Air travel is a royal pain, no matter who you are flying with, but with young children, it's an anxiety attack just waiting to happen. In Jackson's 41 months of life, he has been on an airplane over 20 times. Gavin is three months old and has been on an airplane twice. Air travel is one of the major downfalls of moving far away from your family. I'm certainly no expert on air travel with kids, but I feel like I've done it enough to offer up some suggestions and also share my mistakes.
|Gavin's first flight at two months|
Traveling with babies
In my experience, babies are a piece of cake to travel with. (It's the toddler that gives me hives.) They are really just like an extra carry on, just make sure you have plenty of bottles if you bottle feed, and pacifiers, if you use those. If you are nursing, even better. Less stuff to carry. I also always bring plenty of diapers, wipes and burp cloths, a change of clothes for baby, and some Tylenol, just in case. (When Jackson was a baby, he spiked a scary high fever, mid air. I was so thankful that I packed the Tylenol!) I've learned to skip the stroller, and just wear the baby. When the baby is a little bigger (too big to carry the whole time, but too small to walk on his own) I'll probably bring a small stroller again. For us formula moms I buy a bottle of room temperature water once I'm past security, and make sure I have WAY more than enough formula to last the whole airplane ride. You don't want to be stuck on the runway for hours and run out of formula! If you have an infant car seat waiting for you wherever you are traveling to, then leave your car seat at home, if not, check it with your bags. It's free with all airlines.
This is the most important piece of advice I can offer when traveling with a toddler. Bring your car seat on the plane with you! First of all, it's safer. It's not required by law, but I strongly suggest it and here's why. My son knows exactly what to expect and how to behave in his car seat. He knows that you just sit there. You can't get up and move around. When he is in an airplane seat, with no car seat, he wants to get up and move around. Even when, no, especially when, the fasten seat belt sign is on. I've had him sit on my lap, he wants to get up. I've had him in his own seat with the airplane seat belt on, he wants to get up. In his car seat? He sits. I bought a car seat bag with wheels at Babies-R-Us like this one. It has really helped to get around the airport. The only behavior issues I've had with him on a plane were when we didn't buy a seat and put his car seat in it. Speaking of buying a seat....
To buy a seat or not to buy a seat
Until they turn 2, your child can travel for free as a lap child. You can purchase a seat for them, but it's not required. After their 2nd birthday, you have no choice. And you pay full price. We fully used "kids fly free until 2" to our advantage. But we were still able to use our car seat tactic several times, without buying a seat. When you check in, if the flight isn't fully booked, you can ask to be seated next to an empty seat, and they will let you put the car seat there. They will probably make you wait until the last minute before they tell you it's okay, meaning that you'll have to carry the car seat all the way to the gate. And there is a chance they won't give you a seat, so you'll have to gate check the car seat. I think it's worth lugging the seat all the way to the gate for a chance to have them in their car seat for the trip.
If you are traveling alone with young kids, I suggest asking your airline for a gate pass. When you check in, you can ask for a pass for someone to go all the way to the gate with you. They will only do this if the security level is low. The person helping you will need to show ID at security, and about half the time I ask for a gate pass, they give me attitude about it. But that's what gate passes are for, and it's a tremendous help to me, so I can deal with a little bit of attitude.
Try to not have layovers
You might think that a couple, shorter flights would be better than one big long flight. But in my experience, that's not the case. The hardest part is getting on and off the plane, so you want to do that as few times as possible.
When to travel
You also might think that traveling late at night is best because then your child will sleep, but my experience has taught me to travel during the day, when you child is in a good mood. When we have traveled at night, not only does my toddler not sleep because he's in a new place, doing new things, but he's also in a really foul mood. Not a good combo.
What to bring
In a word, everything. I'm all about packing light and easy, but when you're traveling with a toddler, you don't want to run out of things to do or eat. I try to pack a lot of different kinds of snacks, and buy a container of milk after security. (You can actually go through security with a liquid when traveling with children, they will just have to test it. I find it easier to just buy a new one.) You're definitely going to want something to drink during take off and landing to help their ears pop. You don't want to wait for them to serve beverages to get your little one a drink. If your toddler still has a pacifier, definitely have it ready on the plane too. Suckers can work instead of drinks of pacifiers too.
As far as activities, one of my number one things to look for in an airline is if they have tv's. The airline we usually fly has tv's on the back of every seat. I have a pair of kid headphones that Jackson wears, and that will keep him happy for much of the trip. It's the best $6 you will ever spend.
I also make sure to have small things to keep his attention, in case he doesn't want tv. Jackson isn't really into coloring, so I don't bring crayons, but he loves matchbox cars and planes, so I bring lots of those. Books and small puzzles are fun too. He is REALLY into airplanes and how they work, so he honestly spends most of his time talking about different parts of the plane, how they work, the different workers on the plane and what they do. (He knows about the fuselage, cockpit, wings, tail and wheels and some basics on how the plane flies using thrust and lift and stuff I don't understand. Like I said, he has an exceptional interest in planes and a daddy who has an exceptional knowledge of planes.) His constant talking about planes usually keeps his neighbors entertained too. (Except when, like on our last trip home, he saw the red light on the wing blinking and yelled out "The wings on fire! We're going to crash!" His neighbors didn't appreciate that one.) I think his interest in planes really helps us have good flights with him. If your kiddo isn't as interested as my son, I think at least talking with them about the plane and what to expect and the behavior your expect out of them is a start before getting on the plane. We usually start at least a week out, letting him know that we are going on a plane ride and talking about what to expect and the behavior we want from him. (There are some cartoons and kid's shows about going on plane trips that might be helpful too)
Give them a job
I always have Jackson pack his carry on. (Of course, I go through and add what I think he'll need) Then I put him in charge of carrying his own carry on. He takes the job very seriously and keeps him from getting distracted at the airport.
As far as having an ID for your child, I can tell you that you should definitely have a birth certificate, or SOMETHING. (We have a passport for Jackson) Although I have never been asked for ID for either child, I have friends who haven't brought anything and were told they couldn't board the plane. So bring something.
Like I said in the baby section, I always bring Tylenol or Motrin for both kids (and myself). It's just a good idea in case their ears bother them or they spike a fever or whatever could happen up there. Some people have suggested giving their kids Benadryl. I don't suggest it. We gave it to Jackson when he was 10 months old on our trip to Hawaii and here's what happened:
|He cried until we took him out of the car seat|
|He sat on our laps for 5 hours, exhausted, but wired from the Benadryl.|
|So tired he can't see straight.|
As you can see the Benadryl had the opposite effect on him. We even tried it out at home before and he went to sleep. But for whatever reason, on the airplane, it made him hyper and tired at the same time. Not good.
Traveling with young kids is very stressful. I've been the annoyed passenger, as well as the annoying passenger with a screaming kid. All we can do is our best. And if your child isn't behaving, just take a deep breath (and maybe a strong drink) and realize that you'll probably never see these people again!