Tips for Your Toddler’s First Flight

MOPS Staff

You’ve seen her, that frazzled mom with the mystery stains on her shirt, noise-making toys falling out of her bag and a squirming child on her hip. She’s wrestling her suitcase and collapsing her stroller in the middle of the airport security line. Suddenly, her toddler starts to tantrum, throwing diapers and sippy cups across the filthy airport floor. You might give this mom an empathizing glance, or even lend a hand, but no one, and I mean no one, wants to be this mom.  

So, if you’re planning a trip with a toddler and you’ve never tried to change a diaper in an airplane bathroom with a stranger pushing on the broken door behind you then you’d better give this a quick read.  

These tips are for parents flying alone with a child old enough to walk, but not quite old enough to know what a seatbelt sign is.  

The Packing  

Check your main suitcase no matter how much the airlines charge. Trust me.  

Now for the carry on – yes, only one! My biggest suggestion is to only take one bag on that airplane. If your child is old enough to walk comfortably and completely manage his own bag, that’s fine. If not, everything needs to fit in your one bag or you simply will not have enough hands to manage.  

Your days of reading magazines and sipping lattes (don’t even dream of taking a snooze) are over; so don’t bring much in your carry on for yourself. I claim one zippered, “mom” pocket for my wallet, lip-gloss and hand sanitizer.  

I suggest a wide-mouthed bag, with pockets, that stands alone and won’t collapse on itself. Within that bag, pack each category into separate gallon-sized Ziplocs. Snacks in one, entertainment items in another, and diaper changing supplies in yet another. If you don’t do this, you’ll be rifling through a Mary Poppins-esq bottomless bag full of all the things you’re not looking for.  

Diaper emergency? Simply pull out the diaper Ziplocs and head to the back. No need to take a full collection of Thomas the Train to the bathroom with you. In that diaper changing Ziploc, be sure to put in an extra change of clothes for your little one, down to the socks. Moms can tolerate wet mystery stains, but most toddlers can’t.  

The remaining contents of your bag should be snacks, toys and television. The key is to have items your child hasn’t played with, or doesn’t get on a regular basis. Everything should be lightweight and noise-free for the sake of other passengers (I learned this the hard way). If you generally feed your toddler healthy snacks like I do, the sweet treats will be particularly helpful in keeping the whining and squirming at bay. 

The 99Cent store has almost all of these items, and I keep many of them in the packaging for that extra “wow factor” of opening new things. 


  • Stickers – decorate your seats, your arms, or the barf bag
  • Gel Stickies – great for the window
  • Pipe Cleaners – make bracelets, chains, and wind around everything in sight 
  • Micro Machines – tiny little cars that can use the safety card as a ramp
  • Mini Chapsticks – a superb discovery that thrilled my little one
  • Mini Crayons – small size is always a novelty, and napkins work as mini canvases
  • Party Favors – look in the cheap isle full of lightweight “junk” that you wouldn’t otherwise buy, but is perfect for a
  • few hours of use
  • Paperback Books – you can find them very cheap, and even ruin them with coloring
  • Silly Straw – entertaining even if only drinking water
  • Your Phone – great for flipping through recent pictures even in airplane mode  
  • iPad and Headphones – if you don’t have one, borrow one. There are endless apps and downloadable shows for children that can buy you 15-minute chunks of entertainment.  


  • Raisins – get the mini boxes for more fun 
  • Fruit Snacks – mini packs take the most time to unwrap and eat 
  • Fruit Roll Ups – time consuming and wonderfully sticky 
  • Miniature cracker sandwiches – spend the extra $ to get the single serving packs 
  • Pretzel Rods – play drums or swords with these salty treats 
  • Miniature juice/milk boxes – you can take as many liquids as you need when traveling with a child 
  • Dum Dum Suckers – I save one or two of these bad boys for the very end of the flight when we’re stuck in seatbelts without the ability to use electronics. Sucking and swallowing also helps keep little ears unplugged during descent, and the small size ensures you won’t have a sugar crash twenty minutes later. 
  • Anything New – the snacks your little one gets every day won’t be fun, so try a new shape or flavor  

The Flight  

From the moment you enter the airport, become the nicest person anyone has ever met. Seriously, it will not only win the favor of all around you (possible helpers) it will guard against the edginess and stress that traveling brings. Not to mention, little ones feed off their parents’ energy and your kindness and go-with-the-flow attitude communicates to them that peace and tranquility are as present on the road as they are at home.  

Now, take a deep breath and start that packing! With a little strategizing and more patience than you thought humanly possible, you just might enjoy the journey with your mini traveler!  

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