Saturday, March 22, 2008

an amazing trip trick: air travel with small children

(EDITED: with something hugely important - shown in red below. I can't believe I forgot to mention it!!)

Charlie and I first flew cross country with the triplets when they were 8-months old. We flew again cross country when they were 10-months old. Again when they were 17-months old, and again a few weeks after they turned two. This vacation to Florida with Elizabeth was her fifth cross-country plane trip. It was Henry's first plane trip. We had a great time, every step of the way. Even when we were stranded in the Dallas Fort Worth airport for almost 20 hours.

Here's why.

I didn't bring a lot of stuff that I had to lug around. My bags were light and I could easily access everything that I needed. We were completely sufficient and didn't run out of food - or entertainment.

I brought a few new toys for Elizabeth. Small things that were easy to pack, didn't contain very many parts, and she had never seen before. For instance, a princess coloring book with stickers and a pack of Crayola crayons (personally, I prefer the twistable type that don't break). I also brought her a travel Magna Doodle and a doll and pony set.

These items kept her happily occupied for much of our trip. They were secured in her own personal backpack and she spent just as much time playing with them - as she did taking them out and putting them pack in her satchel. If I was flying with the whole family - or would be on a longer trip without a change of planes - I definitely would have brought along a portable DVD so our kids could watch a movie and be entertained. (Actually, I probably would bring a laptop with a DVD player. Because then I could at least update my blog while I was on vacation...)

As soon as the novelty of her toys started to wear off, I pulled out various snacks ... crackers, fruit, chocolate. It's wise to purchase this stuff before you arrive at the airport. Because I ran out of time (and forgot), I had to make these purchases at the airport and wound up spending $1.50 (that would be A DOLLAR FIFTY) for an apple. Needless to say, I couldn't bear to throw it out and although it took five hours, Elizabeth ate the whole thing.

The only thing that you shouldn't bother to purchase outside of the airport, are drinks. These will be confiscated when you walk through the security line - so you're better off to make your beverage purchases before you board your plane. If you are bringing formula, you can either bring powder or, bring premixed with you. The first time we traveled we brought premixed formula for the triplets and they wouldn't drink it. The second time, I measured out the necessary amount of powder and added water when needed. This worked out much better because I brought less bottles (washed them in the restrooms) and it took up a lot less space.

Definitely make sure that you pack gum or are having your child eat/swallow when the plane is descending. I nursed Henry during take-off and landing, while Elizabeth happily smacked (for the first time in her life) on Bubble Gum. Charlie forgot to bring gum on his plane trip up north and William and Carolyn both screeched when the plane began it's descent because of their ears. And this is even though I specifically told him to NOT forget to pack gum. Thankfully, I don't nag too much and he'll only hear about this oversight two or three or twenty more times.

For Henry, I packed a few linkadoos, which he didn't even play with. He was more intrigued with the safety bulletin and air sick bag tucked in to the seat back pocket. And, of course, chatting it up with people who were sitting behind us.

I also didn't bother to bring baby food for him. Not only does it make a mess trying to feed an infant carrots or apple sauce on a plane, but baby's appetites when traveling are notably decreased. Instead, I brought along some Arrowroot cookies and similar snacks that are easy to dispense, and he could nibble on, himself.

In my carry-on bag, I packed a full change of clothes for each of the children, and a change of shirt for me. Even though we were going from one warm climate to another - I packed sweatshirts for everyone. Just in case we got cold - or - got stuck somewhere it might be cold.

I also packed a sufficient number of diapers >> or, approximately twice what I would expect to need in a single day. Because, as it turns out, you never know if you might get stranded and the last thing you want to do is run out of diapers.

I packed my small First Aid kit, because I never leave home with out it. When I'm traveling, I make sure that I've got a small bottle of Benadryl and Children's Tylenol or Motrin.

You might want to test the effect of Benadryl on a child if you intend to use it in an attempt for them to be drowsy. These days I carry it with me to use for motion sickness - or in case one of the kids has an allergic reaction.

The first time we used Benadryl on our triplets , in an attempt to have them sleep the whole flight, was when we flew from San Diego to Boston when they were 10-months old. We hadn't tried it out beforehand and they were completely wired. Even though they were on a two solid nap a day schedule, they didn't sleep the entire day. I don't think a straight IV of Mountain Dew would have hyped them up more than a 1/2 tsp of Benadryl.

I packed a simple receiving blanket that packs small and can be used to drape a nursing baby, or - can be used as a protector for seats or floors or even changing tables (if you use them), for diaper changes. Although I didn't have any one sitting next to me on three of the four legs of this journey, I did use the blanket to drape Henry's head when he was nursing. This is something I would not typically do, but because I was afraid I might doze off, if he dozed off, the last thing I wanted is to have him de-latch and have me sitting there with the nip exposed when people came walking back to use the bathroom. I'm sure I'd be snoring peacefully and that would be an awfully embarrassing sight - once I came to and realized my situation.

If I didn't have anyone sitting next to me, I changed Henry on the seat. If I did have someone sitting next to me - I didn't change him. Or, I would wait until we landed and could quickly change him on the floor - in a private area, tucked behind seats or a planter.

Maybe it's just coincidence, but in all the trips that I've taken with our children - never once have they had an offensive dirty diaper that must be changed. Typically, I change them before we get on the plane - and they are good to go until we change planes, or arrive at our final destination. Unless, they are soggy - and then I just change them on the plane, in the seat next to me. As for Elizabeth, even though she is fully day-potty-trained, I put her in a Pull-Up diaper for the entire day that we were traveling. As it turns out, this was an excellent move, because without fail - despite her using the restroom immediately before boarding, she would always inform me that she had to go potty as soon as the plane was taxiing out on the runway - or just as the plane was ascending or descending. And then again, once we got on the freeway and were in the car driving back to my mother's house. If your child doesn't have any accidents, great. But, it's better to have a small recently-potty-trained child wear a Pull-Up and not need it, then the other way around.

That's probably enough rambling about diaper changes.

But along that same vein ... literally ... I suggest that if you are traveling alone with an infant, you learn how to use the restroom with a baby suspended in a carrier.

Although I'm sure that fellow passengers would have been happy to hold Henry while I used the facilities, I like to have him with me at all times.

Especially if I haven't yet met my fellow passengers and would prefer that my introduction didn't consist of "Hi, can you please hold my baby while I go to the latrine?"

To use the restroom with a baby suspended in a carrier really isn't difficult. If you've never done this before, it's better to practice before you get on a plane and find yourself in a two foot by two foot cell cruising at 32,000 feet - where air pockets and turbulence are not unusual. It also helps to wear drawstring pants.

Back to the contents of my carry-on bag.

In the outer pocket, I keep things that I need to have easy accessibility to. Particularly, diaper wipes, snacks and a large Ziploc bag that I can use to collect trash. If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is making a mess. I also cannot stand when other people make a mess and leave it behind.

We always pick up after ourselves.

Even when we're in restaurants and we're paying for people to do that for us. It's just something about my neurotic personality that I cannot leave an environment with food and wrappers on the floor.

I also have a small, over the neck purse, that I use to hold all of my necessary credit cards, cash and boarding passes. My wallet at home is rather bulky, so this is a perfect sized travel pouch that sits in my backpack when I'm not wearing it.

Our automobile insurance agent told us that a carseat, when checked, is liable to sustain the same amount of damage as a carseat that is in an automobile accident. Therefore, it is recommended that if you ever check your carseats as luggage - you replace it, before using it in a vehicle. Considering we have $300.00 Britax carseats for our kids >> replacing them every time we travel is highly unlikely. There are two solutions if you don't check your carseats.

One - rent or borrow them when you arrive at your destination.


Two - bring them on the plane.

If you bring your carseat on the plane, you have to purchase a seat for it. We have done this and I can easily say it was the biggest inconvenience you could possibly imagine. Hauling carseats on to the plane before everyone boards - getting them installed correctly - running back and bringing babies on the plane - only so that they won't sit in the carseats that you've been dragging through the airport and breaking your back to install is definitely not worth the inconvenience, in my humble like-to-keep-things-simple, opinion.

The only exception is if you are flying with infant triplets with only one other adult. Or infant twins, by yourself. In which case, I'd suggest that you bring one carseat for the baby that you cannot hold.

We purchased two seats for two carseats only once - and I think it was a waste of money because both Charlie and I wound up holding a baby the whole time, anyway. Even once they turned two and we had to purchase seats for the children, they still wound up sitting on our laps for the duration of the flight.

If you chose to check your carseat as luggage (which I did on this trip - even though I am only very slightly to not-concerned-at-all that the integrity of our carseats have been compromised), I recommend bringing a large (45 gallon) trash bag that you can put your carseat in before you check it. If you have access to a large canvas duffle bag that will hold the carseat, all the better. But if not, it's good to at least put your carseat in something to keep it clean. Otherwise, the chances are great that it will come out on the baggage carousel looking like it's been dragged through dirt.

Most airlines no longer supply bags to keep carseats protected, and like Pull-Ups for recently-potty-trained travelers, you're better off to bring one and find out that you don't need it - than the other way around. Actually, make sure you bring at least two 45 gallon bags per carseat. Because you'll need a new one for your trip home.

It's important to note that carseats do not count as checked luggage.

Although bringing carseats on board is difficult, I roll my stroller right up to the plane. It is always gate-checked and is waiting for me when we deplane.

If you are unable to remove the wheels for it to fit on the security conveyor belt for x-ray, it will be scanned by an agent. Again, in my humble like-to-keep-things-simple opinion, the single BOB stroller is the best single stroller on the market.

Not only can the wheels come off for it to fit on the security conveyor belt for x-ray, but, it can be used as a double when you load a second child on the sunshade.

This is the only way I could use the restroom without fear that Elizabeth would try to untie the shoes on the people in the stall next to us.

Because we live in San Diego, it is unusual that we can get direct flights to any of our east coast destinations. The one time we had a direct flight, it was an extremely long day and if I could have, I would have landed the plane just so we could stretch our legs and let the kids roam for a while.

I believe that a brief layover is a nice change of pace for everyone, especially if the amount of time spent in the air will be more than four hours.

As for us, until our children are a little older, I will intentionally book cross-country flights with one change of planes - that is at least an hour, but not more than three. Unless, we're flying red eye - or, internationally on longer flights. Of course the drawback of changing planes is the possibility that you're flight is delayed - or canceled. For me, it's a risk worth taking.

Where you sit on the plane is largely personal preference. When I'm traveling with small children, I like to sit in the far back. Even though there is more leg room in the bulk head seats, there are usually less people in the far back of the plane - so more likely room for you to spread out. Because most people like to sit towards the front, there is typically more over head space for your belongings and you are close to the restrooms.

Other back of the plane advantages ... it is louder because you are near or behind the jets, and the noise either helps to quell rambunctious children, or lull them to sleep. There is no rush to get off because you are at the back and have sufficient time to collect your belongings and exit. Also, if you need to get up and walk, you can do so with less impact on your fellow passengers.

And, in the off chance you have to make an emergency landing - there's a good chance you'll be the first one off.


  1. Please, for the love of God - Write a book! Then you won't have to go back to your real job. Then, when you are a famous author and invited onto Oprah's show, you can bring your mom (and you're old college pal, Lorie) to meet her! See how nicely things work out!

  2. I'll second the book comment!

    Lollipops also work great to stop ears from hurting. When I was small our mom would give us a sucking lolly as the plane started descending.

  3. I use the go go kidz attachment on my britax. Kills two birds with one stone. Also, on international flights, I enjoy an extra spot for the little one even if he isn't sitting in it-- more space and more luggage.

  4. gOOD TO KNOW JEN, THANX FOR THE INFO. OOps sorry for the caps :(

  5. We had the same princess sticker book, the same magna doodle, and the same markers. You are just freaking me out. The only thing I had that you didn't was a DVD player. But we were on a non-stop flight for 6 hours and that's an awful long time to fill. As it turns out, on the way there she napped for 2 hours and then watched a movie for 2 hours. Then ate for an hour. It wasn't bad at all. But our chair and surroundings looked like Pig Pen had moved in. I have no idea how you kept it clean. Ours was A MESS!

  6. I love reading your tips! And I'm so glad you're back so you can blog again :D

    And I finally realize how you nurse in the wear Henry much lower than I wear my DD. Does it hurt your back to wear him so low? I followed the directions on my carrier and wear my daughter at a height where I could lower my chin and kiss the top of her head.

  7. Hi Jen!
    Glad to see that you all arrived back home in one piece. Looks like you had a great time. "Auntie" looks fantastic! What a great life...I'm happy for her. I've said it before and I'll say it should take this little "collection" of stories and find a publisher. Seriously, you have fantastic writing skills and your "story" would make a great book! Think of could pay for the kids college education. Keep up the good work...

    P.S. Be glad you live in sunny California. Massachusetts is gray, raw, dreary and only about 25 degrees tonight. Yuck. Happy Easter.

    Anne Marie

  8. One of many cuzzins!3/23/08, 12:34 AM

    Just catching up on the last 2 posts...and I am wicked jealous!! Your vacation looks wonderful. I am so glad you had the chance to get away and spend some time quality time with Auntie. She looks terrific! What a nice area where she & Jim are staying.
    Your pictures are great....that one of Henry with the ice cream cone...precious. And Elizabeth decked out in her pink princess garb...adorable. And might I all, you are looking svelte and sweet sixteenish.

    Nice post.

    Hope the Easter Bunny hops down your trail tonight! Have a Happy Easter!
    ~ Regina

  9. Looks like you had a terrific vacation, despite the long delay on your way home. I wish my parents would have remembered to pack gum when I was little and our family traveled. They quickly learned that my ears were very sensitive to the pressure change. I think the whole plane figured that out, actually.

  10. I am a week away from a flight to Australia from London with my soon to be 3 year old. I have travelled with him several times before (to and from Japan) but this time I am very stressed about the whole thing as he is SOO much more active than the past few flights. All of your tips are awesome and I will definitely be making a note of them as I get ready for my trip over the next few days. I agree that you should write a book. I don`t comment very often but I LOVE reading your blog.

  11. You should send this post as an article to a parenting magazine or a traveling one! Great tips!