Toddler Life,  Travel

Flying with a (not so) lap infant

So we recently tackled a major travel journey with our almost 2 year old. We flew to Mexico. With Oliver. As a lap infant. Meaning he didn’t have his own seat on the plane, he was just on our laps. Just like it sounds right? We had done this once before with Oliver, when he was 3 months old. No big deal. This trip he was 20 months old. Big deal. 

For those of you who don’t have kids and just enjoy reading mom blogs. Or for those of you who have never flown with a young child, let me fill you in. If they’re under 2 years old airlines don’t require you to buy a ticket for your infant, they can just ride on your lap. That being said you CAN buy a ticket for them if you want them to have their own seat, you just don’t have to. Also, when you fly with an infant, you can gate check a (reasonably sized) stroller for no cost (on most airlines). Also, you can bring their diaper bag with you on the plane and it doesn’t count against your carry-on or personal item. Basically you can bring all the things, and the baby, for no extra cost than flying on your own. 

One note here: if you’re flying internationally you do need to call the airline and let them know. Baby will still need a passport and they’ll need a ticket for the international leg of your flights. Also, you do have to pay taxes for a ticket. For our trip that was a whopping $17.  

Great deal right? Yes and no. Here’s why.

Flying with Oliver at 3 months old was a perfectly fine experience. He nursed when we were taking off to pop his ears no problem. The drone of the plane put him to sleep on most flights. He wasn’t independently mobile, so he was happy as a clam just sitting on our laps. You can see more about that trip here

This trip was much different. We had longer flights, longer layovers and a very independently mobile human that we were planning on riding on our laps. I was nervous to say the least. I didn’t want to spend hours on end with a squirming, crying, kicking kid on my lap. But I also wanted to take advantage of this final flight with him under 2 and free. 

I did so much pinteresting and mom group searching for all the ideas on how to keep a toddler busy on a plane. 

Here’s what I ended up taking:

Cheerio necklaces

Oliver is all about snacks and I knew I was going to need plenty for the travel days. He’s also pretty into necklaces and bracelets, so this seemed like a perfect snack/entertainment piece. I just used regular string and made 8 necklaces before the trip. They worked great! Most of the time Oliver refused to wear them like a necklace, but every time he enjoyed the snack. 

Toy car

Oliver loves his cars. He has a few favorites and I opted to take one of them with us. It didn’t get a lot of airplane action, but he was happy to have it in the airports and hotels. I will say though, be careful with this one. I thought we left it in the airport after our layover but then later found it under the hotel bed. I had to rescue it from under the bed at least 3 more times after that. So while he was happy to have it, it’s sort of a miracle that we made it home with it. 

Water Wow books

I had never heard of these before, but they are neat! They are like watercolor pages without the paints. You just use a water filled pen to get the pages wet and colors appear. Then they dry out and you can do them over and over. Oliver was only mildly interested in them, I think he’s a bit young for them. But there was some excitement about new pictures to look at. 

Kids headphones
Attempting to watch a movie

Oliver’s little ears can’t do earbuds but I figured there would be some movie watching along the way so I wanted to get him some over the ear headphones. We tried them on at home and he loved them so I was really optimistic about them working. But for some reason he hated them on the plane and when I tested them myself, I realized the cable wasn’t working right so the sound wasn’t great. He still wore them occasionally and I guess he enjoyed them even without sound. 

Magnetic doodle board

Oliver has had one of these for a while and knows how to use it and since it packs easily, I threw it in the bag. He played with it a bit on the plane but was mostly annoyed that he couldn’t stick it to the back of the seat. I don’t know why he felt like he needed to do that anyway.

Gel Window clings

I saw that toddlers loved sticking them on the windows, and since we had mostly window seats I thought this would be worthwhile. I got some relatively cheap Christmas themed clings off Amazon since we were going for Christmas. I ended up not even getting them out of the bag.

Koosh balls

Oliver loves balls, but there was no way I was going to be chasing a ball up and down an airplane. I saw a recommendation for Koosh balls, the texture is fun and if they end up on the ground they won’t roll away. This is another one that never left the bag. Oliver is a big thrower, and I think I was too nervous about him chucking them across the plane that I just never risked it. 

Other non-toy things:


Oliver loves his blanket. Like a lot. So there was no way we would be leaving it at home. If you’re baby has a comfort item I’m sure you’re already planning on taking it with you for an overnight trip, so here’s my advice about it. Keep your eyes glued to it like it is another child. You do not want to lose the most important item that your baby has right now, not while you’re tackling all of this travel. Every time we relocated at all, we did a little roll call of items that included: luggage x 2 , stroller, diaper bag, purse and blanket. We established this after almost leaving the diaper bag after our first security screening. Thankfully we noticed before we fully left the checkpoint, but it was a moment of realization that we need to keep good track of all of these things so we don’t leave any of them behind. The main point here being, don’t lose the ever important comfort item.

Binky & Container

Oliver is also a binky baby for sure. Right now we only let him have a binky for naps and bedtime. Obviously we were going to take them, but I used them for making sure he popped his ears when we were flying. I gave him his binky when we were taking off and landing just to make sure. There were a few flights where he was asleep already and he didn’t have it and I guess his ears were fine, but it was a nice thing to have just in case he struggled. I also had a binky container to keep them as clean as possible while traveling. Binkys have a special spot in his diaper bag, but the container just made sure that they were always in their place and staying clean. If you’ve got a binky baby like mine, I strongly recommend a container for traveling. 

Sound machine

Oliver likes music while he sleeps. At least I think he does. I turn music on for him every night to help him stay asleep. We have a small sound machine that we took with us in case napping in the hotels was a struggle. For the most part, Oliver did great with naps being in new places, but I think the music may have helped in some cases. 

Here’s what I didn’t end up taking:


I went back and forth about 1000 times about whether or not to get a tablet. We don’t do a lot of screen time with Oliver, so he does not have a tablet. I don’t even have a tablet. So it’s just not something we do. But I was worried about flights not having on board entertainment and then we’d just be sitting there staring at the back of a seat. There were black friday deals on them and I was so tempted, but I was afraid that I would start to use it once we got back home and I’m just not ready to be using a tablet with Oliver. So we opted against it. I’m really happy we stuck to it because we really didn’t need a tablet. We did each download a few movies to our phones just in case there was some flights without entertainment, which we didn’t end up using either. 

So how did all of this preparing, packing and planning pan out? Pretty well actually. Oliver was pretty okay with sitting on our laps. I mean, he’s 20 months old so I’m not going to pretend like he just sat there totally calm the whole time. But overall, he was happy hanging out on our laps. He watched movies, played with toys, flirted with the flight attendants and snacked all flight long. 

Our first flight was early in the morning, so Oliver was still in a bit of a daze when we took off. He was kind of excited about the whole thing though, looking out the window and pointing out the other planes. He was pretty active for most of the flight, but fell asleep about 10 minutes before landing.

Playing in DFW

We had a decent layover and we spent the time running around near our gate to get some energy out, which only kind of worked. It built up a big appetite so Oliver needed his lunch as soon as we got on the plane.

I think this was the hardest of the flights. We weren’t able to get seats right next to each other, but we were across the aisle from each other. Oliver did okay, but swapping him back and forth between the isle was a bit awkward, especially when he got butt bounced by the stewardess when she was backing down the aisle with the drink cart. Again, he fell asleep about 10 minutes before landing. This time it was kind of helpful though, he slept while we got through customs and figured out how we were going to get to Cozumel. 

Stroller napping

Our return flights were later in the day, so I was hopeful that Oliver would sleep through them for the most part. No such luck. He fell asleep once we got through security and since we were early to the airport he got a good hour nap in before the flights.

He stayed up all through the first flight, almost falling asleep at the end. Then we had a pretty long layover that was consumed with customs and security, which he slept pretty much all the way through. I wish I had snapped a picture of his immigration picture before we turned it back in because it was pretty great. The final flight was a bit more of what I had been hoping for. We didn’t get in until almost one in the morning and Oliver slept most of the flight, after some shuffling and getting comfortable across our laps. 

Overall the flights with Oliver on our laps went pretty well. But I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty happy that the next flight we do he’ll be in his own seat. I’ll still be packing all the toys and snacks, but at least we will have our own little row to ourselves and he will be able to be in his very own seat.

Happy/tired flying baby

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