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One of my favorite things about this blog is that I get to share with you my Adventure Advice. Today, in my series on Traveling with Children, I get to talk about something that I got a lot of experience with when we lived in Minnesota: Flying with Children. (Capital letters because Flying with Children is serious business.)
Let’s talk about my qualifications to advise you on this topic. During our Minnesota years, our entire extended family lived back on the East Coast, and we flew out to visit twice a year. We lived there for six years, so over the course of those years, I have flown with:
- One 14 month old
- A toddler and a baby
- Two toddlers
- A preschooler and a toddler
- A preschooler, a toddler, and a newborn
- Two preschoolers and a toddler
and finally…two school aged children and a toddler. (That last one was by myself when we moved here, which was an adventure on its own.) Whew!
Fellow Adventurers, I survived all this, and you can too! I have decided to present my survival strategies in a bulleted list, because as you know, I love lists and planning.
Also, baby steps, people.
- Call ahead to your airline and let them know if you will have a child under 2 who will be sitting in your lap. They will then put “infant in arms” on your boarding pass, which will avoid confusion for the TSA agent when you present your boarding pass while holding a small child.
- Arrange for car seats at your destination airport. You can either call your rental car company and rent car seats from them, or you can check your car seats at your departure airport like baggage for free.
While we have done both, I recommend that if you have really young children you check your car seats, because I have been told by some rental car companies that they cannot guarantee that they will have the type of seat you need at your destination.
On the other hand, if you check your car seats, you will have your suitcase, the car seats, the small children, the carryons, and possibly a stroller to manage, which can be challenging to say the least. There are pros and cons to everything, especially travel decisions, so use your best judgement.
- Use a backpack as your carryon, and bring a baby carrier (my favorite was the Ergo). The reason for this is simple: You will need all your hands free at all times. In the security line, they will make you take off both the backpack and baby carrier and put them on the belt while you carry the baby through the metal detector.
- Children do not have to take off their shoes, and will usually not have to go through those full body scanners. Families will go through the regular metal detectors together, and in my experience, the TSA agents are understanding of little ones who will be nervous to go through them. Call your airline if you have any concerns about going through security with children.
- In your carryon, pack at least two changes of clothes for your lap child. (One of my children once went through both outfits I packed her, and I had to carry her from the plane in a diaper and my sweatshirt in the Minnesota cold.)
- Also pack snacks, sippy cup or bottle (they will allow you to take bottles through security with liquids) and toys. For babies, pack their favorite little (non noisy) toys, the pacifier, and their lovey. Bottle feed or nurse the baby on take off and landing to help with ear discomfort.
- In my experience, a pack of post its or stickers will amuse a toddler for quite some time. (You can let them stick the stickers on the post its or on the seat back, lightly so that you can take them off. Even just sticking the post its is fun.) Other fun things include board books and toys that do not make noise or have wheels. (Wheely toys will just roll right off the tray table, and you won’t be able to reach them for your crying child.)
- Don’t forget snacks and water for you. Just like the flight attendant says, take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. 🙂
- Each of your children who have their own seats should also have a carry on. Go to the Dollar Store or the Target Dollar Spot and buy new things they have never seen before. The novelty of these things will occupy the kids for much longer. Some suggestions are:
- coloring books and crayons
- anything with their favorite character on it
- little dolls or action figures
- paper dolls
- tiny dinosaurs
- army men
- tiny animal figurines
- lots and lots of stickers
- a notepad to stick the stickers on.
- One of the best things that got me through those flights was a giant bag of Dum Dum lollipops. They help with the children’s ears popping on takeoff, and also to ward off mid flight boredom. (Personally, I feel that a flight is such a rare occasion that snacks that are normally a treat should be given out liberally.) Good snack suggestions are:
- Fruit snacks
- Goldfish crackers
- Animal crackers
- applesauce pouches
- Don’t make the mistake that I mentioned in my road trip post and put all of the snacks in your little adventurer’s carryons. Put the snacks in your carryon, and those of any other adults you may be traveling with and dole them out as needed.
- If your flight is over a mealtime, don’t forget to pack a lunch. Peanut butter and jelly and a banana plus the aforementioned snacks could always tide the Adventure Family over until arrival at Grandma’s house, where a home cooked dinner awaited. 🙂
- If you are going to be traveling on a regular basis with slightly older children who enjoy screen time, it would be wise to invest in a portable DVD player. We were lucky enough to have two, but we also would give one child our iPad. Again, screen time limits do not apply to flight. The other passengers will silently thank you for the peace and quiet.
- This tip is brought to you by Mr. Adventure, after years of flying for work: Be the last to exit the plane. Small children do not understand the urgency of people rushing to get a connecting flight, and you have to gather them and all of the stuff before exiting the plane. If you wait, you can exit the plane calmly and stroll through the airport for a potty break/diaper change and to get your bags.
- Be prepared for lots of waiting in general. You will need to wait for your bags, wait for a rental car or to be picked up, wait until car seats are installed, etc. This is usually not too bad because the children are full on their snacks and will need to walk around for a bit. (There was one flight where a tiny Brutus tested his new walking legs allllll over the airport and we took turns chasing him while the other parent sat down.)
If, despite your best efforts, your little adventurer still has a meltdown, please know that most people will be understanding. If something goes wrong, take a deep breath and cut yourself and your family some slack. Flying can be exhausting, even for adults. And don’t worry, looking back on those years, I am here to tell you that traveling with kids does get easier when they get older.