I learn something new every time I fly with my kids. The flights on this last trip were the most challenging I’ve had with them so far, but by remembering a couple really key things, I was able to still enjoy myself and feel like I was on vacation. There are a lot of really great posts about this topic (a couple of my favorites are here and here). I want to share three tips I have learned that might help make your plane travel with young kids a little smoother.
1. SLOW DOWN and SMILE
Why is it that when people get to the airport, they all suddenly feel in a hurry? We can be two-hours early for our flight, and still feel nervous and stressed out about the security line that appears to be taking people for.eh.ver to get through. And then when we get to the front of the line we all strip our shoes off, throw them into the nearest plastic bin, and tap our now-bare toes nervously as the old man in front of us empties his toiletry bag into his plastic bin, revealing a full bottle of Scope (Ah man! How long has it been since this guy flew? That is SO not getting onto the plane with him.)
Everything takes longer with kids. All mothers learn this. Flying is no exception, so just plan on it and be happy with it! Arrive at the airport with enough time to stay calm as you check you bags, pile the kids into the double stroller with the carseat hanging off one edge and your diaper bag full of juice boxes. Talk to your kids about what you’re doing: “These airport men are going to put our suitcases on the airplane for us!” “Look at all these people waiting in line! Where do you think everyone is going?” The airport can be a really fun way to begin a trip when you slow down and consider it to be part of the trip itself. No one is going to have a heart attack if you take your time folding the stroller down to pass through the x-ray, and you will feel so much happier if you make a conscious effort to not be in a hurry, but enjoy the adventure.
On our flight to Salt Lake, I was flying alone with both boys, and I was in good spirits. We checked our bags, made it through security (yes, with a full package of juice boxes. They tested one, then allowed the rest) and then found our gate. There was a line across the hall, and just as I was wondering what was up, I received an announcement text from the airline. Our flight had been delayed 4 hours. Duh, duh, duh. I stayed in the line, entertaining the boys with stories and snacks, until I could get a new itinerary. The new flight would leave in 4 hours, and then we would have another hour or two to wait for our connection. There were no earlier flights, and simply nothing anyone could do. So, I decided rather than stress out, I would just slow down and roll with it. I told Milo we were going to have a field trip at the airport, left my carseat behind the desk, and took the boys exploring. We spotted trucks and vans and even the airport fire engine, all rushing around on the tarmac. Milo counted the airplanes and we watched them take off. At lunch time, I treated us to a real lunch at Potbelly’s and after eating our sandwiches, we all shared a chocolate milkshake…we were on vacation, after all! After a couple hours, the boys were tired, so I plugged my phone in for Milo to watch videos, and I rocked Eliot to sleep. When the time came to board the plane, we were all still feeling excited about the trip, relaxed, and happy.
When we got to Phoenix for our connection, I asked at the counter what the next flight to Salt Lake might be. She said there was one at the gate for 10 more minutes, and if I ran I could catch it. That is the first time all day I felt in a hurry. I wasn’t stressed out, but I was sure determined! I strapped the boys into the double stroller, put the carseat on my back like a back-pack, took off my flip flops, and sprinted a 1/2 mile to the gate of the waiting plane. (I kept thinking it was a good thing I had been training for my triathlons, because there was no way I could have done that run without.) The doors were closed, but the attendants were expecting us, so they opened the doors and let us on. Whoohoo! We made it to Salt Lake about 5 hours later than planned. I had run out of diapers and just before landing Eliot leaked diarrhea onto my dress. Despite all of that, it actually was a really nice day.
2. STRAP THEM IN
Car seats are life savers on airplanes. Literally, and emotionally. Because kids are already used to being strapped into their carseat, to strap them into it on the plane is no biggie! They are confident and comfortable, and you have your hands and lap free. Even if you have a lap-child who you haven’t bought a seat for, it can be worth it to bring the car seat and ask at the gate if there is an extra seat on the flight. If there is, you can bring the car seat on and víola, your baby has a seat! If not, you can gate-check the carseat no problem.
Ever since Milo turned two, I have hauled his monster car seat onto the plane and it has been totally worth it. He is an especially energetic guy, and without the car seat he would have spent every flight crawling out of the seatbelt to wander the aisle and talk to the flight attendants. Having his car seat gives me a way to keep him contained. Especially now, traveling with Eliot as a lap-child, it is imperative that Milo stay in his seat, so that we can all enjoy the flight.
On this last trip, Milo asked to trade places with Eliot and sit in my lap. Because Eliot was tired anyway, I went ahead and switched them, strapping Eliot into the car seat, and plopping Milo next to me on the middle seat. Eliot went right to sleep, and Milo and I read stories and ate snacks for a good chunk of the flight. I think Milo is getting old enough to sit still for longer, and Eliot is just getting to the age where he can not sit still at all. When I fly back to Salt Lake in October, I will be bringing Milo’s car seat to stap Eliot into, and letting Milo be my lap-child for the flight, since he’ll watch a movie or read a book with me. It may not seem worth the hassle to bring the car seat on. But it is.
3. BE THE ENTERTAINMENT
When you begin traveling with kids, the days of kicking back, reading People and sipping a cran-apple on the rocks are OVER. Plane travel is a break for people traveling alone or with other adults. For moms, it is the opposite! This is the time to crank-up the entertainment factor, and engage your kids in some fun. If you try to ignore them, and watch the in-flight movie, you will all be cranky by the end of the flight, so come prepared with whatever your child needs to play, play, play.
I only pack a few actual toys, maybe a couple small ones. That’s probably because Milo has never really stayed entertained by a toy for long. I find we enjoy ourselves using the plane environment to create play. We look out the window at the runway, clouds or mountains. I love using the skymall to tell stories, look for different animals (you’ll be surprised how many you find!) and when all that is over, tear out the pages to fold paper airplanes. This last flight, I made a puppet with the barf-bag by drawing a face on it with a pen from my bag. He made my boys happy for a little while. If your kids are happy with a dvd player or a coloring book, bring those! But plan on spending at least some of the time entertaining, because it’s most likely that you will.
Flying with kids doesn’t have to be intimidating or stressful, but you have to know that it is interactive and that your attitude plays a crucial role in how the trip goes. Remember that your vacation begins when you leave your house, not when you arrive at your destination. As cliché as it might sound, try to enjoy the journey!