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How to Survive a Red-Eye Flight With a Toddler

Posted by Jel Navarro on
Smiling toddler on red-eye flight

Do this, do that… There’s lots of unsolicited advice when it comes to flying with a toddler! Some parents advise against red eye flights while others say go for it!

If you’re a new parent deciding on a red-eye flight with your toddler, you might be confused on what to do… but don’t worry! We got you. It isn’t ideal, but a red-eye flight is sometimes your only choice (especially for parents on a budget). We’re not just wishing you good luck on your red-eye flight but giving you tips on how to survive it when you have a toddler with you! 

What’s a red-eye flight?

A red-eye flight is simply a flight that takes off late in the night and arrives early the next morning. In other words, it’s a flight scheduled around the time that most people are normally asleep. These flights typically will give you some redness in the eyes, as if you haven’t had a good night’s sleep. But it might be worth it! The timing varies but typically any flight that leaves after 9:00 pm in the evening and arrives before 6:00 am in the morning is considered as a red-eye flight. In the US, most red-eye flights originate from the West Coast and land in the East Coast.

A flight that takes off during the night and lands early the next morning

Night take off is around 9:00 PM or later

Morning landing is around 6:00 AM or earlier

Flight scheduled around the normal sleeping time

Important! The CDC recommends to avoid any but essential travel (especially with children) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tips on how to survive a red-eye flight with toddler

If you’re that parent going on a red-eye flight for the first time with your toddler, you might have a dozen thoughts and fears in your mind. The truth is, flying with a kid is not an easy experience to deal with! But if a red-eye flight is unavoidable, consider these tips below to help you and your toddler cope with this flying schedule:

Days before the red-eye flight:

1. Get your “Survival Kit” ready - You’ll need a Survival Kit to make it through a red-eye flight with your toddler! So, what should be included?

Red-eye flight survival kit

✓  Entertaining Toys + Fun Reveal Method - Don’t want to spend extra money on new toys? Hide a few of your toddler’s favorite toys a few days before your red-eye flight. You can take them out (one toy at a time) during the flight! Or you can also buy some cheap new toys at your nearest Dollar Tree store.  

Remember: Bring “quiet” toys like puzzles, toy cars, legos or dolls. Avoid toys that can disturb other passengers (like drums or musical ones).  

✓  Tablet & Headphones - Don’t forget to download your toddler’s favorite cartoons and games! Charge the tablet ahead of time, not just the day before your flight. These kiddie headphones are also a must so you and other passengers won’t be disturbed by your toddler’s activities.  

✓  Sleeping Paraphernalia - Unless you’re flying business class, sleeping on a plane is not easy or comfy. Pack a soft and thick blanket or bed sheet. Set the comforter in your toddler’s seat and in your lap for a smoother and comfy sleeping area. An added perk is that it also provides an extra protection / cover so your toddler won't be in direct contact with the airplane seat. Also pack a sleeping mask, ear plugs and a neck pillow.  

✓  Clip-On Night Light - We hope that your toddler sleeps during the red-eye flight… But in case he or she doesn’t, you’ll need activities to keep ‘em busy. Other passengers want their sleep, so turning on the in-flight light isn’t recommended. Instead bring a clip-on night light! This one clips on the table so you can do fun activities with the toddler even with the plane’s lights off.  

✓  Stickers! - The secret weapon against boredom! What toddler doesn’t like stickers? We like this 500+ sticker set from Melissa & Doug! It will last you hours during the flight! Bring a few sheets of blank paper for them to decorate with the stickers.

2. Organize your carry-on bag with packing cubes - Imagine yourself on the flight… What if your toddler suddenly throws a tantrum? Do you have everything that you need in your carry-on bag? Even if you do, can you easily access it? Organize your carry-on bag using clear packing cubes and you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Toddler crying because of a wet diaper? Grab the cube with your diaper changing essentials.

Tantrum caused by hangriness? Grab the cube with your snacks and treats!

Here’s how you can use cubes to your full advantage:

  Pack your first aid essentials in an Extra Small Cube. Don’t forget the thermometer (must have!), teething gel, fever reducer, allergy relief and cold or cough meds. This size cube can also be used for organizing your toddler’s toiletries like toothpaste, diaper rash cream and hand sanitizer.  

  In light of recent events, it's a must to bring your own Hygiene Kit when flying. Pack face masks (for mommy / daddy), hand sanitizer (up to 12 oz), spray alcohol and some wipes in an Extra Small Cube. Don't forget to sanitize anything you and your toddler come in contact with especially the airplane seat, tray table and headrest!

✓  The Small Cube can be your weapon against diaper explosions. Pack all the things you need for changing a dirty diaper including some diapers, wipes, baby powder, a mini changing pad and a change of clothes! 

✓  Use another Small Cube for your toddler’s snacks, milk and water! You can easily grab this cube in times of hungry tantrums! 

Follow more steps below to learn how organizing your carry-on bag for a red-eye flight with your toddler can be simple!

Shop Clear Packing Cubes on EzPacking

3. Decide on bringing your car seat - Of course safety is always a priority! Some toddlers are more comfortable staying in their car seat. But if your toddler isn’t used to staying in one, weigh out this option! It may or may not work for you.

4. Reserve the ideal seat - The “ideal seat” varies depending on your child’s personality and needs. For us, that ideal seat is at the back of the plane. It’s close to the bathroom. Sure it’s a bit noisy but it can give you extra space to stand around and more privacy. There’s also the bulkhead seat which is harder to reserve but can be great for parents with hyperactive children (no front seats to kick). 

Hours before the red-eye flight:

5. Schedule nap time earlier - Toddlers need their nap, we know! But on the day of your red-eye flight, move their nap time earlier. So if their nap time is scheduled at around 3:00 PM, move it at 1:00 PM or 2:00 PM. If your flight is scheduled around 9:00 PM, there’s a good chance your toddler will knockout by that time. 

Toddler about to take afternoon nap before red-eye flight

6. Be active during the day - After napping, get on your feet and be active! Run around the nearest park or playground. Play tag in your garden. Whatever activities get your toddler tired by the end of the day, do those ones. Of course, don’t go overboard that your toddler is too tired and irritated before the flight.

7. Eat a filling dinner two hours before the flight - You can have dinner at home or your hotel (if you’re staying overseas). You can also just have dinner at the airport while waiting to board! While some airlines do serve dinner during a red-eye flight, it is not ideal to eat at a later time, especially for kids. It can cause them to become more active or cranky in case the food causes stomach problems. A hearty and filling dinner will make your toddler sleepy, which is perfect for the flight.

COVID Update: Most airlines are cancelling (or limiting) in-flight services including meals. Contact your airline for more details (and don't forget to pack some snacks!).

8. Do your normal bedtime routine - Before boarding the plane, make sure you have prepared your toddler for sleep. In the airport, try your best to do your normal nightly bedtime routine for your toddler. This could include washing their face, brushing their teeth, changing into pajamas and even a quick bedtime story before takeoff. It’s a way of letting them know it’s still bedtime (even though you’re on an airplane).

During the red-eye flight:

9. Your personal bag should be within reach - Remember your Survival Kit and toddler travel essentials? Don’t pack them in the carry-on or checked luggage! Pack it in your personal bag (backpack or diaper bag) and keep it under the seat.  Make sure it fits under the seat in front of you. So if you need something in your bag to keep your toddler calm, you can easily reach it!

Super Mom Tip: Have all your plane essentials packed into a Small Clear Packing Cube so you can pull it out without messing up the rest of the bag.

10. Window seat for the toddler - Request a window seat if possible! Airlines are usually accommodating for families with kids. If you’re traveling as a family, place the toddler in the window side. Parents can switch being in the middle seat every few hours. This gives each parent time to rest and recover during the flight! Plus, when the toddler is sleeping, there’s less chance of waking him up when either parent wants to go the bathroom!

Did you know? The safest seats on an airplane to minimize contact with other passengers are the window seats. 

11. Set limits for electronic use - If you’ve followed through our Survival Guide from the beginning, your toddler will likely be very tired by the end of the day. That’s why it’s important to set limits for gadget use. Think of gadgets as a last resort only! This leads us to our last tip...

12. Flight time is quality time - Don’t be that parent who ignores their kid during the entire flight. Bored toddler? Take out your Entertainment Kit and play some games to keep the little one entertained. Crying toddler? Calm him down and relax yourself as well. Oftentimes, kids pick up on what emotions the parents give off! You’ll find that a little shift in your attitude can change the way you fly with your toddler.

The advantages of booking a red-eye flight

Airplane interior during red-eye flight

The timing of a red-eye flight might not be ideal, but there are many advantages to booking this type of flight. Here’s why we think flying red eye with a toddler is worth it:

✓ Red-eye flights are cheaper - You can sometimes save of up to 50% with a red-eye flight compared to a regular day flight. It’s the main reason why some travelers opt for this type of flight. For families, this can be a huge saving and can add up in the long term.

✓ Save money on hotel booking - Because you’re flying through the night, you arrive at your destination early in the morning. You won’t need to book a hotel and can go sightseeing immediately upon your arrival. Well, provided you get enough sleep during the flight (and maybe sneak in a quick nap).

✓ Less chaos in the airport - Another advantage of a red-eye flight with a toddler is that it allows you to go through airport security much easier. During the night, there’s less people and chaos in the airport. You can relax while checking in your luggage or while going through the entire process of boarding.

✓ Lower chance of delayed flights - During the day time, flights are more likely to be delayed due to air traffic. Fortunately, with red-eye flights, there’s less likelihood for a delayed flights because there are less number of planes scheduled to fly.

✓ Less people on the plane - A regular day-time flight is packed with people, usually a mixture of families, solo travellers and business men and women. With a red-eye flight, there’s usually less people, mostly people traveling for business. There’s a good chance you’ll find empty seats on a late night flight with your toddler.

Organize with Clear Packing Cubes

While it’s not ideal, surviving a red-eye flight with a toddler is possible. We promise. Pack your Survival Kit and get yourself some awesome packing cubes. With the right mindset, you can do anything mama. Good luck! 

P.S. Click here for more tips for airport travel or when flying!

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