Friday, June 15, 2012

How to Fly with Babies

We love to fly.

Sweetie has flown on a total of 23 airplanes.
My 22nd Plane. Blah.
We've got this down.

Sort of.

I often say that we learn what we'll do better next time with every single trip. So I don't know how anyone gets everything streamlined right out of the box. Hubster suggested this week (on a trip to Philadelphia) that I should share what we've learned.

Great idea, Hubster!
Pack snacks so that you do not attempt to eat baby.

There are two schools of thought on packing, but both still hearken back to what I learned from my scouting family - "minimum impact."

If we are packing for a long trip and I know we'll have to check bags, I pack as much as possible into what will be checked. I want to carry as little of a large amount as possible. If we are packing for a short trip, I pack everything in carry-ons. Everything. And I still want to carry as little of it as possible.

Backpacks are your friend. They make so much more sense than a rolling carry-on if you have little ones. They hold a LOT, they are designed to be ergonomic, and they leave your hands free. They have pockets everywhere (I'll get to the critical importance of pockets in a moment). And they slide right off and onto the scanning belt at security. We often each have one backpack as our carry-on piece and then the diaper bag (which on most airlines does not count against your limit for carry-ons and personal items).

Pockets. Pockets are the most important part of your packing preparation. You need to have these items accessible in the outer, easily-opened-with-two-fingers-while-you're-juggling-babies pockets of your diaper bags and backpacks: pacifiers, smartphone, snacks, sippy cup or bottle or juice box, small toys (bath squirter sized), your ID and boarding passes, cash for tipping baggage handlers/cabs/etc, and your ziploc bag with your 3-1-1 liquids and gels.

You want toys in flight that are new and interesting, if possible. Happy meal toys are great for this. And if they're lost forever beneath the seats, you should be ready with another one. Same with pacifiers. For this reason, don't bring balls. We learned this the hard way. They can be thrown quite a distance throughout the plane. And they roll. Sigh. You don't want anything that will roll once dropped in flight.

I pack most of my diabetes supplies in my carry-on. It's unlikely you'll have to unpack it at Security, but you don't want it in baggage that could get lost.

Getting to the Airport

We wake up four hours before the first flight of the day. We have some coffee, get dressed, load the bags into the car, and the very very very last thing we do is diaper the babies. I often put them to bed at 8pm in their clothes for the next day (thanks to a tip from Jon & Kate Plus Eight) and then all you have to do is freshen the diaper and slip on some shoes (which no longer have to be removed at security - apparently they finally realized that children are unlikely to be shoe bombers).

At three hours pre-flight, we are generally in route to our parking location. We definitely have a system. Which often involves Hubster accidentally leaving something in the car, but we've gotten better about that. We bring lightweight carseats for the kids (approx 10 lbs) and have them in the trunk so that we can pull them out and throw them on the bus with our luggage. It means that we don't spend time dissembling their regular heavy 20 lb seats coming or going. And it means we're not carrying those bulky seats on our trip. They are unbelievably heavy and have trouble going through the security conveyor belt. You can pick up a Cosco carseat from Wal-Mart for about $40. Totally worth it.

At two hours pre-flight, we're usually getting to the airport. We have to make sure they know we have a lap infant, and if your stroller is over 20 lbs (my double Baby Trend is 26), it must be checked. At the airport (though not allowed in flight), babywearing is your best friend. BEST FRIEND. Even my 33 lb, 37" tall 2.5 year old benefits from a back carry in the Ergo. Keeps her from running off!!! Keeps your hands free for luggage.
We get in, hit McDonald's for more coffee and breakfast somewhere in the 5am/6am hour and are ready to board in time.

Getting Through Security

The TSA has never been a nightmare for us. I usually (though not always) shout that I have diabetes supplies going through. I never wear my pump or cgms sensor where it will be visible so that other passengers don't shout out "that lady has something on her arm!!!" (<--happened, yes).

While holding a squirming child, you must get your shoes off, pull out your diabetes supply kit, pull out the ziploc bag of liquids, pull off any babywearing garment/jacket/hats, empty your pockets of everything, collapse your stroller and get it up on the belt, send your carseats through, slip off your backpacks and diaper bag, etc. THIS IS HARD. Other passengers will give you dirty looks. Work quickly and efficiently like you think you know what you're doing. Don't apologize and just ignore them. You are a badass. Remember, you put all of that stuff in accessible pockets. And you are wearing your kid until the last minute.

Walking through the scanner, you will be asked to carry (but not wear) the baby or toddler. They have to manually inspect any liquids for the kids - milk or juice or formula. They don't touch the liquid. I prefer to bring unopened milk/juice boxes and empty sippy cups so it goes quickly.

If you're asked about your insulin pump or cgms, you're often asked to touch the device and then have your hands swabbed for residue. This is quick. Just comply. Be friendly. It's better than having them manhandle your devices. At O'Hare once, they were absolutely sure that my Navigator CGMS was explosive. Just work with them.

Getting all of your crap together on the other side of security is also challenging. Find one of the tables at the back and ask an agent to help you carry some of your stuff (they will usually offer). Stack the bins to make them easier to carry. Focus on your shoes first. Then you can run off after your kid if she's anything like mine. This is the perfect time to ply them with candy. I find that a lollipop slows Sweetie to a screeching halt.

Getting Through the Airport

In the airport, if you have a stroller, it can function as your smartcarte. Stack all your crap in it and carry/wear the kids or stack all your kids in it and carry/wear all your crap. Whichever suits their level of fuss. If you had to check your stroller, the whole backpack/babywear advice is particularly pertinent. If you do have a stroller, you might be unable to use some modes of airport terminal travel - such as the DFW Skylink.
Yes, that's a carseat base and convertible seat in the back of
the stroller, w/ a backpack & diaper bag hanging from handle.
And the lightweight carseats? You will thank me later. Also, your older child does not have to have a carseat in flight. You can always check it with your bags or even gate check it so that you'll have it at your destination. Yes, you can rent a carseat with your rental car, but ew. They're normally gross and not particularly well-kept for the expense. That Wal-Mart seat is a one-time purchase for the price per day to rent a carseat.

I also make sure that they have a clean diaper immediately before boarding. Hubster didn't abide by this once and learned what it's like to fly in wet clothing. I highly recommend changing pre-flight. If you have to change a diaper in flight, you should ask which bathroom has a changing table (folds down right above the tiny toilet). In some planes, only the front bathrooms near First Class have them.

Gate checking, for those unfamiliar with the term, means that they take your carseat or stroller from you as you board and it will be in the corridor when you deplane. It's awesome. Take advantage of this free service.

Getting on the plane, focus on getting the carseat (has to be in a window seat) installed first. If you can send one parent ahead in line so that the seat is ready when you and the little one get on the plane, awesome. Otherwise, prepare to be hated for a minute by passengers behind you. They will have to get over it.

In Flight

I'm not one for sedating my kids with Benadryl for flight, though I think it's your choice if your child seems to need it and there are some that do. But I don't think it's necessary, personally. You just need to plan ahead.

The pressure changes during landing are worse than take-off for most children. Plan your best strategy for landing. If you're breastfeeding, I recommend that you nurse the baby during take-off and during landing to help their ears. This also takes care of a feeding if it will be a while before you reach your car or hotel. For non-breastfeeding babes and kids, give them something to drink or suck on (lollipop, juice, pacifiers) during take-off and a crunchy snack and drink for landing.

This is where I plug my favorite toddler snack cup of all time - the Munchie Mug.

If you've got a kicker, slip their shoes off in flight. Lessen their impact on the poor shmuck in front of you.

My iPad and iPhone are saving graces during flight. Hopefully, you've distracted them with snacks or drinks during take-off/landing when the devices have to be turned off (except for your CGMS which you've hidden from view and of course aren't turning off - shhh!). During flight, a couple episodes of their favorite shows, a few interactive touch screen games, letting them type furiously on your notes app, etc, will be great distractions. Keep the volume as low as you can. Headphones aren't an option for the little ones (both for practicality and for their hearing). But other passengers may complain. (Sorry, nice lady on Flight 1841, Seat 8A. *blush*)


Check under the seats. You left something. I'm sure you did.

Change diapers again just off the plane. It's good to have a fresh bum before dealing with rental cars or taxis or hotel check-ins.

Waiting for checked baggage can feel like an eternity with kids. Check to see what parts of your stroller the TSA destroyed when checking it for weapons. Keep the toddler from riding the luggage carousel. Get moving again as quickly as possible.

Doing it in Reverse

When packing for the return flight, use the pocket tip again and this time have your car keys in one of those pockets. When you finally get back to your vehicle, you don't want to be unzipping your checked bags searching under swimsuits for the car keys.

I like to put all of my dirty laundry in my checked bags on the way home. I usually have a lot of space in my bags on the return trip because we've used the diapers or eaten the snacks that took up the initial space. This gives you wiggle room for souvenirs and wadded up clothing.

If in a rental car, I highly recommend scouting out a gas station the night before that's nowhere near the airport, as prices increase the closer you get to the rental return locations. Also, you will leave something in the rental car. A hat, a car charger, a toddler shoe, your umbrella. Check closely.

I hope you'll travel with your kids. Ours are great travelers in part because we expect nothing less. We drag them around the world because we love them and we love to travel. I hope you'll enjoy the same.


  1. Thanks for the awesome post!

    I'm about to do a long haul with our one year old (alone) and I was planning to carry on a back pack, umbrella stroller, and babywearing backpack (Manduca). But I just realized that I will have to carry the backpack if I baby wear. If you wear the baby on the back, do you wear the backpack on the front? I guess that I could put it in the stroller.

    Once when going through security in London, they let me wear the baby (in the Manduca with front carry) and just manually expected both of us. It was awesome!

    Also, I have NEVER taken my diabetes supplies out of my bag and it has NEVER been a problem. I never even thought about it. I do tell about my pump, but it rarely sets off the detector.

  2. Ah, you just brought back kids LOVED the Munchie Mug. I recently handed them down to another family.

    Though mine aren't as little as yours, I appreciate the tips since Q will be flying with me for the first time this summer.

  3. I am so glad to have found this. My husband and I are planning a 6 hour cross-country flight sometime later this year, with 3 kids under 4. He can't get enough time off, or I would road-trip it. I love flying by myself, but am terrified to try it with kids.

  4. Great advice and great tips!
    You forgot the part about calling the person in Philly who wanted to give you a hug and squeeze the baby. Yeah, add that. :0)

  5. WHAT A FANTASTIC POST!!!!! Thanks for the awesome information packed into one place. Definitely bookmarking this to share with other mommies in my life!

  6. FASCINATING. We took our first flight with our then 7mo in March - I wish I'd had this then! I'll totally be referring to it for the next time.