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Plane Travel with Small Children

Posted by Kristen on November 16, 2009 at 6:28 AM in Traveling
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masonparty.jpgWe got on a plane with three children under the age of five. Five people, four seats. It was awesome. Okay, not so much. But here are a few tips for getting to the plane without the hassle.

Drop the luggage (and your spouse and children) off at the curb.
Unless you are taking a cab to the airport or getting a ride, you have to figure out a way to get all your luggage and all of your family onto that plane before it takes off. I remember (before Ethan) when Derek and I each had a roller carry-on bag and his and hers laptops. We made it from the front door of the airport to the plane in under 20 minutes without fail. Then we had a baby. Didn't that all change? Now we have 3 huge bags, car seats for the other end (and to be honest, a way to strap down Nate on the plane) and whatever else we manage to find that we just HAVE TO HAVE with us on our trips.

From our first trip after Ethan's birth (when he was 7 weeks old), our policy was that the driver dropped the passenger, all the luggage AND THE BABY off on the front curb. The driver then drove to the parking lot that seemed to be miles away. The dropped-off person can either choose to transport said child in a backpack or a stroller--dealer's choice. When it's me, I prefer the backpack because I like to have my hands free. A stroller means you are going to get stuck pushing with at least one hand. Either way, this is better than the alternative. On one trip, I watched a family of five try to get their luggage onto and off of the parking lot shuttle bus and it was not pretty. That's a lot of carrying that you wouldn't have to do if you had just swung in front of the terminal before going to the parking lot.

Pay the nice porter for curbside check-in or use door-to-door baggage delivery. At $2 a bag for cheap people such as ourselves, that $8 can really put a dent in the old wallet. Of course, instead of trying to lug a baby, 3 bags and car seats into the airport, you never have to pick up your luggage again until you reach the other side of your journey. Well worth the $8 to me. Another option is door-to-door baggage delivery. For some airlines, this service starts at $79. It seems like a lot but since nearly all airlines charge per bag these days, your convenience and reduced hassle might be worth the extra.

Leave a little extra time so you can make your children walk. If you are going on a long plane ride, there is going to be plenty of sitting time. We always try to get to the airport early enough so that after we pass through security, we let Nathan walk the rest of the way to the plane. It may take a while to get to our destination but the little ones are guaranteed to be all tuckered out by the time we get there. It certainly raises our chances that someone will take a nap at some point on the plane or that the kids will be content to just sit.

Get on the plane last. That five hour flight isn't going to seem any shorter if you are the first person to board. Sure you want to guarantee room in the overhead bins for your things and you don't want to rush, but extending your plane travel time just might send your kids over the edge. We send one parent on at the beginning to install car seats or pack everything away. The other parent waits until final boarding call and then corrals the kids down the aisle of the crowded plane to the last seat. That way you also get an opportunity to see the sheer panic on other people's faces that yes, you are bringing a baby on their flight. No backing out now.

These tips have saved me either lots of time or lots of stress. Do you have any more to add?


Tamara writes...

Take treats they normally don't get at home. Some smarties candies or m&ms work my little one - doll them out one at a time.

Take a small book that they haven't seen before or a new small toy - like a matchbox car or for girls a little mini baby doll.

Both of these really help.

Jess writes...

*If your kids are of snacking age...LOTS of snacks (pre portioned in snack size bags).

*New toys that require lots of concentration (such as a rubix cube for older kids and for little ones anything that moves in more than one way).

*Make friends with the friendliest looking flight attendant near you! (Especially if you are traveling alone with said small child(ren)---you might need to go to the bathroom at some point!)

Jess writes...

*If your kids are of snacking age...LOTS of snacks (pre portioned in snack size bags).

*New toys that require lots of concentration (such as a rubix cube for older kids and for little ones anything that moves in more than one way).

*Make friends with the friendliest looking flight attendant near you! (Especially if you are traveling alone with said small child(ren)---you might need to go to the bathroom at some point!)

JessL writes...

I completely agree with the snack and small-new-toy suggestions!

Non-stop flights are your friend. Planning flights for naptime is golden.

One we learned the hard way when our oldest was an infant: check as much as you can, BUT make sure you have a carry-on with the essentials for an overnight. Especially with how crazy holiday travel can be, be prepared for being bumped and spending the night in a strange city, possibly in the middle of the night with no access to a store for buying more diapers!

Paula writes...

I second the 24 hours of supplies - worth having backups.

In addition to a new small toy; highly recommend a new book or two - they are lap friendly and with toddlers you can read and re-read and re-read...

Umbrella stroller if you have a pre-walker (or even with an older kid..) Do NOT bring your regular stroller. Besides the fact it will be too big, assume that your stroller will get abused in bag claim. The $15 umbrella kind is not going to give you a heart attack if it doesn't survive the trip. You can check at the gate, and it can be much easier on the back than a carrier. (I know, I loved my moby sling. But have you ever worn one while standing for eight hours strait in a crowded airport? Bring the stroller.)

If you get delayed, play up the kid angle. Smart airline customer services desks will make sure you get priority on rescheduled flights. If you call on the phone make it the first thing you mention. If you go to the counter, bring the kid in tow and do your best to look pathetic (I know, not hard).

Try not to pick the super busy days to travel (Wed before thanksgiving, for example). Why tempt fate? Mid-day flights are both nap and kid friendly and can also be less crowded, but on holidays sometimes early morning flights are best - pre crowd. If you have an early riser, this can work well - just pack the bags in the car the night before.

Bring a large trashbag to cover the car-seat if you plan to check it. Airlines sometimes charge $5 for a plastic cover.

Libby writes...

Here's my one tip: unless you need the car seat for the plane, leave it at home. Call ahead to your rental car agency and make sure one is included in your contract.

Jill writes...

All good comments! I would add:

--I would take the snack idea a step further and feed a full meal if you can (followed by a nap and you'll get from FL to AK!)

--If 2 adults are traveling, try to book one seat in the row in front of the other two. that way your child can kick YOUR seat and not the grumpy old man in front of you. This reduced our stress more than anything else!

--I disagree with the non-stop flight idea. I like to change planes. Gets us all out of those seats and moving around. Breaks up the trip, gives us a chance to go to the bathroom, burns off energy, etc.

--Make sure the adult(s) use the restroom before boarding and don't drink too much fluid. Make sure you bring a change of clothes for yourself in case you get vomited on! (Happened to us, AND our luggage got delayed.)

--Bring a compact but full stroller so you can make use of its basket and compartments to help you lug all your carryon gear through the airport. You can take it right up to the door of the plane, and it will be waiting for you when you get off.

--If you bring a car seat, purchase a bag for it that has rollers and backpack straps so you can lug it around easily. They are also made of sturdy fabric to survive baggage handling.

--Depending on developmental level of your kids, bring video games, audio books on an iPod with noise-reduction headphones, or a DVD player with said headphones.

--And always, always make sure you have plenty of time. The more of a hurry you're in, the slower the kids move. Murphy's Law.

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