I’m a pretty confident parent but if there is one thing that terrifies me, it’s flying alone with a baby or toddler. Let me be more specific, flying alone with a lap child terrifies me. Despite having flown alone with my kids numerous times I always fear that the other shoe will drop. I fear that the next time will be a disaster and I’ll be reduced to a puddle of tears by the time due to the misery of my child, the passengers and myself.
Clearly, we’re talking about a very first world problem today; the poor mom who is taking a leisurely flight with their mini-me yet doesn’t want to fork up the extra dough for the second seat. We’re all aware that this mom doesn’t really have a problem per se but she’s got a situation that will probably leave her late-night Googling and possibly even call her pediatrician’s advice nurse to see if she could give her little one Benedryl for the flight. If you are that Mom, put down the Xanax and scroll through this post to get some advice on just how simple flying alone with your little one can be.
Top 10 Must Know Tips for Flying Alone with a Toddler or Baby
1. Pack Smart
There is no room when you have a lap child so you need to be able to reach into your bag blind and grab out exactly what you need. Everything needs to fit into one bag that can go at your feet. You have an extra person in your row so the last thing you want to do is be asking them to get up while you go in and out of a bag in the overhead compartment.
I get pretty serious when I pack for flying alone with a baby. I bring a wide opening tote, more often than not my Louis Vuitton Neverfull. Before I pack I empty everything out and then repack using 4 1 gallon plastic bags. Having everything in plastic bags lets me see exactly what I need and leave the bag that I am using the seat back pocket. Trust me there is negative space when you have a lap child so you need to be able to reach down blind and come up with exactly what you need out of your bag.
Here is what I put in those 4 plastic bags in the tote.
- Bag 1: 3 diapers, wipes, extra shorts and shirt for baby
- Bag 2: Toys – Don’t bring any toy from around the house, you want all new things that are novel and interesting. Post-its,
- Bag 3: Food – bring more than you would normally feed and thinks that take a while to eat the better
- Bag 4: Wallet, phone, charger, chapstick, hair tie, gum, mom snack, and pen
2. Rent Baby Gear Locally
Take the money you save by bringing a car seat and look into renting some baby gear locally. We did a vacation in Kauai with our daughter when she was one and we wanted to hike the Napali coast but weren’t about to lug the big baby backpack or pay extra for it. Instead, we rented our same baby backpack from a local mom doing a little side business. For $30 we had our same name brand backpack delivered to our hotel room and had it for a week. Win-win for everyone involved. If you want to find these types of services just go a Google search for “baby gear rentals + (insert city)”.
3. Send Stuff to Your Hotel via Amazon Prime
Instead of running out to the store the week before you travel and filling your suitcase with these random newly purchased necessities, order them on Amazon and send them straight to your final destination. It will save you room in your suitcase or the hassle of finding a store first thing when you arrive.
4. Dress Your Kids Well
Yep, I mean it. You should always have your kids looking their best when flying. Not Sunday best but a cute outfit that is still comfortable. Having your child well dressed will get them noticed in a good way. You give the illusion that you as a parent have it together enough to have your child dressed well and people will naturally assume that this translates to you having it together flying on a plane. This doesn’t mean have them wear an uncomfortable party dress or a sports coat, but going for generally stylish attire that is crisp and clean is a sure fire way to success. Is the outfit cute enough that you would want to take their picture or someone would comment, then it’s airport worthy.
My kids always look put together when we fly and then generally leads to various people at our gate commenting positively on something about them. In addition to them now making a positive association about my toddler, it also opens up an opportunity for me to converse with the other passengers and charm them to death. If flying with toddlers is like Survivor then you want to use every opportunity to build an alliance with other passengers.
5. Dress Yourself up Too
Rather than succumbing to dressing how you are feeling and looking as disheveled on the outside as you are feeling on the inside, fake it. Make sure that you are comfortable but that little bit of extra effort will go a long way in creating the illusion of sweet and happy Mommy and baby flying together.
You know how they say that if you are kidnapped you want to start personalizing yourself to your captor as much as possible so they see you as individuals and are less likely to kill you? This strategy is a very similar concept. Humanize yourself to other passengers so that’s it is more difficult for them to hate you.
6. Build Alliances with Fellow Passengers
Continually work on building allies in case the flight goes terrible and you have an upset toddler. At this point, you don’t know who is sitting next to you and your lap child so show everyone how easy going you two are. Let your little one charm everyone and smile and be friendly with everyone. If there was a high school popularity contest for your gate, you should be winning homecoming couple by a landslide.
7. Ask for the Extra Seat on the Plane
Here is the situation. You have a lap child because you don’t want to fork up the extra cash for your massive 4 year old sized almost two year old to have their own seat. I feel you, I have been there, and been there pregnant too! Here is how to get the open seat for your toddlers.
Don’t ask for an extra seat outside the terminal
This airline personnel can’t help you. They aren’t going to move a seat assignment; it can only be done at the gate. All they can do is sell you an extra seat, which does you no good because it’s not next to your seat.
Do ask a gate agent for the seat
Most people fail because they go up to the counter and try to convince them that they need the seat. Wrong pitch! You need to appeal to the needs of the other passenger who is sitting next to you!
Do make it about the other passenger
“Excuse me Samantha. How is your day going so far? I was hoping you could help me today. I am flying with a lap child and noticed online that someone else booked the seat next to us. I know that there are a few extra seats on the plane and wanted to know if you wanted to offer one of them to the passenger sitting in the row with us. I know not everyone loves the surprise of sitting down next to a lap child so I just wanted to say something now in case the other passenger gets on and is displeased.”
The ticketing agent will then look really close at the seating and shift things to give you and the baby the extra seat or page the other passenger. Don’t hang around too closely when the other passenger arrives at the counter. Let them give the agent their honest feedback. If absolutely continue to reiterate “I just wanted to give you the option to move if you would prefer.” I have never seen another passenger chose to stay next to the lap child when given the opportunity.
8. Sit Near the Back of the Plane
Most kids do best near the back of the plane. It’s the farthest from first class and all the people who want the front seats because they don’t like waiting to deplane or are premier members who fly a lot. This means they are most likely business travelers and are going to be less sympathetic to lap children.
If you take one of the direct flights from California to Hawaii you’ll see that the back of the plane is easily 50% kids. The constant stream of people getting up to use the bathroom serves as fresh faces to entertain your little one. These people aren’t burnt out on your kids, happy to be standing up and board needing a distraction as they wait in line. Engaging with your toddler is their perfect distraction. Worst case scenario, if your little one does scream their head off, all the passengers will have the noise behind them instead of in front of them where they can watch you and the little one. Better they aren’t sure where it’s coming from rather than staring you down the whole time.
9. Smile and Suck up to the Flight Crew
The stewardesses are the most powerful people for the duration of your flight and you want them in your corner. If they like you and the baby things can go very smoothly, drinks early, extra snacks, crayons, pins, even the option to stand in the galley for a bit. If they don’t like you, it’ like being in prison with a guard who knows a gang is coming for you but is going to turn a blind eye.
10. Pacify Your Baby with Whatever Means Necessary
Now is not the time to be enforcing your whole foods, sugar-free diet. You are in survival mode. That means that packing 5 lollipops or a half a dozen fruit snacks is totally acceptable. You should always choose a sticky sugar high but silent toddler on my lap than a well-fed screaming toddler wrestling me like a greased pig.
The Bottom Line
Whether it’s your first time or your 10th flying alone with toddlers and lap children is a massive feat! Preparing for the worst but hoping for the best is always the best strategy. More often than not an extra smile and taking the effort to make sure not only your baby but your fellow passengers are comfortable will go a long way. If you are the type of parent is who is already searching out advice on this topic you are probably going to do just fine on your flight because you want to succeed and are gaining the tools to give you the confidence to do so. And if you don’t, you’ve still got that Xanax just in case. Safe travels!
Do you fly alone with your kids a lot? What your most essential tip? Share your comments below!
Great advice! I can’t tell you how many other blog posts I have read on this subject. This was truthful and honest (and funny!)
Thanks Heather! I’m shamefully behind on content but I’m trying to put together two more with how I pack their stuff for the plane and some tricks for international travel with toddlers.
Glad you liked it Heather! Hope it made your next flight easy breezy.
[…] my first post on Tips for Flying Alone with a Toddler or Baby was so well received I wanted to do a follow up talking about my shortcuts for traveling […]
In about two weeks, I’ll be flying across the country with my two year old and my two month old — by myself. I’m terrified, but doing a lot of research for tips and advice. I never thought that how we look as a family may impact our trip, but it makes total sense! I definitely want people to like us! Looks like I have some baby clothes shopping to do! 🙂
The kids are going to do great Tiffany! And don’t worry about buying new clothes, make the most with what you already have (unless you want the excuse to shop and in that case, go for it!). Good luck.
Great advice. I will be flying with my 2 and 4 year old alone. I’m nervous about getting them through the airport. Love the part about being in survival mode and packing 5 suckers. Totally agree!
Hope your flight went well and those suckers and back ups came in handy!
Loved the advice and ‘extra seat’ strategy. Thanks!
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Good advice, especially the back of the plane advice. I’ll take that on board for my upcoming 10-hr flight alone with my 1 yo!
Thank you for the tips! Will definitely take note! I’m really nervous travelling with my 2-year old since we usually travel with my husband. Less packed bags = less stress. And the new toy thing is really smart!
Great advice, i would even say it’s the best advice regarding toddler travel I’ve read online. I’m inspired to try point 7 on my upcoming flight with my 14 month old. This is a first world problem indeed, as you so aptly put it.
Thanks so much Karen! So glad I can help other moms navigate the nerve-racking task/privilege of flying with our little ones. Best of luck on your next upcoming flight!
I really enjoyed your advice. I found your advice about dressing them well to be a little strange at first but then when I heard your reasoning it sounds like it is certainly worth a try!
I live in Egypt with my husband and young daughter. I will be travelling alone to California this summer with her and I feel that this will be a whole different ball game then when we did the same trip when she was 9 months old! One of my main concerns is packing: for international flights I need more clothes, diapers, snacks and toys. It’s hard to have everything fit into the diaper bag but at least that bag offers great compartments to help me organize everything. I’m not sure I want to risk putting everything in an open bag because I’m worried I might be too distracted or tired to realize that something fell out.
I also have to take the baby carrier and even (ug) the carseat if I get her a seat for the 11 hour+ ride from Europe to SFO. This is my other concern. Bringing the carseat for her to be in for take off and landing means that I have to carry that car seat through the airport during the layover. Like I won’t have enough to carry already. Do you really think I could ask at the gate for an extra seat? I’m just worried that is too risky for such a long flight!
Hi Catherine! Thanks so much for the kind words and I’m so glad my advice resonated with you. 100% I think you can ask for an extra seat at the gate. The airline crew at the gate are the people who have the power to do it for you. As much as it helps you, it helps passengers that might be in your row. My sister always asks when she travels between New Zealand and SFO and they always accommodate her request and she gets the bulk-head seats with the bassinet pull out.
You and your daughter will do great & good luck!
I agree with most things you’ve stated in your blog and I’m glad you help a lot of us moms out but one bit of advice. Planes do not count your car seat or stroller as baggage and most do not charge you for checking them, in fact you can take them all the way to the gates so you do not really save money renting at your destinations you actually spend more money. Maybe refresh this bit of advice
Great suggestion! It is worth learning for many new mothers.
Glad you found these tips useful! Flying alone with a little one can be stressful so having some strategies before hand goes a long way.