Toddler in Flight: Five Travel Tips for Flying with a Lap Child


Hey, did you know babies and toddlers under the age of two fly free? Probably so! Travel is expensive, and this is a perk that my family has taken advantage of many times. Lap children are controversial though, and many airline safety experts warn against the practice. Until the recent incident with a Southwest flight, I didn’t think much about flying with my son as a lap child. Now, I’m a little more concerned… so make the best decision for your family’s travel needs. My son will be two when we fly this summer, so he will have his own seat anyway. If we have more kiddos in the future, I’ll consider flying with a lap child more cautiously. The financial appeal of a free flight is definitely tempting though! 

That being said… our initial forays into flying with a lap child took place when my son was under four months old. Those flights were easy breezy! Now, we have a full-blown toddler, and my preparation for our trip was a litttle bit different. But we had two successful flights with a 23 month old lap child and lived to tell about them. Read on to learn what worked for us! 

Toddler in Flight: Five Travel Tips for Flying with a Lap Child

Be Organized

Make sure to bring along your child’s birth certificate (or a copy) to prove that yes, in fact, they are under the age of two. We flew Southwest and had to show it at check in, but the TSA agent also looked at it too. Being organized is my number one tip because I think it makes the whole travel process go smoother, especially at security.

Even though my husband and I were BOTH flying with our son, having all our belongings organized made everything much easier. We carried a backpack and tote bag, and divided up bags of snacks, bags of toys, kids’ books, a change of clothes for our son, and extra diapers. Everything was packed in smaller bags–quart and gallon ziptop bags, as well as a small tote bag and old makeup bags. This made it really easy to pull things out in the airport and on the plane as needed… plus we could use the smaller bags for items later on our trip! 

Pack Fun Snacks

Now, I’m all about healthy eating on normal days. In my world, airline travel is not “normal.” (Alas…) So I pulled out the fruit snacks, the cheese crackers, the candy from my son’s school Easter egg hunt, and as many Cheerios as I could find and stuffed it all into my organized backpack. I realize these are not the most unhealthy items you can buy… but these are novelties for my child so to him, they are fun. My little man seems to not have a huge sweet-tooth yet so I’m milking it as long as I can.

Your fun travel snacks might be different than mine, and that’s okay. Just bring snacks… and lots of them! I wasn’t sure how TSA would handle baby food or applesauce pouches, so I didn’t bring any on our first flight but the agent told me they would have been fine. One tip I heard from a friend was to bring lollipops for take off and landing–we tried that, and the lollipop fell in between the seats never to be seen again. #oops 

Also, TSA now requires you to pull all food items out of your carryon to go through security. The more you know! 🙂

Bring New Toys

They don’t have to be new-new, just a bit unfamiliar. Remember the makeup bags I mentioned before? I rounded up random small toys that my son enjoys but isn’t obsessed with a few days before our flight. Think animal figures, little cars, Easter eggs, or other little toys. I wrapped them in tissue paper for some extra entertainment… a tip I borrowed from my friend Katie (she used foil!). Other ideas could be stickers, the Melissa & Doug Water Wow pads, crayons, etc. Just don’t plan to rely too much on the tray table as you won’t be able to hold your toddler AND have the tray table down. If you’re flying with someone else, this may be an option though. An unexpected perk of packing the toys in a makeup bag? The entertainment of the zipper! 

Toddler in Flight: Five Travel Tips for Flying with a Lap Child

By the way, I didn’t mention the iPad or any technology here. My son doesn’t regularly get screen time at home yet, so we don’t have any kid headphones. But you do you! 

Try to Get an Extra Seat

Your mileage may vary quite a bit on this… but try to get an extra seat! If you do, you won’t need all my tips, haha. Use Google and crowdsource with friends on this, as the protocol will vary by airline. You’ll probably have to talk to the gate agent.

Toddler in Flight: Five Travel Tips for Flying with a Lap Child

I was able to achieve this on Southwest without talking to anyone (WIN!). I checked our flight online the day of departure and saw they were still selling tickets. So when we boarded (don’t forget about family boarding!!), we sat pretty far back on the plane. My husband took the aisle seat and I took the window seat while holding my child. No one came to join us in the middle seat, so we were able to have a whole row to ourselves. It was really nice. However, we still held my son quite a bit on the flight. Also, we didn’t bring a car seat on this trip (yay public transportation!), so we didn’t have that to worry about. 

Don’t Stress Out about Kid Details, or Your Child Being There at All

Easier said than done, I know, but seriously. Travel is stressful enough without worrying about your regular schedule or the possible anger of other passengers. Little people are adaptable so just do your best to mitigate potential issues for your child. Our flights (chosen because they were nonstop and a good price) fell during naptime. My son slept on the plane on the return flight, but not the initial flight. Both times, he was so taken with the new environment, the new people to watch, the toys to unwrap, the snacks to eat, and the workout we gave him in the airport (walking back and forth and back and forth and back and… you get the idea) to be fussy. Sure, some kids might be fussy in that circumstance but we just decided to go for it. Fortunately, it worked out.

There are lots of horror stories on the internet about toddlers getting kicked off flights and tips for goody bags to make your seatmates as way to “apologize” for your child’s presence. We don’t hear about the good stories or even the “okay” stories. When everyone was leaving the plane as we arrived back in Nashville, several passengers commented that they didn’t even know my little guy was there! What a compliment. 🙂

Fly well, friends! What are your tips for airline travel with a lap toddler?

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After three years in Nashville, Sarah still doesn't consider herself a Southerner—though she loves it here in Middle Tennessee. Maybe that day will come, but until then, she is still a proud Indiana girl married to an Ohio State-obsessed man, Ben (who has banned the term "y'all" at their house and will be utterly devastated if their baby develops a Southern accent). Sarah became a mama in May 2016 upon the birth of their first child, a son (online persona=#BabyVolde). Though she loves her three cats, they are most assuredly not her children. By day, Sarah is an academic librarian. By night, she loves to cook, bake, read, run marathons (well, not every night...), be involved with her church, and explore Nashville's many parks, restaurants, and coffee shops with her little family. You can find out what Sarah is up to in the kitchen by visiting her blog, The Pajama Chef (, or by following her on Twitter or Instagram (@thepajamachef).


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