For many parents, the thought of air travel with children brings on emotions akin to panic attacks. I’m just finalizing prep for another trip with my 2 daughters and would like to share some of the things that I do that make flying an enjoyable experience!
The first thing is to talk to your children about flying before their first trip. Show them some pictures of the inside of the airports you’ll be going through as well as the types of planes you’ll be flying on. If you have photos of the security check-points, share those, too. This way, as you go through the process you can talk about it.
“Do you remember when we talked about checking our luggage? See? They put it right on that belt and someone will put it on our plane so that it’s waiting for us when we get there!”
“Here’s Security. Remember what we do? Shoes and sweatshirts off and put your bag on the rolly-bars.”
By walking your children through the process before it happens, it limits surprises and can keep the children, no matter how young, interested in what is going on and that is VERY important! Children who are interested in what is going on are much less likely to have a melt down!
My absolute biggest word of advice it to take a deep breath and remember that families fly all the time and many of them fly with just one parent.
My second daughter is almost two and a half years old. In her life, we’ve flown coast-to-coast and back again 4 times with both girls ALONE. Nobody has ever been lost or hurt but we have had a couple of tears related to using the restroom. It is what it is.
When packing, keep things light. Unless you have magic capabilities, you’ll be wrangling multiple children, suitcases, car seats, and carry-on. Lighter is better. Some things, like shampoo, can be purchased after you arrive and that definitely helps to lighten the load.
What you include in your checked luggage is up to you. I’ve been crazy enough to actually pack my toddler’s favorite potty seat before (sanitized first!) because items pack around it nicely and it was something I knew she’d appreciate having while in an unfamiliar environment.
The carry-on luggage is a whole different story. There are some very specific things you should pack to make the security check point and flight much easier.
First: Ditch the stroller if your child is flying in his own seat. If you have to have it for your trip, check it. All the airlines I’ve ever flown do not count the stroller as a piece of luggage and it checks for free.
If you have a lap-child (must be under 24 months of age), I recommend getting a chest/back carrier such as the Ergo carrier. This keeps your child close, safe, and your hands free. You are allowed to wear them during the flight but not during take-off or landing. This can also work for older toddlers to get through the airport, but only if you have a second adult coming with you.
If your child is in an infant seat in the car, bring that in the stroller. Once you get to the gate, walk right up and ask the attendant if there are any extra seats on the flight. Many airlines, if there is an extra seat, will willingly change your seat so that the spare seat is next to you, allowing you to use the seat for your infant. I have flown on American Airlines and they’ve actually given my lap-child a seat assignment when the flights aren’t too full. Asking NEVER hurts! If there is an extra seat, take advantage of the advice in the next paragraph. If there isn’t, be sure to get your infant seat AND stroller tagged for gate check-in. When pre-boarding begins, put your little baby in your chest/back carrier. If the car seat is headed under the plane, you don’t want to make everyone behind you wait while you unstrap your child with nobody to hold him while you collapse the stroller, fasten the seatbelt straps and lower the handle on the infant seat. The carrier is perfect for this!!
And, if you do happen to get a seat assignment for your infant, you can bring your infant car seat on the plane, child in it, and place it next to a window seat. Keep in mind that every model of infant carrier I’ve ever seen can be used WITHOUT the base! CHECK the base with your luggage. If you try and fit the base in the seat you’re going to have a very hard and unnecessary fight on your hands. Just check your seat manual for details on how to use the seat without the base using a lap belt only. It’s there, I promise!
Once my child is too old and needs her own seat, I make a point of ensuring that her car seat is used in flight. Is it a pain to lug through security? ABSOLUTELY! But consider this: You child is used to being in his car seat and knows how to behave appropriately in it. Also, any semi-curious toddler will figure out quickly how to undo the seatbelt—a BIG no-no during good chunks of the flight!
Tantrum + plane – car seat = Very Aggravated Mommy.
In addition, most young children are familiar with napping in their car seats, too, and nap-time on an airplane is really important to help avoid extra crabbiness as travel continues. Napping without the car seat is very difficult because there is no adequate place for your child to rest her hear.
And remember: The car seat HAS to go next to the window. I believe it is an FAA regulation. And keep in mind that only 5-point harnesses are allowed. A simple booster seat is not allowed to be used during flight.
So imagine me lugging my very heavy Britax car seat through the airport with my loves-to-run-from-mommy two year old and my too-scared-to-leave-mommy’s-side six year old.
If you’re picturing something like this, you’ve got the right idea.
I love this http://www.amazon.com/Childress-Ultimate-Seat-Travel-Black/dp/B0009RNXNA/ref=sr_1_1?s=baby-products&ie=UTF8&qid=1355798456&sr=1-1&keywords=airplane+carseat+carrierk. I wish it was just a touch bigger because my Britax is a tight fit, and the seat does have to come out during security, but it leaves my hand free as we navigate the airport and that is important.
So I’ve covered car seats and checking luggage. But what about the rest of carry-on??
Last night I packed the carry-on for my girls like this:
My 6 year old has a rolling backpack. It is appropriately sized for her to wear if needed but she’s pretty good at rolling it.
- 1 gallon sized Clear bag containing a full extra outfit including slippers and toothbrush for the toddler
- 1 gallon sized Clear bag containing a full extra outfit and toothbrush for my 1st grader
- 1 tightly rolled up fleece blanket—my toddler’s favorite and it’s large enough to cover laps for both girls
- Child sized headphones
- Kindle Touch (belongs to my 1st grader) in the outside pocket
- 1 pint sized Clear bag with hand sanitizer and chapstick, as per FAA regulations
- Slippers for 1st grader
- 1 empty re-usable water bottle without straw attachment (inevitable pressure changes make the straw a bad idea! If you don’t know why, feel free to ask!)
The backpack is full, but not heavy. This back pack will be the sole responsibility of my 1st grader and she will keep it under the seat in front of her.
Why the bags of extra clothes? It’s a preparedness thing. What if a drink gets spilled? Someone gets pukey? Turbulence so bad someone pees their pants because they aren’t allowed to get up? A flight problem that leaves you overnight without your luggage? I’ve had ALL of those happen except the puke (knock on wood!) The gallon sized bag gives you a place to put the soiled clothing and neatly keeps everything together so you can grab and go. The slippers are for them to use if they want to during flight and as back-up if their shoes are rendered un-useable.
When my daughter was in diapers I put the changing pad, cloth diapers, and wipes in a similar washable but waterproof bag known as a wetbag. My toddler has been out of diapers since she was 14 months old so I haven’t had to pack a wetbag for awhile. Phew!
When packing entertainment, keep your child’s attention span in mind. Do not expect a child who won’t sit still to watch a movie at home to magically sit and watch one on the plane. It. Won’t. Happen. Blank paper, a single coloring book, and a pack of crayons are handy if your child likes to draw. A charged cell phone with age appropriate games that your child has enjoyed in the past are a good idea, too. I went ahead and purchased a couple of new games for our new cell phones with our upcoming flight in mind. My daughter has fallen in love with “The Monkey Game” and it will entertain her for a good hour, if not more.
Don’t overload the entertainment though. Remember, it all has to go through security and some children will just love watching out the window, napping, and talking to mommy one-on-one.
My 1st grader will probably read one of the 2 new books I bought for her Kindle. She’s to a point where she’ll set and read for an hour or two and I can’t WAIT for her to do this on the flight!
My toddler will also have a small back pack. Hers contains:
- 1 gallon sized Clear bag containing about 10 pieces of paper, crayons, and one coloring book
- 1 pint sized Clear bag containing 3 squeezable fruit pouches (one for each person who will want one) in the outer pocket
- Small stuffed unicorn – for my toddler to hold while on the plane if she wants.
- 1 empty sippy cup with valve in place
- Potty Seat covers. I really like these:
Again, my toddler will wear this back pack as we go through the airport and it will get stored under her seat. She won’t be able to access anything in it during flight because she’ll be in her car seat, but I can always give it to her and help her out if she asks.
I usde my old college/teaching backpack when I had the infant car seat and stroller combo or when I have flown without a carseat. It has a spot for the laptop, waist and chest straps to help distribute weight, and is RED so it’s easy to spot if for some reason I wind up chasing my toddler down the hallway after setting it down.
For the last few flights, where I had the heavy Britax in it’s own backpack, I used a rolling carryon that is sized perfectly for under the seat in front of me.
Besides the laptop, my carry-on will hold:
- 1 gallon sized Clear bag with a set of undergarments (sans bra), yoga pants, t-shirt, socks, and toothbrush
- 1 quart sized bag full of candy!! Especially our favorite tic-tacs!!
- 1 quart/gallon sized bag full of healthier foods like bananas, raisins, frozen Go-gurts
- Letter sized envelope containing necessary identification documents for the girls
- My driver’s license, flight paperwork, one credit card, and usually about $30 cash
- 1 pint sized clear bag containing: chapstick, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, hand moisturizer, all sized per FAA regulations.
- Cell phone
- Charger for laptop and cell phone (even if my layover is too short for charging, you never know when your flight might get delayed)
- Kindle Fire
- Two pairs of ear buds; one for me and one for my toddler. If I had another set of full headphones, I’d be bringing them for my toddler instead of the earbuds, but I don’t.
All the items that have to be screened separately (liquids and gels) are put in the outermost pocket of the backpacks for quick removal at the security check point. I generally put the “fruit squeezies” bag in the bin along with the other liquids to keep things easy for security personnel.
I’ll post about navigating the airport, bathroom breaks, and food during a later post. If you have questions in the meantime, please feel free to ask! Comments about your experiences while flying are always appreciated!