Flying with a One-Year-Old: Tips for Long-Haul Flights

Flying with a one-year-old can feel daunting, especially on long-haul flights. The confined space, potential for crankiness, and disruption to routine all contribute to the challenge.

However, with the right preparation and mindset, it’s entirely possible to make the journey smoother for both you and your little one. Drawing from my own experiences of over 100 flights with our toddler before he turns two, here are some practical tips to help you navigate the skies with ease, particularly if your toddler is flying as a lap infant.

1. Consider Booking a Separate Seat if There Aren’t Two Adults

travel with a car seat

One of the first decisions to make is whether to travel with another adult or book a separate seat for your child. I bring this up because while your kiddo is still under two, they can fly as a lap infant for free/a reduced fare. For my son, there’s very little chance he wouldn’t encroach on my neighbors area as a lap infant in economy, so from around his first year of age, we’d get him his own seat for long haul flights and even short ones if we were flying alone with him, and have been milking the ability to fly business with him as a lap infant (here’s how I build up miles).

When flying with another adult, you can take turns holding the baby, allowing each person some downtime. This is crucial for bathroom breaks, eating meals, and even just stretching your legs.

Booking a separate seat for your child offers extra space and the option to bring an FAA-approved car seat or CARES harness (read my comparison), which can be a familiar and comfortable place for your little one to sit and sleep.

2. Plan Your Flight Timing Wisely

singapore airlines with a baby review

Timing can make a big difference in your travel experience. If possible, choose flights that align with your child’s sleep schedule. Overnight flights can be advantageous as your baby might sleep for a good portion of the journey. However, be mindful that the excitement of the airport and the airplane might initially keep them awake longer than usual.

We’ve also noticed my little guy staying awake more often for flights now, even if they’re more than 10 hours. So if you know that’ll be you, try a day flight so you’re not out a night of sleep.

3. Pack Smart and Light

flying qatar airlines with a toddler

Packing efficiently is key. Here’s a list of essentials to consider:

  • Diapers and Wipes: Pack more than you think you’ll need. A rule of thumb is one diaper per hour of travel, plus a few extras. We also use extra absorbent travel diapers.
  • Change of Clothes: For both your child and yourself. Spills and accidents are inevitable.
  • Snacks: Bring a variety of non-perishable snacks that your child loves. This can be a great distraction and help avoid hunger-induced crankiness.
  • Toys and Books: Choose small, lightweight items that can hold your toddler’s attention. New toys or books can be particularly captivating. We have a list of the best travel toys here.
  • Comfort Items: A favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or pacifier can provide comfort and help with sleep.
  • Medicines: Don’t make the mistake of leaving meds in the checked luggage. You’re also allowed to bring liquid medicines over the usual limit with a prescription.

Check out my packing list for more.

4. Check in Early and Choose Seats Wisely

flying on qatar airways with a baby

Early check-in can secure better seat options. If you’re traveling alone with your lap infant, try to book a seat with an empty one next to you. Sometimes, airlines will block the seat if the flight isn’t fully booked, giving you extra space.

Bulkhead seats are often recommended for travelers with infants since they offer more legroom. Some airlines provide bassinets for these seats, which can be a game-changer for sleeping. Keep in mind this will only work for a smaller one year old as they have height and weight limits.

5. Board Last or First

Families with young children are typically allowed to board early. This gives you extra time to get settled. However, if you prefer minimizing the time your toddler spends confined on the plane, you might choose to board last instead, provided you don’t need lots of overhead bin space.

We like to board early so we can stash the overhead bin-sized stroller and our rather large diaper bag backpack.

6. Manage Sleep Schedule and Comfort

flying united with a baby

Encouraging your child to sleep on the plane can make a long flight more manageable. Here are some tips:

  • Stick to the Routine: Try to mimic your bedtime routine as closely as possible. Change into pajamas, read a story, and provide their comfort item.
  • Darken the Space: Use a lightweight blanket or a nursing cover to create a darker, more sleep-conducive environment.
  • Walk the Aisles: If your child is having trouble sleeping, walking up and down the aisles can help soothe them.

7. Entertain and Engage

flying sas with a baby toddler

Keeping your toddler entertained is crucial. Here’s how we managed:

  • Cartoons: Even though my toddler won’t wear headphones, he still likes glancing at cartoons or on some airlines, playing the simpler games. We once killed an hour playing angry birds together!
  • Interactive Play: Simple games like peekaboo, stacking cups, or STICKERS can provide lots of entertainment. I always have one of these sticker books stashed in the travel diaper bag. It’s the perfect toy because you don’t mind if they drop a sticker and it’s repetitive and nice to look at, aka toddler kryptonite.
  • Exploring the Plane: When safe to do so, let your toddler explore the seating area and interact with flight attendants and fellow passengers. Not everyone wants to interact with a little guy, but plenty of flight attendants do, and just taking a walk down the aisle can be super helpful.

Plenty of parents will also opt for a tablet or phone for entertainment. Even if your toddler won’t wear the headphones, they may be willing to wear them just around their neck to hear some of it, or may be happy to watch without sound. We’ve never opted for a phone or tablet on a flight as I’m trying to stay away from screen time, but you gotta do what you gotta do!

8. Stay Calm and Patient

singapore airlines with a baby review

Your attitude will greatly influence your child’s behavior. Staying calm and patient helps create a relaxed environment for your toddler.

Remember, it’s okay if things don’t go perfectly. Sometimes my kid is the one crying for an hour on the flight. Oh well! It’s public transportation and that’s life, and as soon as I’m able to figure out the issue, I will. Take it easy, most of all on yourself.

9. Communicate with Flight Attendants

Flight attendants can be incredibly helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance, whether it’s heating up a bottle, providing extra napkins, or getting you some snacks. I’ve never had an issue asking them to pour hot water into a bottle, and some even are happy to help clean the bottles out with hot water, too!

10. Handle Pressure Changes

Takeoff and landing can be uncomfortable for babies due to pressure changes. Nursing, bottle-feeding, or using a pacifier during these times can help ease ear discomfort. If your child is old enough, encourage them to drink from a straw or sippy cup.

11. Prepare for the Unexpected

Despite meticulous planning, unexpected situations can arise. Here are a few contingency plans:

  • Flight Delays: Have extra snacks, milk, diapers, and activities in case of delays. This is why we travel with so many changes of clothes and diapers, as we experience delays all the time when we fly.
  • Illness: Carry a basic first-aid kit and any regular medications your child needs.
  • Meltdowns: Stay calm, offer comfort, and remember that most passengers are understanding. Even after 100 flights, we haven’t really encountered anyone who blew up at us because our baby was crying.

13. Hydration and Nutrition

Keeping your child hydrated is important, especially in the dry cabin air. Offer water regularly, and encourage them to drink during the flight. Also, maintain their regular eating schedule as much as possible to avoid hunger-related crankiness.

14. Dress Comfortably

when can babies fly for free

Both you and your child should wear comfortable, layered clothing. Airplane temperatures can fluctuate, and layers allow you to adjust as needed. Avoid complicated outfits that make diaper changes difficult.

We really like to use bamboo clothing, either zippered onesies for easy diaper changes, or bamboo toddler jogger sets. Bamboo is great for body temperature regulation.

15. Use a Baby Carrier

A baby carrier can be incredibly useful in the airport and on the plane. It keeps your hands free, helps your child feel secure, and can be a comfortable place for them to nap.

This will also depend on the size of your one year old and how far into their first year they are. I loved flying with my son in a carrier when he was around 6 months old, but he became too squirmy and large for that to work much after that. He’s always been in the 100th percentile for height, though.

16. Consider What You’re Carrying On

Most airlines will allow you to gate check a stroller and a car seat free of charge, and they offer the same for hold luggage. Some low cost carriers have charged me from time to time, but most don’t.

How much do you want to bring all the way to the gate with you? Do you need the stroller in the terminal? We’ve found it to be extremely helpful, but the ride along suitcase would also work for direct flights in smaller airports.

Things get stressful when you have too much to carry, plus a toddler. Remember you’ll have to get through security and potentially a large airport, so we do what we can to minimize what we have to carry, and what we might easily forget if we’re overloaded.

17. Utilize Airport Facilities

Many airports have family-friendly facilities, including play areas and family bathrooms. Take advantage of these to let your child burn off energy before the flight and for easier diaper changes.

18. Stay Positive

Finally, a positive mindset goes a long way. Traveling with a toddler can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to create lasting memories. Embrace the adventure, and don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t go perfectly.


Flying with a one-year-old as a lap infant on long-haul flights requires preparation, patience, and flexibility. By considering the tips shared from my experiences, you can make the journey more comfortable and enjoyable for both you and your toddler.

Remember, each flight is a learning experience, and with each trip, you’ll become more adept at navigating the skies with your toddler in tow. Safe travels!

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