Last month, I nervously researched “flying with a toddler” in about every Facebook group, Insta-hashtag and mommy blog I could find. What I found was that everyone prepares like mad, and just hopes to survive the few hours – or way too many hours – they’ll be mid-air with a squirmy-wormy, little monster on their lap.
I was the same.
Instead of making official “busy bags”, I packed a special backpack full of fun stuff for the flight, then a separate diaper bag, with all of the diapering essentials, sani-wipes, essential oils (who knows why), and medicines (Tylenol, Advil, Hyland’s Baby Vitamin C and Teething Tablets – again, who knows why). We were lucky enough to have only pee diapers on the plane, thank goodness, but we were prepared, just in case shit hit the fan… literally.
Anyway, we had a GREAT flight both directions and though that might be because I have an awesome kid, here’s my recommendation for flying with a toddler:
1. Get seats next to your partner (I recommend aisle and middle). This also means GET TO THE AIRPORT EARLY!!!
We didn’t want to splurge on the ‘extra 4″ of room’ fees, or bulkhead seats, and got to the airport for both flights way too late to be too choosey, but having seats next to your partner is really great. That way, you can have more room on your laps, lift the arm rest between you, and just kinda share the wiggle. I also felt like having a window (which I typically prefer) would have made us feel too trapped and when little mister needed to walk the aisles for a few, or I needed to grab something from the overhead, and it would have just been a giant bummer for the person in the aisle.
If you’re flying solo, it’s probably best to try to get the aisle, so they can hang their legs off the side and squirm as much as needed too. Plus, kids seem to think that the rolling carts are pretty cool and flight attendants really like chatting with good babies. Any second that passes time in a positive way, means any time without tears.
2. Bring a stroller, but wear your baby!
We almost opted to rent a stroller in Hawaii, but had recently purchased a BOB from our neighbors who were no longer using theirs. We paid $80 for it (what we would have paid renting) and it was a LIFESAVER in the airport, plus, we got to use it all over the place on our trip, and even more so at home. Best $80 ever.
I wore Remy in the Ergo, and put all of our carryon’s in the stroller, which was great, because we spent most of the time in the airport running to catch our flight (we’re TERRIBLE at getting to airports early). When you wear your baby, they basically pass you through security, and just check your hands for chemicals… which, duh. Why would a mom with a baby have bomb chemicals on her? I guess there are still bad people in the world.
3. Bring a packed lunch, and if you have time, buy more food at the airport.
Airline food sucks and it’s not toddler friendly, unless your kid likes nasty roast beef and mayo sandwiches, or can chew almonds and stuff like that. Like I said, we are TERRIBLE at getting to airports when we should, so we weren’t able to buy food in advance of the flight, which meant that the snacks I packed were all we had… and the nasty roast beef and mayo sandwich that we all tried to stomach, but struggled with. My best friend had said “bring snacks, snacks, snacks, and more snacks” and she was dead on. We didn’t bring sugary snacks (god forbid it create a sugar high monster on the flight), but we brought all his favorites and didn’t limit how much he ate of them. Gold fish (organic, of course), organic peanut butter sandwich/cookies, fruit shreds, teensy fruit, and Plum Organic baby bars. All of his favorite treats, all healthy, and all we had for a very long time.
4. Talk to your baby about the adventure you’re going on and (try to) show them the plane before you board.
Remy was mesmerized by it. It was really cute.
5. Tylenol… My hero.
I know a lot of moms don’t give their kids Tylenol unless their kid is SUPER sick with a fever, but this is an important one to understand. Your baby can’t adjust the pressure in their ears yet by elongating their eustachian tubes, the way grown ups/big kids can. Chewing gum, popping your ears, all of that is a learned skill and baby’s don’t get it yet. I gave Remy some Tylenol about 30 minutes before take off, and 45 minutes before landing, so that his ears wouldn’t hurt too terribly… especially because he was sick with a double ear infection on our way home.
6. Nurse or Bottle your baby during takeoff and BEFORE landing.
To piggy back on the Tylenol, if you’ve flown with a head-cold before, you know that the first decrease in altitude is the worst. On our 5 hour flight to Hawaii, we coasted at an easy 35,000 feet. When we first started to decline down to 10,000 feet, my head felt like it was going to explode. I was sick when we left for our trip, and I actually cried
like a baby in pain during our decent. Not my finest moment, but I learned something important; the initial decent is the worst part and if you take care of your baby’s potential for pain or discomfort prior to then, you’ll have a much happier munchkin when your feet are on the ground again. Nursing your baby on the way up, and again on the way down, in combo with Tylenol, will save your sanity, and your sweet little babe some unnecessary pain.
7. Book your flight during a nap or bed time.
Who knew I would have hit the nail on the head with this one, but it worked! My little guy was so tired just from the time of day, and so beat from all of the stimulation of getting onto the flight, that he slept for over an hour and a half each way on our flights to and from Hawaii. I booked the flights at nap-time in Los Angeles (1:00PM) on the way out, and 4:30PM on the way back, which also helped transition back to nap-time in the PST time zone (he, of course, also napped in the car on the way to the airport).
8. Pack toys your baby is not used to playing with.
For us, it was stickers and Play Dough. My guy is only 17 months old, so he’s just learning how to play with Play Dough, instead of eating it. It was a really fun part of our flight. We made bracelets and snakes… he loved it. Stickers were the other hit. We found these great “reusable sticker books” where you can actually peel the stickers off the page, and re-stick them somewhere else. The Despicable Me Minions were a lot of fun to move around from page to page, but I wish I’d have seen these Melissa & Doug ones too! So cute!!
9. Don’t be afraid of screens.
We all know that the recommendations for toddlers and using iPads/iPhones/sitting in front of the TV is “no screens until 2″, but that doesn’t include air travel. Sorry. DO NOT GUILT YOURSELF for doing what’s necessary to get where you need to go, if your babe is “under age”. We loaded up our favorite family movie “Turtle Tales” on the iPad and brought it along, just in case… Turns out, I like to sleep on flights, and that’s dumb when you’re holding a baby, so I needed a break from the busyness of play time, and “tur-lurs” were just the thing I needed. Remy had never worn headphones before either. Having them on his cute little head, monkey in arm, was just the sweetest thing to me, and most interesting (read “TIME CONSUMING”) thing I could have hoped for. Also, just pay attention to your kid and try to keep the amount of time you spend distracted from their needs (ie. on your airplane mode phone playing solitaire, or reading the latest tween novel).
10. Have Some FUN! Wear Matching Family Outfits! Be THAT Family!
This has nothing to do with the success of the flight, other than that it may help you keep a jovial perspective if/when things get rocky. :)
Once upon an unmarried time, my future husband made a jokey reference to wanting to “always match when we travel, like the Royal Tenenbaums”. So, for one of his wedding-day presents, I had matching black Adidas warmups made, with silly nicknames and the date on each of our jackets, and our initials on the pant fronts, for us to wear on our honeymoon.We looked like we were from the Jersey Shore. Hilarious. That started the family trend, silly as it was.
Thanks to so many modern brands realizing how fun it is to match your family, without looking like a moron, there are so many options for looking good while matching. My current favorite is Sly Fox Threads. Their designs are awesome, and they have mom, dad and baby clothes that are all awesome. Here’s a pic of my dudes in Maui, matching as my men should.
The point is, be prepared, but relax and have fun with it. Traveling is stressful with or without a kiddo on your hip, so make the most of it by creating your experience as you go.
If you have any additions to my little list, feel free to leave it in the comments.