Monday, August 29, 2011

Flying with 1-Year-Olds, Hurricanes, and Other Good Ideas

***I'm hardly the first to traverse the young toddler trip territory (or excessive alliteration), so many thanks to youyouyou, you, you, and the many more of you I'm surely forgetting for your prior posts & helpful advice to me on the subject. Please let me know if I've inadvertently neglected to credit you here.***

Hello again! We're back from a whirlwind week of travel, first to visit my darling newborn niece in Dallas & then to an entirely different, less cuddly form of hurricane for an East Coast wedding.

Anywhoodle, I've long promised you a list of advice on how to navigate air travel with one older infant or young toddler. Given that this weekend marked five round-trip flights down in his 14 months of life, one of which Master P & I did sans help/husband, we're obviously experts on the topic. Obviously.

Plus, we at the Pretty like nothing better than kindly but firmly telling people what to do. Well, nothing except for a bottle of Veuve and an ocean view, perhaps, but - since those are unlikely (if welcome) companions to a piece on toddler travel, I'll take the bossing you around bit.

***Mildly Important Sidenote: my toddler travels to-date have all been domestic US & with my one & only 1-year-old, so my expert advice (ahem) is given with those limitations in mind. Those of you traveling internationally and/or with multiple children . . . um, good luck?***

Advice on younger toddler travel tends to fall along two lines: "In an ideal world" and "Reality Budget / Toddler Temperament". I don't presume to know your situation, so I include both here & will attempt to make note of where the advice may depend on budget considerations.

Before You Travel:
  • Pay someone else to do it for you.
  • Ok, truthfully - remember that, at least in my experience, young toddler travel isn't as bad as we think it is. More on this later, but I'm being serious. No, really.
  • Know your child's best time of day & schedule your flights accordingly (*In an Ideal World/Budget Note*): Many 1-year-olds are morning little people, and Master P is no exception; we notice a big difference in his happiness & therefore ours when we've flown early. We're better off waking him early to do a morning flight than cutting his mid-day nap short & taking an afternoon one. 
  • As usual, direct flights are your friend (*Ideal World/Budget Note*) when possible. We've done flights as long as one 3-hour stretch, and that went much better than two 1-1.5 hour flights with a layover.
  • Check your airline's bag fee policy before booking your tickets, because you want to check every bag you can. Remember: Your kid is not the enemy with navigating toddler travel - all the extra stuff they come with is. Note that most airlines don't count car seats as a checked bag for charging-you-$$ purposes; none that we've flown as of this writing have, but double-check this.
  • Buy a separate seat for your child (*Ideal World/Budget Note*). On many airlines, children under 2 years of age fly free as a lap passenger with you, but that extra seat buys you magical space in which your toddler can wiggle - versus running up the aisles and swinging from the drinks cart. This one also works well if your child happily sits in a car seat, because most airlines (all we've flown, but double check) will let you bring at least an infant car seat onboard.
  • A separate seat wasn't an option for us budget-wise, so we took our chances on not having a full flight & flew Southwest. Master P loathes all car seats, so we check his; on flights that haven't been full, however, that extra space allows him to wiggle without annoying other passengers - or annoying other passengers less, that is.
  • Get a copy of child's birth certificate to bring to the airport with you. Again, this varies airline to airline, but more often than not I've had to show one to prove Master P's under age-2 status - yes, even when he was all of 3 months old.
Arriving at Airport:
  • Have someone drop you, child & bags at curbside check-in; if traveling alone with your kid, have that same person accompany you through getting bags checked & as far through the security line as allowed.
  • Buy one of these (with thanks to Mrs. MMM, who first brought it to my attention with her excellent post here) if checking your toddler's car seat. The bag not only has backpack straps to make the trip from car to ticket counter easier, the overpackers amongst us (ahem) can squeeze a few more items in this roomy bag without paying an extra bag fee. Our Britax Boulevard fits it nicely & has sustained no damage to date.
  • Dress your child with enhanced TSA security in mind, just as you dress yourself - as few layers of clothes as possible, no metal nunchucks in pockets, etc. And, yes, your wee toddler who may or may not yet be walking will likely have to remove his shoes. 
  • Plan on security taking at least 5 minutes longer & adjust your time-to-gate plans accordingly; more often than not, Master P's snack/drinks bag (more on that below) gets an additional TSA screening.
  • Gate check your stroller: Maclaren has the best reputation in the lightweight travel stroller business for a reason; we travel with this one (NB: I found ours on Gilt, which puts these up for sale occasionally). The one-handed fold is so helpful when standing on the jetway with your wee angel wiggling out of your arms & a line of passengers behind you.
During Flight & Stuff to Pack for It
  • Board the plane early enough to get good seats (if flying Southwest) but not too early. I suspect this may be controversial, but - you'l be tempted to want to rush onboard to get settled; however, every minute you're sitting on the plane willing your child to sit still is one he could have been burning off energy in the terminal. 
  • Encourage your child to drink on takeoff / landing to help with ear pressure. You, of course, will need no such encouragement. Which reminds me...
  • Offer to buy a drink for anyone unlucky enough to be seated next to you. I've yet to have anyone take me up on the offer, but it seems to buy us some much-needed goodwill.
  • Bring half the toys and twice the snacks & drinks you think you'll need. The plane is one big fascinating toy in & of itself; this will depend on the kid but, at least in Master P's case, he's often more interested in the surrounding plane stuff - barf bags! safety instruction cards! window shades, oh my! - than the stickers & flash cards I've packed him. 
  • I consolidate my purse essentials into one diaper bag (I like traveling with this one, which has the benefit of looking manly enough that the Anonymous Husband will carry it without complaint) & include one smaller refrigerated lunch bag filled with snacks & drinks (more on that below). The Pretty Diaper bag includes:
    • 2 books
    • 1 new toy that can't roll away (drumstick, most recently; the lights & music toys he prefers can't easily be seen or heard on the plane)
    • 1 sticker book
    • 1 outfit change for child and, if possible, one t-shirt change for you; 1 extra layer for both
    • (Insert Xanax for Mommy joke here)
    • iPad for emergency video viewing (MP isn't usually interested in tv, but the 5 minutes of screech-free Elmo happiness the iPad has given us is worth its price alone).
    • 2 sippycups milk & 1 water. I wouldn't count on the flight attendants for this - when you need a sippy to keep your toddler happy, you tend to need it rightthisverysecond. Plus, while I've heard of airlines providing formula when needed, I've not seen milk alternatives like soy (which Master P drinks). 
    • "High value" snacks, ie, stuff I know he'll eat & don't create too much of a mess. String cheese, blueberries, Goldfish crackers = good / Swedish Fish I brought for me & shared with MP, only to have red goo get all over seat of his shorts in manner of, um, feminine incident = bad
    • 3 diapers, travel pack wipes, and these odor-concealing bags; be kind to your fellow travelers also using the insultingly small lavatory & bag diapers before trashing.
    • If your kid has a "lovey" he likes to sleep with, bring in case your checked bags disappear *and* (drumroll) on the off chance the Nap Fairy visits you during flight . . .
Granted, this cherubic sleep happened only after 10 minutes of tired screeching, but feel free to hate me regardless...
Which leads me to my next point:
  • Toddler travel isn't as painful as you'd think pre-kid, and your fellow passengers & flight crew are much nicer than you'd imagine too. Yes, really. I'm not claiming that people break out in song & jazz hands upon seeing you, but by & large they've been very kind. Yes, your kid will cry, but he will stop crying - because the flight will eventually end, if nothing else.
    After the flight:
    • If flying alone, have someone meet you just outside security (*Ideal World/Budget*): You will need help getting the bags on whatever transport you're taking and a grown-up adult to have a conversation with, not necessarily in that order. Sweet talk an airline employee if need be.
    What am I forgetting, Pretties? Also, now that you know that Master P sometimes naps on planes, do I have any volunteers to take him on our next trip?

      1 comment:

      Jessica Hudson said...

      This is all such great advice and very helpful as I'm packing for a trip to Seattle this weekend!

      One thing that helped us lots and was recommended by a friend (if your baby is small enough) is to put them in an Ergo or Baby Bjorn when boarding the plane. Super helpful to have the extra set of hands.

      I love your blog and look forward to reading!

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