I must have done something right when flying with a 2-year-old as I did it a number of times with my son and I am still here to tell the tale.
Do you remember the years before traveling with children when you were able to just put on your headphones, watch a movie, enjoy a relaxing drink and catch a few zzzzzzs? Well hard luck because those days are far behind you when you have a 2-year-old flying with you.
A short flight of just a few hours flying with a 2-year-old is generally not much of an issue really, although in some circumstances it may seem more like a 12 hour flight! But if you are traveling long haul, with an overnight sector too perhaps, it becomes a very different matter.
Expecting a 2-year-old to just sit still and be quiet in a seat for 8-10 hours or more is a little like expecting a politician to be honest and truthful. The difference is, of course, that at least it is possible to do something about the first, with some effort and forethought on your part.
The most important thing is preparation! Don’t just get on board and then, when your child starts to get restless, wonder what you can do. You have missed the boat (or should I say the plane) then.
Before you leave
Ideally, try to choose a flight that doesn’t mean getting up in the small hours to get to the airport. That way your child (and you) will be tired and grumpy before you even take off.
Tell them about what you will be doing. Describe how you will get to the airport, how you will go through security and then get on board and find your seat. Make it sound interesting and exciting, not scary.
At the airport
Try not to make it a rushed experience by getting to the airport late and having to try to check in and get through airport security quickly. Your child will pick up on your stress.
Get through all of that in plenty of time so you can then let your child watch the aircraft out of the window, have a drink and use the bathroom if needs be. Then get on board the aircraft as near the front of the line as possible so you have time to get settled.
Consider buying them their own carry on with built-in amusement in the form of a Trunki kid’s ride-on suitcase. These have become very popular with children and you now see them at airports everywhere. They come in many different designs. Check out Trunki Original Kids Ride-On Suitcase on Amazon.
I always smile when I see them as the inventor was on the UK equivalent of Shark Tank (Dragon’s Den) and all the investors turned it down as being a silly idea. I bet they are kicking themselves now.
What to bring on plane for 2 year old?
These days everyone is limited by the amount of carry on baggage you can take with you on board an aircraft so you cannot take everything your child might want on the flight. But as your child will have their own seat they should also have a carry on allowance of their own too.
Hopefully you will have room to take at least some of the following:
What to bring for comfort
Do I need a car seat to fly with a 2 year old? No, having a child seat for a 2 year old is not mandatory but without a doubt having one is not only an advantage but can be safer in the unlikely event of an emergency.
Particularly if your child tends to fall asleep often in their car seat, I would strongly advise you to take yours with you on a long flight. They will feel “at home” sitting in it so are far more likely to fall asleep than if they were just sitting in the aircraft seat.
You will be allowed to take a car seat in addition to your carry on allowance, provided the car seat will actually be used during the flight.
Many car seats are also approved for use when flying too so you should check yours for the approval mark before taking it with you.
This FAA article tells more – Flying with children
A CARES harness is the only FAA-approved child flying safety device. It is suitable for children from 1 year and older that weigh between 22 and 44 pounds (and up to 40″ tall). They are lightweight and much easier to carry than a car seat. They can be purchased on Amazon – Child Airplane Travel Harness.
This FAA video shows how to fit a car seat in an aircraft seat:
These can be a Godsend when traveling with a child. In fact, there probably isn’t anything that can be so useful that takes up such little space in your carry on.
Whatever your child likes to have close to them to cuddle or hold when they are feeling sleepy, then make sure you have that in your carry on for them. That could be a favorite teddy bear, a blanket (blankie) or some other thing. My son had a little piece of ribbon that he held in his hand and tickled his nose with!
What to bring to eat
Yes there will be food on the flight but what if your child doesn’t like it? Also it may take a long time before the cabin crew start serving the food and even when they do it could take quite some time for the trolley to reach you.
My wife and I always assumed the worst and took food with us in our carry on that we knew my son would like. This included his favorite sandwich and snacks as well as his favorite drinks (which was apple juice I seem to remember).
Make sure you keep some of it back to give your child at certain times during the flight and keep it hidden until you give it to them so it is a surprise.
Some humorous advice from Virgin Atlantic Airways:
What to bring for entertainment
There are rather more options for things to take on a plane to entertain a 2 year old than there were when my son was two. Now there are many airplane toys for 2 year olds as well as electronic devices. Even if you, sensibly, don’t like your child to spend too much time on these then it is worth making an exception on a long flight.
My advice would be not to give your child everything at once. Instead, keep things hidden away in your carry on to be brought out at strategic times throughout the flight. Buying a few small things before you go to keep as a surprise for the child when they start to get restless works very well too. You can even gift wrap them to make them even more exciting for them.
Try to avoid taking games and other activities with lots of small parts that will probably get dropped on the floor meaning you have to scrabble around under seats looking for them. And it goes without saying that your fellow passengers will not be amused if you take any really noisy activities on board.
Obviously you know your child best, so you are the best person to know the kind of activities that are going to keep them entertained the most. Here are a few suggestions you may not have considered:
Headphones for children
If you don’t have a pair of volume limited headphones for your 2 year old then this may be a good time to consider buying them. They will probably spend more time than normal watching movies, cartoons or playing games while you are on the flight so having a pair that limits the volume to 85dB to prevent hearing damage are a must.
There are a number of noise-limited headphones available but these Kids Wireless Bluetooth Headphones come in a number of different colors which will appeal to most children. They can be used with a cellphone, a tablet, a laptop or with the onboard entertainment system.
You may want your child to use your tablet for entertainment but you may not want it to get broken. If they have their own which is specially designed with a durable kid-proof case, and includes parental controls and a total 100% 2 year guarantee then that may be a better option.
The most popular on Amazon is the Fire 7 Kids Edition Tablet. Your child can play games, watch movies or cartoons to while away the hours on the flight.
Does a 2 year old need their own seat?
Every child who is 2 years of age or older MUST have their own seat and ticket. This applies whether it is a domestic or an international flight.
The last day a child can fly sitting on your lap is the day before their 2nd birthday. So if you go on a trip, leaving before they are 2, but they will turn 2 while you are away then they will need their own seat and ticket for the return journey.
Is it free for a 2 year old to fly?
A 2 year old, and above needs, their own ticket and you will generally have to pay for their seat. In some cases that may be the full adult fare (as they are using a seat that an adult could be sitting in) but fortunately they often fly at a reduced rate. It is also possible to find promotions with some airlines where they can kids can fly for free.
Can a 2 year old sit on your lap on plane?
Yes they can sit on your lap during the flight if you want but not during take-off, landing, during turbulence or whenever the seat belt sign has been switched on by the flight crew. During these periods the child must be strapped into their seat or their car seat if you have brought an approved one with you.
Do airlines check the age of a lap child?
They certainly will as you will need to provide ID with the child’s date of birth on it. So there is no chance of getting away with pretending your child is not yet 2 years old, even if they look younger. You have no option other than to buy a seat for them I am afraid.
Do 2 year olds need ID when flying?
When flying with a 2 year old domestically within the US children are not normally required to have ID although an airline may demand to see proof of their date of birth, particularly if you have stated that the child is under 2 years of age so will be traveling on your lap. You should check with your airline or carry some form of proof that they are under 2 which can be a birth certificate or immunization records (or a passport if they have one of course).
When traveling internationally a passport will be required irrespective of the age of the child. There are some exceptions though, for example, traveling from the US to Canada children normally just need to be able to show proof of US residency (which could be a certified birth certificate).
It is best to check with the embassy of the country you are traveling to for up to date requirements. My advice would be to get the child a passport anyway as that is the ultimate form of travel ID and you never know when it may be required.
You may be interested in my articles 20 things you need to know about flying with a baby or toddler, gate-checking a stroller and Does a 3 year old need a plane ticket?