Long Flight with a One Year Old : A Survival Guide

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Do you have a long flight with a one year old coming up? When my family flew to California from Nashville, it was our son’s first flight and I was beyond nervous that we’d be dealing with hours of meltdowns and rude comments from fellow passengers the entire time.

However, because we were prepared and because we scheduled our flights accordingly, it wasn’t all that bad! Difficult? Sure, but it wasn’t terrible at all!

survive a long flight with a one year old

I know that a lot of parents fly with newborns and infants, but I think a one year old presents a unique challenge because they’re not going to sleep as much as a younger baby and they’re much more aware of what’s going on. Furthermore they need to be entertained more than a younger child would. 

So here’s everything I learned about how to survive (dare I say enjoy?) a long flight with a one year old!

Pick Your Travel Times Wisely

This is key when taking a long flight with a one year old. Some parents say you should travel while your child is awake, some say you should travel when your child is sleepy. I opted for peak nap/bed times. Our son slept on all of our flights, but I will say that it was difficult when we landed in California at 1am our time and he was WIDE awake and not in the best mood. Think about how well your child does in the car and figure that it will likely be a similar experience.

Essentials for Surviving a Long Flight with a One Year Old

Something to Drink/Suck On – This is MANDATORY. I chose to take Hewson’s favorite bottle on the flight and gave him a pacifier. I’m SO glad I did. He really only cried when the plane was ascending and descending because, duh, his ears hurt. You NEED to have a drink for you baby to suck on so that his/her ears will pop during take off and landing. Otherwise, they’re going to be in a lot of pain, confused, and really upset. If they’ll take it, a pacifier is also a great idea.

I felt comfortable purchasing cow’s milk at the airport to give my son (which you should give before age one). However, I also had a few back up toddler formula packs–just in case we got into a bind. You can buy single serve packets or just buy some in a large can and put it in plastic baggies. I worried about TSA slowing me down using the baggies, so I used a branded single use packages.


Invisible Ink Coloring Books – A one year old is a little bit young to be coloring, but having these coloring books is a wonderful way to distract them. My son LOVED them.

Dropper StoppersI swear by dropper stoppers on a regular basis, but I’m so glad I didn’t have to go searching between seats or in the row ahead of us for bottles, toys, etc. If your kiddo is using a pacifier, don’t forget the “binkie leash,” as I call it.

Snacks – These are also key! Stock up on foods like goldfish, That’s It fruit bars (which Hewson and I both LOVE) and easy to store/access food.

Stickers – I also bought a few sheets of stickers. My son loves when we put one on his hand and he gets to try to peal it off. We went through almost a 1/2 pack on the entire trip, but the were SO worth it.

“Gifts” – It doesn’t matter if it’s stickie notes or some other tiny little toy, you’ll get several minutes of peace if your little one has something to do. Having little gifts that they can pull apart is a great way to get them distracted and engaged in activity.

Finally, it’s also really helpful to keep all child-related items in a small bag in your purse — or just the “fun” stuff in their diaper bag.

A Few More Things that Made the Airport Easier

When we were in the actual airport and off of the plane, these things were very, VERY helpful to us:

Ergo 360 – Wearing my son in the Ergo 360 airport made airport travel (and the TSA line) a snap. We could move quickly in crowded areas and catch our connecting flights without fear of him getting trampled or slowing us down. Plus, he was as happy as a clam to be strapped to mom or dad. It’s a clip and go, structured carrier and I’m glad I chose it over my wraps or slings.

Jeep Stroller – I can’t tell you how much I loved this stroller for our trip, but here’s why it was the best one to take on a flight. We wanted something small and very light to take on our trip. I almost bought one of those $10 strollers from Target, but I’m really glad that I went for this stroller. Here’s why:

  • It’s extremely light just like the smaller strollers we were looking at, but it is large enough to hold the carseat as we went from gate to gate in the airport
  • It has a bag basket underneath and a sun visor
  • It isn’t so expensive that when checked at the gate (which is mandatory) it would be very expensive to replace

If Possible, Get Your Child His/Her Own Seat

This SAVED us. I can’t imagine doing a really long flight with my son in my lap. He’s an explorer and the hardest part about the flights was the same thing I struggle with on a daily basis: getting him to actually sit in the carseat.  However, like most kids, he sleeps really well in his carseat, so it was worth the extra ticket for us.

We got this carseat and while it came VERY highly recommended from multiple sources (including friends, Lucie’s List, etc.) I wish I would have asked a flight attendant for more help than I did in installing it. We did rear facing and I never felt it was SUPER secure. However, I didn’t feel that my son was in danger at any point either… so…

You’ve got this!

I know that for some the thought of traveling with your kids is a little overwhelming. But have courage! You can do it! I hope that is helpful to you! I’d love to learn what tips and tricks you’ve learned about surviving a long flight with a one year old.