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Flying with little kids

Posted Jun 16 2012 5:33pm
I have now taken many trips with children 4 and under (non-school-aged-kiddos.) My biggest trip flying from Turkey to the United States with my six month old daughter and my three-year-old sons (pictured above). I feel that this trip alone qualifies me to provide a bit of "what worked for me." I've been compiling this for awhile, and finally feel that it is "ready" enough to post. Although I am sure I will edit it more in the future. Please include your own suggestions in the comments! I always love to hear new ideas.

1. BE A MINIMALIST: If you cannot bring it, don't! Borrow, buy or do without!
  • If staying in hotels, call ahead to see if they have a pack-n-play or crib for you to use. (Always ask if they have a charge for usage, which in parts of Europe, can be fairly extravagant.) If they baby doesn't roll yet, a pallet on the floor is perfectly fine.
  • Staying near a grocery store? Bring only enough formula and diapers and wipes to get you there, and buy more when you arrive.
  • If staying at someone's house, ask them to secure you necessary items from a friend if they don't have the items themselves. It is often easy to borrow a pack-n-play, swing, car seat, high chair, etc.
  • Rental services can be a bit pricey (  for example) but might be worth it. Another idea is to actually buy an item second-hand at your intended location or even check out a local MOPs group or church nursery to see if they have toys or items you can borrow while you are there. 
  • I never bring my own linens (crib sheets, etc.) Hotels will provide you with an extra sheet that you can wrap around the pack-n-play. In addition, I will often use the hotel rags for burp cloths each day to eliminate my need to bring burp cloths. If the baby is young enough, I avoid bibs too by using the hotel rags.
  • If you have the ability where you are going to do laundry, do it! Give up all the cute outfits, cut your amount of clothes way down, and instead plan to do laundry midway through. When we went to Germany with the kids, I brought clothes based on a laundry facility on night number six. Therefore I only brought clothes to get me through five days.
2. TWO CARRY-ONS: That's it! No exceptions!
  • Limit yourself to a diaper bag and one small rolling suitcase for your carry-ons. This will allow you to push a stroller (a mandatory if the child is under two), while pulling only one bag and the other swung over your shoulder throughout your airport travels. No exceptions. I have to make it in two bags.
  • No purse. Combine that with a diaper bag.
  • Your diaper bag should definitely be able to tuck under the seat in front of you. It should contain the things that you may need while on the plane.
  • The small rolling suitcase should tuck into the overhead bin above you, and be your "back-up" diaper bag. Ideally, you will not need to utilize it at all during the flight. 
  • When making a layover, take time to check your diaper bag and "restock" it from the overhead bag. For example, you would only have enough formula and bottles in the diaper bag for the flight. But after the flight is over, you may need to "restock" the diaper bag to prepare for your next flight. You may only have kept two diapers in the diaper bag, but you should have extras in your overhead bag for the rest of the trip.
  • Your overhead bag should contain enough items for the length of your trip plus one extra day. (We have been stranded overnight on two different occasions with a baby without access to our checked luggage.) When considering this, keep the minimalist in mind. You want to bring an extra pair of underwear and a shirt for you. But you probably could wear the same pants and shoes again. Don't try to bring all your toiletries -- the hotel can provide you with those. Just bring the things you would need to survive without your checked luggage -- medications, etc.
  • Pack plenty of wipes and some lysol wipes too (if you are a germaphobe) to wipe everything down. Wipes, diapers, and formula, are the items you do NOT want to scrimp on.
3. CAR SEATS: To bring or not to bring?
  • I'm definitely of the belief that if a child is under two, and the airline lets them fly for free, let them fly for free! I am lucky because when we fly on the rotator, or when the military buys us a flight, they buy one for all children -- including the ones under two. Flying across the world would be very hard with a child on your lap ("infant in arms" is what the airline calls them.) So you'd have to make the decision whether it was worth the cost of a ticket or not. I have never bought a ticket for a child under two.
  • If you don't buy a seat for your lap child, consider bringing a child carrier of some sort (Bjorn or Moby, etc.) or your arms will get very tired holding the baby.
  • Don't be afraid to ask someone to hold the child if you need to go to the bathroom -- although, trust me, it is possible to go to the bathroom while holding a baby. I've done it many times.
  • Renting car seats can be expensive -- sometimes nearly the price of renting the entire car for the day!
  • If you decide not to buy a ticket for your child, you may still get lucky. When you check in, and then again when you get to the gate you are boarding at, ASK if it is a full flight. Emphasize the completely full part. If it is not, you will often be allowed to bring a car seat on for your child. Or they will assign you a seat with an extra seat next to you.
  • If your child is still in an infant seat, travelling with the seat is the way to go. If you have not bought a seat, you can either gate-check that seat with the stroller, or you can take it on the plane if there is extra room.
  • If your child is in a "big boy" car seat and you haven't bought a ticket, I would check the car seat in as baggage if you must bring it. But the first option is to attain one wherever your final location is.
  • If your child is in a "big boy" car seat and you have bought that child a ticket, whether or not to bring the seat onto the plane is a little bit more tricky. Does the child need the seat to fall asleep? Are naps mandatory? Will you have trouble keeping the child seated without the car seat? How long is the flight/s? Keep these things in mind when deciding whether you need to try to lug a car seat through the airport for the flight.
  • There are some cool contraptions where you can hook a car seat to a suitcase ( like this one ). I have never used these because I have always had multiple children which this wouldn't have worked for. However, if you need to take a "big boy" car seat, I would eliminate the stroller and go for something like this instead. 
  • When checking on your car seat, I always just used garbage bags instead of buying a carrier.
4. SECURITY: Go with the slow flow!
  • While there is a rule about "ticketed passengers" being the only ones allowed through security, there usually are exceptions. If you are travelling with multiple children by yourself, consider enlisting a friend to come with you. When checking in, the airline can provide your friend a special pass that will allow them to help you through security and allow them to stay with you until your flight boards. You need to be obviously in need to get this. (Travelling with one child is probably not enough to get you pity.) 
  • Going through security by yourself, with kids, is hard. I try to (a) give myself lots of time (b) go very slow (c) ask for help. If a person is in a hurry behind me, I encourage them to cut ahead of me in line. I go slowly, relax, and don't worry about how fast I go or how much I am slowing people down.
  • My strategy is to put everything I can in bins right away. Then, I take the infant carrier out of the stroller with baby in it (if applicable) and put that through. The last thing I put through is the infant seat while I am holding baby.
  • If travelling with a baby who does not walk yet, you will most likely (depending on the country) have to take the child out of their stroller or car seat and walk them through. However, always ask. I ask if shoes have to come off. If they don't, I don't want to do that. I ask if the child can stay in the baby seat (a few times I have been allowed to keep them in it and have them get checked by hand.)
  • If travelling with children who walk, you will be required to have them walk through security. I usually send my children ahead of me and let the security guards on the other side "babysit" them for me.
  • If you are bottle-feeding, you will be allowed to go through security with a reasonable amount of water for bottles. You may be asked to drink the water or the formula (or they will test it) to prove that it is safe.   
  • Put all the baby items that you need in a small plastic bag -- diaper cream, hand sanitizer, etc. so you can pull them out easily in security.
  • Consider skipping a laptop (if possible.) It's just another thing you'd have to pull out separately.
5. CHECKED LUGGAGE: Avoid if avoidable!
  • With airlines charging for luggage, if it is possible for you to mail yourself your luggage for a fairly equivalent amount to checking luggage, do it.
  • Most likely, if you don't mail yourself luggage, you will have more than you are able to carry yourself to the desk to check-in. If possible, have someone go with you and get you to security. If not, tip a porter at the curb (if this opportunity is available.) Way worth the money!
6. RULES: Throw 'em out the window!
  • When flying with an infant, forget about a feeding or sleeping schedule. If breast feeding, feed the baby the entire flight if you want to. If bottle feeding, have a bottle ready and offer the bottle whenever you want.
  • Don't normally give your kids a bunch of junk food? Change your mind for your travel day. Lollipops/ring pops are one of my must have. For one, they kill a lot of time. For two, they help when ears are hurting during take-off and landing. I have even used them with my ten or eleven month olds to keep them sitting on my lap instead of screaming to get down or trying to crawl over me to see the people behind me.
  • Never shown your kid a movie? Scrap that idea for just one day. Play movies -- as many of them as they want to watch.
  • Electronics: Any and all -- bring 'em on. Kids this age are usually not playing electronic games yet, but if they are, let 'em do it.
  • Snacks: Try to think of snacks that will be consumed slowly. Lollipops are a great one (and they help their ears -- especially on take-offs and landings.) Consider putting M&Ms or gummy bears in a pill organizer , and as they empty it, reload it.
  • Drinks: If your child is potty-trained, try to keep drinks to a minimum to prevent repeat bathroom visits. I often only give water when travelling. The kids don't like it as much and therefore don't drink as much, and it means I don't have to carry juice around.
  • Craft bags: Pre-packing some "craft bags" is a great idea when you really need something to kill a few minutes. Put everything you need to do a craft in a bag. For instance: pipe cleaners with beads, paint with water, or mess-free markers  and coloring book. Put them in a ziplock bag, and don't let them play with it prior to the trip so that the activity is "new and exciting." Stickers are another great one. I let the kids stick them all over the tray table in front of them (I just try a few first to make sure they peel off easily.)
  • Toys: If I was travelling with an infant, I often strapped a few toys to the car seat but toys take up a lot of room, so I often found other toys like water bottles, keys, etc. Things I already had.
  • Backpacks: When my boys were able to walk, I started having them pull their own little rolling back-packs. They loved it, and it allowed for me to have more stuff that I wasn't in charge of. They would pack favorite toys of their own -- matchbox cars were very popular for playing with in the airport.
IN THE AIRPORT: Let 'em get dirty!
  • If you are a germaphobe, it will be hard for you, but the best thing to do is to just let the kids crawl on the floor when in the airport. You can try to find a cleaner area, you cannot let them eat food off the floor, but there just isn't a lot for them to play with an airport. If I could find somewhere clean, I tried, but otherwise, I let them play on the floor, and when I had a crawler, I let them crawl on the floor and then just tried to wipe them down afterwards.
  • Ask if there is a play area anywhere in the airport for the kids.
  • If there is a USO (military lounge), find it! They always have things for the kids to do in them. 
  • As tempting as it is, you don't want to keep them strapped in their strollers when in the airport. They need to burn energy. Let them!
THOUGHTFULNESS: It'll go a long way! 
  • A DVD player is an essential on a flight. But what do you do if your child isn't old enough to wear ear phones. You can play things with the sound way down or off. Or, I have sometimes simply said to the people in our immediate vicinity, "If you can hear this, will you let me know, and I'll turn it down? He's too young to wear ear phones." People often really appreciate thoughtfulness, and I've never had anyone actually tell me it was too loud. (Although I keep an eye on the volume and turn it up or down based on what is going on around the plane or on the show.)
  • I will often tell the person in front of my toddler, "I'm really going to try and stop him from kicking your chair. Please let me know if they are bothering you."
  • I usually make a joke to lighten the mood when I first get on the plane and feel the eye rolls from those who are lucky enough to sit by us. I say, "Don't worry everyone. The kids and I have talked. They have promised to be on their best behavior." This is most funny when the kid is an infant and obviously couldn't promise anything. 
  • If the child is crying, do everything you can to stop it, and apologize to the people around you. But honestly, while stories of rude people spread quickly, I have truly encountered very few of these people. Nearly everyone has been kind and understanding.
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