Friday, June 20, 2008

Flying Alone with your Small Children

Ok, I'm now going to write the post I was desperately searching for when I made my plans to fly alone with my boys.

The Dos and Don'ts of Flying Solo with Your Little Darlings:

1. Consider your carryons very carefully. You and you alone will be handling all the luggage, as well as the children. If any of them need to be carried, consider him or her baggage, too. In my case, I had one to carry and one that would probably walk, but could also be counted on to decide right in the middle of rushing to make the flight that he wasn't into it. The solution in my case was to buy an Ergo. I bought the carrier, backpack, and pouch. Because all of them were able to be used together or alone, this gave me a really versatile system to work with. To keep the load a little lighter, I only put the lightest items in the backpack.

My three year old had his own backpack. I wasn't under any real illusion he would carry it, so I didn't worry too much about the weight of it. His things were in there, and I just slung it across the back of our umbrella stroller. Luckily, our stroller is very well balanced, so whether he was in it or not, it stayed upright.

I also had a DVD player in its own case that I slung across my shoulders. It was small, so this wasn't too much trouble. When we reached the plane, we left the stroller behind and I just carried Wyatt's backpack in front of me until we reached our seat.

Everything fit under the seats in front of us, saving me the trouble of trying to manage an 8 month old baby while stowing things in the overhead bins. I gave up on trying to bring any car seats onto the plane. I just couldn't figure out how to manage all that. Wyatt fit just fine in the seat, and even learned quickly how to put his own seatbelt on, so I'm happy with my decision to check them.

2. About Those Carseats... They were probably the biggest trouble I had the whole trip. The original plan was to leave Wyatt's much larger seat at home and just bring the baby's. However, after my friend's son broke his arm, the plan had to change as I wasn't really sure who would be picking me up when we got home and I would need a seat for him. I ended up ordering a special, wheeled bag from One Step Ahead. Both seats fit nicely into it, so initially I was happy with it. It has wheels and a carrying strap, as well, so it was fairly easy to tote.

I flew Southwest, and after the first flight, there was a big hole punched through the toughest part of the bag. After the return flight home, there was another, smaller hole in another spot. I'm not entirely sure what was at fault, the airline or the bag, but I did discover a major negative from Southwest - they won't cover any damage to your car seat or it's bag. Nada. Not even if it's clearly their fault. So, if you can, leave it at home, or take one you don't care about. And if you aren't flying Southwest, make sure you look into the airline's baggage claim policies before you fly.

On the plus side, One Step Ahead offered to replace the bag when I contacted them about it. It really is a nice bag, so I'm happy they are so willing to do something for me.

3. Use a Skycap and tip them well! This saved me so many headaches. There was no line to stand in, no pushing my bags with my feet while trying to keep Wyatt from running off while in line. We were dropped off at the curb, they took our bags right there, and the wait was negligible. Boarding passes in hand (yes, you can get them there, too!), all that was left to do was wait in the security line.

4. Ah, Security. One thing I learned is that every airport is different when it comes to how they handle families. I flew from Sea-Tac to Denver International. Seattle was a whole lot more friendly about it. The lines were shorter, and when I got there, they immediately directed me to a separate line for families, those needing assistance, and first time fliers (all us slow folks!). This made everything a lot easier and faster. Wyatt never had a chance to get antsy, and I was even lucky enough to find some understanding people who helped me get everything through the line.

Denver was another story entirely. The line was a lot longer and we had to wait in it. There was no going to the designated line until the end, and once we reached that point, I discovered no one was enforcing the designation anyway. So, there was very little help for me as I was surrounded by impatient people not needing help or more time to get through the line. We were close to missing our boarding call because it took so long to get through security.

So, make sure you get there two hours ahead of your flight if you are flying alone with kids. If everything goes smoothly, as it did for me in Seattle, you will have time to just sit and watch the planes. If it doesn't, you will still make your plane. Don't tempt fate!

A couple other things that will make it easier to get through security with your sanity intact: Don't bring any liquids through the line. I brought an empty cup for Wyatt and nursed the baby. If you are formula feeding, premeasure the powder and bring whatever bottles you need for the plane trip (you will be able to buy water once you are past this point).

This will save you any extra explanations and the occasional TSA agent who feels the need to grill you about what you are bringing. Trust me, you won't want to deal with it. Buy your liquids after you pass security and fill your toddler's sippy cup before you get on the plane. This will spare you any spills once you are on board.

Wear slip on shoes and put your child in shoes he can easily get on and off himself. This is especially critical if you are carrying a baby, as you will have to get the stroller and carrier (and car seat if you are carrying one) through the x-ray machine as well. It helps greatly if you aren't messing with shoes, yours or theirs, in this process. I made sure Wyatt had socks on under his sandals, too, so he wasn't walking on the icky floor barefoot.

5. Buy a few new toys your child has never seen, and make sure they are self-contained.
Unfortunately, your toddler will most likely drop things on the plane. I brought a couple new matchbox cars for Wyatt and after he dropped one, it rolled to the back of the plane. We didn't get it back until it was time to deplane. That wasn't the best choice of toy. I also brought (other than the DVD player) a sticker book, a couple of flap books, lacing cards, and some new drawing pencils that I didn't care if we came home with or not. A magna doodle would also have been a good choice, but he already has one so I didn't get one for this trip.

6. You will end up as your children's entertainment on top of managing diaper changes, snacks, etc. so don't plan on being able to read that book you packed.
There was only one time I actually read. It was on the trip home. Wyatt had miraculously fallen asleep, and since the plane wasn't full, I had an extra seat to work with. I strapped the baby in as he sits up really well, gave him some toys, and had a few minutes to myself before he got fussy. On the flight there, I never touched it. I assumed I wouldn't be reading, but packed it anyway, so it was more of a bonus that I got to read instead of frustration that I wasn't able to.

7. Don't pack a sippy cup with a straw. Trust me, it will only result in a sobbing child. I pointedly put this cup in the packed luggage on the trip home and let him drink from the plastic container the drink came in. The pressurization turned the straw into a water cannon. Not fun.

8. Pick snacks that aren't too messy, your child loves, and pack a lot of them. This is another thing I didn't do too well. Wyatt and I made trail mix before we left, something we both like. It didn't work so well on the plane, though. I suspect the flight attendants had something to talk about when they were cleaning up the plane later...

You never know what will happen with all the flight delays, so be prepared for more than just your flight. Bring sandwiches and a few things your child doesn't normally get but loves (fruit snacks are usually my choice for this, as I pretty much never buy them but Wyatt loves them). Even if your flight is only a couple of hours and they never want anything but the Cheerios you packed, you will still feel better knowing you were prepared anyway.

9. If you have a choice, sit in the back of the plane.
Flying Southwest allowed me to pick my own seat (although, they no longer let families with young kids preboard, so be warned and try to check in online as soon as you can - this a major headache and one reason I will be trying harder to get on Jetblue flights - they even have baby changing tables in their plane restrooms!). I always chose to sit a few rows up from the bathroom. If you have a fussy baby, this is the best place to stand and walk them a bit. The flight attendants were accommadating as long as I moved when they needed me to. You aren't allowed to move around like this at the front of the plane. This also leaves you closer to a garbage should you need to quickly get rid of a particularly stinky diaper.

10. Consider carefully the ability of your potty-trained child to wait if needed to use the restroom. This was one of my more difficult decisions to make. I actually packed a few pullups for him just in case, but couldn't bring myself to put one on him the morning we left. He's been trained for over six months now, and while it's rare he has accidents, he still waits until the last minute to tell us he needs to go. I was very worried he'd start asking while we were in the middle of the security line or about to board the plane. If he had been newer at it, I would have just put the pullup on and told him to use it if that happened, but I decided to take my chances.

This is obviously a call you'll have to make yourself as you know your child best, but my advice is if you feel it is at all likely your child won't be able to hold it if needed, use a pullup. An accident while you are trying to juggle everything by yourself is definitely not something you want to deal with at the airport.

11. If you can afford it, pay more for a flight during the day and/or a seat for your lap child (especially if you are flying with more than one child). It's an incredible challenge to do anything while juggling a baby on your lap, as I am sure you already know. This is magnified tenfold on an airplane where you have almost zero room to maneuver. An extra seat can be a lifeline that is worth the money if you have it.

Also, avoid red-eyes unless you have a child who can sleep anywhere. My kids are not capable of this, so I paid more for a middle-of-the-day flight and was so incredibly grateful I did. It was a testament to how hard Wyatt played on our vacation that he fell asleep on the way home. He almost never sleeps in the car.

12. Finally, try not to stress out too much about it. You'll be ok. It may not be the easiest thing you've ever done, but you can do it. And when you get home, you'll be amazed at how empowering the entire experience is. I was literally sick to my stomach the morning before we left, but when I came home, I felt as if I could go out and do a lot of things I usually don't when Oliver is at sea. I am so glad I took the plunge and did it!

*If anyone else has any further ideas, please add them in the comment section! I'm sure I'll be doing this again someday.

4 sonar pings:

Emily Snow said...

I can see where a sippy cup with a straw would not work so well on a plane...this past trip, I took one of those drink cups with a lid that you get at restaurants for Thomas. He is almost six now, so really too big for a sippy for still quite good at was great. I've been taking one in the car between grandparents house, too, since they live just a little over two hours apart from each other while we've been in Utah.

Sorry the matchbox/hotwheels car thing didn't work for's been a lifesaver over and over again for me. I'd much rather lose a $1 car than a Carz car.

sues2u2 said...

Wow! What a great post!!! Wish we'd had this when we traveled. Very succinct, too. And Congrats!

trying said...

excellent tips I think you covered them ALL! I'm not going to lie when I travel by plane with the kids I study the map of the airport to find a mcd's. Never underestimate the power of a happy meal while waiting in the terminal! And its great to be super prepared as to when you get off the plane the bathrooms are here, the food here, baggage, etc. so your not fiddling with everything AND lost!

Ang said...

Great thoughts! I love my Ergo--I can carry my four year old in it still if I need to. The other thoughts were really good too!