Air Travel with a Tot: The Key to a Successful Flight

By Teresa Ann Koide
November 18, 2014

The thought of being stuck in an airplane cabin with a temperamental toddler is enough to turn anyone off from travelling. I dreaded getting on that first 15 hour flight with my then 9 month old. Now at five years old, my daughter is a veteran traveler with 7 round trip flights between Japan and the USA under her young belt.


Prior to the trip, read your child a story book about flying on airplanes. “My First Airplane Ride” by Patricia Hubbell is a good choice for young kids.  It is also fun to visit an airplane museum if you have one in your area.

 Logistics are key!

Direct flights are always easiest. Go for a flight that will allow for maximum sleeping time. Departing in the late afternoon seems to work well for long, international flights. It allows for a little play time, dinner, and if you are lucky a good night’s sleep. A teddy or blanky and a favorite bedtime story can help your little one settle down.

If you are flying solo with your toddler, reserve the seats towards the back of the plane that have just two seats next to each other as opposed to three. This way you minimize the chance of bothering an innocent stranger that hopes to sleep through the flight. When travelling with a lap child, request a bulk head seat at check-in.  You might not get the free upgrade, but it is worth inquiring.  I had some luck asking again at the gate just prior to boarding.

Which airline should you fly?  The Japanese airlines are the most accommodating when flying with small children. They encourage you to board early and try to find the most suitable seat for you. Most major airlines offer kids meals which can be requested online.  Japan Airlines has cute “obento” type meals which my daughter loves. They also provide the drinks in a small paper cup with a lid. But bring some food because meals are not always served when kids are hungry. Pack things that don’t have to be kept cool. Onigiri, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, veggie sticks, cereal or granola bars are healthy options. Of course you’ll want to throw in some special treats, as well.


To relieve ear pressure and pain during take off and landing, give young child something to suck or chew on.

Pack some surprises!  I hunt all year for activities that won’t make any noise and aren’t too heavy in the carry on. Wiki sticks, origami, sticker books, lace up boards, large beads with some string, finger puppets, toy binoculars, stamps,  magnet books, and action figurines are all great.

Supplies for a little craft project can help pass the time.


Take a portable DVD player and at least one new DVD. I bought my daughter special kid sized headphones which make it easier for her to listen to the movies.

In case of spills or upset tummies, bring changes of clothes for you and your tot. Some extra plastic bags come in handy for soiled items.

The key to my success is giving my daughter my undivided attention during the trip. There are no chores to be done, laundry to be hung, or meals to be cooked. It is just 15 hours of straight mother-daughter time.  What child doesn’t respond well to being the center of attention for such a long stretch of time?