I think I might be asking the stewardess for a large plate of beans to study. Might just see how day 1 goes, and see how to reach to flight home.
posted by fijiwriter at 6:48 PM on May 3, 2010

Best answer: This won't be too bad: 2-to-1 adult-to-child ratio; plus your child is much more reasonable and entertainable than, say, a 15-month-old.

Bring a travel container of diaper wipes, or some wet paper towels in a ziplock bag. Plus changes of clothes for your child and for both parents.

If you have a camelback backpack, bring it empty, then fill it after security. It can be hard to wrangle enough fluids out of the flight attendants to keep your whole family hydrated.

As for passing the time, this is what I did when traveling cross-continent with a 15-month-old and a 2.5-year-old, and it worked really well:

Divide the trip into 15-minute segments, and designate each segment for "snack," "walk," or "toys." Maybe in a snack-toy-walk-toy-snack-toy-walk-toy pattern. Pack enough ziplock bags with NEW, small toys/activities to cover each of the "toy" segments. (This doesn't mean you'll actually divide up the flight that way, but it'll give you some idea of how much of everything you need to bring.)

Some ideas for the ziplocks:
-- Playdough. Buy a bunch of those small jars of playdough, then remove the playdough from the canisters and put them all in a ziplock. You can fit an extrusion toy and roller in there, too.
-- Matchbox cars - for instance, construction trucks. You can use those with the playdough to "build a house" or similar.
-- Felts. Bring a large piece of black felt board, and then cut shapes out of colored felt that can be arranged into houses, flowers, animals, whatever.
-- Small plastic animals or dolls.
-- Small Playmobil set, taken out of the packaging and put into the ziplock.
-- Crayons and paper.
-- Stamps. For paper or for skin, thinking realistically.
-- Double-bagged and taped ziplock, with interior bag containing a couple of squeezes of tempera paint for paint-bag writing. (Potentially not allowed on flights anymore, though?)

Novelty is KEY here. Make sure these things are never-before-seen.

When I traveled with my super-little ones, I also brought Hershey's kisses for our seat neighbors, just as a sort of wry joke, but honestly, I think one 3.5-year-old will not cause problems for seat neighbors.

Finally, yech to the Benadryl thing. I know people do it, but it's just a few inconvenient hours. She's 3.5. There are two of you. You can do it!
posted by palliser at 7:53 PM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

cut shapes out of colored felt

To avoid prosecution for inciting a felony: I meant do this before the flight, then have them to arrange on the felt board during the flight.
posted by palliser at 7:58 PM on May 3, 2010

You've received a lot of good advice but here are a few more ideas:

-- Laptop with DVDs, or portable DVD player. On the plane is one of the few times I will let my kid watch as much as he wants. Or check and see if your airline has personal TVs with movies. We just traveled on Virgin America. The headphones were $2 or $3. The movies were $8 each. Totally worth it.

-- Benadryl. We did use it, but that was a flight from L.A. to New Zealand. Your flights are relatively short, so I don't recommend it. Your kid might be completely drugged out when it's time to switch planes, and that could be a big hassle. But, if you do want to have it on the table, you MUST try it once beforehand. My cousin the pediatrician told me it can cause Tazmanian Devil-like syndrome in some kids. And that, my friend, would definitely be a nightmare on a plane.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:21 PM on May 3, 2010

Best answer: Save a few empty ZipLoc bags for soiled papertowels, tissues, rejected food, and other messes.

Put snacks into ZipLocs while you're at home. You can then divide up a big package into several smaller servings, and you'll also avoid the risk of flinging food all over the cabin when you open the *#&^! bag that always tears.

Save some new snacks and diversions for the flight home.

Books with repositionable stickers are pretty awesome. One time they put them in the "right" place, and the second time you tell a story and move the stickers all over the page. The third time you can be silly and put them on the "wrong" page.

Don't bother bringing anything to enetertain yourself as you'll probably not get to enjoy it.

Gate-check the car seat, don't hand it over when you check in.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:10 AM on May 4, 2010

One of the first things we do when we get our 2.5-year-old in his seat is to get friendly and chatty with the passengers in front of us, and apologize in advance for any seat kicking or screeching. Our boy is pretty good on a plane, but after a long day sometimes even a movie and snacks won't keep him from throwing mini-tantrums, and we want them to know we're really sorry for it.
posted by DakotaPaul at 5:09 PM on May 4, 2010

Response by poster: Update

Well, we survived flying, with snacks and games, books, toys, like many of y'all said.

However, coming back was a pain. I chalk that up to leaving SLC on a 6am (local) flight with a non-rested 3.5yo.

Couple things I learned to help future parental-unit travelers:

1. American Airlines sucks - we checked our carseat at the gate, and leaving for SLC, they lost a cushion. Chalk that up to me not paying attention and removing it at home. No big loss. BUT, coming back home, they broke and lost a piece of the base unit that helps the seat tilt front/back to fit a car's seat better. We spoke to gate officials, and basically heard "We're not liable, here's the fine print...see, if we damage luggage or car seats, we're not at fault."

2. Those cups of drinks you get mid-flight are usually filled up too much. On both legs, they spilled on Sofia. Maybe ask for less juice or a can/juice box you can pour for your kiddo? Also, ask for more napkins than you get.
posted by fijiwriter at 11:57 AM on July 21, 2010

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