i’m going to be honest, if you’re looking for a post on how to entertain your toddler on a plane without using an ipad this is not the post for you. when adam was little i had all sorts of creative activities and wooden toys that we would cycle through and i felt so proud if we made it through a flight without turning on the ipad. but with two kids by yourself, it’s just too much. this is about survival.
so here is my process, from beginning to end. we fly with our kids a lot (they both have elite status) and i have perfected this after trying all the different mom blog advice (including one time carrying lake through the airport in her infant car seat, which is clearly NOT what i recommend) and this is what works best for us.
1. booking seats – if you are like me and still taking advantage of “infant in arms” and not buying a seat for the baby, try to book an aisle and center seat. even if the babies sleep (fingers crossed) you will still need to easily get up for bathroom breaks and diaper changes without bothering your neighbor. when given an option, i try to book flights for around bed time. my kids are much more likely to fall asleep on a plane if it’s later in the day or in the evening. disclaimer – some kids will just get overtired and manic around that time of day.. i once booked us on a red eye when adam was 18 months old thinking he would sleep the entire flight. he did not. it was awful.
full disclosure, i am terrible at booking flights so when i say “i” book these seats i mean “alex.” this also applies to checking in and giving everyone in our family our flight information.
2. pack smart – anything that can go in your checked bags should go in your checked bags. keep your carry on for flight essentials only. your tote will be full enough and you need to be able to find what you need quickly. prepare for the worst, always. the one time you don’t is the time the worst will happen. this means an extra outfit for baby, toddler, and an extra shirt for you. trust me. you do not want to sit on a plane with an apple juice soaked shirt. adam has his own mini suitcase (adorable and handy) for his plane necessities. find one that is easy to wheel, light enough for you to carry along with everything else in case they get bored pulling it through the airport, and small enough to fit under the seat in front of them. his is just big enough for his ipad, headphones, booboo (blanket), stickers, and snacks.
3. gear – we decided as often as we visit minnesota and new york that we should have a toddler car seat in each location. we borrow one in minnesota and purchased one to keep in new york. that way we don’t have to lug adam’s massive car seat through the airport or risk it getting destroyed in the baggage compartment. yes, i know it’s much safer to have them sit in their car seat on the plane. and if you have the extra hands, time, and patience i am sure it is better to roll their car seat through the airport and have them properly strapped in for the flight. i did it with adam by myself once. the car seat didn’t fit rolling down the plane aisle so i had to lift it over everyone’s head while a completely terrified flight attendant held my baby. it was awful. so now we leave adam’s seat at home and bring lake’s infant car seat with us. we have a special infant car seat that is less expensive and we only use when we fly, so we check it with our luggage. fun fact, all baby gear (car seats, portable cribs, strollers, etc) can be checked for free on most airlines. we always put lake in her umbrella stroller so she can easily wheel through the airport, then we gate check the stroller so it’s waiting for us when we get off the plane. our favorite is the uppa g-lite. it works for babies and toddlers, folds with one hand (a must when you have them in the airport by yourself), and easily fits through the security scanner when folded. it also has a nice sized basket to hold additional bags of magazines you buy and hope to read but never will.
we also have one of these handy gate check bags to protect it when it’s being thrown around by the ground crew. it won’t prevent any real damage but it will help with dirt and scuffs.gate check bag
4. security line – so baby is in the stroller, toddler is pulling their own suitcase, and you are carrying an incredibly large mary poppins – esq tote bag. find the family lane, demand politely to use this lane. it’s a great perk to flying with kids. it’s usually shorter and ironically moves faster. have your license and boarding passes in an outside pocket of your bag or in your pocket, you will not be able to dig through your bag to find them because at this point one of the kids will be whining for sure. once you get to the belt throw your tote in a bin, pick up the baby, fold down the stroller, and instruct your toddler to put their suitcase up by themselves (adam thinks this part is very cool). slip off your shoes at the last second and you’re set. people around you will be amazed at how you breezed through this process by yourself. the tsa crew will be ecstatic that they didn’t have to struggle with collapsing your stroller or push a car seat through the x-ray. if you have any breast milk, water for the baby’s bottle, or liquid formula they will need to test the bottle. no worries, it takes 2 seconds. just don’t forget the bottle when you walk away like i did last time (walking back to security after already walking all the way to your gate is really really heartbreaking).
5. waiting – now is the time to do diaper changes and potty time. it’s infinitely easier in the airport and you should at least try to avoid the plane bathroom if at all possible. this is also the time to let them run free before literally strapping them down for hours. it’s not time to freak out about germs on the ground or be embarrassed by your toddler who is playing ninja turtle and running around. those people who are giving you that judgey look will be thanking you when your kids are worn out and ready to relax on the plane.
6. boarding – if you have aisle seats and don’t have to worry about crawling over someone, wait to board until the very end. there is no need to get on early and make the kids sit there any longer than they have to. get a gate check tag for your stroller as you board. you shouldn’t have to put anything in the overhead bin, everything should be in your giant tote bag or diaper bag which you will need under the seat in front of you.
7. settling in – take time to settle in. wipe down the seats, arm rests, tray tables, seat belts, windows, and anything else your kids will touch. use antibacterial wipes, not baby wipes. the germs they find on planes are real and dangerous. this is not just for hypochondriacs. set up a little trash bag for trash throughout the flight. let the kids crawl around until the plane starts moving.
8. in the air – be prepared with a diaper changing caddy. i love this one from jonathan adler and skip hop:
if you don’t have a caddy just pack a ziplock bag with a handful of wipes and two or three diapers. this is much easier to grab and take into the way too small bathroom rather than bringing your massive carry on. if the toddler needs to go potty you will smash everyone into the bathroom and try to prevent them both from touching anything. there is usually a point where i am holding lake and holding adam up to help him because the toilet is too high. it’s not easy.
have new toys to introduce on the plane. babies love pulling items out of a bag. i pack a cosmetic bag full of little toys that lake can unzip, take out, put back in, repeat, repeat. stacking toys and shape sorters are also great.
adam loves special snacks and movies. i try to bring fun things that he doesn’t get to eat very often – healthy fruit snacks, crackers, lollipops, etc. i do not recommend fresh fruit that has to be in a container. the risk of spills and leaks is not worth the healthy snack option. they can have fruit when they land. we also gave him his own kid headphones (spiderman obviously) that are made to regulate volume for little ears.
9. takeoff and landing – make sure to feed both kids on takeoff and landing to relieve pressure in their ears. if they will drink a bottle great, the sucking motion is best. if they won’t, try fruit and vegetable pouches. basically when you feel your ears start to pop make sure theirs are popping too. if they are like adam and have tubes in their ears you don’t have to worry!
10. you made it! after what seems like days, you are finally ready to get off the plane. grab your stroller in the jet way and put the baby down. even if they are whining or crying. your arms need a break. try to have someone meet you at baggage claim. if that’s not possible, rent a smarte carte to carry your luggage. don’t forget the car seats and all your luggage. be prepared to feel like a zombie by this point!
11. document – take lots of photos of your kiddos throughout the day. most of the time they are having a blast watching all the planes, talking to people around them, and building excitement for wherever you are going. one day they will be carrying their own supplies, sitting in their own seats, barely glancing in your direction and you will want to remember these crazy times. even though it will be really nice to read a magazine and have a cup of hot coffee.