Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Traveling by plane with a child -- Helpful tips!

6 weeks after Jackson was born he and I took his first flight to Virginia where we had just been relocated by the military.  Within his first year we traveled back to MN about an average of once a month.  My husband always had to stay in VA due to his job, but as I traveled on stand-by and kids under the age of 2 travel for free... we took up the opportunities to see our family and friends in MN as often as possible.

I think I had it tallied up that by the time he was 15 months, he had been on over 10 round trip flights, every single one I battled alone.  It was easy to say I quickly became a seasoned veteran flying with a kid.

As the holiday season approaches and many families may be traveling I thought I'd give some of my top tips that helped me travel by plane with a child.
 When traveling with a newborn by airplane a well prepared and packed Diaper Bag is a MUST.

Diaper Bag Goods

* Diapers & Wipes
* One ready to go bottle, and at least one back up bottle.
* Small favorite toys
* Back up change of clothes
* Extra burp cloths
* Bottle of water
* Extra formula (obviously only if on formula)
* Paci, and a back up Paci and I'd use a Paci clip to keep it attached and easy to reach

Tips from my experience:
Traveling with a prepared bottle: My son was on formula at about a month old so feeding time while traveling was pretty easy.  Right before I'd board the plane I'd prepare a bottle for him so it was ready for take off which is a great tip to help with their ears.  The swallowing motion helps alleviate any pressure that may happen during take off and landing, but if they aren't hungry sucking motion helps too so a paci or whatever it is your baby likes to suck on is suggested.
I always kept a spare bottle of water with extra  formula for a quick and easy mix up of a bottle. 
Every airport I've traveled through now has a family line that you can go through the security with fluids if they're for your kids.  They'll do a simple test to ensure contents and give it right back to you.  I realize some may be uncomfortable with this but I've done it every time and never had any issues.

Organization is key: As I was always traveling alone with Jackson as a baby I never had spare hands to help me so I packed to make everything as easy as possible in the diaper bag.
I had at least one diaper and a small pack of wipes right on top so in the airplane if a diaper change was necessary I could simply grab those two items and head to the teeny tiny bathroom rather than hauling the entire bag with me. 
I also didn't carry a purse with my diaper bag, I packed anything I needed in the bag including my wallet so was less to fumble with.
I always checked our car seat and stroller {they always asked me 10 times if I was sure} but trying to carry and install a car seat while holding a baby alone was way too much of a challenge.  The other option you can do if you want to bring the stroller up to the gate with you is gate check it with you there.

Hands Free Carrying: My last big tip of flying with a newborn or infant is using a baby bjorn.  I would strap Jackson in one and carry him like that throughout the airport and was able to just walk through security with him still strapped in.  I didn't have to hassle with taking him out and putting the carrier through the xray, I was able to keep him all tucked in and attached.  Made everything incredibly easy, and only once did they ask me to take him out and I just explained it didn't have any metal on it and they let me through.

Once Jackson was a little older and into the infant stage when he's able to be a little more aware and active I knew my traveling experience had to adjust for a little more mobility from him and distractions.

Diaper Bag Goods
* Diapers & Wipes
* At least three little baggies of different snacks
* Sippy cup/bottle
* Small favorite toys/books
* Back up change of clothes
* Coloring book with crayons

Once J turned about 6 months he stopped sleeping the entire flight and was a little more active.  For ages of about 6 months to one & half years old the flying experience was about the same.  Just had to make sure I brought enough activities he was currently enjoying at that time to keep him preoccupied. 

At this age their ears can still bother them easily during takeoff and landing so it's still good to try and have them drinking something at least during take off.
Mostly I relied on snacks, books and little cars to keep him busy during a flight and as long as I did that he never was too fussy or cried.

Tips from my experience:
Same suggestions for airport security as traveling with a newborn.  I always checked his car seat and stroller -- the less to carry and handle during security and layovers the better.  Kids can be "lap kids" until they're two years old and don't need their own seat/ticket.  I thought I was going to be disappointed by the time he was two but by then I was very excited for him to have his own seat.

Prepared liquids
: During security you can bring a premixed bottle or sippy cup of juice as long as you travel through the "family line" of security.  To make the process run smoother remove it from your diaper bag/carry on and know that they will do a simple test of its contents. 

Dressing for the occasion
:  When I'm traveling I wear clothes that are comfortable and bring an extra layer just in case as the plane can be cold but removable just in case you get too warm as your child will be on your lap the entire flight.  I never wear a belt, as that's an extra step of removing through security and I always try to wear shoes that I can easily slip on and off.  I tried to make the entire security line process as easy as possible -- I feel that the less stressful this step of your flying experience is, the easier the day can feel.
Your kids' shoes also have to be removed so slip ons for them is easiest too.

Another tip {and this is a big IN MY OPINION one}: airlines offer those flying with infants and kids the chance to board early to get settled in.  However, I never took "advantage" of this because in my opinion you're first to board and that's typically an extra 15 to 20 minutes you're sitting on the plane trying to "manage" your kid.  I always just boarded when my section was called and made sure I was just prepared to grab anything I needed from the bag to put in the front pocket and have at an arms reach.
Flying with a two year old felt very different than it did the past two years.  He was a lot more of aware of why we were at the airport, walking through security on his own.  He would even take off his own shoes and put them in on the xray belt.

However, he is still slightly too young to fully understand "behaviors" on a plane, and why he can't get up and walk around or why he can't stand on the seats, or pull on the one in front of him. I can tell him and he may or may not listen but he doesn't fully understand WHY he can't do certain things.

The flight can feel a lot more exhausting with this age as you're trying to contain a very active toddler to a very tiny seat and use "quiet voices".  I am not going to hide the fact that this is when a DVD player became my best friend.  He still won't watch a full movie on a flight and only keeps his attention for about 45 minutes -- but that 45 minutes is heaven.

Instead of carrying the diaper bag we've now graduated to a back pack and I've got my purse back. 

Back Pack Goods
* Books, toys, coloring pages, etc. etc. etc.
* Diapers/underwear
* Extra change of pants {in case of any accidents}
* Snacks
* Sippy cup

I always let J pick out three toys he wants to put in his backpack so when we're on the flight if the ones I choose aren't good enough I can at least know he'll have the ones he picked. 

If you bring a DVD player with be prepared to remove it from the bag for security, it's considered the same as when you need to remove a laptop or tablet for the x-ray.  Also, if you have a layover be sure to bring the charger for the player as many have a battery that only lasts two hours and make need to be recharged in between flights. 

Involving your child now be apart of the packing and preparing for the airport {like carrying his own bag} can make the flying experience a little more enjoyable for the both of you.  He/She will understand a little more why they have a bag of goodies, and that the flight is only for a little while.

Tips from my experience:
I think my biggest overall tips for flying with a child are:
* Be prepared and organized -- it'll make the whole experience easier for you and your child.

* Be flexible -- it's easy to get stressed out, but staying flexible and adapting to the situations can make it easier.

* Think of everything in terms of your child -- I have flown many many many times with my son alone and while every other hour of the day I provide guidelines and direct Jackson how he should be in situations, flying is one situation I adapt everything I do for him.  It's really hard for a child to understand why they have to sit on your lap for hours at a time, or why they can't be loud, or run around the area.  It's difficult for them to be in an uncomfortable plane and probably be a little uncomfortable from pressure.  I adapted everything to make him a little happier -- I sat in awkward positions to help him fall asleep, I gave up reading and being occupied on the plane to ensure he was kept happy.  I didn't bring my make up or brush to do touch ups because that took up space in the diaper bag for his things.  Overall - I think it helped make those few hours 150% about their point of view.

Everything I've given as a tip or advice is 100% my opinion and coming from my own experiences.  They are only ideas to help others that may be flying for the first time with their kids think of things they may not have.  I am not trying to state the way I did things is better, or the way to do it. I also understand the way I did things may not be applicable for everyone.  Take each tip with a grain of salt and adapt it in your own way to help your flying experience a little better. 

For some more information about traveling with kids Babycenter has articles broken down for certain age ranges and more general travel tips for kids.

I'd love to answer any questions you may have about flying with kids so feel free to email me or leave a comment but be sure to include your email so I can respond!!

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  1. This is a great post! I feel like I'll remember these things in 5 years when I have kids. Haha.

  2. Well done Pamela. Glamma.

  3. Great job Pamela. See you at this end soon. Happy travels.

  4. That was awesome. I fear the day I have to travel on a plane with my three children ages 3-8.

  5. Love it!!! Your blog! Came over from DesignBuildLove!!

  6. Just wanted to let you know that I featured YOU today! Come check it out and grab a cool button:)


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