Lessons Learned the Hard Way About Flying with a Toddler

We arrived back from Hawaii on Sunday morning and are still getting our bearings. The trip was amazing and I have many many posts to share of our wonderful adventures. The only mar on the vacation was the airplane, and only because it involved sleep.


THE BAD MOMENTS… Visualize me, tears streaming down my face from incredible pain, putting up with a child squirming and whining every 2 minutes. For 4 hours.

The only direct flights available to us were at night. On the way there, it was earlier in the night and Aiden was able to play, be with other people, and sit in his car seat. It then took more than an hour of struggle, but he slept. Some in his car seat, more in my arms. But it wasn’t the whole trip, thankfully. On the return, not so much. Flying red eye, he fell asleep at the airport (go me!) and slept in my arms until I tried to buckle him in to his car seat. He slept about 30 minutes in his car seat, total, the rest of it wriggling to get comfortable in my arms. He was very unhappy.

Here is what I’ve learned from this whole experience…

  • Never ever fly Red-eye with a child. NEVER do it. If your child can sleep anywhere, no matter the position, you’re lucky. Mine is fussy about lying a particular way and that’s without the disruption of lights, announcements, other kids…
  • They cluster families together, probably to keep them contained from other passengers. Result – the kids keep each other up. If it’s a daytime flight, they play and that’s fine.
  • Naps are easier to miss in the long run than night sleep. That takes days to catch up on.
  • Even if you have 3 other adults to help, your child will only want Mommy when it’s time to sleep. So much for help!
  • Toddlers are actually pretty easy to amuse when awake. Don’t stress over that. There are beverages, snacks, tv’s, iPhones, books and other people to smile at.
  • The safest place for a child on an airplane is a car seat… but, does your child actually like the car seat? If the answer is no, don’t take it.
  • If safety is still a concern for your family, there is the CARES system. We should have done this instead.
  • An extra seat is still a good option, even for those under 2. Most don’t do it, but I think if our car seat hadn’t been in the seat, Aiden would have had a more comfortable place to sleep, draped across my lap and on the seat.

I don’t do well on airplanes with all my injuries to begin with, but having to hold Aiden made my pain so much worse. I could barely lift my arm for 24 hours after the return flight and am still very high on my pain threshold after the chiropractor and a massage. UGH


4 comments for Lessons Learned the Hard Way About Flying with a Toddler

  1. @racheljonat says:

    Poor you! Hopefully the sun and sand made up for the uncomfortable travel.

    Red eye flights with toddlers: I feel the opposite. We flew to the UK red eye and it was fantastic. Henry slept 9 hours on me (he was 19 months old at the time). Now… we were in business class for that flight with the full sleeping pod. But I just went Dublin – Toronto RT with a day flight there, red-eye back and our seats were in economy, and I would still take the red eye. Watching a video will only keep my toddler seated for so long. He really wanted to explore on the day time flight and was mellow and mostly slept on the red eye.

    Interested in the CARES system. Might consider investing in it with all the flying we will be doing in the next few years.

    • arieanna says:

      Yeah, we will be getting it for sure. I think flight really depends on the kid. At home, Aiden required a LOT of structure to be able to sleep in his crib, and he is quite picky about the positions he sleeps in. I know if he's not feeling well, there is only a single position he 'lets' me hold him in when he's on the breastfeeding pillow. I should have maybe taken that, but it's so big!

  2. […] The last month went too quickly, particularly with our trip to Hawaii. And my subsequent need for recovery – still in progress! I have dozens of posts that need to be written, and hopefully soon will […]

  3. […] The last tip is to try to relax! You can’t expect to keep your child on a perfect schedule in the middle of travel. Make sure you pack a bag for your comfort too, whether it’s warm socks or a pillow, or for younger children a breastfeeding pillow. I know the hard way how uncomfortable it is to hold a squirming 2.5 year old for several hours during the night without any support (which is why we’ll never travel with our car seat again). […]

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