Our experience: Flying with your toddler won’t kill you
June 22, 2016
Depending on how it goes, you might wish it had, but it won’t.
Spoiler Alert: We survived flying with an active, task oriented, curious, very mobile toddler!
We took two trips this year that required flying, changing time zones for one. The flights ranged from pretty good to Are we there, yet??
We flew Alaska Air for the first time in a decade, and discovered they were both pretty infant-friendly, and had a nifty 20-minute baggage guarantee that meant we waited zero time at baggage claim. I LOVED that. There were no other children on our Alaska Air flights but the flight attendants were actively engaged with us as parents, and offered us coloring books and crayons. They also encouraged us to belt JuggerLB in when appropriate, reassuring us that safety was more important than avoiding crying. All of that was really helpful in calming my slight case of nerves since it was our first flight and I didn’t know how ze would react to all of it. This flight was only about three hours so it was a useful data point in seeing how an airline might handle parents flying with children, and how JuggerLB handled travel.
We then crossed time zones with United, which had no baggage delivery guarantee, but was pretty quick. On the flip side, they misplaced our stroller for a while, and that gave us a bit of a scare. They weren’t actively unfriendly towards kids, but they definitely didn’t have anything for them either. While we were prepared to entertain JuggerLB, every little bit helps.
Booking midday and midweek flights
At this stage of life, I’m finally all about the Tuesday / Wednesday / Thursday flights.
We flew with JuggerLB as a lap infant but since the midday and midweek flight was only partly full, the flight attendants shuffled seat assignments to make sure we had a seat for hir anyway. As long as we didn’t get the absolute back row, we didn’t care where they put us. On Alaska, at least, it seemed to be such a routine thing they didn’t even mention it to us. The drawback of booking a midday flight is that it cuts into both morning and afternoon naps, and for a shorter flight, JuggerLB isn’t about to sleep and miss a minute of travel fun.
Getting to our destination with plenty of daylight, whether in a new city or getting back home, was a new and delightful change. We typically get in late at night when we travel and I much prefer the midday arrival. We had time to settle in and have a leisurely dinner without cutting into a full night’s rest.
Things I found especially useful
For quiet play, I left all the chiming or electronic toys at home. Instead, we packed board books, plastic rings, colorful window clings. Your mileage may vary from airline to airline but on one flight, we were offered a small box of crayons and coloring book which we happily accepted, and everyone was given snacks and drinks in plastic cups which came in very handy for more toddler distraction.
We packed multipurpose washcloths for cleaning up spills, to hold taut and form a pretend tray for LB to stack toys on, and save my clothes from sticky accidents. Drool bibs were a must because a teething toddler is drippy drooly, empty water bottles doubled as toys, and hir velcro tabbed shoes were entertainment for a solid ten minutes at a time.
We had our own snack bag: crackers, pretzels and cheese, raisins and pre-cut fruit all staved off the hunger between milk sessions. Ze was being weaned off bottles for our first set of flights but travel was not the time to be fussing about cups with those uncoordinated hands. SFO TSA was remarkably efficient, by the by, they simply sent us through with hir, and scanned all hir liquids, the stroller, and the car seat, and even helped me carry the car seat over to our pile of stuff after the security check. Pleasant and helpful – never knew they could be so good!
Plastic baggies were huge time-savers. I stored clean clothes, extra empty bottles, diapers and wipes, and medicine in them. When things spilled, as they do, the wet stuff went into the plastic bag and we moved right along.
First flight recap
LB was bouncy-excited about a plane full of hostages to hir. They were all in one place and couldn’t escape!
We were lucky, the flight attendants were already rearranging the passengers for weight distribution so they graciously made sure that we had an extra seat for LB. Wonderful surprise! We did lots of in-seat play, focusing on keeping hir attention on us and our games, taking advantage of that third seat to move more freely and keep toys on the seats. Ze zeroed in on rearranging the seat back reading material for at least 20-40 minutes, so we were scrupulously careful about not letting hir actually touch the seat back. The people in front of us weren’t crankypants and giving us the evil eye to begin with, like some child-haters do, and we weren’t about to give anyone cause for it.
When the wiggly was uncontainable, the two of them did lots of walking up and down the aisle, waving and smiling. Ze made a friend of most people with hir smiles, and more probably with hir generally quiet play. I think ze hollered in excitement about three times and cried once. But ze completely missed takeoff and landing, impervious to the pressure changes, and may that forever be the case.
Second flight recap
We did all in-seat play, due to unexpected turbulence, but we had a few unlooked for perks. The plane wasn’t full, again, so the attendants rearranged seating to give hir a seat which the person in our row was offering to do (random nice people!) when he thought we’d been separated, AND the middle seat in front of us was empty. That meant we could let hir play with the seat back materials and also use the tray. We don’t let hir use or touch the trays if people are in the seat. Ze likes to bang things on the tray, or bang it up and down, and that’s just rude.
We thought we needed the iPad but we never even got to most of hir regular toys because ze was having so much fun pulling out the safety cards and rearranging them. I’d brought some cool window clings that ze didn’t quite know what to do with so we spent half an hour with me placing them on the window and hir removing them. Those things probably won’t be able to cling to anything ever again.
Third flight recap
I felt like a terrible parent when we realized that ze was having teething pain after we took off. Ze has never noticed take off or landing, I should mention, so far ze has had good luck with the change in pressure. May that always be the case! Since ze hadn’t been drooling or teething for a few days, I’d packed up all hir medications and checked the bag. ERROR. I won’t be making that mistake again! An hour into the flight, ze was huddled, miserable and feverish, and in need of Motrin.
We lucked out in sitting near a lovely family with an infant of their own, and who hadn’t foolishly checked in their medications so they gave us their travel bottle. I offered to pay or replace it but they waved me off. It’s amazing how nice some people can be.
We had some trouble getting hir to take all the meds but the side effect of hir discomfort was that ze took two catnaps on the long flight. That’s totally abnormal and was clearly because ze wasn’t feeling well but it got us through the flight somewhat less exhausted than if we’d had to entertain hir for the full 5 hours.
Fourth flight recap
No such mercy on this flight, though. Not that I’m wishing JuggerBaby was sick, even if ze is easier when sick. I just hoped that ze would have found it old hat enough at this point to relax and nap. Instead, ze played hard and grouched harder. There was some crying on this flight, and that sucked. We took it in turns to play, feed, and distract hir, wishing heartily for time to pass faster.
Obviously we made it back safely and each in our respective pieces but you couldn’t have sighed a bigger sigh of relief than we did once ze was fed, clean, and put to bed. HOME SWEET HOME.
:: Do you find flying stressful? What makes it easier?