Flying with Young Toddlers: Lessons Learned on a 5-hour Flight from Kauai

Our thinking was…if you plan everything just right, and come prepared, then things will go smoothly.  Maybe there will be bumps in the road (or air), but since we’re prepared, we’d be able to face any problems head-on.  This was Bergen’s 7th round-trip flight after all.  This wasn’t our first rodeo.

Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.  Children are unpredictable, and The Young Toddler, we’re learning, is tricky.  Too old to be held and sleep like an infant; too young to be entertained by movies and games.  We thought we had it figured out though.

With an arsenal of new and exciting toys, and a stash of “highly valuable” food, we were ready to soar for more than 5 hours across the ocean to paradise with our little guy in tow.

On the way out, yes, we actually did fine.  Passengers even remarked at Bergen’s great behavior.  Flight attendants complimented us on our toys and distraction tools.  This positive experience occured despite the fact that Bergen only slept for 30 minutes (in a 12-hour period).

On the way home however, we were in for a rude awakening.  Again, we brought our toys and food.  We even made a 1 & 1/2 hour nap just before we got to the airport happen, so that Bergen’s sleep bank was as full as we could get it.

Things were going along well with Bergen snacking, checking out books, and flirting with his fellow passengers.  Then out of nowhere, all of the sudden, he vomited.  This was no small spit up.  It was the most we’ve ever seen in his 15-months here with us.

After the quickest clean-up in history, hoping the smell wouldn’t linger for too long, we tried to move on.  We were also thinking that maybe it actually gave Bergen some relief. Smooth sailing ahead.  Boy, were we wrong.

After some minor fussing, things just kept escalating until we had a maniac on our hands.  Full on top-of-his-lungs screaming occurred.

  • He didn’t want to eat (anything).
  • He didn’t want to drink (anything).
  • He didn’t want to play (with anything).

We tried things our fellow passengers suggested.  We accepted suggestions just so that we did indeed try everything, and exhausted our resources.  Due to continued turbulence, we were also confined to our seats most of the time.   The Alaska Airlines flight attendants were so very patient and helpful.

Finally after about 45 minutes of non-stop screaming, the poor guy passed out in my arms.

He gave the plane about an hour of peace and quiet before he woke up and started up again.  Same level of noise.  After 20 minutes though, I fortunately got him distracted by my phone.  A phone with actual buttons.  A smart phone it is not, but Bergen loved it, and relaxed enough for us to get some fluids and food into him.  He was on the mend.

By the end of the flight, he was back to playing peek-a-boo with those sitting behind us.  They were cautiously amused.  A little late there, buddy.  Better late, than never though, right?

After the worst flight in history, one might think we should just throw in the towel.  Maybe wait until Bergen is a 5 or 10  year-old to fly with him again.  Absolutely not.  We learned some important lessons:

  • You can never be prepared for everything, so don’t get too stressed out about bringing everything, and thinking of every single thing.  
  • Bumps will occur.  Hunker down, and know it can’t and won’t last forever.
  • Most importantly, I know that the pain we endured was worth it because of the experience we got to share as a family.  I’m so very thankful that we are able to travel.  Those passengers around us, who were given ear plugs and free drinks because of Bergen, will soon forget all about our disgruntled passenger, and move on with their lives.  We only have so many years before Bergen is at the mercy of the school calendar and then before we know it, he’ll be all grown up.  We also only have so much time before it no longer makes sense for me to stay at home and have a flexible schedule.  Who knows what the future will hold.  I want to help my son see the world.

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13 thoughts on “Flying with Young Toddlers: Lessons Learned on a 5-hour Flight from Kauai

  1. Even though my son is only 5, this brings back memories of flying to Michigan. I don’t think I would have cared as much if I was flying to or from Hawaii. 😉

    • Oh, really? Did you have a some tough flights during the toddler years? I bet he’s a superstar now! Yes, on the way there, it was so much easier…on the way home though…not so much! 🙂

  2. Brings back memories for me as well!! Loved reading this and just know you are not alone every parent that has flown with a toddler as felt the same I wanted to cry and jump off the plane but I survived… That is a long flight for an adult so to me I think he did pretty darn good!

    • Thank you for your comment! The experience definitely weighed heavily on our minds for many days following the flight (especially my husband’s). Just took a couple of weeks to get back to being excited about our next trip!

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  5. Oh that does sound like sound like a rough flight. Poor wee guy. That early toddler stage is the trickiest one indeed. Here must have been something else at play medically for him to be so upset. I’ve had Reuben scream for a while on a plane when he couldn’t get to sleep. It always feels like an eternity even if it ia just 45 mins. Sounds like you did everything right though.

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