How We Survived a 5-Hour Flight with a Toddler

I assume that every parent’s biggest fear is to travel long distance with a toddler. My husband and I planned a family trip to Florida to visit my grandfather who has been sick for a few months now. We were so stressed out about the long flight that the anticipation was driving us insane. After reading tons of tips and advice online, flying with a toddler seemed easy; however, the reality of it is that it’s a little more complicated than that. We were taking a dreaded 4-hour flight there and an eternal 5-hour flight back to Las Vegas.

We decided to purchase her own plane ticket so she would be comfortable in her own space. Prior to our traveling date, I checked the instruction manual for our Graco 4Ever car seat to make sure it was FAA approved. We also decided not to take her stroller on this trip because we thought it would be too much to carry around the airport. However, I did use my Ergo Baby Sling Baby Carrier to carry her around. It made everything so much easier because I had both of my hands available to help my husband with our luggage, etc. The good thing is that when you reach the security checkpoint, they don’t make you take the sling off. Instead, they make you walk through the metal detector and then they check your hands with a special device to see if they can detect any explosive residue.

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LESSON #1: The only issue we had was carrying the big clunky car seat along with all of our other belongings. I should have purchased the Roll and Go Car Seat Transporter which fits most major brands of convertible and forward facing car seats. It folds flat and there’s no assembly required. It would have been extremely helpful to have that, so we’re definitely getting it for our next trip. As a self-proclaimed well-prepared mother, I also bought several toys that I considered would keep her entertained for a while.

These are the items I purchased and packed in her diaper bag for her entertainment:

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Melissa and Doug puzzles (3 of them)

Putty

Pipe Cleaners

Pom-Poms

Coloring book and crayons

Snacks

Ipad with her favorite cartoon episodes of Goldie and Bear

Headphones

Books (3 of them)

Pacifier (in case her ears were hurting)

Bottles

Our flight to Florida left at 11:35 P.M. Since her normal bedtime is at 8:00 P.M., I thought that she would be exhausted by the time we took off and fall right asleep. Boy, was I wrong! Our expectations had the complete opposite result. Julianna didn’t take her bottle as she usually does at nighttime; it was crucial for her to begin drinking it before take-off so the altitude wouldn’t bother her ears. To make matters worse, (since we eliminated the pacifier a few weeks ago) she did not know what to do with it when I handed it to her to prevent her ears from popping. My speculation is that having nothing to suck on could have made her ears feel uncomfortable throughout the entire plane ride.

After our failed bottle-feeding attempt, we tried keeping her entertained with her new books and puzzles; however, once exhaustion took over her, (considering it was WAY PAST her bedtime) she cried continuously throughout the last hour of the flight. It was an extremely stressful situation for us as parents. We tried EVERYTHING! We took her out of her car seat, walked up and down the isle, fed her, gave her all sorts of entertainment, water, snacks, to mention a few, but she just wasn’t having it. To top it off, a passenger screamed at us “DO SOMETHING!” as if we were causing a loud scene on purpose. Some people don’t understand that there are situations that are out of our control. I thought it was extremely rude and inconsiderate of her to even say something like that considering the tremendous stress that we were all going through. People that react that way obviously don’t have kids. Because the ones that do, are typically sympathetic. They get it. They’ve been there.

LESSON #2: never travel with an over-tired toddler AFTER their usual bedtime.

Something we considered a big no-no as well was that we purchased our tickets on the front third row of the plane. We thought that it would be great to have the extra legroom in case we wanted to stretch or if she wanted to get out of her car seat. What we didn’t know is that there are bright spot lights and loud chatty flight attendants right in front of our seats, which made it impossible for kids or anyone to peacefully fall asleep. We flew on Frontier Airlines and I have to say that this is the last time we’ll ever fly on their airline. I thought the flight attendants were pretty inconsiderate since they were chatting loudly through the entire over-night flight. When I kindly asked if they could turn the bright light off so my baby could have a better chance of falling asleep, the flight attendant said they couldn’t turn the lights off. However, the lights were later switched completely off about an hour prior to landing. Is that normal protocol? I’m not sure.

LESSON #3: Get a seat towards the back of the plane or middle of the plane where it’ll be darker and quieter; away from the bathroom is also helpful since the door slams every few minutes.

For the grand finale, our flight coming back home to Las Vegas was A LOT better than the first one. Our travel time was scheduled at 7:30 P.M. (before Julianna’s nap time AND bedtime). Our plan was to have Julianna play around and not let her take her nap during the day so she could be tired during our flight. Guess what? It worked! As soon as the plane began moving and preparing for take-off, we gave her a bottle and she immediately fell asleep for 2.5 hours. However, she woke up because of our extremely loud flight. You can always expect a loud flight when you’re flying to Las Vegas, no matter the time of the day or night it is at. People are obviously excited to land in Sin City and get the party started. Since Julianna was wide awake, my husband and I kept her entertained for the duration of the flight with the same books, puzzles, and cartoon episodes from before. Gladly, she was in a great mood after her little snooze, so everything had a positive effect on her.

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So for those wondering if there’s a specific trick or hack when traveling with a toddler, as much as I would like to say yes, I really think there isn’t a specific recipe, rule, or formula to follow. As parents, we can prepare as much as we can, but we never know how our kids will react the day of the flight. Having new and interesting toys were extremely helpful and flying before having her over-tired was a plus for us too. As parents, I think that being mentally prepared and staying calm through any given situation is a MUST. I think my husband and I made a great team dealing with Julianna throughout the whole traveling experience. I can’t deny it’s an exhausting process, but we survived!

If you’re traveling with a baby, check out my other post about traveling with a child under 1. I have other tips there as well. I would love to know about your traveling experience. Do you have certain tips that were helpful when traveling? I would love to add them to my list. Thanks for stopping by!

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