As I prepare to take my first plane trip with two kids, I am searching everywhere for tips and ideas on how to keep the little one occupied and everyone happy on a 5 hour flight. While my husband will be with me this time, I’m sure I’ll have to fly alone with them eventually and I’m sure many of you parents will be flying solo sometime over the summer with your kids. So my friend Emily from Young Love Story, who is a pro at flying solo with her two kids, is here to share her tips and tried-and-true tricks for flying solo with two kids.
I am a mother of two, Adam 4 and Lake 1, located in LA. I am originally from Minnesota and my husband Alex is from New York, so neither of our families live near us. Which means lots and lots of plane travel with two young kids. More often than not, Alex is not able to come with us or can’t come for as long, which means I am flying alone with the kids. After many many flights with them alone, and after trying countless different gear combinations (including one time when I carried Lake through the airport in her infant car seat, which is clearly NOT what I recommend), I have learned what works and what makes your life more difficult. So here is my step by step process of how to make it through a travel day with your sanity somewhat in tact!
First of all, let’s all agree on the fact that when we are flying with toddlers it’s absolutely acceptable for them to watch a movie or play on their iPad. No one is going to judge you when they see your kid on hour 3 of the flight and he is on his 8th episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates. They are going to congratulate you on how your well your kid is doing on the plane. I will admit, when Adam was little and my only child, I had all sorts of creative activities that we would cycle through and I would feel so proud if we made it through a flight without turning on the iPad. But with two kids by yourself, it’s an entirely different story. This is about survival.
1. Booking Seats – Technically speaking, it’s safer for everyone involved if your infant has their own seat and they are strapped into their car seat for the entire flight. However, most of the time we choose to take advantage of the “infant in arms” option. If you choose this option, make sure you are aware of your airline’s policy on proving your baby’s age. I have never had to show a birth certificate but I have heard some airlines require them at check in. When Lake was really little, I kept her in a carrier or wrap during takeoff and landing which made her more secure. If you only have two seats, try to book an aisle and center seat. Even if your baby sleeps (fingers crossed), you will still need to easily get up for bathroom breaks and diaper changes without bothering your neighbor. Avoid the bulkhead which is the front row of your section. Often times the arm rests don’t move up and down plus there are no seats in front of you so you have to put your bags in an overhead bin during takeoff and landing. This can mean up to 20 minutes with no toys or snacks for the kids, which means torture for you. 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. But trust your instinct on what time you think is best for your own child. Some kids will just get overtired and manic later in the 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, he cried the entire flight. It was awful.
Full disclosure, I am terrible at booking flights so when i say “I” book these seats I mean “my husband.” 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. 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 (or spit-up) soaked shirt. Adam has his own mini suitcase (adorable and handy) for his plane necessities. Look for one that is easy to wheel, small enough to fit under the seat in front of them, and light enough for you to carry along with everything else in case they get bored pulling it through the airport. Adam’s is just big enough for his iPad, headphones, blanket, stickers, and snacks.
3. Gear – If you have access to a safe, reliable car seat at your destination always use that option (be cautious about renting car seats, you never know how old the seat is or if it has been in crash). Toddler car seats are so big and heavy these days, it’s nearly impossible for you to get them through the airport and on the plane with kids in tow. I once tried this with Adam’s by myself and it was a disaster. 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 completely terrified baby. It was horrible. So now we leave Adam’s seat at home and bring Lake’s infant car seat with us. We have a dedicated travel car seat that is less expensive and we only use it when we fly so we check it with our luggage. If you still have the box, the safest way for car seats to travel is in their original packaging. Fun fact: all baby gear (car seats, portable cribs, strollers, etc) can be checked for free on most airlines and don’t count as luggage.
4. Getting Through The Airport – If your youngest is old enough, put them in an umbrella stroller and check it at the gate. If they are too little, keep your car seat with you through the airport and use a snap n go or light stroller frame and gate check both items separately. You can get an inexpensive, easy to pack gate check bag that will somewhat protect your stroller from getting scratches and dings. Our favorite travel stroller is the Uppa G-Lite. It works for babies and toddlers, folds with one hand (a must when you are at 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. Although it may seem easier to have your youngest in a carrier rather than dealing with the stroller, I found that it was actually more of a nuisance. Security will usually make you take them out of the carrier and send it through the scanner, which means having to wrap them back up when you’re done. Also, they will most likely be in your arms for hours of a flight, and it’s nice to give your body a rest in the airport.
5. Security Line – So now your baby is in the stroller, your toddler is pulling their own suitcase, and you are carrying an incredibly large Mary Poppins-esq tote bag. Politely demand to use the family lane which is available in many US airports. It’s a great perk to flying with kids. It’s usually shorter and ironically moves faster. Have your ID 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 hold your baby. If you have any breast milk, water for the baby’s bottle, or liquid formula in your bag you can keep it with you, but 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).
6. Waiting – Now is the time to do diaper changes and potty time. It’s infinitely easier in the airport and you should 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. If you have a baby, lay out a blanket and let them roll around and play. It’s not time to freak out about getting dirty 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.
7. Boarding – If you have aisle seats and don’t have to crawl over a stranger, 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.
8. 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, this is to avoid your kids getting serious illnesses. Set up a little trash bag for trash throughout the flight. Let the kids crawl around until the plane starts moving.
9. In The Air – Be prepared with a diaper changing caddy or a ziplock bag with a couple diapers and a handful of wipes. 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 almost always a point where I am holding Lake and also holding Adam up to help him pee because the toilet is too high. It’s not easy.
Have new toys to introduce on the plane. Babies love pulling small items out of a bag. I pack a cosmetic bag full of little toys that Lake can unzip, take out, put back in, zip up, repeat, repeat. Stacking toys and shape sorters are also great. Teethers are good for younger babies. For a helpful DIY trick, try attaching them to an old blanket with loops of velcro so when your baby decides to start tossing them they don’t end up all over the floor. Adam just loves to eat snacks and watch movies. I try to bring fun things that he doesn’t get to eat very often – healthy fruit snacks, fruit leather, new 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 Adam his own kid headphones (Spiderman, obviously) that are made to regulate volume for little ears. It’s very hard to hear their iPad over the sound of the plane without them.
Make sure to feed both kids during takeoff and landing to relieve the pressure in their ears. If they will drink a bottle, nurse, or take a pacifier, 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. Or, if they are like Adam and have tubes in their ears then you don’t have to worry!
10. You Made It! After what seems like an eternity, 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 about being strapped in the stroller. 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 bags. 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.
Thanks so much for those tips Emily! You can follow Emily and her family on their current adventure in London on instagram now. And I’ll be sharing my must-have gear for travel and things that worked well for us on the plane once we take our trip, so stay tuned, and follow along on instagram for all of our travel shenanigans as well.