How to survive flying with a toddler

Boy at airport

Ever tried to wrestle an overexcited toddler into an airport seatbelt? Or keep a five-year-old quiet while the flight attendants read safety guidelines? Most of us have been there – and if you haven’t then lucky you. We asked Mumsnetters for their tips on how to beat airport boredom, and keep the whole family busy (and quiet) from takeoff right through to landing. Here's what they taught us.

1. It's all in the preparation…

As we're sure you know by now, the key to everything in family life is preparation – and any kind of flight is no exception. Make sure you take off with everything you need to minimise mid-air tantrums

Toddler packing suitcase

“Divide and conquer, if you have more than one kid and are lucky enough to be travelling with another parent (or willing adult). One adult sits with one or two kids, the other adult with others, and agree before getting on the plane who is responsible for who, no standing in the aisle debating over it…”

“Get them used to using headphones before the flight. A busy aircraft is not the place to introduce them for the first time”

“We also decide beforehand who is getting the window seats as there are three kids. Last year we made the kids pull a card from a deck of cards and the highest got the prized seat.”

“We used to let our son stay up as long as he wanted the night before – a very rare treat, which of course results in him being absolutely shattered and makes most of the experience a sleeping one.”

Boy with case next to car

“Put kids' stuff into different coloured drawstring bags (really cheap on ebay) so you can pull spare clothes/ nappies/ toys out from your hand luggage easily without rummaging, and children can hang their own bags up from the table catch. Then put stickers/ Playmobil/ crayons in ziplock bags inside them so stuff stays together and can be easily found.”

“If you can, print a map before you go: kids love plotting the progress of the flight on it.”

“Take cups with lids that you can pour their drinks into – that way anytime someone needs to get up to the toilet, someone wriggles around or if you hit any turbulance the drinks stay in the cups and not all over them, you, or the long suffering person sat next to you”

2. Treat every step of the way like an adventure

You never know, if you manage to tire them out in the airport, maybe they'll sleep for most of the flight?

Happy toddler in the airport

“Book late afternoon or early evening tickets. Then arrive early and basically tire them out. Walk around the airport as many times as possible. Possibly buy a few treats to help keep them awake so they can sleep through most of the plane ride.”

“I also always get to the airport with a fair bit of time before the flight so they have time to stretch their legs and run about a bit (there’s normally a corner you can find for this somewhere).”

“Divide and conquer by each taking DC for a walk/play while the other adult gets to chill. It's a much more relaxed atmosphere and no one feels frazzled/sick of terrible chairs before they even get on the plane.”

“We usually let them pick a comic or magazine in the airport shop before we board.”

“While we're in the airport we get as much movement as possible before boarding – travelator up and then walk back down for another 'go'.”

3. Think it's going well? You've not taken off yet

No matter how many times you fly, even adults never quite get used to the sensation of taking off – and, remember, your DC are likely to be newer to this than you are. Just keep it calm and make sure you have something for them to suck on to stop the dreaded ear-popping

Little girl waiting for take off

“Remember to take a sippy cup so they can drink water or juice on takeoff and landing. The sucking will stop their ears hurting.”

“Babies: always provide a dummy or bottle when ascending or descending. Pressure changes in the ears are uncomfortable and frightening for little ones and this is why babies always scream after takeoff.”

“First things first – sucking sweets for the inevitable ear popping on takeoff and landing and small sachets of calpol just Incase.”

“Start acting as if it's the destination time as soon as we board the plane.”

4. Embrace screentime

From what we've heard, it's all about preparation – a good set of headphones and a tablet with enough charge to last the whole flight wouldn't go amiss either, though. Oh, and did we mention snacks?

Brother and sister playing on flight

“I thought it was quite good to have many small snacks, activity books and toys all individually wrapped. The excitement of a new surprise every hour or so keeps them more or less happily seated! And, if yours are super social like mine are: nothing beats the long strolls up and down the aisles for making friends and giving high fives.”

“My husband and I have no qualms about using TV, iPads, phones etc to entertain for the whole flight if necessary. If it keeps them quiet and happy, it is absolutely fine.”

“I make sure to bring a few toys attached to ribbons – much easier to retrieve when he throws them on the floor!”

“When the DC is playing with small toys or crayons etc a blanket is placed onto the seat so that the edges come up around the DC and all the small bits are safely enclosed. Saves a huge amount of frustration if a vital item is dropped. Once playtime is over the blanket can be used as it was meant to be or rolled up and used as a pillow.”

Little girl on aeroplane

“We spend a long time looking at the plane safety card and talking about every bit of it. Also the in-flight magazine – look at ALL the pictures.”

“Make a big deal out of the takeoff, drinks service, food service, going to the bathroom. It's all so exciting for children that this can easily amuse them for a while.”

“We restrict screen time the week before, then let them go on iPads/inflight entertainment until after the meal, then attempt a vague bedtime routine (teeth, pjs, blanket and pillows)”

5. Once that's out of the way, get ready for your landing (or that dreaded stop-over)

If you're landing and heading straight off to your accommodation, congratulations – just an unknown airport and keeping the children OFF the luggage conveyor to go. If not, and you're heading back into the air for the second leg of your journey, good luck – you're nearly there

Girl at airport stopover

“Playground in terminal before flying, and again at transit. And if you can't find a playground, find an empty corner, and get them doing high knees, butt kicks and jumping jacks (there are some ace play areas at Doha Hamad airport)”

“Also playing in the playground and running around in the airport so my son slept for most of the way on the second leg.”

“And finally… take her to see the captain when we're getting off the flight! She really enjoys it and we spend some time talking about what the captain will be like and what she wants to ask them. I always make sure we do this whenever there is a female captain as it doesn't happen that often and I want her to see.”

6. And last but not least, make sure you take care of you

It's important to remember amongst all the running around and continual mild sense of panic – it's your holiday too

Brother and sister and cases

“My final comment on keeping the DC happy is to look after yourself. Make sure you're fed, hydrated etc. If you're feeling good and calm, whatever the DC throw at you is more manageable.”