|Art folio pictured from Two Little Gingers|
Free Under 2 Years
Maybe most people know this, maybe they don't. If you have a child under 2 years, they are considered "infant in arms," and you don't have to buy a seat for them. Your kiddo will be riding on your lap the whole time, but most kids that age would rather sit on your lap anyway. (Even when they're over 2 years they do!) Just make sure when you buy your ticket, you put that down. Because of the number of oxygen masks in each row, only one "infant in arms" is allowed per row per side (so if you're flying with 2 under 2 and another adult, you can sit on opposite sides of the isle, but not on the same side in the same row).
Where to Sit
It's not always possible, but if you can, try to get seats towards the front of the plane. You'll be the last ones on and the first ones off, meaning less time your kiddos have to be contained. With that, when they first begin boarding, after first class boards, they'll allows people with disabilities and people with small children to board. Don't. Yes, it does take a couple extra minutes to get kids and gear down the tiny isle of the plane and settled into their seats, but then they're contained to a small space longer, and most toddlers aren't happy about it (small babies really care one way or the other though, as long as they're cuddled up with momma).
We haven't ever done car seats on the planes. It's a lot to carry through the airport and juggle with everything else we have. We check them with our luggage. The airlines check them for free. We've always put them in some sort of car seat bag, just to keep them cleaner while they are riding in the underbelly of the plane (the last time we stuffed 2 car seats in one bag AND managed to get our winter coats in it as well -less to carry through the airport and pack on the plane). The last flight I was tempted to bring a car seat for Nora (to actually keep Nate contained), but opted not to, and they both did just fine. The Car Seat Lady recommends that you do have your child in a car seat, and buy a seat for your child, even if they are under 2 years. It's not the law, so use your best judgement.
Carry-ons & Checked Luggage
With having to bring diapers, extra changes of baby/toddler clothes, and all the gear that goes along with small children, we've found that the $20 to check a bag is worth it. Plus, then you can check your toiletries without having to try to get tiny bottles in Ziplocs through security lines (read that as quicker & easier to get through security). We've only ever done one. We pack as light as we can. We each take a carry on and a personal item. Just think about who's going to be carrying the child(ren) or pushing the stroller, and how many hands/ backs/ fronts each of you (or just you!) will have. I have been seen walking through the airport pushing a stroller with one child and a small carry on below her, using a carrier to carry a child on my back, and carrying a backpack on my front. Anything you don't think you can carry/ push, try to check. The airports do have Smarte Cartes that you can pay to use if you need. We take a wheeled carry on that we can attach bags to, a stroller that we put a child (or two) in along with whatever we can fit underneath or over the handles (if it's light/small enough), and backpacks. (More on transporting kids through the airport in the section below.) The big thing is thinking about who's carrying what and if you'll have enough hands. If not, try something else, or check a suitcase.
Strollers & Carries
I think we've done this differently each time we've flown. It depends on your child(ren)'s age(s) and what makes the most sense for your situation. We've always taken a stroller. The first time (when Nora was 3 months old), I wore her in the Moby, and we used the stroller to help to carry our stuff. When she was 9 months she was in the stroller. When we had a 5 month old and a 22 month old, we took the double stroller. At some points Nate was in the fitted sling, and luggage in his stroller seat, other times we were carrying more luggage, and he was in the stroller. The last time, we just took a small umbrella stroller that we could put one small item underneath. I pushed the stroller with Nora in it, had Nate on my back in the Boba, and a backpack on my front. Nora held her small backpack (with her entertainment stuff - see below), and my mom had her backpack and a wheeled carry-on with another bag attached to it. Again, just make sure there's enough hands for everything you need.
Note on carries: I've used the Moby, a fitted sling, and a Boba. Going though security I've always had to take the child out and carry him/her through. You can keep the carrier on, but then your hands will be swabbed. The Moby was too much work to take on and off, so I opted for swabbing (doesn't take that long). The other two were quick on and off, so I just took them off and sent them through the scanner.
Note on strollers: They will be sent through the scanner, so fold them up and put them on the belt. Our double stroller did not fit though, so they had to hand search it, which does take a couple extra minutes, but not terribly long. Just keep it in mind when you're trying to reach your gate on time. Strollers can be gate checked (you push them all the way down the ramp and leave them right outside the plane door). Make sure that they have a tag denoting that you want it brought back up, so that when you get off the plane it's waiting right outside for you. Otherwise it will be down in the over-sized checked luggage baggage claim area. If that happens, ask for a wheelchair if you don't want to try to wrangle a runaway toddler and all your gear.
Sippy Cups & Bottles
While TSA believes that you would drink explosives, they are okay with you allowing your children to bring them on board. Bottles of water or formula, expressed breast milk, or sippy cups of water, juice, or the like for your toddlers are fine to bring through security. Just make sure they are either taken out of your bags or that you are in an outside pocket (like in the wheelchair picture above). Baby food is also allowed, (read more on this in the ears popping section), and you don't have to allow them to open it. Most airports just want to have it out of your bag (some don't care).
The shoes of small children do not have to be removed when you're going to security. Some airports don't even make you remove your shoes anymore, but if they do shoes you can slip on and off quickly are your best bet.
Depending on the age of your child, and if he's phasing out naps, or if he's very curious, he may not nap. We've traveled at all different times of the day with all sorts of disruptions to naps times and normal routines. We've only flew from Minnesota to Oregon/ Washington though, and that adds a 2 hour time change. Chances are the excitement of the airport with all it's people watching, places to explore, planes and ramp happenings to watch, they won't nap in the airport (you know your kid best, of course, maybe your kid will sleep anywhere... lucky parent you are!). The plane, I've found, is a toss up. When they're young and over tired, I've been able to put them in a carrier after take off (don't try before, they'll wake up when they're ears start popping... see below for more on that), and get them to sleep. I've used a Moby, a fitted sling, and a Boba. Use what you're most comfortable with and what your child seems to like best. Mine typically whined and cried for maybe 5 minutes until they passed out, or they nursed to sleep quickly.
Ears Popping (Equalizing)
Nora was a nuk kid. No problems there. If yours is, use it. Nursing babies (or giving a bottle) has helped as well. But, when they're a little older, I've found those squeeze packets of baby food or applesauce are amazing! Not only do they keep your toddler or baby busy and content sucking the food out and swallowing it, but their ears are equalizing (popping) the whole time, so they're not fussing about the pressure. I've heard other people suggest suckers and I've seen gum too. I rarely give my kids candy, and besides, they'd bite the suckers anyway. I don't think she'd quite know what to do with gum either, and would probably just swallow it. Just be aware that depending on what airport you're flying out of and the mood of the TSA person, they may try to open them to make sure they're not explosive. You can refuse. They'll swab your hands and your stuff, see that you're not trying to feed your children explosives, and send you on through.
Diapers and Potty Training
Diapers: Change your baby/toddler right before you get on the plane in hopes of avoiding a diaper change mid-flight. Though, sometimes, poop happens. A small baby will fit on the "changing table" of the teeny tiny bathrooms on the plane, that is if the plane has one. A toddler will not. On a plane that didn't have one, a flight attendant gave me a blanket to put across the seats. I've done changes a couple different ways. The changing table was the worst option (keep in mind we also hit some turbulence after the diaper was removed, but before the baby was wiped... not a pleasant experience for anyone involved). I did do a standing change with Nora on the changing table, and that seemed okay (if you don't hit turbulence). Otherwise, I've found the plane seats have been my best option. (Though if you're sitting next to a stranger, they might not appreciate it, so just be considerate!)
Potty Training: Yikes! You can barely fit one person in those bathrooms. Add a curious toddler, it's an interesting experience. This probably goes without saying, but make sure she tries before boarding the plane. Depending on where you are with it, and how your toddler is doing, you might want to consider using a diaper or pull up for the plane. I knew my daughter could handle the flight without an accident, and that she would refuse to wear a diaper for it. So we went for it, and she was fine.
This always depends on the age of your child. Books and small toys along with mom and/or dad's undivided attention is usually enough for a baby, plus chances are they'll take a small nap for you. Older babies and toddlers need a little more entertainment. Both of my kids have needed to just get up and walk the aisle at some point (or two) during the flight. My mom always held one of their hands in case of unexpected turbulence or unseen feet in the aisle. Books, again, are good for toddlers, and so is coloring. (The picture at the beginning of the post show my daughter using an Art Folio from Two Little Gingers, which are awesome for keeping crayons, markers, paper, stickers, etc. together, so you don't have to dig through your bags. But what kept my daughter the most entertained was some sort of electronic device like a phone or a tablet with games downloaded on it for her. Depending on your device, just Googling "toddler apps for (Android/ iPhone/ etc.)" will result in tons of apps. I always go for the free ones, but from what I've read from other blogs, there's some paid apps out there for toddlers that are worth the money. I just don't let my kids have really any screen time otherwise, so I didn't want to pay for apps that I'd only use on the occasional flight, but that screen time could have pretty well kept her entertained the whole time. So even if you're a "no screen time" type parent, I'd highly consider it for a flight where they're trapped in their seat the whole time. There are plenty of educational and book-type apps out there if you want to stick to that type (that's what I did).
I'd love to hear from you!
Did you take a flight with your little(s)? What tips/ advice would you add to this list? What worked and what didn't? Leave a comment below and share with everyone!