What you must know before flying with a toddler in a pandemic

Apparently flying with a toddler wasn’t difficult enough so 2020 had to throw in a pandemic to challenge parents even more. You never know how much you can manage until you’ve already done it. I learned this after becoming a parent. And I think 2020 has proven this statement ten times over. Flying with a toddler in a pandemic may sound impossible, but you will find a way to manage if you must fly during this unprecedented time.

Recently we had to travel cross country from California to Connecticut with our toddler and preschooler for my grandma’s funeral. With the time constraints, and our inability to last more than a couple hours driving, we had to fly. I wasn’t ready and comfortable with the idea of flying during the pandemic yet, but I also knew I didn’t want to miss the funeral and being closer to my family at this time. So I pulled myself together and powered through my anxiety about the whole ordeal.

It was not as scary as I had anticipated. Some aspects were even easier than during normal times. Undoubtedly it was a different experience than any previous flights. I learned some things along the way that I want to pass on to you that might help your flying experience.

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9 things you must know before flying with a toddler in a pandemic

1. Set realistic expectations

  • This is always my primary piece of advice for parents traveling with young kids, and it is more important than ever.
  • Accept that kids are kids and you can only control so many things. 
  • Accept they will touch things they probably shouldn’t and plan accordingly.
  • Discuss expectations and practice with your kids ahead of time.

2. Flexibility is essential

  • State and country regulations, quarantine rules, and borders change daily. You may need to change or cancel something on your trip, even last minute. 
  • Flight schedules are changing more than ever. If you picked a certain flight time because of your toddler’s sleep schedule, know that there’s a chance the timing will change. Similarly, flight routes change and it’s possible your flight layovers could change.
  • It’s extremely important to stay home if you or your family are experiencing any symptoms. If symptoms arise last minute, make sure you’re prepared to reschedule or cancel your trip.

Don’t miss: Tips for safer family travel in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic

3. Masks are required, no exceptions

  • Face masks/coverings are required for all adults and children once they are 2 years old on US airlines. Some international, non-US carriers do not require children to wear masks until they’re 5 or 6, but it varies from airline to airline.
  • Read the airline rules, and call them in advance if you have concerns you want to address. 
  • People of all ages are being added to no-fly lists, and you don’t want to end up there. Try to keep the whole pandemic situation and everyone else in mind. Everyone is trying to do their best, try to work with the flight attendants and not against them. Usually, kindness and genuine effort will be appreciated and understood more than resistance and rudeness.
  • Bring extra masks, try different kinds, and make sure you’ve practiced plenty at home before flying. My kids prefer different ones at different times. We’ve had success with various masks on Etsy, and from Old Navy. And in general, I find the disposable masks lighter and easier to wear for long stretches.

4. Don’t forget your cleaning supplies

  • Make sure to bring your own sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer.
  • Currently, you are allowed to bring a larger container (up to 12 oz) of hand sanitizer through security. Other fluids still need to follow the 3 oz rule.
  • Security may want to test any cleaners and other liquids that you carry-on.
  • Try to wipe down your toddler’s seat area before they sit down. Pay particular attention to anything they may touch: seat belt and buckle, tray table (both sides and latch), window shade, armrests, seat and headrest, buttons, etc.

5. Create a barrier

  • Consider using different items as covers to create a barrier from the airport and airplane surfaces if it will make you feel better. 
  • Keep your toddler in their stroller if you prefer, but don’t forget to let them stretch out at some point. Otherwise, this may make your day more challenging.
  • There are plane tray covers or you could use a disposable sticky placemat to cover the tray. 
  • As long as it’s FAA approved, bring your toddler’s car seat to create an additional barrier between your child and the plane seat and minimize how many things they touch.
Dad holding toddler's hand walking off plane

6. Pack toys strategically

  • Limit how many toys you bring, and try to only bring things that you can clean off easily. Toddlers like to play with everything around them, if you’re not comfortable with them touching all the plane things, make sure you have enough toys to keep them engaged and distracted.

Don’t miss: Best tips and favorite toys for entertaining babies and toddlers on a plane

7. Food is not as widely available

  • More than half the airport restaurants we passed (through 6 different airports) were closed. And almost all the shops were closed. We were still able to find food at every single airport, but it’s best to assume your options will be limited. 
  • Bring plenty of snacks and food with you. You can bring food in a cooler (ice packs are okay through security if frozen). You are allowed extra liquids for babies and toddlers, such as milk and food pouches, but they will want to inspect or test it.

Don’t miss: Bringing liquids through security for babies and toddlers

Closed restaurants at airport - flying during a pandemic

8. Plan potty time if possible

  • Plan restroom breaks as best you can for while in the airport rather than on the plane. It would be better to navigate a bathroom with more space in the airport that also has greater airflow than the tiny plane bathroom.
  • Put a pull-up or diaper on toddlers who are more recently potty-trained just in case.
  • Bring a portable potty if you’d prefer to avoid the bathroom altogether with your toddler. Our 2-year-old was recently potty-trained, but still only using little potties at home and refusing a regular size toilet. So I brought along our portable travel potty, and it worked out really well. 

9. There is more space than usual

  • Traveling in this environment is more restrictive and stressful than usual, no matter how young, your kids will pick up on this and need some space to be more carefree. Find space for your kids to spread out and get the sillies out. Thankfully with lower crowds, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding empty gates and hallways.
Dad with suitcase with two young kids - flying with a toddler in a pandemic

Flying with a toddler in a pandemic is not easy, but flying with a toddler even before the coronavirus pandemic wouldn’t have been considered easy either. As long as you prepare and have realistic expectations, it’s doable. And in some ways, it can be less stressful considering the greater attention to cleanliness and lower crowds.

Have you flown during the pandemic? If not, what questions do you have about flying during this time?

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  1. I hadn’t thought of the food places being closed in an airport…super big consideration with little ones who are picky and can only tolerate some foods.

  2. Great points all around. As if traveling with a child is not hard enough, it could absolutely be more stressful during COVID-19.

  3. We flew in July and love the experience more so than before Covid-19 – less people, getting through the airport was a breeze with our kids. We practiced wearing a mask all day before with our youngest so that she would be used to it and brought extra food and wipes knowing that our food options would be somewhat restricted. I wish that it would be like this when things return to normal.

    1. If only we didn’t have to worry about getting sick then it would be perfect! But yes, you are so right, there are several reasons why it’s an ideal time to fly. And I hope some of the things stick too!

  4. This is such a great post, and I wish I had this post to view a week ago. We just got back from a family wedding flying with a 2 year old over the weekend. It was definitely a learning experience and we were NOT able to keep a mask on the little one. Fortunately he just turned 2 a couple of weeks ago and we were able to kind of bend the truth a bit and go with the story that he’s “almost two”, to avoid being unable to fly with him without his mask or have him go into a complete tantrum meltdown for having to wear one.

    1. Oh sorry, I wish I could have done it sooner too. I’m glad you were able to make it work though! Personally, I love the 2-year-old stage, but it comes with lots of challenges like this! At certain times and situations, there is absolutely nothing you can do to make them do or not do something.

  5. It was hard enough before I can’t image having to fly with little ones now. Kuddos to you! Hopefully everyone will learn to be a little bit more compassionate.

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