With most airlines, you’ll have to buy a seat for any child over 2. You may also buy a seat for a child under 2 if you wish. If you have the funds, it’s a lot more comfortable to have that extra seat, even if your child refuses to sit quietly in it for the full flight.
Let me take a moment to advocate for the car seat. Most kids are accustomed to being strapped in to their car seat and have learned that you cannot struggle your way out of it. Most kids can also easily slip right out of an airline car seat. If you want a contained child, strap your car seat into the airplane seat. They can’t escape and they won’t try. It’s also far more comfortable for napping.
Some airlines provide bulkhead bassinets on long trans-Atlantic flights – you have to call to inquire and request one. Other airlines don’t, and won’t let you sit on the bulkhead or exit row with a lap infant. Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself in to – especially on those longer flights.
Lastly, you’ll need your child’s full name and date of birth. If you endeavor to book a flight for you and your child before your child has been born, remember to call after the birth to update that information. You should also travel with the birth certificate. I’ve never been asked for and identification for either of my kids, but it’s good policy to have the birth certificate hand, just in case. (For international trips, a passport is required, as well.)
Unlike your flashy single days, consider booking a vrbo or a one bedroom unit with a kitchen and washer dryer. Two separate spaces will allow you to have some adult space when the child is sleeping. Laundry will significantly cut down on what you need to pack. The kitchen will save you money and allow on-demand bottles and meals for the kids. Well worth it.
My packing hack is not bringing everything I need – thank you, AmazonPrime! Most hotels and rentals will allow you to pre-ship diapers and other necessities prior to your arrival. I usually throw in sun screen, take and toss sippy cups, wipes, and other essentials to fee up room in my suitcases.
Also consider renting gear. Places like Hawaii (vacation destinations set up for families) have a myriad of services from which to choose. You can get pack and plays, strollers, bouncers, high chairs, toys, and the like. While it’s easier than lugging the gear with you, it can get spendy. Always ask your accommodations if they provide cribs or baby gear. I’m always surprised how frequently they’ve not only got pack and plays but also high chairs and (once at the Westin) even a diaper genie.
Car seats and strollers are free to check on most airlines. That means it’s cheaper to bring your own familiar gear than to rent it when you arrive. I advocate bringing them with you.
Don’t try to carry on anything but the essentials. Pack in the biggest suitcases you have to consolidate the number of bags you need to drag around.
Getting to the Airport
Deep breath. Visualize the process. Count your baggage, add strollers, car seats, etc. and wrangling your children. Is mass transit feasible? Not really. Would it financially cripple the family to park at the airport? Probably. This leaves with either off-site parking (meaning you will then lug your stuff and kids onto a tram) or a taxi/uber. Do what seems most comfortable to you, but we are an uber family these days. The obvious benefit being it drops you off at curb-side where you can immediately check your gear. The other reason I choose an uber drop off over off-site parking is that, with the off-site parking, it is nearly impossible to safely secure a kid on the transport van, and (at SeaTac, anyway) it’s 10 minutes in traffic with an unreliable driver.
And, suffice it to say, plan to arrive much earlier than you think necessary.
You will immediately want to take advantage of the free checked strollers and car seats on most airlines.
To contain young children you have three good options: baby carrier, stroller, or carseat on wheels. We generally bring our car seats on the airplane, so a snap and go stroller or attaching wheels to the car seat works best for us.
Snap and go stroller
We recently discovered that children under 12 can use the TSA pre lines if they’re with adults who are TSA pre. Game changer!
If you’re bringing formula or breast milk through security, they will test each bottle, so add additional time. Consider bringing dry formula and empty bottles with you, then adding bottled water as you need it. This is my favorite travel formula dispenser:
Once you are through security, stock up on snacks and milk. Many airlines don’t have milk on board, so hit up a restaurant (or a starbucks!) to fill up your travel-tight containers before boarding.
Ask yourself this: Do you really want to pre-board? The answer should depend on how much stuff you have. When we travel with a car seat and two kids, we get on at the first opportunity so we have time and space to situate our gear. If we were traveling with one toddler, we would board last to let him run free as long as possible.
The last thing you should do before you get on the plane is change diapers. Those airplane lavatories are impossible and we were recently informed you aren’t allowed to change diapers anywhere except the ONE designated for diaper changing. Delightful. (Apparently, your own seat and the floor are frowned upon, as well.)
On the plane
You need to be Willy Wonka. Provide wonder and treats on demand. Load up in advance on both.
With an infant, consider bringing your baby carrier. I’ve seen parents walking up and down the aisle for hours with a happy baby or – better still – a sleeping baby. And if your child likes pacifiers, now is the time to invest in the cute little strings that attach the paci to the baby.
Trust me, you don’t want to spend your whole flight with your face in your travel companion’s lap, reaching under your seat for a filthy pacifier. Along the same lines, you can purchase tethers for toys, too.
Once your baby can walk, things get exciting because they will not want to sit in your lap patiently. Be prepared to bend or break all rules about electronics. When my baby was one, we flew to Paris via Iceland. I loaded up an iPad with games and shows, but he wasn’t captivated. Instead, he wanted to rip the safety information card and bang the tray table with the plastic cups. Go figure.
With a toddler, now’s the time to go big with the electronics. Games on the iPad like Tozzle are great. I’ve also captivated my kid with filters (snapchat or snow). Buy movies you know they’ll love but haven’t seen before (our personal favorites have been Winnie the Pooh and Curious George.) We also load up on episodes of Daniel Tiger and Sesame Street.
My 2 year old refused to wear headphones, so we purchased him soft Cozyphones for the plane and they worked like a charm.
You’ll want to pack as many toys as you can carry for the 5 minute attention span. I usually put each new activity in it’s own ziplock bag, so I can just reach into the backpack at a moment’s notice. My favorite toddler airplane toys:
· Colorful tape for the tray table
· New books
· Coloring supplies
· Wikki stix or pipe cleaners
Now good luck, and happy travels!