Flying internationally with a 12 vs 18 month old

We flew from San Francisco to Australia in January when Juliette was one year old and then again this week when she was 18 months old. There were some very clear differences and some helpful tips for both stages.

Sleeping

Isn’t this the most important thing and perhaps the only thing that matters on a 14 hour flight? Here’s everything we learned:

    • One year old
      • We thought she would sleep across the seat but we ended up having her sleep on us in a front carrier (our favorite lightweight Infantino carrier).
      • We put a sun hat on her to block out distractions as she was falling asleep and then a nursing cover while she was sleeping so when she shifted and woke up, she would go back to sleep.
      • She slept from the time they turned out the lights until we were ready to land.
    • 18 month old
      • This girl definitely was not going to tolerate a sun hat on her head.
      • We followed her tired cues and got her in the front carrier (still the Infantino) when she was very tired and rocked her to sleep. We then were able to sit with her sleeping on us easily.
      • We took a daytime flight so she slept only an hour for her nap and then got about 5 hours at “night” when it felt like her bedtime, until we had to wake her to prepare for landing.

Sleeping with a baby in a carrier on an airplane

Seating

The more space the better! In both cases I would far prefer an entire row in Economy to seats in Business class — especially at 18 months when she wanted to move so much.

    • One year old
      • We had a whole row in Economy and she mostly stayed in our row. She played all over the ground (yuck — but we got over it). But because she was in crawling phase, she stayed in our area.
      • She loved getting into everything — seat back pockets, electric outlets and safety handouts. So, wipe everything and watch her!
    • 18 months old
      • We flew during COVID so we had more than enough space — multiple rows even — and ended up spreading out over two rows in Economy.
      • As a walker and not crawler, she much preferred going up and down the aisles to playing on the floor (cleaner, I guess, but definitely more exhausting). We spent an hour walking circles up and down the aisles — only one of us was ready for a nap after that (it was not her).
      • Business class seats would have been a waste of a lie flat seat since she slept on us and when she wasn’t sleeping, would not have stayed put in the seat.

Two parents and a toddler flying with face masks

Entertainment

    • One year old
      • Her attention span was very short so we had to ration the toys throughout the trip. Be very careful to not take them all out at once.
      • She took great interest in the plane — watching the flight attendants, latches, and random items on the airplane.
      • See all the details of that trip here.
    • 18 months old
      • We barely dipped into any of the activities we brought.
      • She was much more interested in items like: the infant life vest that she carried around, a travel container of hand sanitizer, ziplock bags that we opened/closed/opened/closed/opened.
      • Juliette isn’t quite yet occupied by screen time. We brought these toddler-friendly headphones but didn’t end up using them. She was faintly interested in some of the animated movies, but not too much. Hopefully by the next flight. Can’t wait for that stage!
      • Our Water Wow activity lasted about 10 minutes. But if you bring other activities I recommend: crayons, tape, reusable stickers, etc. It may be tempting to bring toys that make noise but they are terribly annoying to your fellow passengers so pass on those.

Baby using sanitizing wipes on an airplane

Food

    • One year old
      • We brought lots of pouches which she loved. We had Cheerios and bread — she loved bread!
      • We brought plenty of bottles and had them on hand when she got fussy.
      • Getting the timing right for giving her milk/food was really important and something we had to plan ahead for.
    • 18 months old
      • Snacks, snacks, snacks! A great distraction and activity in and of themselves!
      • We had a cooler bag with apple slices. string cheese and homemade muffins. We also brought crackers, pretzel sticks and Cheerios — and of course pouches!
      • We brought shelf-stable milk in 8oz individual cartons. It was great to have this whole milk since the plane only had 2%. Airport security will let you take as much food/milk as you need for the trip. They will inspect it, but you can take as much as you need.
      • At this age Juliette was much more flexible with timing so we didn’t have to worry as much about the timing of her food/milk. We tried to keep it to roughly her regular schedule and offer it before landing (since it would take a while to get through immigration/customs/baggage claim).

Overall

We love traveling as a family. Flying with an 18 month old is definitely harder because she wants to move — a lot — doesn’t sleep as much as she used to and isn’t yet into screen time. But, her eating schedule is definitely more flexible, she stays on the seat more than the ground and we could start to reason with her (a little). All in all, both ages are pretty great.

Already looking forward to the next flight!

Baby on the floor of an airplane with sanitizer bottle

 

Have you flown with a child under 18 months? What are your tips?  Add them in the comments below.

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