3 Tips to Surviving a Flight With One Year Olds
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A few months ago, I had the brilliant idea to travel to visit our family (400 miles away) by plane for a long holiday weekend. We had traveled via car a few times since the babies were born, but why make a 7 hour car trip (more like 10 hours with stops) when we could take a 45 minute direct flight? From the moment the thought popped into my head, I considered myself challenged. I WOULD fly with these babies, and look like a BAMF while doing it. Here is my essential guide to flying with littles!
The choice…or Challenge
Did we really have to fly? No. Were we really going to save a ton of time while doing it? No. But for the past year, I had been feeling down on the fact that my vision of traveling was now different than I had pictured. Before we started a family, I was looking forward to having a baby that I would throw on my back and take with us as we continued our travel streak. I looked forward to taking adorable maternity photos on our baby-moon.
When we got pregnant with twins, the game changed. While I had a healthy pregnancy, I was still considered high risk, so there would be no baby moon. Somehow being the easy going, occasionally nomadic, traveling family was no longer something I could envision.
Don’t get me wrong. Having twins is one of the most amazing blessings and joys I have ever, ever experienced. The reality is, however, that there are some things that are exponentially more difficult (and some near impossible) to execute when you have two babies at the same time.
All that being said, again, we did not have to fly. But I needed to prove to myself that we could do it, so that I could know that if we had to, we could. And, most importantly, that if we wanted to, it wouldn’t be a near impossible task.
When faced with any new parenting adventure, I do what most moms do–head over to Pinterest. There sure was a lot of info to read, and I spent a good deal of time reading, sorting, and trying to find posts applicable to my situation. Ultimately, I took bits and pieces of this information, and combined it with the realization that I know my children.
So many times I find myself stressing because I think I have no idea how they will do with x, y, or z. But I do know, because I know them as if I grew them inside me (oh wait…). I know how they get when they are hungry or tired. I know how they thrive with structure in their day. I know which baby calms immediately with cuddles, and who is squirmy and distractible. This was the only information I needed to plan the details of our trip.
The 3 Keys to Flying Ease
1. Flight Schedule Choice
Before kids, I never paid much attention to which flight I chose (the cheaper the better, right?!). When planning our trip, I knew that I didn’t want to travel too close to bedtime, since the only thing worse than dealing with cranky babies near bedtime is having others watch you deal with cranky babies near bedtime. I did consider an early morning flight, since we could potentially just get up and put the babies in the car, hopefully resulting in them still sleeping. However, I knew that there was a pretty slim chance of getting out the door in time, and a high chance of them not falling back to sleep, resulting in lots of fussing.
The consensus was a 1pm flight. We were able to get up, have our normal morning routine including a (partial) morning nap. We put the babies in the car, dropped off the dog, and made our way to the airport, arriving 2.5 hours early. Then, we were able to leisurely check in for the flight, feed the babies lunch at the airport, and settle into our surroundings rather than rushing. I also knew that we had at least an hour drive after our flight landed, so in case of a missed nap on the plane, there was a high likelihood of a car nap on the way to our final destination.
2. Pack Everything
Always the planner, I wrote out my packing list at least 2-3 weeks before our trip. Then, about 1 week before, I actually started packing. I knew that I needed to have every necessity possible in a single backpack (which I duplicated for each child).
I covered several categories:
I found this awesome divided formula container and packed a single bottle per bag. While pre-made bottles or ready-to-drink formula were options, I ultimately wanted to plan for the possibility of being stranded on the tarmac. [Note, the TSA allows parents to bring on “reasonable amounts of breast milk, formula, water, or juice” for children. Also, you can bring breast milk even if your baby is not with you. More info here.] With the formula container I was prepared for three separate feedings. I had three food pouches packed together in a plastic bag, along with my favorite unitasker – a silicone pouch spout that allows my girls to eat their pouches without any mess. I also had puffs and creamy melts – two things I know will turn my girls frowns upside down in an instant.
The girls wore footed PJs for the trip. Granted, not their fancy travel attire that I would have preferred to present them in to the public, but this made things so much easier. First, there was no possibility of pulling off shoes and socks (their favorite hobby). Second, on-the-go diaper changes did not require taking off pants, undoing a onesie, etc. They wore light fleece jackets over the PJs since planes are always chilly. Each backpack had a change of clothes–onesie, sweatpants, socks.
Each girl’s favorite stuffed animal came along for the flight. Various toys also came along, mostly of the chewy/teething variety, and all things that I could somehow secure somewhere. The last thing I wanted to do was worry about toys dropping on the floor and ending up under the feet of the grumpy man in seat 10A. I packed several toy leashes for this purpose. I packed a muslin blanket in each bag, in case emergency fort building or peek-a-boo games were needed. If all the aforementioned things failed, each bag had an iPad with several pre-downloaded cartoon movies. My girls do not watch any TV but are fascinated by anything with a screen. The iPad served as my emergency pacifier (which we thankfully did not need).
Hygiene / Safety
I put the girls in overnight diapers before we left the house, in case I didn’t have the opportunity to change their wet diapers before we left. I had plenty of diapers on hand between the backpacks and suitcase (and shipped the rest to our destination). Each backpack had a travel sized pack of these wipes, which are acceptable for bum use and face use. I also packed disinfecting wipes, because planes=germs. Yuck.
I thought a lot about the potential for ear pain with plane ascent and descent. The most consistent piece of information I read was that sucking (a bottle/breast, pacifier, pouch) is the best way to avoid ear discomfort in babies. I planned to give them bottles with take off, but to be honest, the water I ended up getting was too hot and I didn’t have a chance to cool it down and make the bottle before needing to board the plane. We settled with pacifiers instead.
I’m not sure whether this helped the actual ear pressure issue, but I did pack the girls ear protecting headphones. Planes can be alarmingly loud, and I figured it would either be perfect white noise or really distressing to them. One of the girls kept the headphones on, the other didn’t. Who knows if they made a difference, but I’m glad I had them.
3. Parent-Child Rationing
Before the flight, each parent knew which baby he/she was responsible for. As mentioned above, each parent had a backpack that was identical to the other’s. Because of the layout of our plane, we were in separate rows, so we needed to have the mentality of one adult flying alone with one child. My assigned baby ended up falling asleep on my prior to take off, thus it was good we had this mentality. I was essentially useless to my husband in the row behind me.
Other Important Details
There were many other things to consider, most of which were specific to our travel plans.
We took our own car to the airport and used the curbside valet service. Since we were renting a car at our destination, I purchased an extra set of car seats just for travel, and packed them in these super handy backpack travel bags. I am a huge fan of the Cosco Scenera Next car seats. I bought them online for less than $40 each and they are super highly rated and reliable. They are lightweight, easy to install, and a great no-frills basic car seat. We took the opportunity to rent an SUV (we both drive cross-over vehicles), which we knew would fit all our gear. We reserved it to be picked up at the airport, which I’m sure was a bit more expensive (but we didn’t really have a choice).
Packing Our Stuff
Since we stayed with my mom at our destination, we already had a stash of our necessities there. Our toiletries, PJs, pack and plays for the girls were things we didn’t have to worry about. My mom graciously picked up a box of diapers and packs of wipes. I decided that we would travel with one checked suitcase. For the cost of checking a second bag, I was able to ship a box to our destination. This included our holiday outfits, extra bottles, and other miscellaneous items that we didn’t need in the few days leading up to travel day.
Chris and I packed conservatively, and we were able to fit everything in our one checked suitcase. Bonus: we didn’t have to pay to check the bag! The American Airlines ticketing agent probably saw us with our 1 year old babies and had such pity on us that he likely thought that we would need that $25 for large glasses of wine after the trip.
The Bottom Line
If you are traveling with a baby, especially more than one, plan ahead! Make a list of necessities, pack them efficiently, and take advantage of anything that will make the trip go easier. Don’t underestimate how well you know your own kids, and make sure you fit them into your plans, while still giving them the opportunity to adapt to change. While our trip home didn’t go quite as smoothly (one of the girls was sick with an ear infection and we decided to drive back in the rental car and cancel our flight), I am so glad that we planned the trip as we did. It certainly boosted my mom confidence, which goes a long way!