When my oldest was a baby, we avoided flying like the plague. He did not set foot on an airplane until he was almost 4 years old.
What then, would possess us to take the not-quite 8 month-old on a plane?
And a big dose of crazy.
We flew across the country to Arizona for my niece’s bat mitzvah with big dude and little man in tow. With no direct flight options, we ended up with a layover in Chicago. Not so bad on the way out. Hubby was there to help. Big dude got to watch the iPad and was completely engrossed for the flights. Little man had a hard time with the pressure changes, but otherwise was happy to cuddle with me in the Ergo.
Then came the trip home. Hubby had a conference, so he flew out early Monday. I flew home later that day with big dude and little man. Two more planes, with a layover in Chicago. And by layover, what I really mean is “Terminal Sprint Through O’Hare.”
It was…an experience. One I will not soon repeat. But! Spring break and summer travel season are upon us. In honor of big dude’s upcoming 5th birthday, I picked my top 5 tips for surviving a flight as a solo-parent with kids.
#5: Make Love, Not War (With the TSA Agents).
Be prepared to lose time here. If you’re carrying formula, baby food, breast milk or the baby in the carrier, you will get stopped. They will need to do additional screening. Read the rules before you fly and consider taking a printed copy with you for reference. Being proactive by telling them you have formula (or whatever other allowable item for baby) may help you move faster.
I’ve now had several flights where I got lucky, was shuttled to a special line because of the kiddos, and moved through with relative ease. Then there was the return trip home this time. Cranky baby wanted the formula, in the bag that needed a “bag check on 4” for about fifteen minutes. The poor agent at the machines kept calling for someone to do the bag check. And the other agents kept ignoring him, pulling bags from lines 1, 2 and 3, all from people who went through the scanners well after me.
Channel the moment you most want to yell “What The HELL!” at your whining kid because they’re overtired, over-hungry or just being bratty, but instead defuse their meltdown with a calm voice and a smile. Be that parent. Don’t be the bitchy one.
#4: Packing. Two essentials: Food and wardrobe changes (including diapers). For everyone.
Food: Enough for each meal you anticipate being in the airport to consume. Plus snacks. Big dude won’t eat airline food. And you can’t plan on having time to grab something before or between flights.
Wardrobe changes: Accidents happen. So does vomit. And so do blowouts. Be prepared for all of the above. Put everyone in clothes you would throw away if you had to, due to any of the aforementioned situations.
#3: Attitude. Be prepared for the worst but hope for the best. Smile at everyone.
Most of the other passengers will feel sorry for you if you’re the parent flying solo with kid(s) and will offer to help!
On both of my flights I had kindhearted fellow passengers stow my overhead bags, retrieve said bags and carry them up the jet way. I even had another mother (traveling with her hubby and small kid) offer to help because they were 2:1 and I was 1:2. When you’re nice, other people want to be nice to you.
#2: Know your battleground. On the plane and in the airport.
On the plane: Try to sit economy plus. The extra room is worth every penny. Added bonus: You often end up sitting around the seasoned travelers. In my experience, most are very helpful and considerate of other travelers, especially solo parents with kids.
In the airport: Know where you’re going, how long it takes to get there, and where ALL the bathrooms are along the way. Don’t trust the well-meaning flight attendant or business traveler with distance approximations on this one. They may usually talk the entire time they’re moving from one gate (or terminal) to the next and are not corralling small kids.
I made that mistake this time. Let me just say: Terminal C is way more than 2 city blocks from Terminal B at O’Hare. And I hit a point in Terminal B where the bathrooms were no where to be found. Parenting fail. 😦
Pack light, essentials only, and keep them organized. Get a backpack that can double as a diaper bag (plus carry the essential food & wardrobe items), or vice versa, and use it as your personal item. Go for efficiency. Remember, all ticketed passengers get a carry-on and personal item. For me, big dude and little man, I packed the electronics, IDs and boarding passes in my (large) purse, stowing food and wardrobe items in the assault-diaper-backpack (by Graco…not the best, but it worked) plus our two carry-on suitcases.
We did not take a stroller and I don’t regret that for a second. I never could have maneuvered stroller plus both kids plus my carry-on suitcase, assault-diaper-backpack, and my purse. It was 100% the right decision to carry little man in the Ergo every where we went. Had we taken the stroller, something would have been checked. And I could manage everything we had (baby, purse, assault-diaper backpack and wheel suitcases) when big man got tired. I looked like a deranged pack mule, but it got the job done.
As it was, we unloaded from our last flight and walked out to the car without having to wait at baggage claim. That was a major plus when we had a long car ride ahead of us to get home.
Tell me about your travel experiences with kids! What tips (or horror stories) do you have to share?
Happy trails and safe travels! 🙂