Monday, February 11, 2013

Traveling by Plane with a Toddler Part 1: Tips Before Travel

Traveling with a toddler can be tricky. Here's my little man last February on his first airplane trip! He was 16 months old and did really well. I actually received compliments from people sitting next to me on one of the flights : )

In two weeks we'll be leaving to stay with PaPa and Grandma for some fun in the Florida sun. Did I mention we'll be there for four weeks? And did I mention I am literally C-O-U-N-T-I-N-G the days? got me thinking about last year's trip and all the great tips I learned. Some from the airlines themselves, some from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and TSA (Transportation Security Administration) websites, and some just from talking with other mommies.

In this post I'll write about things you need to know at the airport...FAA child safety tips, TSA security procedures and some other helpful tips from the airlines.

FAA Safety Tips
The FAA highly recommends use of a child restraint system (CRS) for all infants and toddlers traveling that weigh less than 40 pounds. A CRS is defined by the FAA as a hard-backed child safety seat that is approved by the government for use in both motor vehicles and aircraft. Make sure your CRS is government approved and has "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft" printed on it. Otherwise, you may be asked to check it as baggage. Booster seats are not an approved CRS. If your child is 22-40 pounds, you can use a genius product called the Cares Child Safety Device. These safety harnesses are FAA approved for use in an aircraft. 

Be prepared, these restraints are a little pricey when purchased new from the Kid's Fly Safe Cares Airplane Safety Harness website HERE. For a third of the cost to purchase a new one, you can rent one from Cares Harness Rental HERE or from caresrentals on eBay HERE.

TSA Security Check Point Tips
Children ages 12 and under can leave their shoes on during screenings (hooray for small miracles). TSA agents will not ask travelers to do anything that will separate them from their child. Although the TSA recommends children who can walk without assistance should walk through the metal detector separately from their parent or guardian, infants and small children may be carried through the metal detector. If the alarm sounds, an officer will have to conduct additional screening on both the passenger and the child. If a baby is carried through the metal detector in a sling, additional screening may be required even if there isn’t an alarm. All carry-on and child related items that can fit in the x-ray machine, should go through the x-ray machine. Such as toys, blankets, strollers, baby carriers, car seats, backpacks, and baby slings. If any equipment will not fit through the X-ray machine, security officers will visually and physically inspect it. Ask a security officer for help gathering bags and equipment, if needed.

The 3-1-1 on Carry On Beverages & Snacks for Babies & Toddlers
Currently, each passenger is allowed one quart size, zip-top bag in their carry-on for liquids, gels and aerosols that are 3.4 ounce or smaller. This is referred to the "3-1-1 rule". Baby formula and food, breast milk, and juice are exempt from the 3-1-1 rules, and are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding the 3.4 ounces limit and are not required to be in a zip-top bag. Officers may ask you to open these items to conduct additional screening and you should declare them for inspection at the checkpoint.

Other Useful Tips
  • Although children under two are allowed to fly for free in your lap, did you know if you bring your child's car seat and there is an empty seat on the plane, airlines are required to let you use that empty seat for your child's CRS? Ask at the ticket counter when you check-in about this and the possibility of getting seat reassignments.

  • Strollers and car seats are not counted as part of standard baggage and can be checked for free at the ticket counter or right at the gate before you board. Don't forget to tag them with your name/address and phone number.

  • Be prepared and organized before getting in line to go through security. Having lots of loose items, stuff hanging off the stroller, and in the basket underneath will make it take longer to get through security and you could risk leaving something behind. Some airports have family lanes at security to help you through with extra agents.

  • Once you're through security, use this time to pick up any extra drinks or snacks you will need during your flight. Not all flights carry milk and bottled water supplies can be limited. Buy what you need now. Trust me, I learned the hard way. 

  • Lots of airports have designated play areas where kids can run around, climb, and slide. These are great places for kiddos to get out that extra energy before boarding. Even if your airport doesn't have a designated area, find a safe place in the terminal where they can get out some extra energy. There will be lots of time for sitting when you board the plane.

  • I found this great suitcase made by Melissa & Doug. The Trunki is a carry-on sized suitcase for kids that they can also ride on. I'm hoping this will be a fun diversion at the airport while waiting to board our flight. Here he is trying it out...

  • Babies and toddlers do not know how to clear their ears to reduce the pressure during takeoff and landing. Sucking on a pacifier, or drinking from a bottle or sippy cup will work.

  • I have found flying during nap time works well. The less time your toddler is awake means the less time they have to cause trouble or bother the people around you : )

Click HERE for Part 2: In Flight Entertainment on ways to keep your toddler entertained while in flight.


  1. I love this information. Can you please advise if you have any tips or ideas of what snacks I should bring on a 17 hr trip? We will be flying from Houston to Amsterdam then finally to Greece and as I recall, the food wasn't too great. I dont want them to eat junk the entire time so Im looking for something that doesnt require refrigeration or heating.

    1. Hi Katina. My little guy enjoys juice boxes, grapes, fig newtons and goldfish crackers. Although I have never taken a flight that long before. Best of luck!

  2. Thanks for your help. I'm so worried about this trip that my mind is going blank. I just don't know what I'm going to do with them on the plane for that long.


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