Many things can go wrong when traveling on a plane with young children…from painful delays to lost luggage, to diaper disasters and screeching tantrums…while there are many events that fall out of our control, we, parents, better be prepared!
As we are getting ready to hop on a plane once again as a family, I am remembering some anecdotes and situations that occurred to us on some of the many air trips we’ve taken since my daughter was born.
The first time my child ever flew was when she was just 3 months old. Her and I were flying across Canada to visit my family out east in December. I will pass on the amount of luggage I had for this first trip! I was thankful for my ergobaby to allow me free hands to handle all the bags. On the way home, things got a little complicated. After getting up before dawn to catch the first flight, we had a very long second flight into Vancouver where we landed early in the evening. My last flight had been canceled due to freezing fog and we had to overnight in the City. In the line up to the airline customer service, no one would let us pass. My daughter was getting restless and hungry. When my turn came, I was told that I had to check my luggage out, get in a taxi to a hotel 20 minutes away and come back the next morning, check my luggage back in and hop on my final flight.
Before insulting the agent, I took a deep breath and went to sit down to nurse my baby and calm my nerves. Sensing my distress, the agent finally came to me to let me know that she had finally gotten us into the Fairmont Hotel at the airport. Jackpot!
It was just before Christmas, there was a massive decorated three in the lobby. We checked into our king suite and enjoyed a bubble bath in the massive tub, room service for dinner and a good night’s sleep. It was all good after all.
There is also that other time where I was flying with my daughter, then a freshly potty trained two-year-old. As a proud mom, I had the brilliant idea to not put a diaper on my baby’s bum…we spent a lot of time in the washrooms and went through all our changes of clothes.
When my husband flew to Europe by himself with our daughter for the first time, I couldn’t have been more nervous. The night before, I had this dream about them getting separated at the airport and her being all alone with no ID nor any mean to connect her to us. On their departure day, I scribbled all her information with a sharpie on her little pudgy arm and tried to brief her on what to do if she was ever separated from papa during the trip…trying to ease my own mind.
Going through security is a large airport can also be challenging. I recall my daughter not quite understanding that she had to hold her arms up, spread her legs apart and wait while in the big, intimidating scanner at the Frankfurt airport, or why a lady in a uniform and rubber gloves was patting her limbs (seriously!). At the next security screening we went through, although it was just a regular metal detector, she finally registered that she had to stand sideways with her arms up and legs spread apart…We sure had a good laugh.
This has taught me that, no matter how prepared we think we are, flying with a child is always an adventure. I myself always have considered flying as “a necessary hassle” and hope it to be over as soon as possible. I always get nervous at security and customs, although I don’t have anything suspicious in my bags nor do I have “anything to declare”…
I have to remind myself, however, how much I loved flying as a child, and how much the thought of the air portion of the travel was just as exciting as the rest. Watching movies back to back on the tiny screen, eating weird food out of a tiny tray, colouring, chasing my sister down the aisle…
I don’t have any miraculous tips or toys to make air travel with children easier, but I do try to stick to a few key principles:
- Have your ID’s and paperwork in order
A valid passport is required when traveling outside the country, even for an infant. My daughter had her first one done at 3 weeks old! If you’re traveling within Canada and your child is younger than 17 years old, no ID is required. But to be on the safe side, always carry a birth certificate and the medical care card (it doesn’t hurt to also take a birth certificate with you even if your child has a passport).If only one parent is traveling, make sure you carry a parental consent form and a copy of your spouse’s passport. More information on travel documents and a consent letter form can be found here: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/children
- Travel fast
When possible, choose the most direct and less painful route. Pick flights with enough layover to get to the next gate but avoid long layovers whenever possible, or if you do, pick an overnight layover and break the piggy bank or use points to book a hotel room. We always book all our segments with the same airline, this way if one flight is late or canceled, the airline will have your family taken care of. We always fly the nearest airport from home and from our destination possible. Who wants to drive 4-5 hours after a long-haul flight with a young child?
- Travel light
Don’t bring your home, but know what you’re allowed to bring. It’s amazing all you can carry for free when traveling with an infant! Car seat, stroller or child carrier (some friendly agents will even let you take a jogging stroller Hello Chariot! right to your gate, but that’s not guaranteed), suitcase, carry-on and a diaper bag. They actually allow for more luggage than two persons can actually carry. When traveling overseas, we try to fit all our stuff in only one large bag that we check in. Within Canada, we only take carry-ons as it now costs fair a bit of money to check a bag in. Our country (and western countries) are pretty well equipped with washers and dryers these days…
- Choose comfort over style
Wear comfortable clothes and bring a change or two with you on the plane. Bring your kid’s favorite pj’s.Kids get dirty, especially when it’s inconvenient. Pack a plastic bag to put filthy clothes. Kids spill things on you; a friend once told me she always travels with her quick-dry hiking pants, easy to wash up and dry in case of a mess. I always pack a small soft blanket for naps. Pack extra wipes…these things are wonderful!
- Ipad is okay
It’s a nice distraction to have on hand. Download some educative game apps and a few cartoons prior to departure. Invest in good child-specific headsets. Colouring books, reading books, small toys and comfort stuffed animals are also very appreciated.
- Snacks are your friends
Authorities will let you carry baby liquids and soft food (hooray for pouches!) when traveling with an infant on laps but unfortunately not for kids over 2 years old…go figure why?! Pack some trail mix, crackers and cheese, veggie sticks, whole fruit, and treats. In addition to being a good back up if your child doesn’t like the plane food, snacks will keep kids busy and keep them from being “hangry”.
- Raise patient kids(I know, this is an oxymoron, right?!)We’re pretty fortunate that our daughter is fairly calm and patient most of the time. Some of it certainly has to do with the fact that she’s used to traveling but lots of it is just personality. Overnight flights are the best as she sleeps well on the plane. Some parents use homeopathy or chamomile in case kids get restless. Why not?!
- Calm Down and Fly On……For it will be over in a few hours and in 18 years your kids won’t care about traveling with their old mom & dad. If my tips don’t work out and the fight is a disaster, remember that there’s always a full supply of mini wine bottles on board. Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!
What are your great tips for travelling on an airplane with young kids?