Thursday, March 3

Tips on Flying with Babies, Toddlers, and Young Children

One of my most popular posts I've ever written (if not the most popular and which I took some of the pictures from) was my Flying with a one-year old post. I see a lot of moms asking for travel advice with young children on social media and since I have a little experience in that area with my 2.5-year old (Tenley) and my 1-year old (Declan) I thought I'd share my best tips.

Why I Fly Southwest 

I always fly Southwest because they have by far the best rates that I've found, plus they let you transport the most luggage (2 free checked bags plus a carry-on and a purse or backpack, PLUS car seats and strollers if necessary). Almost every flight I have made does have a layover (ranging between 40 minutes and two hours) but I generally appreciate the break to be able to stretch my legs, use the bathroom, get food, and let my children roam free for a while. 

Checking for open seats

I have also had great luck with Southwest when I've called ahead a day or the morning of and asked if the flight is full. If it isn't, you may be able to bring a car seat onto the plane even if you had not purchased a ticket for your lap child. Once the child is two, you are required to purchase a seat (though they do not make you bring a car seat but I would), but it is always nice if you can have the row to yourself! (That is, unless you have a very helpful seat-mate who will hold or entertain your child for you;)

Required items to fly

Southwest requires that you show your child's birth certificate when you request a boarding ticket and check your bags. If your child is under 14 days, you will need a signed doctor's note explaining that your child is in good health to fly. If you know you will be flying with your newborn, you will want to contact or visit your town clerk or record office to acquire a copy of their birth certificate right away. One time we only had a photo of the certificate on our phone which they accepted. You will also always need to show your own Driver's license or photo ID at the ticketing counter and as you enter the security line. Security will also need to see your boarding pass. If you have a lap child that is under two, they will create a boarding pass for him or her when you check in and present their birth certificate. Then they staple their pass to yours. You do not need to let them know about having a child under two ahead of time, just bring their certificate! 

Restricted items 

Remember not to have more than a 3 oz. container of liquid in your carry-on bag as well as NO razors, guns, or knives (even little army knives--I always have to remember to move mine from my diaper bag to my checked bag beforehand). Security will confiscate these items! That said, there are quite a few exceptions for mothers. I have traveled with sealed baby food jars and pouches and never had an issue with those. I did bring a bottle of pumped breastmilk one time, but never again after that because that particular time it took a while for them to test the milk and it made a mess afterward. Sometimes the liquid testing has been very fast, but if you're concerned about time, I would avoid that altogether. They also have let me bring sippy cups and water bottles after testing them since I'm nursing, but to speed the security process along I would recommend purchasing or fulling your liquid containers once you've passed through security. 

Getting through security  

I always wear slip on shoes when I go through security because they usually need to be removed, I wear no metal or jewelry, and I wear my littlest child. Using a baby carrier makes walking through the metal detector easy--I just herd my two-year old through, they test my hands for gun powder (they have always tested my hands when I have worn one of the kids), I collect my stuff again, and we're through. 

Tagging stroller and car seat 

My priority once I reach our gate is finding a spot to get settled near the line-up area, and if I have a car seat and/or stroller, I go to the nearest gate desk and get the items tagged. Sometimes I have them tagged for removal during the layover if it is going to be a good chunk of time (which also means I need to get them tagged again sometime during the layover) and sometimes I just have them checked straight through to our destination. 

Before boarding
After the tagging is done, we do last-minute boarding preparations: We change diapers, use the potty, buy gum and snacks or food, and have toys readily accessible for when they're needed as a quick distraction during the flight. We also keep boarding passes in an accessible pocket or in-hand. If my pass is not for "A" boarding, I just board before "B" boarding during the announced "family boarding" time. I let Tenley hold her own boarding pass to hand to the attendant, and then at the end of the airbridge I fold our stroller and leave our car seat to be taken below. If I want to bring the car seat on board, I find someone to help me with one of the children or carry the seat on board for me. Usually a passenger or flight attendant will offer. 

Getting help when you're alone 

Someone pretty much always offers to help me fold or carry items or one of the children, especially when I'm traveling alone. As mentioned before, I often will ask a flight attendant (or usually just accept their offer) to help hold Declan or carry our car seat to the first available row. The car seat has to be in a window seat so I get that thing buckled in first, plop one of the kids in it, and then get myself buckled and our things situated. If you look for help, you will find it. There are always nice people willing to do something for you, and if you don't see anyone, well, it's the flight attendants' job to help so just ask! 

Flying essentials

Since I've been flying with babies, my essentials have been the following:
  • gum (or lollipops/chewy candy) for take-off and landing (for myself and my toddler). I always bring some extra because sometimes there are opportunities for you to help other moms with children out. 
  • fruit snacks (if nothing else, this is the most important snack for us to have)
  • granola bars, pretzels, goldfish, cheerios, and/or puffs are all good options, too. 
  • The iPad with a pre-downloaded episode (we have one Dora the Explorer episode and that's it--and we only have that because Tenley accidentally purchased it and we decided to keep it for trips) and some baby/toddler games. Tenley likes the free drawing apps, and the eflash apps English flash cards. They have taught her a lot of words. 
  • a notepad (my journal) and pen for drawing
  • a few small toys (plastic horse, Rapunzel figurine, fake phone, Disney Princess magnets and magnetic case)
  • a small travel size pillow (for either my head or one of the babies' heads or for my lap while I'm nursing/holding Declan. I'd be miserable without my little pillow. I just stick it between the straps of my backpack or bag and it really saves me so much discomfort.)
  • a loose or stretchy shirt (to wear) so I can nurse easily under it
  • my phone (so I can watch TV with the free wifi, text my family, and check the flight time)
  • diaper and wipes. Some moms will also want to bring a pacifier, hand-sanitizer, an extra outfit and plastic baggy (we had a bad blowout with Declan at our gate one time). 
Take-off and landing
During take-off, I hold Tenley's hand and nurse Declan. I give Tenley teeny tiny pieces of gum to chew as we take off because I know she'll probably end up swallowing it if I give her a lot at once. As we race down the runway, I tell her "It's not scary! We've done this lots of times before!" and tell her to say, "Faster, faster! This is so fun!" I also ask her to tell me when she thinks we're in the air or when we've touched down. She always gets a little nervous as it gets loud on the runway, but then she's so excited to talk about it with me. After, we always say, "Yay! We did it! We landed! Flying is so fun!" As I feel the pressure changing in my own ears, I encourage Tenley to "chew, chew, chew" or to swallow, yawn, or open her mouth really big. You can also plug your nose and blow the air into your plugged nose. I've told her to do all these things--especially if she's commented that her ears feel weird--until she eventually says, "Mom, I can hear again!" Haha.

During the flight

I keep the snacks and toys coming during the flight. One time I brought pomegranate arils in a little container (and lots of wipes for clean-up of course!) and that kept Tenley really busy for a while. I sanitized the tray and she had a great time popping the little seeds into her mouth one by one. Pomegranates can be pretty messy, but it ended up being a very good snack and time filler for us. Ideally, I try to get my kids to nap, but it's not always easy. Declan will usually nurse to sleep at some point but then my arm is usually stuck under his head and I become incredibly grateful for my little travel pillow. Tenley is happy with the iPad for a good amount of time or we just chat and I point to things on the plane or out the window. 

I rarely have time to do much entertaining for myself other than looking at my phone a few times or napping against Tenley's car seat (though obviously only if Declan has fallen asleep). When the drinks come by, we always get something light-colored and ask for a lid for each of us. We've had too many close calls with drinks and electronics. We pretty much get apple juice, sprite, and water as a rule. We also have been given (or asked for) extra snacks. Pretty much when you have kids, you can get away with asking for anything in my experience. The flight attendants are very accommodating. If I have to change a diaper, I usually just do it quickly across our laps (Dalin's and mine), and if I'm alone, I ask a neighbor or attendant to watch a child while I take the other to the bathroom on board. Again, hand-sanitizer comes in handy when flying! 

Exiting the plane

While the plane is taxi-ing to our gate, I tell Tenley the plan for exiting the plane and what she needs to carry (like my small pillow) and who she needs to follow when we disembark. I usually wear Declan off the plane so my hands can be free to carry the car seat if necessary (though someone always helps) and hold Tenley's hand. My diaper bag is a backpack so I don't have to worry about carrying that. I usually have to briefly carry Tenley on my hip over the gap between the plane and the airbridge because she has a little fear of walking over spaces like that (and elevator entryways, gaps in boardwalk planks, etc.) We then usually wait for our stroller on the airbridge either during a layover or at our final destination, and I load everything on, and we proceed.

Words of comfort
Truly, I've never had an awful flight, even during the times I've flown alone. My kids have let out a scream or two but they have never had crying fits and they are always complimented afterward on how quiet and well-behaved they were. Apart from the people in the surrounding rows, the majority of people really can't hear your children, especially with their headphones and everything. Planes have a lot of white noise, so if you have a loud child, you most likely will only need to worry about the extra person in your row (and hopefully it's someone you know). Either way, it will all be over soon and people will forget you by tomorrow, I assure you.

My "worst" experience

The most challenging flight I can recall was actually while I was flying alone with Tenley and 25+ weeks pregnant with Declan. I overstrained myself trying to carry everything (stroller, car seat, bags, toddler) and started cramping. Plus I was sweating bullets and out of breath from the stress of it all. I was mostly just exhausted and weak, but a flight attendant who assisted me thought I appeared very strained and dramatically told people to "stand back" (which was slightly embarrassing) and she offered me ice, water, snacks, and a cold compress before we even took off. The perks of being a near-hysterical pregnant woman I suppose. 

If you are flying alone with a child or two, don't worry too much. It will all work out. Worst-case scenario is you miss your flight and that's unlikely if you stick to necessities. Follow some of my tips, wear a smile, maybe say a few prayers for help, and I can assure you that your flight will go smoother and you'll be blessed with lots of assistance along the way. 

*Update* I can now say with certainty that my worst travel experience was during our move from Wisconsin to Utah. I flew Frontier Airlines for the first time and was alone with the babies. The flight itself was okay (though I still ABSOLUTELY prefer Southwest), but the layover in Denver was SEVEN HOURS. It was hellish. That's the only way to describe it. Especially when I was already exhausted. But I had no choice but to walk with and entertain the kids. I had our stroller but the kids were not happy to be stuck in it. There is no kids' area in that airport so we went to the third floor and I let the kids run around a little bit. Let me just save you now and insist that you do not willingly go into a seven-hour least not alone. Pay the little extra. With Frontier they were going to charge me $100/person to move our flight up three hours sooner while at the airport. 

A few packing tips with young children
We usually make ten-day to two-week trips so I mostly have experience packing for those scenarios. On our last 15-day trip to Florida, I typically would have purchased a bag of diapers and wipes upon arrival, but I need to use up our size 3s, so I packed 3 diapers per day (+3 extra, plus the few already in my diaper bag). We returned home with some to spare. (I also don't change my son for pee until he is fairly wet). For my two-year old, I packed 16 pull-ups for 16 nights and all of her pairs of undies which she wore during the day. I decided to pack an outfit for each child for every day we were there on our last trip because I didn't want to have to do laundry unless I wanted to. All of their outfits with shoes and diapers fit in one average-size bag together. 

Packing strollers and car seats We don't own travel cases for our car seats or strollers, and we have had a stroller return with minor damage (the foam handle was ripped). We also have had another stroller returned with removable pieces separated from the trip (but at least we got them back!). We also had a car seat temporarily lost one time (but fortunately Southwest will provide a replacement for lost items, though not damaged, however). We have taken our chances without travel cases, but if you are concerned about protecting items, I would recommend wrapping items in a blanket and taping or tying them at least. A case will only protect from aesthetic damage mostly which is why we have not gotten any. Just beware of the potential damage that may occur and take measures to protect your items if you care about them because you do not know who is handling them or where they will end up!

Old photo with my little Tenley (and hey, there's my little white and green striped pillow that I take along in the picture!)
From a recent flight out of Florida. We're at the Orlando airport. 
My flying experiences
In the past three years since I have had Tenley and Declan, I have flown with one or both of them more than 20 times. Here is a record of the trips we have made over the last three years:

Tenley's 1st visit to New Hampshire/Boston/Maine (age: 2 weeks)

Aug - Sept 2013  
Flight 1: Salt Lake > Manchester (Dalin with me)
Flight 2:  Manchester > Salt Lake (Dalin with me) 

Dalin & Tenley's 1st visit to Florida (age: 4 months)

Dec 2013 - Jan 2014
Flight 3: Salt Lake > Orlando (Dalin with me)
Flight 4: Orlando > Salt Lake (Dalin with me) 

Girls' Trip to Florida (age: 6 months)

Feb 2014
Flight 5: Salt Lake > Orlando (alone with Tenley)
Flight 6: Orlando > Salt Lake (Donovan, my brother, & Tenley)

Tenley's 2nd New Hampshire visit (age: 1 year)

Aug 2014
Flight 7: Salt Lake > Manchester (Dalin with me)
Flight 8: Manchester > Salt Lake (Dalin with me)

Tenley's surprise NH visit for my dad's birthday (age: 14 months)

Oct - Nov 2014
Flight 9: Salt Lake > Manchester (alone & pregnant)
Flight 10: Manchester > Salt Lake (alone & pregnant)

Declan's flight home from San Diego Trip (age: 3 months)

Flight 11: San Diego > Salt Lake (alone with Declan)

Declan's 1st NH visit (age: 7 months) Tenley's 3rd NH visit (age: 2 years)

Sept - Oct 2015
Flight 12: Phoenix > Boston (alone with kids)
Flight 13: Manchester > Salt Lake (Dalin with me)

Family move to Wisconsin (Tenley, age: 2) (Declan, age: 11 months)

Dec 2015
Flight 14: Salt Lake > Minneapolis (alone with kids)

Family vacation to Florida (Tenley, age: 2.5 years) (Declan, age: 1 year)

Feb - Mar 2016
Flight 15: Minneapolis > Orlando (alone with kids)
Flight 16: Orlando > Minneapolis (Dalin with me)

Trip to Utah for Sarah's Wedding! (Declan, age: 15 months)

Apr 2016
Flight 17: Minneapolis > Salt Lake
Flight 18: Salt Lake > Minneapolis

Family Move Back to Utah (Tenley, age: 2.75 years) (Declan, age: 16 months)

May 2016
Flight 19: Minneapolis > Salt Lake

Family Trip to NH (Tenley, age: 3 years) (Declan, age: 18 months)
Jul-Aug 2016 
Flight 20: Salt Lake > Manchester
Flight 21: Manchester > Salt Lake

If you have any questions or additional advice on flying with little ones, I'd love to hear it and steal some tips for myself! One toy I think would be really great for trips is one of those etch-a-sketch pads or some other magnetic drawing pad since they're virtually mess-free and have no pieces to lose. We have yet to get one of those. 

Happy flying, lovely friends! You will do wonderfully, I am confident of that!