Air Travel with a 3 Year Old

Updated on February 15, 2011
M.H. asks from Pompano Beach, FL
10 answers

Hi Moms,
We will be traveling by airplane in March with our 3 year old son. The only other time he's been on a plane was when he was 6 months old, so I have a couple of questions that I'm hoping you can help me with. He has his own seat on the plane and we have to take his car seat because we have a 2 hour ride by car once we reach our destination airport. Should we bring the car seat on the plane for him to sit in or just check it? Also, instead of taking a stroller, I've heard that there is a Snap and Go device that your car seat clicks into and then that can be pushed in the airport like a stroller. Anyone have any experience with this? We'll be taking his DVD player with movies and books and toys to play with on the plane. Thankfully it is a nonstop 2 hour flight so it shouldn't be too bad. Any advice you moms have would be really appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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answers from Dallas on

Anything that is a traveling necessity for a child is at no charge. But I suggest that you gatecheck the carseat, its less likely to get lost. Its a pain to carry it all the way to the door of the plane but you can ensure that they put it on. Make sure you tag it as well. I definely suggest a stroller. Kiddos can get rambuntious waiting the hour or so at the gate for boarding. You can gatecheck that as well and stroll him to see the planes while you are waiting to board. This will keep you from chasing a inquisitive three-year-old all over the airport. Looks like you have everything else covered. It might be exciting for him to sit in the seat like a big boy hopefully you will have a window seat, he might enjoy the take off and landing. Enjoy your trip and be safe!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

I have had to travel with my 34 month quite a bit. I tried with and without the carseat. In my experience, uning the carseat on the plane has worked (by far) the best. I think my daughter associated the carseat with sitting and knew she just had to sit. When we used the harness she complained and whined to get up and walk around THE ENTIRE TRIP.

I haven't tried the Snap and Go device, but plan to buy it. Even if my daughter doesn't get into it, it would still make bringing the seat to the plane much easier.

I did have one MAJOR complaint with the airline we used the last time we had a carseat. We flew round trip with one layover on each trip, resulting in having to board the plane 4 times on a round trip. The problem is that on EACH of the 4 legs of the trip, the airline said they would have family boarding after first class and then they skipped family boarding all together! I've read in other blogs that other family's have encountered the same problem. What you'll need to do is muscle your way to the front and let them know you will need early boarding to install the seat. Make sure you do it because It is not easy bringing the seat back when you're in a crowd waiting for everyone to put their lugguge in the overhead compartment. So be kindly aggressive. :)

Good luck with your trip!



answers from Eugene on

Don't forget something for him to suck on to pop his ears during the elevation changes. If he isn't good with hard candy you can try a sucker. Sugar free is best, because you don't want him on a sugar rush.



answers from Washington DC on

in my experience if your son is not too big and may sleep on the plane i would just take his seat on. if not just check it when you are getting on the plane. also we have wheels that hook right to the seat to make it like a stroller-they are truly a lifesaver. here is the website
also my little guys will sometimes be antsy to watch their show or get upset when we have to turn it off. so we usually bring some fun vehicle sticker books or suckers or special treat they like (whatever gets us thru the end of the flight:) hope you have a great trip!



answers from Philadelphia on

You can check the car seat and stroller at the gate right as you are boarding. That way you are 100% positive it makes it to the plane and you have the stroller with you up until the minute that you are boarding the plane. Have a fun trip.



answers from Phoenix on

Sounds like you know what you are doing.

I have travelled many times on planes with my 4 kids. I would for sure bring the car seat question at all. It only took me once without the car seat to know I would NEVER travel that way again. For one, they know in the car seat they have to stay put and relax. It fits them better....for the airplane seats hit the poor kids right in the middle of the calf. It is for sure safer too. Its easier for them to sleep.

I have a combi stroller, so it has a flexible front bar. The car seat I use for the airplane is the $45 target one (cosco scenera) which is lightweight, simple, approved for airline use and fits in my stoller so that my daughter can sit in the seat which sits in the stoller. I only use that car seat for the airplane and other peoples cars. It may be worth purchasing if you have a bulky big car seat.



answers from Tampa on

Yes! I have the snap belt we attach to our carry on bag and link the car seat onto it and he can use it as a stroller. My son loves it! Now that he is 3 and loves to walk on his own, we check in the car seat. He also wants to sit like a big boy and it is so much easier inside the plane without the car seat. Yes, it may be safer with it, but it takes up lots of space and when in an emergency, it is actually easier to pull him out of a regular seat than the car seat. Another factor is if your son will sit for long periods of time. If you have an energetic child that wiggles and gets out a lot, car seat it is. Have fun and safe trip!



answers from Dallas on

I traveled from TX to PA with my 3.5 year old. Check the seat & stroller at the gate for maximum convenience. If he's a big kid, using the seat may be too tight for him. My guy is huge, so he just sat in the seat. I gave him the window seat and he watched take-off and landing and some flying time out the window and that was at least 20 minutes on each end of the flight. He also slept. We had to do a changeover, and the flight was 4.5 hours altogether. I was amazed at how well he did. You should be fine with your supplies to entertain. You don't need too much; I actually packed his kid-luggage with his stuff and he LOVED that - pulled it all by himself :)



answers from Orlando on

I travelled with my 3 year old during the holidays and can't say enough about the Cares/Kids Fly Safe Airplane Harness. It is approved by the airlines and made her ride much more comfortable than using a carseat, plus, I didn't have to lug it through the airport. We checked it at the curb and had the airline bag it for us so it was nice and clean when we arrived. The harness can be purchased if you do a lot of travelling with children, but I found that you can rent them through ebay! It was a smooth transaction and SO MUCH EASIER than using the carseat (we did that last year). Didn't even take a stroller through the airport. She had her own little suitcase to pull behind her, so there was no wandering away from us.

Also, if you are taking coloring books and crayons, you can purchase triangle shaped crayons that won't roll off your tray table. Security was very kind and allowed us to take juice boxes and milk boxes through security, as well. They just had to specially screen them. Headphones for the dvd player and any electronic games would be a good idea.

Those are my helpful hints for flying with a 3 year old! Hope you have a wonderful trip.

- R.



answers from Washington DC on

We just came back from Jamaica with our almost 3 yr old. It was a 3 1/2 hr flight.

We took his car seat and used it on the plane (it has to have a sticker saying its airplane approved). Without it he would not have been able to see out the window and I highly doubt he would have stayed buckled since the seat belts on the planes are so easy to unhook. It also made for a comfy place for him to nap. **It has to be a harness carseat though - booster seats are not allowed on the plane**

We don't use a stroller for him - haven't really since he learned to walk - so we didn't have that. I do have a carrier that straps around the carseat turning it into a bookbag, which makes it very easy to carry it through the airport and onto the plane.

My son has a small backpack of his own that had a couple books, his leapfrog scribbler, some snacks. I took an empty sippy cup and put water in it from a water fountain.

My son did need to go potty several times, and I think it was more of a game than an actual need (although he did go everytime). Everyone on the plane was so nice to him and talked to him. The flight attendants gave him wings for doing so great!

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