Ten Tips For Flying Alone With Kids (Including What to Wear & Carry On)

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Gang, I (mostly) stay at home while my husband works.  And we live far, far from family.  This may not be a forever arrangement (both the staying at home or living far from family…) so I’m taking advantage of it while I can.  So Raines and I?  We flew.  Lots. And now that Pax is here…we three fly.  Lots.

In preparation for our first few flights, I did a ton of research online about flying with kids – what to bring, how to get through the gate, etc.  Most articles were a bit overwhelming and…scary, actually.  I felt as though I was embarking on a fool’s mission.  Something only a cah-razy-person would attempt.

Thankfully, I am a crazy-person.

But honestly?  It’s not that hard.  I mean YES – kids will poop, tears will flow, flights will be missed…but IT’S NOT THAT DIFFERENT FROM YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE.

My philosophy?  Focus on the fun.

Here are my favorite tips for flying with kids…especially flying solo with kids:

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1.  Find Your Zen

Really, this is all you need.  Decide that NO MATTER WHAT, you will not be rattled.  Poop, tears, crabby employees, missed flights –  you will be CALM.  In fact, you will not only be calm, you will SMILE at this super-funny adventure you are embarking on!  Adventure is fun, people!  Life is fun!!  And chances are, if you are in an airport with your kiddos in tow, you are much luckier than 99.9% of people on the planet.  (Even if you miss your flight and will have to bunk down in the airport.)  A little perspective goes a long way.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

When you realize that you only have 5 minutes to cover the entire airport to make your connecting flight and your child chooses that moment to have a tantrum….you smile, give a 5 second hug, and then say, “Babe, I SO wish things could be different, but Mum has to do some serious running now.  So I’m going to strap you into this stroller and run like heck!!”  Smile-smile.  And then hold ’em down and strap ’em in (this is just one of those times, Mamas).  Then run like heck.  The shock and novelty of the situation (coupled with your calm-yet-slightly-deranged) behavior will turn your kiddo’s tears into squeals of glee pretty quickly.

Which brings me to my next point…

 

2. Connecting Flight?  Don’t Make Your Toddler Walk

It’s not going to happen.  No matter how much your toddler typically LOVES walking and/or hates the stroller/Ergo/backpack/etc. you will need a mode of transport that doesn’t involve you carrying him in your bare arms.  The day you leave your method of kid-transport behind is the day you miss your flight.  Murphy’s Law, perhaps?  If I have a connecting flight, I NEVER travel without the stroller, Ergo (or both).

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ps.  Strollers fly free with plane-side check-in.

pps.  Large strollers can be used when luggage carts are in short supply.

Mike’s favorite part of travel – can’t you tell?

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3.  Getting To The Check-In Counter:  The Hardest Part?

With all of the crap luggage you are taking, getting to the check-in counter is often the hardest part.  Yes, you want your husband to help.  And if he has the time?  Ask for a gate pass* and he can walk you all the way to your gate.  (NOTE:  My husband has never done this.)

*Update: I asked for a gate pass recently and found that most of the time, this request is denied.  It’s primarily allowed for kids traveling alone, not for mamas with kids.  They actually let us have one…but let us know not to rely on this option in the future.

My solution to get to to the check-in counter is pretty much shown in the picture above.  It’s not pretty, and our car seats have gotten pretty banged up over the years.  But leave it to M (our gear-queen) to come up with the truly elegant solution:

Forgive the graffiti print – it shows the critical zipper the best:

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This is M’s favorite luggage.  It’s basically two suitcases that zip together (allowing you to wheel it to the ticket counter in a sane fashion)…and then if you are over your baggage limit, VOILA!! Unzip and it’s miraculously two suitcases!  (NOTE:  The over-weight bag fee is almost always more than the additional bag fee.)

The bag above is part of the Athalon Double Decker Luggage series.

M also swears by carseat bags that you carry like a backpack.

He looks happy. 

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Mike and I actually have this bag.  It’s the Brica Car Seat Travel Tote. For the record, Mike has NEVER looked this happy carrying it.  This one has much higher reviews.

Another plus to the car seat bag?  You can stuff it full (in addition to the car seat)…saving you lots of room in your suitcase.  My last flight?  I filled it with our carseat and our shoes.  Awesome.

 

4. Getting Through Security:  Where’s Baby?

You are taking off your shoes.  Folding up the stroller.  Pulling out liquids.  And most TSA agents will make you take baby out of the Ergo (or backpack or whatever).  Older kiddos do a decent job of staying close (or, if they are like Raines, they’ll take off their own shoes, put them in a security bin, then wander on through the metal-detector like some under-sized businessman.  Usually the TSA agent will make the three-year old wait for his mom…but not always. Lesson learned.)

But what about baby?

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That security bin?  The one for shoes and laptops?  Yeah – put it on the floor.  Stick baby in it.  Newborns can lie down, pre-walkers can sit…even walkers are usually so distracted by the fuss & noise that you’ll get a minute or two to deal with your own stuff before the baby tries to get out.  No promises, Mamas, but it’s the best method I’ve found.

Repeat on the other side, once you are through.

ps.  Bringing a baby?  You can also bring a drink.  Since I’m nursing, I usually pack a Sigg bottle filled with water so we can all use it.  The TSA folks will need to open it and wave some little strip over the top….but if you bring any pre-packaged drink they’ll just let it through.  Truly.

 

5.  Tame Your Peeing & Pooping Fears (For Baby, Toddler and YOU)

Baby

Most Mamas flying with little ones are worried about one thing:  Can they make it to their destination without being covered in some sort of bodily fluid (or solid)?

To combat this fear, one Mama I know always travels with 12 diapers. (12!!)  One Mama double-diapered her poop-plosion prone kid (using one size up for the outer diaper).  Another Mama simply let her (happy) kid sit in a poop-filled diaper for the remainder of the flight, instead of dealing with the in-flight changing options (which admittedly aren’t good).   Personally, I’ve stuck Pax (the Super Pooper) in a cloth diaper (as strange as that sounds) just to make it through a flight without worrying about a poop-plosion getting everywhere. (I like Bum Genius.  That tight elastic waistband contains the poop like no other.)

What you bring really depends on your kid, and what you are comfortable lugging around.  I typically fly (within the US) with 4 diapers (3 if it’s a direct flight).  I bring an extra outfit or two, depending on the kid. Worst case scenario, we blow through everything and I end up borrowing a diaper from another mom, or my kid arrives clad in only a diaper.  This has NEVER happened.  Not even close.  Most flights you can make-due with a reasonable amount of stuff.

Toddler

If your kid is newly potty trained, you may want to consider diapers.  With all of the chaos and stress at the airport, it’s almost impossible to get a stubborn toddler to pee when you want them too.  Mine much preferred waiting until the exact moment of takeoff:  “MOM!  I hafta go POOP!!

Sheesh, kid.  Not just pee, but poop?  Thanks.

On the upside, people were leaping out of their seats to help.  But, you know…being up and about during turbulence or takeoff/landing is just not safe.  And peeing (or God forbid, pooping) in the seat is embarrassing for everyone (especially your kiddo).  Raines, even after being potty trained, did fly several times in diapers, to no ill affects (and happily, no pooping either).  I think he was relieved that the pressure was off.  And he went right back to underwear as soon as we landed at the airport.

You

There are all kinds of reasons that peeing is hard:  Babywearing in jeans that you’ve suddenly discovered are too high-waisted to shimmy down (Me:  NOOOOOOOOOOO), toddler tantrums that took up all of your layover time and you MUST. BOARD. NOW.  Multiple kids that won’t all fit into an airplane bathroom.  Etc. Etc. Etc.

Mamas, as I see it, we have three options:

  • Make sure your jeans are low enough to pee while baby-wearing (but go too low and you’ll be walking around with carrier-induced plumber-bum)
  • No coffee or fluids before your flight (snort)
  • Get on the plane, then ask others for help

I like the last option best.  You’d be surprised how many stewardesses/other passengers/etc. are willing to read to the toddler, hold the baby, etc. so Mama can pee…or so Mama can take a potty-trained kiddo to pee.

 

6.  In-Air Tantrums?  Dirty Looks From Other Passengers?  Not Really Your Problem

Kids freak out.  For various reasons.  And Mama, if this is your kid, there’s not much you can do.  (Of course, you can try comforting them, nursing, playing, blah blah blah – but you know this already).  My point here is this:  Flying, with all of the associated stress and chaos, is a very, very strange thing to do, and it’s normal for a kid to, at some point, freak.  For no other reason than to say, loudly, MOM? WTF????

I mean…you can understand, right?

So do your Mama thing…and don’t worry about it.  It happens to everyone. Seriously.  All Mamas everywhere, on every flight, have, at one time, been in your shoes.  And that business guy sitting next to you?  He’s been there too (or he’s heard the horror stories from his wife).

So give your fellow passengers the benefit of the doubt.  That old lady making snide comments?   “Can’t you nurse him?”  (Uh…you can see my nipple.  I’m clearly trying.)  She really is trying to help….but has probably forgotten what it’s like and is freaking out for you. That young professional giving you dirty looks?  Yeah, she’s thinking that her future kids will NEVER act like that.  Take comfort Mamas…that girl, once upon a time, was me…and yeah.  Karma is a bitch.  Her kids will probably be worse.

Bottom line: Do what’cha gotta do.  If you need passengers to move so you can stand and rock baby more comfortably, then do it.  If you need someone to run and fetch water from the stewardess, tell them.  Ask for more snacks.  Whatever it takes.  Most people are happy to help.  Really.

If all else fails, and you are (all) in for a loooong, painful flight….I’m not above buying my seat-mates a round of drinks or snacks.  Works every time.

 

7. Consider the 6AM Flight

Isn’t this horrible?  I know – it’s really the most terrible advice you may (eventually) be glad you heard.  And yes…it includes having to get up at 4AM (GACK) to get to the airport. Or even 3:30AM.  As my mother calls it, “a most undignified hour.”

But here’s the deal: A travel day is going to be crazy (and stressful) from start-to-finish, whether you leave at 6AM or 2PM.  By getting your kiddos on the 6AM flight, you have the following in your favor:

  • They are fresh – even if they didn’t get as much sleep as normal, it’s the beginning of the day.  Even Raines (who actually LOVES flying) will start to melt down past 3PM.
  • “they didn’t get as much sleep as normal” –> this might be your best chance to get them to sleep on the plane.

The best possible situation

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  •  Turbulence tends to be less.  Even if you are a seasoned flyer, restraining a flopping, screaming  toddler until the pilot turns the seatbelt sign off gets old. FAST.
  • If there is a problem and you miss a flight, you’ve flown early enough to (hopefully) get re-booked or re-routed easily.
  • Once you land, it often takes the gong-show (that is you) a while to change diapers, clip into strollers, stuff mouths with food, pee, etc.  And if you happen to land at 10PM in Chicago, and Frontier has determined that you are taking to long to get to baggage claim….they’ll lock your luggage – including car seats – up for the night.  (Awesome)

 

8.  The Rest of Baby’s Crap Gear 

Car Seats

I have flown with a car seat exactly once.  ONCE.  I don’t care how many cool gadgets exist for wheeling your car seat around the airport…once on the plane, it’s a total disaster.  Car seats don’t really fit down the aisle (they lie, Mamas, they lie!!) and it requires an advanced degree to buckle that thing into the airplane seat properly.  If you are flying with hubs you have a fighting chance, but by yourself? Skip the seat.  It checks for free, anyway.

For Holding a Baby in Your Lap

If you are worried about the baby on your lap, I like front carriers like the Ergo or Belle.  Although, they aren’t technically approved for in-flight use because the baby might be in your “crush zone”.

If the ‘crush zone’ worry keeps you up at night, try the Baby B’Air.  M swears by it, and it is currently approved by the FTA for in-flight use (although not yet approved for take-off/landing…but they are working on it).  The Baby B’Air comes in two sizes and can be found at Amazon.

When To Buy Baby His(Her) Own Seat

I like to push the rules on this one…but then again, I’d much rather spend my hard-earned $$ on shoes…or jeans…rather than on airplane tickets.  As long as my kiddo was under two, I wanted him on my lap.

Pax, however, is testing that theory.

So here’s my new limit:  If you have a wild almost-two, and any leg of your journey is over two hours….that’s my breaking point.  Time to buy the little darling their own seat.

For little ones who look too tiny to be in their own seat (regardless of age), M and I both LOVE the CARES Harness .  While not as comfortable as a car seat, it does allow the kiddo to nod off to sleep and is FTA approved for in-flight use.  You can check out my CARES Harness review here.

 

9. What To Wear

Here’s what I typically wear when traveling:

Rag and Bone Boyfriend Jeans | SneakersA&F V-Neck Tee | Henley | Ray-bans | Cashmere Scarf | Mulberry Scarf | Marc Jacobs Nylon Weekend Bag | Marc Jacobs Backpack

Comfy jeans, a tee I can nurse in, and shoes that are easy to slip on/off is my go-to outfit suggestion.  Sunglasses always, and a scarf tossed into a huge bag.  The scarf can double as a baby blanket, can be thrown on over your tee if spit-up happens*, or be used as a nursing shawl (NOTE: after four total years of nursing someone, I have no shame.  If you like to be a bit more covered, try the Dria – an awesome nursing cover that’s perfect for flying).

 

*UPDATE:  On my last flight, spit-up happened.  In a big, HUGE, now I’m topless, way.  I now pack another tee for myself.  Every. Time.  Lesson learned.

10.  What To Pack

I’m not going to go into a litany on the number of diapers, wipes, change of clothes, etc.  Everybody’s preferences are different, kids are different.  But there are a few items that have been a big hit – and they are fairly age-independent items.

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Never leave home without:

  • Lollipops, Raisins, Junk food and Water
    • Lollipops help with ear pain during take-off and landing.  So do raisins and the Sigg bottle.
    • We eat healthy most days…so I tend to use junk food on flying days.  It’s novel, it’s yummy and even my picky eater will eat it.  Need your kid to buckle-up?  Seat-belt sign isn’t off and your kiddo is restless?  Hand over the crappy food.  Happy kid, happy mom, happy plane.
    • For flying with a baby, I think you’ll be fine with nothing more exciting than a bunch of snacks.
  • Hand Sanitizer & Children’s Tylenol
    • Raines gets an ear infection prior to every flight.  It’s like a 6th sense or something.  So we bring tylenol.  Other moms have borrowed it.
    • Planes are gross.  I like Clean Well’s hand sanitizer.
  • Ipod Touch, Pong Case and Kidz Gear Wired Headphones For Kids
    • Raines has been entertained by games and movies on his iPod since he was two.  The thing is amazing.  You can find older generation iPod Touches on eBay for about $100.  It’s money well spent.  Raines has been using his for travel (and the occasional restaurant) for two and a half years now.
    • Worried about radiation exposure?  Protect your kiddo with the Pong case. It reduces radiation up to 95% under the FCC limits.  Pong sent me a case to review and I love it.
    • Kidz Gear Wired Headphones come with volume controls to keep little ones from damaging their hearing.  Raines loves these.

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I try to remember to bring…

  • Books
    • The Ultimate Sticker Books by DK  are insanely amazing.  The stickers are made from photos, and they have books in every possible niche:  Space, trains, bulldozers, diggers, horses, animals, baby animals, farm, avengers, Disney, to name a few.  The stickers are so engaging that both babies and toddlers love these.  Once they are finished looking…the fun of sticking begins.  These stickers peel off of surfaces pretty easily also.
    • Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport has been a long-time favorite.  The baby likes to see the pictures, Raines still likes the story, and I like that it’s small and thin.  I think they both get a kick out of reading a story that pertains to EXACTLY what is happening.
  • Art Supplies
    • I bring small pads of paper (6″ X 9″) everytime we fly.  They are great for illustrating last-minute stories to get your kid’s attention: “Raines!  Look!  A lion jumped out at this boy!!  What happens next?”  Really, who could resist?  This way I don’t need to pack a bunch of heavy books in my carry-on.
    • I always bring some sort of crayon & colored pencil set.  My hands-down favorite (and Raines’) is this Xonex Micro Art Set.  It has teeeny tiny crayons, colored pencils, and pastels.  The fact that everything was so small and so artfully arranged into a mini-briefcase totally charmed Raines.  And calmed him down.  He would, actually, sit for a while and draw carefully.  However, the pastels don’t always wash off so if you have a kid that wants to draw on the seat, on you, etc….this isn’t your set.  Pax is not a sit-carefully-and-draw kind of kid, so for Pax, I’ll be bringing washable Crayolas.

Sometimes I’ll add…

  • Plasticine
    • This is sometimes called Modeling Clay.  It’s AWESOME and never dries out.  Never ever.  Not even in Denver after being left out for months.  Seriously.  I just grab a couple of hunks of different colors and throw them into plastic baggies.  We make snakes (cracks me up when I can get Raines to yell, “Snakes on the Plane!”), guys, whatever.  This works just as well (if not better) than those expensive play scenes you can buy.
    • You can purchase small packets of Modeling Clay almost anywhere, but my favorite place to get plasticine is at Discount School Supply.  We have the Premium Non-Hardening Modeling Clay.
  • Window Gel Clings
    • You know those window gel stickers that Target sells seasonally for $1?  Stock up.  These are the BEST for flying.  For all ages, really.  The window seat is a must.
  • Maze Activity Books
    • Activity books always struck me as something for older kids, but the Mazes are actually rated for ages two – four.  Raines has really liked them.  Kumon makes both Easy Mazes and a book of more challenging mazes.

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Any other travel tips, Mamas?? For more activities and kid style tips, check out our kids’ blog!

Happy flying!

xo,

S