Flying with a Toddler

Monday, July 07, 2014

A lot of you know, especially if we’re FB friends, that Charlotte and I fly a lot to meet up with my ever traveling husband.  Back in November, I posted some tips on flying with a squirmy baby, so I wanted to post an update with new tips on toddler flying!

There are trade-offs for traveling with kids of different ages—infants you don’t have to battle mobility, but they tend to cry without warning and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it.  Toddlers are busy, busy, busy, but can be easier to distract {i.e. bribe} if they’re on the verge of a meltdown.  It’s always a learning experience and each trip is always a little different.  So here’s what I’ve picked up in the last nine months…

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Booking Your Ticket/Flight Times

  • Same advice as last time: do your best to travel at times that work best for your kid.  I prefer midday flights so Charlotte can get a morning nap in.  I avoid late afternoon and evening flights as best I can. 
  • Make sure to add “Infant in Arms” in the special accommodations section when you book your ticket if your child is under 2 yrs.
  • I prefer aisle seats for quick exits; some people prefer window seats to minimize distractions, if you have a kiddo that will sleep on the plane
  • Fly direct.  I know it’s not always possible, but given reasonable differences in ticket price, it is always worth it to me to fly direct and avoid the increased risk of lost baggage and missed connections.  I may or may not have been spotted publicly crying on a recent Delta flight, as our delayed flight was leaving me faced with the very real possibility of being stuck alone overnight in Minneapolis, with my kid, three diapers, no pack & play or real food.

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What to Pack

  • I pack one roller suitcase for Charlotte and I, and check it upon arrival.
  • One carry-on.  Minimize your needs.  I usually use Charlotte’s diaper bag and skip a purse, but on my most recent flight I carried both.  If you bring two bags, keep all liquids in one bag so you’re not rifling through two different bags in the security line.  Even if it’s not liquid, I put all foods in one gallon ziplock {bottles/cups, squeeze packs, crackers, etc…} and just drop it in the bin at security.
  • An umbrella stroller or a car seat roller.  Gone are the days of Charlotte in a Baby Bjorn, but we have discovered this: the Brica Roll & Go.  The best $70 I have ever spent, hands down.  It essentially functions as a dolly—you set your car seat on the platform, wrap the strap around the back and voila!  You pull your kid around the airport in their car seat like a piece of luggage.  We have a hand-me-down car seat used only for air travel, so it’s not the end of the world if we have to check it, or heaven forbid it gets lost.  If you don’t need a car seat on the other end of your travel, I recommend a light umbrella stroller that folds up easily to get through the airport.

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Checking In

  • When you check in and drop off your bag, find out if there are adjacent open seats and asked to be moved to them. I prefer an aisle seat at the front of the plane, but if there’s an open window and middle seat next to the bathroom, put me in it!  Finding out if there are open seats also gives you some mental preparation on whether or not you’ll be able to take your car seat on.  If the flight is full, you will have to gate check the car seat.  Make sure there is an ID tag on the car seat, in either case, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

Security

  • Kids under 12 don’t have to remove shoes, so wear whatever will be comfortable for them.
  • There is no limit to the amount of milk and baby food you can bring on, but liquids will be tested with a little litmus strip by TSA.  You can save time by not bringing milk and just buying it on the other side of security.
  • Your tot will need to be carried with you through the metal detector; you do not have to go through the full body scanner.  They will swipe your hands with a little wand to check for…something.
  • Strollers will need to be sent through the scanners with your bags, so have your baby out of it and folded up as you near the detectors.  Car seats generally don’t fit and will be inspected separately by TSA—I have never had to take it off the Roll & Go contraption, just lower the handle and fold the wheels in.  I flag a security person in line and they send someone over to inspect it while we go through the detectors and wait for the milk to be tested.
  • Again, have all liquid bags in one carry-on.  As soon as I get a bin, I drop in my shoes, my bag of milk/snacks, and my bag of make-up/liquids.
  • Don’t wear any watches or jewelry to the airport—I just keep it in an accessible bag pocket and put it on later.

Gate Arrival & Boarding

  • I check again with front desk as boarding time gets closer to see if there are two open seats—most people will have checked in and have seat assignments by now.  Unless the flight is sold out, I find that gate agents are more than happy to help you sit next to an open seat.  As are the passengers. Smile 
  • There are two approaches to hanging at the gate: keep them strapped in, or let them move around.  Charlotte does much better buckled in to the car seat—she doesn’t mind sitting and is generally more relaxed.  If I know the car seat is coming on the plane, I keep her in it and pre-board as soon as they’ll let me on so I can struggle with her car seat without the tapping toes of businessmen behind me {downside of the Roll & Go is that car seats are generally too wide to roll down the aisle}.  If she is going to be in my lap, I let her roam to use up some energy and I board the plane as late as possible—an aisle seat comes in handy with this approach.
  • If you didn’t pay for an extra seat but are able to take the car seat on, let the flight attendant know as soon as you board that you are flying Infant in Arms and the gate agents said you could bring on the car seat.  They get confused when they check the seat rosters before take-off.
  • If you are unable to take the car seat on, I highly recommend removing the Roll & Go on the jet bridge, before gate checking it {it is tricky carrying a kid and a bag and a car seat down the jet bridge—roll them in it until the last minute.  Then step to the side, take the kid out, remove the Roll & Go}.  On the latest flight catastrophe I referenced earlier, they almost lost our car seat and my one consolation was that I still had my beloved Roll & Go.

image_5{The reason our last flying experience didn’t go well…or go at all!}

In-Flight Entertainment

All of my personal standards are out the window as soon as we pass security.  I’m not big on kids with electronics, and I try to feed Charlotte as healthy as I can {ignore the cold hotdog she fisted around the house yesterday…} but I will let that kid drink straight Yellow No 5 out of BPA-filled plastic water bottle and go comatose on Sponge Bob Square Pants if it keeps her quiet and contained on an airplane.  Let’s face it—pardon the comparison, TSA, but getting on an airplane with tiny human is like getting on a plane with a grenade.  They might sit quietly the whole time and everyone is relatively unaware of their presence.  OR they will completely explode without warning and everyone around you will wish they were dead.  You just never know and it’s almost completely out of your hands.  Toddlers are not designed to sit still for hours on end, much less minutes on end, they cannot be reasoned with, and have no understanding of the word “embarrassed.”  Whatever it takes to keep them quiet, happy, and not kicking anyone’s seat, do it!  For my very active 1.5 year old, here’s what works:

  • Short TV episodes.  For $2, you can buy iTunes episodes of pretty much any show.  Our iPad is stocked with 20 minutes episodes of Doc McStuffins, Thomas, and Octonauts.  I try to keep this hat trick in my back pocket for as long as possible, BUT you no longer have to turn off your mobile devices for take-off and landing {it just has to be on airplane mode/WIFI off} so if you need it as soon as you get on the plane, go for it.  They won’t make you turn it off.
  • Coloring. Praise Jesus for Crayola Color Wonder.  As my sister says, “Whoever invented this, deserves a Nobel Peace Prize!”
  • Stickers.  Our most recent travels had us sitting on a runway for two hours.  A big page of Doc McStuffins stickers saved me.
  • A trip to the bathroom.  Even if she doesn’t need one, we take a trip to the back of the plane for a new diaper about half way through the flight.  Gives her a chance to stretch her legs and practice her beauty pageant wave to rows of her adoring passengers.  Side note: I always have Charlotte in dresses for easy diaper changes.
  • Snacks, snacks, snacks.  Pack their favorites and any treats that are usually reserved for special occasions. Lollipops, fruit snacks, Pirates Booty, apples {Charlotte still loves teething on apples}.  If they’re chewing, they’re usually not crying!  Also note, most flights I’ve been on have milk.  I’m always paranoid about rationing fluids, and grab a carton of milk as soon as the bevy cart comes, even if I don’t I need it.

Descent! 

  • Oh the sweet feeling of a descending plane’s pressure changes!  Have bottles/sippy cups, pacis, and suckers ready to suck on to help their little ears.  I’ve only had a problem with Charlotte’s ears once, and I typically don’t stress about crying on descent—everyone is much more patient when they know they’re almost off the plane anyway.

Luckily, we’ve been spared any real meltdowns and strangers have always been helpful and complimentary to us at the end of the flight.  I’ve read enough stories and comments sections though to know there are folks out there who have no amount of patience or empathy for parents and kids on an airplane and you can usually spot them eyeing you at the gate.  I am always ready to prove those a-holes wrong, and calmly, confidently handle my bags and my kids alone, even if she’s starting to lose it.  You want to shoot me eye darts, Buddy?  I mean this in the nicest way possible, but…Bite Me.

So, take heart mamas!  Flying with toddlers is possible.  Just do everything in your power to come prepared, anticipate hiccups, and handle the whole process with as much efficiency as possible.  And if it all goes to hell and you have to cry in public?  I’ve done that too.

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