I’ve made it through what turned out to be a 12-hour road trip with my son, but last week was his first airplane ride! And the journey was long — first from Nairobi to Dubai, and then from Dubai to New York. We flew with Emirates and I’m excited to share our insights on flying with a toddler during COVID in 2021, including what to pack a toddler for the plane.
I’ve collaborated with Emirates to document the experience of traveling with family during the pandemic. This post is part of that series!
Traveling with toddlers is stressful already. Being cooped up in an airplane for 20 hours with a toddler is nerve-wracking. Then add on the health and safety concerns of a pandemic and you have what has quickly become one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. But thanks to some great advice from one of my mom friends who is a pro at flying with babies (her son has been on 7 flights!) and the amazing in-flight and transit experience we received with Emirates, we survived the journey with few battle scars!
What to Pack for a Toddler on a Plane
So our infant-in-lap ticket only permitted us an extra backpack for our son, so we had to be really strategic with what we brought with us on the plane. We gate checked our car seat and were able to bring our amazing foldable travel stroller for free, but here’s what else we packed:
- 2 changes of clothes for the kid
- 1 change of clothes for each parent (we didn’t end up needing this but it was a pro tip that I wouldn’t have considered!)
- 1 new pack of baby wipes
- 1 new pack of antibacterial wipes
- 10 diapers (approx 1 for every 3 hours of travel, plus extras)
- Portable changing pad
- First aid kit (with NoseFrida, thermometer, and heat compress)
- Nursing cover
- Wet/dry bag for soiled clothes
- Sippy cup
- Pre-portioned fruits — grapes & blueberries
- Pre-made chapati (our son’s fave food)
- Food pouches (we like Ella’s Organics)
- Mini-snack bags (alphabet crackers, cheese sticks, etc)
- 2 silicone bibs
- 4 cloth bibs
- 2 spoons
- 2 toys — piano toy & mailbox toy from Monti Kids box
- Sound machine
- Baby headphones
- 3 books — God Bless You and Good Night, Woke Baby, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
- Baby carrier
Overall, we had WAY too much food leftover. He barely ate on the plane and even refused to eat his beloved, no-fail chapati. We used mesh travel bags to separate his food, clothing, and toys so everything was easy to find. We also had tons of hand sanitizer in every bag and in pockets. And though he’s too small to wear a mask, we did find this really cute hat & shield that we ended up not using but still carried along.
Emirates Child-Friendly Amenities
Packing list aside, there was still the concern on how our son would manage on the long flights. On the Nairobi to Dubai leg, he mostly slept or played at our feet. The Emirates cabin crew brought a special kids blanket with a penguin toy, but he wasn’t very interested as he was still adjusting to the change of routine. He ran around a bunch during our layover in Dubai, but the real fun started on the 14-hour leg from Dubai to New York. The cabin crew was incredibly playful and would talk to him, and also offered us additional food and snacks if we needed it for him.
The Emirates ice in-seat entertainment system also had many options for young kids, including classic and newer Disney movies. I decided to save him from the sadness of Bambi and instead turned on Finding Nemo. There were also puzzle and matching games available for kids, but he wasn’t as interested in them as I thought he would be. Another fave activity of his was pressing the buttons to change the position of the chairs and the window shades.
Of course, Emirates also provides an infant lap seat belt, which we made sure to put on anytime the fasten seatbelt sign was on and fastened over our blankets while sleeping. Luckily both flights didn’t encounter any moments of turbulence, so our son actually got to roam around a bit when he was bored. Emirates also offered us a child bassinet for him to sleep in, but we thought he’d be too tall for it and know that he can sleep for a while if he’s held.
Final Tips for Flying with a Toddler
I expected our son to sleep a lot more on the plane because the flight departed late at night and the sound on a plane is basically white noise, but he didn’t sleep that much. I’ll definitely make sure I’m well-rested before our next flight because I was SPENT. We definitely also overpacked food — I didn’t realize that Emirates would provide snacks and food for him as well, and since he’s not a picky eater, he could have eaten most of them. We found both the baby carrier and stroller super helpful in the airport at different times, so I’m glad we brought them both (Jonathan originally wanted to just bring the carrier). Now we know for next time!