How I survived flying with a toddler

Images and words: Sara Conway

6am: The alarm sounds and so begins our day of travelling from London to Florida with a toddler. We have 20 episodes of Peppa Pig loaded onto a tablet. What can possibly go wrong?

6.10am: “NO NAPPY MUMMY! NO SHOES” Oh, gad.

How is it 7.30am already? We haven’t even checked in. “DOWN! DOWN!” shouts G. Then she spots her Peppa Pig rucksack which Mummy has packed full of things for the flight. “Ig! Ig!” “Not yet, for the plane,” I say with a big ‘we’re going on holiday’ grin. A tantrum brews… time to bring out the emergency snacks.

8.25am: We’ve boarded! Almost missed final boarding due to a nappy change disaster. But we made it!

8.30am: The woman in front immediately declares herself The Enemy. “There’s a lot of banging,” she says as we wrestle 36 bags into the overhead compartment. “Sorry!” I say jovially and swear at her in my mind.

8.35am: “Can all passengers fasten their seat belts and turn off their devices,” says the pilot. An air steward looks at G dancing on her seat but doesn’t say anything. I take that to mean she understands.

8.40am: “We’ll be delayed by about 10 minutes,” announces the captain. I smile apologetically at The Enemy as I climb up and rifle through the overhead compartment to find G’s special Peppa Pig rucksack stuffed full of games…

8.45am: We’re taxiing to the runway, so we wrestle G into her seatbelt and give her a bottle of milk, which she guzzles…

9am: Why haven’t we taken off?! The milk is gone and G has figured out how to wriggle out of her seatbelt. I rifle through our bags to find more emergency snacks.

9.30am: We’re in the air! The tablet is out. I have my magazine. We’re filled with joy and false hope.

10am: Woo hoo, mealtime! No we didn’t remember to order G the kids’ meal, but never mind, she can have a grown up tray with bread rolls, crackers and pasta. Why is she standing?! Why isn’t she hungry? Because we filled her full of emergency snacks! The Enemy glares at us over her shoulder.

10.10am: “No toast!” G hurls the bread roll and it hits The Enemy on the head. I should be sorry, but instead I look at my husband and we crumble into silent giggles. “DOWN!” G launches herself across me and, too late, I see the handful of cheese pasta which lands in my hair. The man across the aisle smiles at me in sympathy. We have an ally!

12 noon: I smell of cheese sauce. G had been subdued by Peppa Pig but now she’s up again so I walk her down to the space by the toilet. A perfect child sits on her daddy’s knee reading a book. G bunny hops and licks the carpet.

12.30pm: The dreaded seatbelt sign sounds. G kicks The Enemy’s seat in protest.

12.40pm: We raid the Peppa Pig bag. Jigsaws. Magnets. Games. Stickers. Bubbles. I’m mum of the year! The flight must be nearly over by now.

1pm: How is it only 1 o’clock?! Bring back the tablet.

1.30pm: I realise G has been quiet for quite a while. OMG! She’s asleep! I gently settle her head in my lap and put on The Greatest Showman. An air steward hands me an ice cream. I’ve never felt so happy.

3.30pm: She slept for two hours! Daddy takes her for a nappy change and then we bring back Peppa Pig. I reach for my magazine.

5pm: She’s been calm and quiet for an hour and a half. We’ve done stickers, jigsaws and games. I’ve never loved my child so much. I stare at The Enemy’s head and think she must be pleased by our amazing parenting. She’s watching her third film of the flight. What must that feel like, I wonder…

6pm: We start our descent. G cries as soon as we put on her seatbelt and doesn’t stop ‘til we’ve landed. But it’s OK. It’s over! We’re in Florida!

6.10pm: The Enemy stands up and gives me a pointed look. “We made it. We all made it,” she says. I think of her three-film flight and contemplate chucking another bread roll at her head.


Bring your own tablet, if you can

Yes, there’s entertainment on the plane but the screen was difficult for our two-year-old to see without a booster seat. She also refused to wear headphones and was furious whenever the captain’s announcements interrupted her viewing.

Bring lots of toddler swag

Yes, the toddler is a veteran Peppa Pig viewer, but even she tired of watching the tablet. And during take off, landing and unplanned delays on the runway, you can’t use your own technology. We filled a rucksack with stickers, magnets, games, magazines, mini-toys, jigsaws, craft items and bubbles and we used every single thing. Check out this link for ideas.

Bring more snacks than you can imagine needing

Emergency snacks saved the day during check-in, security, boarding, take-off, mid-flight, landing, passport control… we couldn’t have been without them.

 Take the day an hour at a time

Just like a day at home with your toddler, there will be times when they are their lovely selves and other times when they’re not. And just like at home, you will deal with it. I was terrified of flying because I was thinking of the full nine hours. But when you break the day down into manageable chunks, it’s fine.

 Develop a thick skin

Yes, there will be people on the flight that hate you, but there will be more people who are sympathetic or indifferent to your pain. And remember – you will never see these people again.