Flying with Toddler: What I wish I’d known

Hell hath no fury like a toddler asked to sit still and keep quiet for three hours during “witching hour”. Similarly, hell hath no fury like a new mama interrupted while trying to get her newborn to sleep, or a grumpy man after a long day at work stopped from getting a little much needed shut eye; this is why, a week ago, I had no hope of escaping not one, not two but THREE people’s wrath.

To set the scene: A plane ride (just a domestic Jetstar, home to visit family for a three-day-weekend), leaving at 4:45pm (WHAT was I thinking?) but delayed on the runway for 40 minutes (oh HELL, no). Me, 18-month-old on my lap (I had to pay for the privilege, children are no longer free apparently) sitting in the window seat; another WHAT the heck was I thinking moment. A beautiful new mama and bubs in the seat directly in front of me (and Mr. Toddler) and a grumpy old man to my left (let’s call him 28D to protect the innocent, and because I don’t actually know his name; we weren’t exactly BFFs by the end of the flight; sorry – ‘Spoiler Alert”.

Now, after sitting on the runway for a while I was feeling smug. Little Mister was being absolutely adorable, patiently sitting on my lap and eating grapes. Hallelujah, ANGEL CHILD! This was going to be fine, I thought in relief. We’d been on multiple flights together before, but this was the first one since he’d begun to form pretty strong opinions on what should be happening at all times, and he is now getting  pretty good at expressing those opinions (loudly) so I was apprehensive. Anyway, shortly after we took off, things took a turn for the worse.

Mr. Toddler began kicking the seat in front of me: Hard. On these domestic Jetstar planes there is NOT a lot of space between you and the row in front of you; even less so with a toddler on your lap. His legs were basically pressing into the row in front even before he began bending it like Beckham. Now, you’ll remember, that seat belonged to a new mama and her adorable new bundle of joy, who (miracle of miracles) had actually managed to fall asleep during take-off, thanks to an artfully timed bottle. So my little prince (of darkness, hah!) has woken up this bundle, who minutes before was a peaceful cherub in arms, and was now a wailing banshee. New mama (can’t blame her) has turned around and (quite calmly under the circumstances; more calm than I’m sure she felt) asked me to keep my son’s feet to himself. Easier said than done, but I will do my best, I thought. At this point I was mortified. Completely. FOR SHAME *hangs head*.

So I grabbed out the one thing that all “flying with toddler” articles recommended, the tablet with the games and the Wiggles shows on it. I was going to wait for it all to go dramatically downhill before needing to use that (keeping it up my sleeve), but things were looking pretty bleak, I think this is it, this is the moment, so out it came. It starts making this really annoying noise (no, not Simon Wiggle’s operatic voice, a different annoying game-related noise), and the volume button seems to be broken, but when I try to take it out of my son’s hands, he starts making a much more annoying noise, at a much louder volume and a much higher pitch. So I let it be for a minute. The new mama whips her head around in irritation and Mr 28D joins in with a giant huff and a puff; I know guys, I’m the worst; but I was also really disorganised today, so it’s only on 13% battery life, it will be over soon, I promise.

Toddler got bored of the tablet before the 13% battery ran out anyway; he started in with the “eh eh eh” noise that I’m yet to be able to interpret, but I think basically means “I want something right now, and if you don’t get it for me I’m going to persist at an increasingly high pitch until you figure it out”. I go to the first item on my usual check-list of whinge-triggers; thirst. I pull out the staw sippy cup. Now, here’s a mystery of epic proportions for you: I have two sisters with five kids between them. I have a mum and dad who had four kids. I have multiple friends with kids, some really frequent travellers. So, WHY THE HELL has no-one told me about the straw-sippy-cup-on-a-plane-reaction?!  Thanks, guys. I proceeded to drench Mr 28D, as I unleashed the sippy cup from its lid, and the H2O sailed through the air in a perfect arc like there was a target on his crotch. I called to the hostess for some towels, which they brought to me; I wiped the seat, myself, my son, and offered 28D a towel. He refused with another huff and an angry “no!” turned his head away and closed his eyes for a nap (or probably because he couldn’t stand the sight of us anymore).

Anyway, as you’ll remember, I’m in the window seat. The bub in front of us is still screeching, and my son finds this hilarious and is trying to play with her by kicking the chair as hard as he can; I, of course, can’t let this happen, so I’m holding his legs up around his shoulders as hard as I can, and he is alternating between finding this even more hilarious and continuing his efforts, and screaming out in dire protest and attempting to wriggle out of my arms and into 28D’s arms. And he is STRONG. And my back hurts. And my head. And my pride. This is a losing battle. But at least Mr. 28D seems to have fallen asleep, thank goodness.

But then…you guessed it. A rather repellent and very familiar smell started emanating from our general direction. Nappy! Oh, my gosh. I CAN’T wake 28D up to let us out of the row! Can I?  I’m trapped! What would he prefer? To smell this smell (oh, it’s getting worse) or to be woken up? Eventually the decision was taken out of my hands when the powerful odour seemed to rouse him, and he glared at me and asked “are you going to change that?” “Yes”, I say gratefully and go to get up; when suddenly what happens but the seatbelt sign turns on and the announcement comes through; turbulence. I have to call for the hostess AGAIN, and she gives me special permission to get up and change him (and yes, the turbulence did lead to me arriving in Melbourne with a poo stain on my jumper). By the time I’ve got back to the seat, 28D is asleep again (WHY?!) and I wake him again to let us through.  So, yep…

At this stage, we’re about 20 minutes into the flight.

Anyway, we made it through, AND back home again, relatively unscathed, and I will share with you the FEW things that I learnt through the process.

  1. For the love of all that is holy, get an aisle seat. It is worth the extra $6 seat-choosing fee. Promise.
  2. If your own family and friends are as elusive with the details as mine, let me be the first to give you this piece of information; DO NOT bring a sippy cup onto a plane! Or if you do, aim it away from the crotch of the grumpy man sitting next to you. You’re welcome.
  3. DO NOT fly during witching hour (around 5:00pm-7:00pm), if you can help it. Fly at the start of nap time, or when they have recently woken up from a nap. In hindsight, flying at 5:00pm was on a whole other level of cray.
  4. Bring lots of snacks, tech, toys, and books. And then prepare for all your preparations to go straight out of the window, because kicking the seat in front of you with the cute little baby in it is just way more fun and funny (sorry!).
  5. Be able to let it go: You will have bad days with kids, and bad flights with kids, and people who aren’t as understanding or patient as we think they “should” be (NOT the new mama, she was a saint and I’m sorry!) As I sat there, struggling to fight off and breathe through an imminent panic attack and tears, from 20 minutes into the flight until the end, I felt so hard-done by, and panicky, and angry. And then I thought, this too will pass; I’m not kidding, I actually thought that! Nerd! And when I got to the airport, I could have spent SO much time regaling everyone with my story about my abysmal flight, but why? It was just going to make me angrier, make me anxious about the flight home again, and taint the short and precious time with my family; sure I told the highlights, but for the most part, I let it go for the weekend. Things happen, and people will be people (including grumpy old men AND toddlers).

Well, those are my limited tips for now! If you have any others, please let me know in the comments! Because I’m sure we will be flying again soon! Maybe there are some other sippy-cup-disaster-type-situations that I have yet to come across!


2 thoughts on “Flying with Toddler: What I wish I’d known

  1. Something seems to happen after about 13 months to make them terrible flyers! We flew at this age and it was great- slept beautifully all three domestic flights. Turn the clock to 16 months old- horrible! I’m sure the seat space has struck since then and the toddler is so much more wriggly somehow! Flying during nap time wasn’t a good plan either.. how flight was delayed to coincide with nap time and could she sleep? No she tried really hard and did fall asleep but just couldn’t get herself comfy so kept waking up.. cue extremely grumpy and wriggly toddler! Some tips tho- we always asked if there is a spare for us with a spare seat and for an aisle. If there isn’t one at check in we ask the person in the aisle to swap and they have always been fine with it 🙂 hope your future flights are better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh gosh, you are so right! He always used to sleep and just be generally cruisy on the plane before he could walk…sooo wiggly now! Thanks for the tips!


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