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Traveling with a Toddler – Cross Country by Plane

UPDATE – Since originally writing this, we have stopped carrying the Orbit Baby (click to read why). Though I have not tried it now that my girls are older, I have seen posts from people who love flying with their Clek Foonf or Fllo. These can’t go on a stroller base, but I’ve seen them used with small folding luggage carts. The great thing is the Cleks are narrow enough to go down the airplane aisles!


Ever since my girls were little, I have been flying back and forth across the country with them between San Francisco and New York. My family is in New York, and now we have a store there, yet I live in San Francisco. People are always asking me for tips on traveling with toddlers. I usually say that sometimes it is terrible, sometimes it is not so bad, but it’s always just 6 hours. I just do it and get through it. This past Sunday, I was flying to New York from San Francisco alone with my 18 month old. I think this is the absolute worst age to fly with them, since they are too old to just sleep and too young to watch a movie. With that in mind, I thought it was the perfect time to give all those who ask how I do it the play by play of a flight with a toddler.

Here is how my day went:

6am – I woke up to get in the shower while my husband Matt woke up Amber with a sippy cup of milk. I wanted her to have time to finish it before we got into the car. I got dressed and cut up fruit to bring with us in a travel container while Matt fed Amber some yogurt.

6:30 am – Matt put the car seat in the taxi when it arrived. I didn’t ask him to drive us because of the Bay to Breakers race that day which makes it impossible to drive across the city after 7am. I grabbed the stroller base from the garage and put it in the trunk and then got in the car with Amber. Having the car seat on wheels of some kind has proved incredibly helpful when trying to get through the airport with a kid and a car seat.

I packed one wheelie bag, a backpack style diaper bag, and my purse. I find it really helpful to have the diaper bag on my back in these situations. I checked the wheelie bag, though I hate to check bags, because not having it with me makes getting through the airport with a baby so much easier. I then went through security. ALWAYS ask if there is a family lane. It usually has a shorter line and they don’t usually worry so much about your kid-related liquids. The toddler car seat on it doesn’t fit through the x-ray, so they have to swipe it like they would a wheelchair.

I stopped by the bathroom. I always try to put a fresh diaper on Amber before we get on the plane so she doesn’t pee through her pants if she doesn’t get up. I usually wait for the handicap bathroom so that I can go myself and wheel the whole stroller in. You don’t want to have to go on the plane while the baby is awake!

7:45 am – We boarded the flight. I folded up the wheels and then was attempting to carry Amber in the toddler car seat onto the plane. When I got on, there was a young, male flight attendant standing there and I asked him nicely to help me carry her to her seat. I was Row 19 so he saved me! It’s not that bad to carry a short distance, but with the stop and go of people boarding the plane it would have been tough. I strapped the car seat into the window seat.

8am – She drank some water and we shared an organic boiled egg that I had bought at the airport. (This probably only exists in San Francisco.) Hard boiled eggs are a great snack to travel with, but of course only if you are already 100% sure that your child is not allergic.

8:20 am – The plane took off. Amber watched out the window. Then I took out a coloring book, crayons, and stickers and we played with those for 45 minutes. I usually pack crayons in a reusable snack bag so that they don’t disappear in my diaper bag.

9:10 am– I poured the milk from a Horizon Organic milk box that I had brought with me into her sippy cup, hoping this insulated cup would keep the milk cool for awhile. I also find that it doesn’t leak as some others do.

9:25 am – I handed her a new board book I had brought that she could flip the pages of herself.  I thought this would entertain her for a while, but she was just too tired by then from waking up so early.

9:35 am – I handed her the organic fleece lovie that immediately comforts her, and I slightly rocked the car seat. These blankets are really soft, and both of my girls are comforted by cuddling with them.

9:36 am – Asleep!

10:20 am – That didn’t last long enough. She woke up,  and I took her to the bathroom to change her diaper, which at this point I do while she stands up on the closed toilet lid holding on to my shoulders. Back at the seat, I gave her some dried cranberries. She ate those for a few minutes out of a snack trap. After that, I tried to entertain her with the videos I had downloaded on my phone. She watched two minutes of Yo Gabba Gabba and then two minutes of Wonder Pets before saying “all done” and handing me back the phone. Then I gave her a string cheese which she finished. (I actually had wanted some of that, oh well.) We then watched 5 minutes of Sesame Street. After she handed back the phone with another “all done”, I gave her a granola bar. Then she saw me writing these notes and wanted to draw all over them.

11am – I brought out a new storybook she hadn’t seen. I read a few pages, and then she pushed the book away. She was acting cranky and tired so I thought maybe she’d fall back to sleep. I rocked her a little but that made her more angry. I was starting to run out of patience.

11:30 am – We tried Sesame Street again, but she was not interested.

11:35 am – She played Peekaboo Barn all by herself on the iPhone. This is a great app.

11:45 am– She wanted to draw in my notebook again.

11:50 am – I opened the Wean Green cube full of cut up fruit. Score! She sat quietly eating the fruit for 20 minutes, content.

12:15 pm – Next, we tried to watch the Nutcracker on my iPhone. It turns out Amber is not as entertained by this ballet as her older sister is.

12:20 pm – We played with stickers again for a few minutes.

12:30 pm – I had to go to the bathroom so we took a walk there together. I tried to get her to stand there not touching anything. Luckily, I always have my Hand Sanitizing Spray with me for her hands.

12:45 pm – I put milk from my second Horizon milk box into the clean sippy cup I still had. I don’t like to let her drink milk that’s been out more than an hour, so I usually bring an extra sippy cup and always travel with my travel size Dapple Dish Soap in case I have to clean our a sippy to reuse it.

1pm – Amber laid her head down on her lovie blanket and started sucking her thumb. I stroked her head and sang to her quietly. She pretty much lay like that for the rest of the flight. We landed a half hour later.

The key to keeping her happy turned out to be constant and varied entertainment. We got off the flight and down to baggage claim. Though I was exhausted, I was able to pass Amber on to a very happy waiting Grandma.

Related Article: Summer Travel Essentials for Parents