“Yay, I’m going to visit family!” was my first thought when my parents and I made a group decision to fly me and the two girls, a 3 year old and a 6 month old, from Ohio to Florida for a visit. “Oh, wait a minute. How do I do it by myself?” was my second.
Answer: By thinking ahead and utilizing what we had. All of our flights would be less than 2 hours but we had to have layovers. Here is what I did. It worked out pretty well, overall, so hopefully it will help you on your first trip with more one child.
This is how NOT to pack.
What should I think about when booking seats?
If you have a child under two years old (flying domestic) you don’t have to pay for a ticket but can fly riding on your lap. You won’t however, be able to sit in the exit row or one row in front or behind it. Personally, I opted for sitting as far back on the plane as possible so I would be near the restrooms and also have a little standing room if need be. Thankfully, I didn’t need either on this trip.
There are pros and cons to this. Sitting in the back usually means getting on the plane first but I believe most airlines will allow people traveling with small children to board towards the beginning anyways. It’s good because you can get everyone situated and get your bag(s) into the overhead compartment while there is still space. Plus, time for a photo op, of course. Downside here is that there is more time to have to keep little corralled into little seats.
Another thing to consider is leaving yourself ample time between flights if you have a layover. I found it easier to wait until just about everyone was out of the back rows to get my bags and baby loaded and then walk off without worrying about running into people. Of course, this will have you taking a little longer to get off the plane before getting to your next gate.
What gear should I use?
While at certain moments I wished I had something else, I was happy with my choices overall. I took a soft structured carrier, a ring sling and a small collapsable stroller. If you only have one type of carrier, it will all still work out.
Soft Structured Carrier – for carrying my 6 month old through the airport. One airport didn’t make me take her out. Side note: Whomever is carrying the baby at security will likely get there hands swabbed and tested because it happened when my husband was holding her and when I was holding her at a different airport. Very handy for keeping her secure while having my hands free for bags, snacks and my three year old.
Ring Sling – I mostly used this one on the plane. I put it around me and my 6 month old since I figured she’d likely fall asleep while nursing and I felt it would be helpful in keeping her cradled on my lap during the flight. At the start of my last leg of travel an attendant told me that I couldn’t have her tied to me during take off and landing, which I don’t quit understand but it’s easy to work around. I got the sling into the normal position then just took it off over my head so I could put right back on while we were in the air. I don’t typically nurse with a cover but the extra material on the sling helps as a cover or a sunshield.
Small or Umbrella Stroller – If I was just flying with the baby, I likely wouldn’t have brought this along, but it came in handy with both children. At certain points, it held the baby so I could put shoes on or eat. Other times, it was a luggage carrier to toss my backpack on, plus smaller bags were always in the undercarriage. Most of the time it held my 3 year old in as we walked from gate to gate. She was capable of walking but it was piece of mind for me to strap her in and go and not worry about her getting separated from me or having her veer off into a store because something caught her eye or try to hop on the luggage carousel. Plus, it was easy to maneuver with a smaller stroller and fold it up at the end of the ramp and have it returned to you when you got to your next stop. The caveat here is that I was visiting family that picked up a larger stroller for me to use while we were in town if needed. There are stroller rental programs at many locations if you think you’ll need it but I used the same carrier/small stroller arrangement all through Disney World and made out just fine (you can’t take the stroller in most of Disney World and other large amusement parks anyways).
What should I bring for the kids and how should I carry it?
I ended up going with three bags. We were allowed 4 carry on bags since we purchased a ticket for me and my 3 year old but I only have so many hands.
Bag #1 – The huge backpack. Held my laptop, cords, DVD player, extra snacks, birth certificates, small blanket, diapers, etc. It went in the overhead compartment during the flight. (Our DVD player only works while plugged in so I saved it for while we were at the airport to keep my preschooler corralled since she loves her favorite cartoons. I know that this is not the preferred entertainment for everyone but it worked for me.)
Bag #2 – Baby and in flight essentials. Wipes, burp cloth, toys on a string for the baby, water bottle (filled from the fountain after we went through security), etc. This went under the seat in front of me and basically held what I wanted at arms reach without there being too much in there to dig through.
Bag #3 – Kelsey’s bag. She has a small backpack which she loves to wear anyways so this was her responsibility. I packed it with small puzzles I found a while back, a couple lacing cards with string, a few board books that were mainly pictures so she could use them by herself, a coloring book and crayons in a tin, and snacks that I was ok with her having at any time like goldfish crackers, baby carrots, raisins and fruit strips. I tried to pick food that she would need to do some chewing with and got her to eat them during take off and landing to help with the ear pressure. Everything was small so it would fit on the lap tray or just on the seat next her so everything was in reach.
What about crying babies?
The best advice I found for babies is to nurse or be given a bottle during take off and landing. Nursing* worked for us and had the added perk of working out just right so she slept through most of the flying and then got to stretch out on the floor on a blanket between flights. As I mentioned above, a purposefully brought some items, like baby carrots, along for take off and landing times to get my 3 year old to do some chewing. Healthier than gum and I didn’t have to worry about her swallowing it or it falling out of her mouth.
*A note on nursing on airplanes: Delta had taken some social media heat shortly before our trip. However, I did not have any issues. I would review the policy for your airline but generally, you can nurse where ever you are allowed to be. A big thanks to the people out there that sat next to me and simply averted there eyes (not that there was anything to see) and enjoyed the quiet flight.
- Ask for wings and to meet the captain. I mentioned as we were getting on our first flight that it was both of the girls first time on an airplane. I assumed the attendants would bring them wings or say something about seeing the cockpit but nothing. On the second flight, I asked for the wings and the attendant got us some and my 3 year old thought it was the coolest thing. However, I waited until we were on our way off to ask about seeing the cockpit but the cleaning crew was already working on the front end of the plane so they said no. On our return flight, I was having trouble getting the stroller folded up so an attendant asked if it was ok if she watched Kelsey for me since I was wearing Aubrey. As I was still struggling with the stroller, which usually only takes a second, she asked my daughter if she wanted to meet the captain and whisked her away. Jaw drop. Of course, by the time I got in there, they were done and people were coming down the ramp so no photo op for me. Lesson: Just ask for what you want, they aren’t mind readers but they will usually try to make kids happy.
- Check and check again. I thought I caught a whiff of something coming from Aubrey’s diaper while we were waiting at the airport but I had just changed her diaper and see seemed happy plus she’s kind of becoming known for a stinky toots. We were all settled on the plane (the one were I was fighting with the stroller already) with people starting to fill in when I smelled it for sure. There was a number 2 in there and it needed to be dealt with. I decided to try to change it quickly on the seat since the third person from our row hadn’t arrived yet. Of course that is when Aubrey pulled out her most impressive alligator rolling and there I was fighting with a baby to get her changed without getting poop anywhere while I was being asked over the speaker to get in my seat and someone put their bag where I had had mine before. Ugh, not my best moments. Some people were trying to be helpful but just getting me more flustered. Lesson: Get a visual, and there has to be a better place than the seat to change a diaper on a plane if you really need to.