Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Terminal Battle... With KIDS!!

I just went on a 12 day "vacation" with my family of four. We spent part of that vacation in California and opted to fly instead of drive for 16+ hours. This was my first time taking children on a flight with me, and it was a learning experience. All things considered I thought we did pretty well, but there were some hiccups and things that I didn't know beforehand. Hopefully this post will get you ready to take your little one(s) on an airplane!

This is a bit lengthy, but hopefully will help!
General advice and tips I learned for flights with kids:

If you are bringing an infant with you that is under the age of 2 you do not need to purchase a ticket for his/her seat, but you DO need to tell the airline in advance that you have an infant in arms (this will be on your boarding pass).

Most airlines now charge for "checked" baggage (the going rate is $15 for the first bag and $25 for the second). However, some airlines do not charge for car seats, so be sure to check with the different airlines before you book - that can save you a TON! In addition to this, Delta (at least the Delta in SLI airport) does not charge for ANY children's items (this includes, strollers, kid carriers, and pack 'n plays).

All paying passengers are allowed to bring 1 large carry on, and one personal item. The personal item can include a backpack, a laptop, a DVD player, a camera case, a purse, or a diaper bag. This came in handy because my little girl brought her teeny backpack full of toys and her DVD player, I brought the diaper bag, and my husband brought is laptop. We packed our clothes in the carry ons - so we had 6 total carryons and a stroller. This was a bit bulky, but worth it to us to not have to check as many bags and pay. Additionally, most airlines will let you "check" the baggage at the gate and they will have it ready for you when you deplane (that way you don't have to force your way through the isle with so much baggage and try to shove it in the overhead bins).

You can use electronic devices about 20 minutes after take-off, so it is okay to bring MP3 players for your little one to listen to, small electronic games, or a DVD player to keep kids happy.

Some airlines will also let you board FIRST if you have children. Be sure to ask at the gate.

You can bring your child in a stroller and check it at the gate (this will save your arms) and they will have it ready for you when you deplane.

As far as security checks go - not ALL airlines are created equal. So check in advance what you can bring on in a carry on. At the San Jose airport we were told that we could even bring juice, water, or milk for our children so we didn't need to dump it out. They will run a test on any liquid item that you bring for your child. This means you need to have baby food jars, bottles of formula, or other liquid food items ready to be checked.

You may look funny carrying all your stuff through the airport if your children are little. My husband and I had to carry all the stuff since our kids are too young AND we had to carry two kids. We drew a lot of stares (at least I thought), so just be prepared to be on display if you bring a lot of things!

Getting a small cart to load your luggage on is $4! So see if you can have someone help you drop off all luggage and someone to pick you up as well.

The airlines suggest that you arrive at the airport terminal an hour early, but I suggest you give yourself a little bit more cushion. On our way there we arrived an hour and 10 minutes early and had two pretty major hiccups. We made it to the plane on time, but we were the last to board. On our way home we arrived an hour and a half early, had time to eat lunch, and then wait for a while before we boarded - I felt a lot less rushed that time.

There is a toilet on the airplane that your toddler can use, but it is LOUD, cramped, and a little bit scary. So be prepared for a potty battle if your little one is uncomfortable. You may want to dress him/her in a pull up just for the flight.

The hardest part for us was actually getting ON the plane. Once we were on the plane my little girl was entertained for the most part by watching out the window, eating peanuts and getting juice, watching a DVD, and just having a new experience. My son slept for some of the time both ways (the hum of the plane helps). But if your flight is longer than mine (my max time in the airplane was 2 hours) then you may need to be prepared for some crying and more tricks up your sleeve.

Even though flying does save time it may take more time that you anticipate. It took us 10 hours from start to finish to get from Monterey Bay California, to our home in Utah. We had to drive an hour and a half to the airport, then get on the plane, get picked up, driven to my parent's house, and we then had another hour and a half drive home. We did save time still (the drive with all the stops we would had have to make would have been around 16-20 hours) but it was still a lot of travel.

That's all that comes to mind right now, but we can always use more advice from you other wise moms. SO.......

What other advice can you offer about flying with little ones?
What experiences have you had in airplanes/airports?
Share your successes and horror stories!


Shantel said...

We returned home on Monday from a 9 day trip. We flew both directions and were in the air for a total of about 11-12 hours. We also had layovers both directions making for longer traveling. Our little boy who is a little over one year old, is NOT a born traveler. He was exhausted for all our flights and barely slept at all (He practically refuses to sleep in our arms, the only option when flying). Our only saving grace was our one flight that had built in TV's in each seat. I can not tell you how many times he turned that TV on and off. It was annoying if you were trying to watch a show, but a life saver for a parent who was trying to keep their child from disturbing everyone around. In the end, just be prepared for a small nightmare when traveling with a one year old. Things just rarely go smoothly when flying, we had troubles checking in, seating issues, an extremely tired child who was screaming at points, I was puked on my by son, the airline lost our luggage... things just were not idealistic. However, we were prepared and were able to keep rolling with the punches. I guess that I am trying to say is that things are not perfect because you flew instead of drove. Your children are still completely out of their element and are easily thrown off. Yes flying is great alternative to driving, it saved us 4 days of travel, just know that no matter what mode of transportation you choose, traveling with kids is down right hard!

Diane said...

I am SO glad you posted this! We are flying with our one year old to Cancun in about a week...and I am nervous. ;} yet excited! I flew with him in Dec. and he did Great! But now he's old...and mobile, so I'm not sure how he'll feel about having to stay in one spot for so long. THanks for the great tips! I can't wait to hear what other people say! :)

Liz, Karl and Madison said...

Thanks Tannie for the advice. I am flying next week with a toddler, a senior citizen and me (being pregnant). I am quite nervous to say the least. So it was good to read what you had to say. If anyone else has good advice I too would like to hear it.

Britta said...

I've flown with my daughter 4 times since she was born. I would suggest to get non-stop flights if it is reasonable cost difference from one stop flights.

If you get to the terminal and realize that your seats are all over the plane rather than together you can request to be moved. Believe me, many people will willingly trade places rather than sit next to a baby.

Plan on your child not sleeping- even if they sleep anywhere. Its generally too different of an atmosphere to fall asleep.

Planning on taking a lot of toys may backfire- there isn't generally a lot of room to pick up toys that have fallen off the seat and even a little turbulance can make toys fall off the tray. Plan on taking a few toys that are almost 'loosing proof' rather than a lot of things.

A few planes have outlets to plug electronics in...but you generally don't know until you board. If you plan on taking a lap top or portable DVD player, bring along an extra battery.

Sometimes its worse to get on the flight early (usually families with small children can board early) because its just more time for kids to get fidgity. And if its not going to be too big of a problem with your kids, plan on not getting off until the plan is almost empty. That way you have plenty of room to make sure everything is picked up and safely stored away.

Good luck to any fliers!

Diane said...

One thing a friend told me was to arrive at the gate as early as you can and ask if there are any empty seats. That way you have put your child in the seat if there are...rather than on your lap the whole time. She also suggested to take your car seat all the way to the gate (for the extra seat reason), if there aren't any extra seats, they can check it on the plane there, and then you don't have to worry about it getting ruined in luggage.

If you bring your pack 'n play, do you check it with your luggage? or can they check that at the gate as well? I hate thinking about everything getting ruined and broken.

Jared and Delia said...

We have flown a few times with our kids. I have to say that every kid is very anything travel is no different. I thought my baby might have a hard time (who was 8 months old at the time) but he actually did great. He slept and stayed on our laps pretty well. This was after he learned to crawl and became mobile. It was surprising to me how well he did.

Just find what works for your kid best, whether it be a novel toy that will keep his interest, or lots and lots of snacks. There is a liquid restriction but no restriction on crackers. It was worth it to bring a lot of variety of snacks for us.

Strollers are a must for us. We didn't even use it for our kids the whole time. We used it to help us cart around carry-ons and car seats. You can upend forward facing car seats on the top of the stroller put bags underneath while carrying your baby in a sling or something like that. Then check all the stuff at the gate. We luckily have a sit and stand and that was a lifesaver! I could fit so much stuff on that thing. It was awesome.

We opted for no DVD player so we could take on other carry-ons and my kids actually did really well. We read books and looked through Sky Mall. My son got the window seat and loved just looking out the window.

I definitely liked that we boarded last. I could let my kids roam around until right before take off so that they didn't have to be stuck for so long in a seat.

The last thing that helped was gum and nursing. Gum for my four year old helped with pressure changes - my mom used to do that for me when I was a kid and it really works. I nursed my baby as we took off and as we landed as long as it was practical. This helps with cabin pressure as well and gave my baby some comfort in this strange situation.

Good luck travelers!

Tannie Datwyler said...

I like how Delia said that everything is different with different children (this seems to be the mantra of the blog). I say, don't expect it to be a GREAT experience (especially if the flight will be long) but don't worry either - your kids MAY surprise you (like mine did, and Delia's). And if it is a terrible flight, it will be over in a few hours and you did save yourself drive time that could have been really miserable too. Travel is hard like Shantel said, but you just have to weigh your options and if you decide to fly, just be prepared.

If you are worried about other passengers being upset at you for having a crying child - DON'T! It is their problem if they want to be upset. You'll do the best you can do to keep the children happy and anyone who doesn't understand that can be upset if they want.

To answer your question Diane - I don't know. There is a standard size for carry ons and a pack 'n play might not fit the bill. On the other hand, some airlines are REALLY nice about baby items, so I would just call. You might have to count it as one of your carry on items and check your clothes bag instead - again, just call your airline. In addition to that - we did check the pack 'n play and it was just fine. We did it twice and it had no damage. I can see your concern though - it didn't even occur to me when we checked it though. We just had TOO MUCH STUFF to carry it all to the gate of the plane in any case.

I'm so glad you reminded about charging DVD players and other stuff Britta. I totally forgot to mention that (though I had intended to) because ours was NOT charged. OOPS! It worked out okay though because my little girl could watch a DVD on my husband's laptop.

The seat thing worked good to Diane - they had an extra seat and I got to sit in it by my son so that was great! I even layed him on the seat when he fell asleep and put the seatbelt around his waist and kept my hand on him so I knew he was safe. It was really nice though since I can't hold a 20 pound baby for an hour (and he won't fall asleep for my husband).

Nursing and gum are GREAT ideas too Delia.... although my kids had no problems with the pressure change. Neither one said anything about it which was weird because I totally expected them to be upset (I was told they would be).

I'm SOOOOOO sorry about your crummy flight Shantel. :( That's really all I can say. You really did have a rotten experience. You mentioned so many things going wrong - that's why I say that you should leave yourself plenty of time to get on your plane so that there is less stress - you are right! There is almost always a hiccup.

Good luck again and keep the advice coming.

Megan said...

There is this great travel blog call Delicious Baby,, they have tons of advice for traveling with toddlers for cars and airplanes!

Tannie Datwyler said...

Ooo, thanks Megan!!

Anonymous said...

I've had worst. Trust me. It wasnt the air port that was giving me trouble but my daughter. she wanted to pack all her push toys for toddlers in to her bag which she rarely plays with now.

LeeAnne said...

Boy, it really is different with each child! For instance, the first time we flew with our son he was 3 months old, from Salt Lake to Philadelphia, and we were thrilled that we got a great deal on a direct flight. That was an interesting experience... 6 hours straight on a crowded plane with a 3 month old who screamed through most of it! He enjoys being held, but he also likes to his own space to stretch and play, and it was just overwhelming for him to spend 6 hours straight being held on a crowded plane (even nursing didn't work, which was usually the cure for anything). The flight back wasn't as bad, mainly because it was 2 hours shorter and we had an empty seat next to us to let him lay on!

Since then, we've flown with our son when he was 18 months (SLC-PHL, PHL to Central America, and back), and then again a couple months ago, again from Salt Lake to Philadelphia, and I found that it was actually nice to have a layover to break up the flying time when it's such a long distance (for flights less than 3 hours, we'd do fine with non-stop). That way we can stretch our legs, eat, let our toddler run around. Nowadays there's nothing that gets him more excited than going on an airplane, so it's really easy to fly with him (lucky us!). We just bring him snacks, a few toys and books and he does great! He's the most entertained by the simple fact that he's on an airplane :) I do wish we brought a stroller though (this was the first time we did without it, and it would have been helpful- our son gets anxious in crowds, and if he can't be held he's happy to ride in a stroller. we had too much stuff to carry and he's getting too heavy to carry anyway!)

tara said...

I have flown with my 15-month old at least a dozen times - always by myself, and it can be hard, but can be managed. The biggest thing I would recommend is trying to get your carseat on the plane. If you are flying Delta and the plane isn't very full, they will let you bring on your carseat (as long as it is aircraft rated) and you can strap it in. If not, they will gate check it for you so you wouldn't be stuck with it if it didn't work out. (Check with your airline about gate checking before you do this though!) Turns out to be a good bonus if it works, they are strapped in and in their own space that they are used to.
The other thing I do with her when people are getting on is get a window seat and keep her occupied looking out the window at all the planes, trucks, etc. Otherwise, she sees other people walking around and she wants to get down and run.
As far as packing bags for the flight, I stick my baby in a bjorn carrier, then carry my diaper bag (with my laptop in it no less) on my shoulder. It is just enough space for the essentials and since getting toys out of it can be hard, it is better to not have dozens to pick from. Also, since I'm by myself, I don't really have the capability to load a real carry-on in the overhead compartment.
One point to clarify - the airline doesn't determine what liquids you can bring, TSA makes the rules for everyone, so it is all standard. You can bring milk, formula, juice, jarred baby food, etc. Go here for more info:
They will screen it but they just hold a little piece of paper over the bottle or sippy, nothing actually goes into the liquid.
Good luck, you can do it. And yes, I've had plenty of screaming, including one flight where she cried the ENTIRE time so I'm not dealing with a perfect angel regularly! :)