I’ve flown 93 times with one or both of my daughters.
I’m not the most organized traveler, or the most experienced, and I don’t make it look quite this cute.
What I do have is the willingness to break a few social norms, and the propensity to laugh so hard I cry (instead of just straight up cry).
Most moms have flown with their kids, and if you haven’t, the above articles or any Facebook group for moms will have all the details you are looking for.
I have a 2-year-old (Cora) and a 7-month-old (Millie). Most of the time I fly alone with my kids, and I always fly Delta. These are my overarching travel principles (for now):
1. I bring as little as possible. Tearing up the seat-back magazine or opening and closing the window shade turn out to be the best toys on an airplane. It is unlikely that Cora will use 10 diapers in one day. If the situation I’m afraid of happens – i.e., we’re delayed overnight in an airport, etc. – people tend to be even more helpful than usual, especially other moms. We band together and share diapers, snacks, and toys. I have found this bonding good for my soul (and funny), and I walk away feeling genuinely hopeful.
I have to admit, sometimes my minimalist plan backfires. I’ve been though customs in Minneapolis in a damp nursing tank top, smelling suspiciously like vomit and diarrhea. Since then, my small diaper bag list includes an extra shirt for myself.
2. I never let Cora kick the seat in front of her. I’ve had to hold down her legs while she screams to achieve this, but it’s important to me.
3. I Ask for help. While I’ve crossed paths with some truly crabby and abrasive people while traveling, most are kind. I let people hold my babies on the airplane. I’ve had flight attendants and other passengers hold Cora or Millie while I’m going to the bathroom or eating a meal.
4. I bought a ticket; I deserve to be on the plane. While I try to be as conscientious as possible on flights and have apologized for my kids' behavior in extreme situations, I avoid an overly apologetic stance. There has been some advice circulating about giving passengers in your area a gift bag for sitting near you. This is ridiculous.
I’ve also flown internationally with Cora and once with Millie. (Not yet with both, but coming soon!). We’ve visited Spain (twice), Holland (twice), Thailand, Laos, and the Dominican Republic.
I have a few thoughts on international travel specifically:
1. The best seating scenario is an empty seat next to me. I beg for this at the gate. Second best scenario - if I have a younger child - is the bulkhead row with the airplane bassinet. Even if the baby won’t sleep in it, I still have more room. If my baby will sleep in it, I feel like I’m owning life. From there I sit back and enjoy the free, bad wine. (Note: You need to book the bulkhead row ahead of time.)
2. I find traveling from Denver to Europe to be doable. The itinerary is usually under 20 hours, and I get an overnight flight for the longest leg.
3. I find flying from Denver to Bangkok to be more difficult. The itinerary is 30+ hours. However, this is redeemed by Asian culture being more baby-friendly. This means that flight attendants and passengers are even more accommodating than usual. I received baby food and snacks on the plane. The Tokyo airport mothers' lounge looks like a hyper clean and modern La Leche League meeting with a bottle warmer. I found all of this helpful and amazing. (Side note: has anyone flown Air Emirates? I’ve heard it is the absolute best for moms and kids!)
4. Jet lag is never as bad as I expect, but can be hard - especially with an older toddler. I don’t stick to a strict schedule or try to control Cora’s sleep when traveling. I treat her like an infant, watching for tiredness signs and eventually fall into a good rhythm or schedule. Also, I mentally plan for a few tough days at the beginning of the trip and when we return home.
My newest phase of travel is flying solo with two kids. I have done this 6 times in Millie’s 7 months of life, and I’ve tried a few different setups. My biggest breakthrough has been this:
When traveling alone with 2 kids, I board last and ask loudly if anyone would like to hold Millie while I get Cora settled. People hungry for some baby love think this is the best (seriously, some gush on and on about it), and it gives me a good read on who in my area is kid friendly and could help me in a disaster.
The hardest choice to make in this flying situation concerns the car seat for the toddler. Do you bring it or not? If so, how do you get the car seat on the plane - in addition to your two children and a diaper bag? (I am aware that this can be a really heated issue. You can read what the Car Seat Lady has to say about it.)
I have tried a few set ups regarding the car seat:
1. Car seat in a car seat backpack.
2. Car seat (with straps loosened) worn as a backpack.
3. A toddler flying harness (you can see the red harness strap across the seat Cora is sitting in).
4. Using the normal airplane seatbelt.
5. A car seat attachment with wheels option.
I’ve tried the first 4 options and could hash out all of the pros and cons, but I’ll spare you and say each option has hard parts. Does anyone love their Go Go Babyz attachment and care to leave a comment about it? I’m specifically interested in what car seat brand you use with it, how you get through security with one, when you choose to board the plane, and how difficult it is to attach and detach the car seat from the wheeled carrier.
As promised in the title, these are my current thoughts on airplane travel. I’m sure they will change, as I hope to someday to travel with 3 or 4 kids. Sometimes friends will explain a trip to me and ask me if it is worth it. I always say yes, but the truth is it depends on the family.
There have been fun flights and there have been less-fun flights.
Most people seem to enjoy my kids, and a few take one look at us and asked to be moved to another seat (that only happened twice).
I once sat next to a teenage boy who had endless Dora the Explorer episodes on his phone. He joyfully watched them with Cora the whole flight.
I once sat next to a woman who asked if I was afraid my unborn child would turn out dark like my Muslim husband.
I’ve sat next to all kinds of people: some helpful, some not at all, some with a lot of parenting advice, some with good parenting advice.
I’ve laughed so hard I peed my pants (only once, and thank-you childbirth!).
I once accidentally sprayed a sleeping business man’s elbow with breast milk.
I’ve been incredibly embarrassed of and stressed out by a toddler tantrum.
I’ve seen Cora walk down an aisle saying hello to everyone she passes.
All I can say for sure? It’s been worth it to me.
This blog is not intended to be a source of medical information or advice. Please discuss all of your concerns with your care provider.