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International Flight with a Toddler (eek!)

6 Mar

We are counting down the weeks until our Japan vacation! As much as I am looking forward to the trip, I am also dreading the time change and the 17-HOURS WE’LL BE FLYING IN A PLANE. If you include getting to the airport early, boarding, the layover, etc, we’ll basically be traveling with our two kids for 24 HOURS STRAIGHT (and that’s just one way). That thought is enough to make me want to hyperventilate.

I’m not too worried about our 4-year old. She can watch movies for hours on end, loves to color, and can be reasoned with. Our almost 2-year old on the other hand…He is a good boy, but very fidgety with a short attention span. He doesn’t enjoy TV yet, so the in-flight entertainment won’t do much good.

I am determined to do absolutely everything I can to make our flight to Japan as smooth as possible. Here’s my plan of action, and I would love any suggestions.

UPDATE August 2012: Now that we are back from our trip, I have written about my post-trip thoughts in GREEN below.


1. I’ve called the airline and made sure we are sitting in the back two rows of the plane. CONS: We are right by the bathrooms, which might be noisy. We’ll be the last to get off the plane. PROS: In the back (at least on our plane), the rows are 2-across instead of 3-across, so nobody else will have to sit next to us. My boy and I can sit in the very back so if he kicks, he’s only kicking his sister’s seat :). It’ll be easy to stand up in the back if necessary, and we’ll never wonder if the bathroom is available or not. (Even though he’s still 1, we bought him a seat. Having him as a lap-child would be hell.) We’re also flying overnight, which means that (hopefully) our kids will sleep for at least 10 hours of the flight).

This was a great idea, but the airline messed up our seats on the way to Japan and we ended up sitting in the middle of the plane 3-across, and one person in business class. It ended up working okay. My husband sat in business for the first half of the flight and got some sleep, then we switched so I could sleep. There were a few moments when I had both kids by myself that got a little crazy (like, when they both decided sleeping was not necessary!).

2. I’ve agonized over this next decision, but we are bringing the toddler’s car seat. CONS: It will be a pain to carry around (we are considering getting the Kidz Travelmate or the Car Seat Accessory to turn the car seat into a “stroller” for the airport), and extra luggage of any sort is not convenient in a place like Japan. PROS: Toddler Boy (let’s call him “Goro-kun”) won’t be able to escape out of his seat belt, he’ll be more comfortable, and may even fall asleep. Since we’re bringing the car seat, it’ll be difficult to bring a stroller on top of that. We’ll probably buy a cheap umbrella stroller once we get to Japan.

At the last minute, we decided to NOT take the big car seat and rent the CARES seatbelt. We are glad we decided to leave the carseat at home. We already had a lot of luggage+2 kids, and adding something else to lug around would have been hard. Not having a carseat meant my kids could sleep with their heads in my lap or like this. The CARES seatbelt was somewhat helpful on our domestic flights. BUT on ANA, we were told by multiple people that we were not allowed to use the CARES system, which was a bummer. Even if it was allowed, I don’t think it would have worked well with the TV screens on the backs of the seats.

3. A smart dad at suggested: “before I buckled his car seat in, I took one of the big blankets that the airline provides and anchored one end under the seat and tucked the other end into the seat pocket, creating a “sling” in front of his seat. That way when he got tired of a toy and dropped or threw it down, I didn’t have to repeatedly unbuckle my seat belt and wedge myself into the tiny space between my seat and the seat in front of me and wrench my back trying to reach the toy on the floor, but instead I could simply pluck it out of the sling.” Good idea. I’ve heard other people say to use the blankets as a “tent” above the car seat to create darkness for your child who wants to sleep.

4. A good tip from “If two parents are flying with the child, Feddersen suggests sending one on the plane early to “get your sails set up.” Meanwhile, the other adult can wait with the child in the gate and board as late as possible.” You’ll be surprised how long you have to wait at the gate sometimes while everyone boards. The kids get fidgety, fast.

The time between when you board the plane to take off seriously feels like ETERNITY. Be prepared for that.

STUFF TO DO ON THE PLANE (that’s not big, messy, noisy, or too sugary)

1. With the In-Flight Magazine: Play “I Spy” and “Peek-a-boo”.

2.  Put lots of pictures and videos on your camera or iPod. Goro-kun loves to watch videos of himself so I put together a mini-movie of him doing his favorite things and put it on my iPod. If you don’t have an iPod or something similar, you can make a photo album of your child’s favorite people, places, and things.

The iPod was GREAT. An iPad would have been even better.

3. Save the cups you get with your drink on the plane. My son loved stacking them, and rolling an ice cube back and forth between the two cups.

4. Memorize a lot of finger rhymes. Finger puppets don’t take up a lot of space and are entertaining too.

5. SNACKS! Lots of it. When all else fails, “Do you want some fruit snacks?” usually does the trick. I plan to put small portions of different food in the snack-size Zip-loc bags. I’m bringing goldfish, pretzels, gummy snacks, dried fruit, etc.

We actually didn’t end up eating most of the food we brought. ANA brought us food quite frequently and was well-stocked with extra snacks and fruits in-between meals too.

6. Decorate the barf bag with stickers.

7. Bring their favorite stuffed animal. My son had a lot of fun pretending to “feed” his stuffed monkey.

8. I plan to consult my pediatrician first, but if all else fails, I plan to have some Children’s Benadryl on hand. You never know, your child may suddenly become sick on the plane, so it’s nice to have some handy.

Our pediatrician recommended Children’s Advil, so that’s what we took, and I think it helped.

9. I’ve heard of people wrapping every toy and snack in wrapping paper, then bringing one out every hour or something. This is a good idea because it will be exciting and take up more time. BUT I wonder where all the trash (wrapping paper) goes, and how this works with airport security?

We did not do this.

10. Stick to the bedtime routine. When it’s time to sleep, I’ll brush their teeth, get them in pajamas (maybe they should even just start out in PJ’s?) and read them a book.

11. Bring a new paperback book to read. (or a lift-the flap book… those are always a hit with toddlers)

12. Create animals and other things out of play-doh.

I wasn’t brave enough to get out the play-doh.

13. Lots of moms say masking tape is great. You can put it on your face, use it to piece together paper, wad it into a ball, make train tracks with them on the tray table, etc. The great thing about masking tape is, they peel right off.

We didn’t end up using the masking tape.

14. Use this time to teach new skills, like taking shoes on and off, zipping zippers, doing buttons, learning the names of body parts, counting, colors, etc.

15. Easy sticker books. We got THESE. We got 4 different kinds in the series, so they ended up being about a dollar each.

16. When your kids are bored and you’ve run out of tricks, take a “field trip” to the bathroom or walk down the aisle once or twice (make sure not to bother other passengers).

We walked up and down the aisles a lot!! And hung out in the very back of the plane where there was some extra room.

17. I’m bringing a small car. I can make roads with t he masking tape I’ll be bringing and he can drive it around his seat.

18. Bring pipe cleaners and cheerios. You can string the cheerios and make a bracelet or a wand. You can also make glasses with the pipe cleaners.

This was entertaining for about 5 minutes.

19. Color Wonder or Water Wow. These are markers that won’t damage anything and write on special paper. I love these.

20. Fun apps on your phone or iPad.

21. I loved what a commenter, “Toni”, said on 5minutesforamom : “The KEY is definitely DEFINITELY to pull these items out one at a time. And I need to back up and say do not bring out even one item until you have completely and thoroughly exhausted every single entertainment item on the aircraft that stirs your child’s curiosity. For starters, just keep her looking out the window and watching the baggage handlers while on the ground. Point out the moving bag belt. Count the bags riding on the belt. Try to wave at the handlers. Oooh and aaah over planes moving on the tarmac. Move to opening and closing the window shade when she gets bored of just looking out. Move to the air flow knob overhead. Get breeze going and make a big deal about feeling it. Move to the magazines. Scrutinize the pages together. Find the toys in the onboard shopping magazine. Make believe you’re using them (ie. “Mommy’s going to ride down that slide. WeeeEEeee!”) Find a magazine photo of a full face, tear out the lips and put it over your face like a mask and talk through the torn hole. She’ll crack up forever over it. And when you’ve done all you can do with the plane as entertainment, THEN begin to bring out the guns, oh so slowly. And even a trip to the bathroom can be a distraction.”


1. Sippy cup (you don’t want to deal with spills!). I make sure my toddler is drinking from his sippy cup at take-off and landing to help his ears not hurt. Definitely bring  a sippy cup.

2. Waterproof bib (I like Bumkins brand)

3. More diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need, and rash cream.

4. A change of comfortable clothes YES! One for the kids, one for you.

5. Mini first aid kit

6. Hand sanitizer/wipes

7. Headphones (if it doesn’t come with your flight) ANA had headphones, but not sized for kids.

8. A trash bag to put stinky diapers in (like THIS)

9. Patience, TONS of it.

10. A sense of humor!






When we land in Japan, I am going to give myself a HUGE pat on the back. Then devour the nearest cream puff. Have I mentioned that our arrival time is 5am? Oh my. We are in for a loooong day.

I don’t know if I ever want to arrive at a foreign destination that early again!! A lunchtime arrival would be perfect!

Other tips: Smile and be nice to everyone. Expect the unexpected. Wear layers (it’s cold on the plane). And if possible, travel internationally when you don’t have a toddler.. ha! 🙂 Just kidding, kind of! It is definitely the hardest age. BUT it IS possible. Good luck!

Even though preschoolers are easier, flying internationally is still hard for them (and you). Another post dedicated to flying with preschoolers is coming up next.

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