Congratulations you are considering or have already decided to take on the tremendous feat of flying with an 18 month old. Kudos to you! When I was faced with this, I went straight to the pros for advice on how I could make this experience as painless as possible for my family (and the passengers who would be flying with us). My brother and sister-in-law have crisscrossed the globe with their children from when they were babies. My niece has had a passport since she was 5 months old when took her first international flight to Jamaica. So, I knew that they would have a wealth of information to provide and they did. Everything they shared with me worked!
I swear by all the advice they gave to me and husband. The gems they dropped made for an easy breezy first flight for Story. And now I am passing their advice along to you.
How do you fly with an 18 month old?
Flying with an 18 month old is still free with most airlines as long as you plan on keeping them seated in your lap during the flight. When you are booking your ticket, they will ask if there is a child accompanying you and as you select “yes”, the child will be given the designation “infant in arms” and you can hold them for the duration of the flight.
Benefits of flying with your child in your lap
- There is the first and most obvious benefit – you save coins! There are no discounts on flights for children, they cost just as much as adults, so it’s nice to able to put the money that you would’ve spent on a ticket towards fun at your destination.
- For first time and for nervous flyers, the child will feel much more comfortable and safe when you hold them. This is especially beneficial for take off when they might experience their ears popping or if there’s turbulence.
What should I give my toddler before flying?
There is a lot that takes place between first entering the airport and boarding your plane. Likely the airport will be busy, you have to do a lot of walking from ticketing through to security then to your actual gate. Babies and children are normally very curious and all the action that they will witness, will hopefully hold their attention as you navigate the airport.
If this is not the case, then that is where you reach for your Mary Poppins bag of tricks. Distractions will be your best tool for flying with an 18 month old.
As you pack clothes, shoes and toiletries, also pack a separate bag of snacks, games, quiet toys, crayons, headphones and a tablet – whatever you can use to keep your little one quiet, cooperative and busy. Hopefully you won’t need it until the flight (or possibly not at all), but this is your “break in case of emergency” kit.
How many distractions you need depends on how long the flight will be. The longer the flight, the more distractions you may need to pack. I also suggest that during the flight, you keep the bag close to you and easily accessible. You do not want to be fumbling to find your emergency kit while in the middle of a toddler meltdown.
How do I get my 18 month old to sleep on a plane?
The dream would be that your child would drift peacefully off to sleep as soon as you get to the airport and not wake up until you’ve reached your destination. And old school parenting hacks would have a simple “medicinal” solution for that, but that’s not the advice I’m going to give you here.
In short, I do not have a guaranteed method to make your child fall asleep. It was luck that caused Story to fall asleep exactly as we were taking off and he slept the entire way, waking up only as we were landing.
But, what was not luck, was that our flight happened to coincidence with his nap time. If you are able, plan the flight around your child’s sleep schedule and you have the best chance for a sleepy little one in the air.
Does an 18 month old need a car seat on a plane?
It has been drilled into every parents head that every child must be strapped into their car seat while inside a moving vehicle. However, these rules don’t apply on airplanes. As long as your child is flying in your arms they will not be taking up a seat, and so a car seat is not needed.
If you cannot wrap your mind around a child “free flying” while everyone else is buckled up, you can certainly purchase a ticket for your child and then bring a car seat along and secure them into it, just as you normally would.
Checking in a car seat
Airplanes will check car seats for free, so no need to factor in additional costs for baggage. But, it is important to secure and or cover the car seat because baggage handlers can be pretty rough and it could get damaged while in transit. Some airlines will even wrap the car seat in plastic for you, just ask!
I purchased this car seat protector from Amazon and it served me well. It even has straps so you can wear it like a back pack or over your shoulder for ease.
Should you bring a stroller to the airport?
My brother and sister-in-law had split advice and both had good arguments for this very question.
My brother said: “You don’t need the stroller, it is just extra baggage. Wear your baby in a carrier so you have two hands to be able to maneuver easier through the airport.”
My sister-in-law said: “Bring the stroller! The stroller can get you to skip through to the handicap line. I have skipped long TSA lines with that thing. They don’t seem to notice my struggle when I am wearing them in the baby carrier.”
I opted to bring the stroller and everything my sister-in-law said was true. We were able to skip long ticketing and security lines and board the plane first. Also, we flew out of JFK airport and we had to walk like 30 mins from security to our gate. And, I was so glad that I could just push my son along instead of having to lug him on our chest. The choice is yours, but for me, it is definitely worth it.
More tips from the pros
- Bring a bottle or something to suck on. The sucking action will help prevent his ears from popping during take off.
- Try to change the diaper before the plane takes off, but still carry a couple extra diapers and wipes.
- Ignore people who may scoff because you have a baby, everyone should know by now that they need to bring headphones on every plane ride.
- Even if he is sleepy, keep him awake until the plane ride starts. Crying at the beginning or at the end of the flight is not as bad as crying in the middle.
And there you have it. Flying with an 18 month old does not have to be a nightmare. With a little bit of preparation and a big bag of toys and snacks, you can confidently fly with your children.