Need some advice for flying with 2 toddlers
January 14, 2008 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Air Travel Noob: I need some advice for traveling with my 4 1/2 year old daughter and 2 year old son. I have flown ONCE in my whole life and now I need some advice.

Me, my wife, the kids, my 27 year old brother, and my mom, are flying from Baltimore to Orlando and then to Ft Myers to visit my Aunt. I am getting a little overwhelmed about the prospect of 2 kids, the car seats, all the other "stuff" I have to drag along, so I come looking to you fellow Mefi's for advice; anything would be helpful. And if you need more info I can give that too.
posted by ShawnString to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you getting a rental car? If so you might want to consider renting car seats when you get there rather than dragging them along.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:28 AM on January 14, 2008

Delegate! There are four adults and two kids... you should be able to distribute some of the responsibility of dealing with the children between the four of you so that the whole matter isn't quite so overwhelming.
posted by MegoSteve at 11:41 AM on January 14, 2008

I just did this last week with an 8 and 2 year old (his first time flying)

- We took a car seat for the 2 year old, and he sat in it on the airplane. It was a hassle because every person we encountered wanted to check it or make sure it was aircraft approved. I highly recommend it, much easier to keep the little guy in his regular car seat than try to keep him in a relatively big airline seat with a loose lap belt.

-I know our oldest was still in a full blown car seat at 4 1/2, but for her I might recommend renting a seat when you get there. It sounds like you have plenty of hands to carry things and kids, but might be less of a hassle.

-Bring snacks. A variety, plenty to go around, non-sugar if possible (and sugar ones as needed)

-Unfortunately, you can't bring drinks through security, but you can purchase them once inside the gate area. Our airline charges $2 per can of soda, so buying them in advance once inside the airport saved a tiny bit of money but gave a much wider variety - A.K.A non soda.

-Coloring is good, videos are great (with headphones), but be aware of the battery life. and all the extra gadgets you'd have to carry - chargers, dvds, etc.

-Have your kids be part of the airplane bag packing process. Have them pick out 1-2 toys each, help organize the snacks, etc.

-Seating is crucial. If you can get seats assigned early, do that, and get close together and toward the front of the plane. Kids work well in window seats, they're closed in a bit more and have something to look at during take off and landing. We were at the mercy of seating assignment upon arrival; the first leg was next to the engine, but fortunately we had two rows of three seats for the four of us, which was perfect. On the way back we were away from the engines (barely), but with 3 and 1.

-Bring gum or other chewable snacks for the kids during take off and landing.

-Make sure your kids know to keep their feet off the seat in front of them. This was especially hard for my littlest one, but fortunately I happened to know the people sitting in front of us and they were very understanding.

-Our 2 year old didn't cry a bit either leg of the trip, and actually slept the full two hour flight coming back. If you can hold off on his nap until the time of the flight, you might luck out (or you might end up with a meltdown on the plane, be careful)

-Try to limit your carry on items to the car seat, the diaper bag (which is good for snack holding as well), and one additional bag (not including purses and such) for you and your wife.

-Keep a close eye on the kids and bags when going through security. It makes it especially hard now that everyone has to take off their shoes, dvd players and laptops have to be scanned separately, and you're trying to hold on to two kids. Don't let the last person in your party go through the metal detector until all your baggage is going into the X-ray.

-I believe you aren't allowed to have extra rechargeable batteries loose in checked luggage. Double check that when you pack.

It really should be smooth sailing for you guys, just trying to think of all the little things that came up during our trip. Good luck!
posted by shinynewnick at 11:48 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Relax, it is not as bad as it seems. With our two kids and car seats, we've found something like these car seat carriers to be indispensable. Plus you can load other soft, unbreakable things (clothes, plush toys, etc.) in them to give you more space in your other luggage.

Also, bring small bills to pay skycaps, etc. It's a small price to pay to get a little help lugging all this stuff. And curbside check-in can be your friend.

We also have brand-new, small, inexpensive toys to be brought out mid-flight as a distraction. Anything new will certainly keep them busy for a while.
posted by nightwood at 11:52 AM on January 14, 2008

Also, depending on the temperament of your kids, you may want to keep them separate on the flight. Our two get along fairly well, but tend to squabble over who has what toy in the car. For that reason we kept an adult between them (or separate rows). We were told the car seat had to go in the window seat, no other option on that.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:52 AM on January 14, 2008

We keep some surprises in store: books, new coloring books, little dolls, stickers, candy etc to be dolled out during the flight.

Bring some chewing gum for the descent, which will likely hurt their ears* :(

*actually, eustation tubes, but just TRY explaining that to a screaming 4 year old.
posted by shothotbot at 11:54 AM on January 14, 2008

Buy some new toys for the kids they haven't seen before. That lightweight playdough is really cool for planes, not as messy as the regular stuff. Toys R Us is one place to get it. In our family that's a "plane" toy - it's the only time we ever get it.

Re: gum for takeoff or landing -- be clear with them why they're getting it. My wife gave some gum to our 4 year old once, telling him it's to keep his ears from hurting on takeoff. Couple minutes later she looked over at him trying to jam it in his ear.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:55 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

We just got back yesterday from a plane trip with our 4- and 2-year-olds. Fresh advice...

Agree on delegating! Have your 4-year-old sit between your mother and brother. She's theirs. You and your wife can take turns with the younger one.

Stuff: Get a portable DVD player and make sure it's fully charged. Bring a handful of flicks you know they'll love. Bring the charger so you can re-up during your connection.
Bring 3-6 thin, soft-cover books.
Bring "activity" items -- drawing/coloring pads, i-spy, etch-a-sketch, etc.
Lotsa snacks.
Drink cups, pre-filled with water.
Change of clothes for each kid.

Throw it all into one backpack and you're on your way.

As for car seats, there's no easy way around it. However, you can make it easier on yourself by checking in curbside. Make that one person's (likely yours) job -- the carseat person. They un-install and get it checked in (while others unload luggage). On the other end of the trip, that same person re-installs car seats while others load up the car with luggage.

If you're renting a car, avoid the hassle of lugging everything around. Get the car first, on your own, leaving your family and all the stuff at the baggage claim. Then come and pick up the rest of your family.

Good luck!
posted by diastematic at 11:56 AM on January 14, 2008

Traveling with kids is a team effort, one that benefits from a military precision and execution. The first thing I would suggest would be you and your wife having a very frank conversation in advance with your brother and your mom, letting them know your expectations of support, so that you and Mrs. String aren't frazzled, at wit's end the whole trip. Some family of mine just flew a long haul with small children in a large group -- and basically, the mother was left to wrangle the little ones the entire time, while the other adults (dad included) just skipped along blithely, drifting in and out of shops, coming and going as they pleased. If I were that mom, I would have been absolutely homicidal.

I would encourage the whole gang to check as much baggage as is humanly possible. Traveling with little ones is so much easier when you aren't encumbered by a bunch of other things. Or if that's not possible, trade off so that if you're in charge of one of the kids, another adult is your "support person" and helping with your luggage. It's difficult to watch a toddler and keeping your rollaboard properly supervised.

FYI, big items like strollers, car seats, etc. that you do not check into the hold of the plane or use on the plane will be "gate-checked" -- you'll take them down the gateway when you board, and drop them at the door of the plane to an airline employee who will tag them and store them under the plane for you. Although, I second the idea of foregoing the car seats if you think you can. Renting them from the car rental company is fairly pricey, but you can usually buy cheap booster/car seats for $20 each or so at Wal-Mart. You might purchase them on the ground if you can -- that's a valuable $40 worth of stress reduction.

Throughout the trip, keep the children's bag very handy. Snacks, toys, wet wipes for hand cleaning, music, games, all the usual gear. Don't be tempted to ever store it in the overhead (even "just till after we take off!"), because you never know when turbulence or other passengers might block your access to it; store it under the seat in front of you for easy access. Get brand-new toys or distractions that you hide in the bag, and which you can whip out in case of emergency if one child starts to get maxed out (on preview, I see that's a popular suggestion!).

I'm in big airports like Orlando weekly, and where I see families really fall down in the airport experience is getting through TSA. I would tell my children in advance what to expect when they go through the airport and the TSA lines. Maybe even find a video online or pictures to show your daughter, so she is aware of what will be happening and knows what to expect.

When you get to TSA, I would plan to go through in this order: brother, mom, kid, kid, grandmother, dad. (Doesn't really matter who goes where on the adults as long as you've got a parent in the front and a parent in the rear). This way, you've got two adults on either side of security, to facilitate getting your group through as smoothly as possible. The first parent through can be getting the children's shoes back on while the family member is collecting the belongings coming through the x-ray. Also, this way if either one of the first adults through is randomly selected for the full screen, there is another adult to "catch" the kids after they go through the metal detector. Same on the other side: if one of the second pair of adults gets held up in any way, there already two "sterile" adults to wrangle the children during the delay.

Best of luck!
posted by pineapple at 12:06 PM on January 14, 2008

One more thing about going through TSA. My two year old kept touching the sides of the metal detector as he went through and setting them off again and again, so they just let me pick up him and carry him through with me. That would have been much easier the first time.
posted by shinynewnick at 12:10 PM on January 14, 2008

If you're bringing the carseat on the plane, I recommend the GoGoKidz Travelmate. It screws on to the back of the carseat and you can wheel it through the airport like a rolling bag. Bonus: You can strap the kid in and they can ride through the airport like the small potentate that he/she is.
posted by mogget at 12:14 PM on January 14, 2008

Response by poster: "Renting them from the car rental company is fairly pricey, but you can usually buy cheap booster/car seats for $20 each or so at Wal-Mart. You might purchase them on the ground if you can -- that's a valuable $40 worth of stress reduction."

This was our plan on the booster seats for when we get to Naples (our final destination). Unfortunately we have to have both of them in car seats for the flight as well (my daughter is a shrimp and almost 25 lbs). I plan on taking advantage of gate check for the stroller for the boy. Luckily we are flying Southwest so seating i HOPE wont be a issue.

But please keep the advice coming
posted by ShawnString at 12:21 PM on January 14, 2008

Since you say you're flying Southwest, make sure to check-in online before the flight. Southwest does not have assigned seats--just group numbers. So if you wait to check-in until you're at the airport, you're pushed back to group 2, which means you're SOL in terms of getting the best seats. And don't expect to be allowed to board first with "family boarding". Southwest has phased it out, so that if you are in group 2 or later, you get to board between 1 and 2, which means that you won't have a good selection. Best seats are the first row after the cockpit, as there are no seats in the front for the kids to kick an annoy, and there's more legroom. There's also enough room to change the diaper, if you need to.

I do not recommend gum for a 2 year old. Better with a box of favorite juice. Have 1 for take-off and one for landing. Also, if the plane is a small one, or if you think that motion sickness might be a problem, pick up pediatric motion sickness medication from the pharmacy, just in case.

Also, have the kids use the bathroom/change diaper about 5-10 minutes before boarding. With a short flight, you hopefully won't have to negotiate the airplane bathrooms. Also, I don't know about Baltimore, but many airports have a children's play area. Try going online to the airport webpage and see if there is one. This will keep the kids occupied while they wait to board.

One more thing that was recommended to me, which others have recommended above as well. Buy a "special" present for each leg of the trip. It doesn't have to be expensive--some small trinket from the dollar store will do just fine. Wrap it in gift-wrap, and dole out to the kids at each leg of the journey. Flubber, play dough, coloring book, a magnet doll, water-doodle, small doll or toy, etc. Just make sure that it's a small thing so that you're not loaded down with extra luggage.

Also, do not, under any circumstances, allow the kid to have their "own" bag. This will be a nightmare, as it will be up to the parent to keep track of the bag. Assigning them their own special pocket or compartment in the diaper bag serves the same purpose without the hassle.

posted by jujube at 12:47 PM on January 14, 2008

The times we have flown with the car seat it was checked, but NOT counted against our baggage allowances. If you're planning on renting a car, bring along any extra car seat tethers/anchor straps that will make the installation much faster.

Another thing that came in really handy for long flights (though I expect it will be out of the range of the 2-year old) was to make use of a baby carrier (baby bjorn and such) - It really helped with containing a squirming child.
posted by azlondon at 12:48 PM on January 14, 2008

I travel with my three children (ages 7, 4, and 18 months) regularly (and alone). Buy each of your children a small fanny pack that is theirs and theirs alone. Put all sorts of neat things in it - some Polly Pockets, silly puddy, slim jims, tic tacs, a small pen flashlight, etc. They only get the fanny pack full of stuff once they get on the airplane - no cheating! The DVD player and movies is a good idea for your 4 1/2 year old. You have many adult hands to help, so make sure to let every one know who they're responsible for.

Change of clothes for the kids - absolutely and I would absolutely recommend a clean t-shirt for you and wife, just in case. Are your children still in diapers? If so, bring many extra, and by extra, bring many extra. If they are not in diapers I would still recommend putting them each in a Pull-up for the flight. You never know when there will be some delay that would not allow them to get to a bathroom in time. Bring lots of wipes.

Traveling with car seats is a huge hassle. I avoid that at all costs. However, it is hard to keep a two-year old in the airplane seatbelt, so bring his car seat along. I think your 4 1/2 year old would be fine without it.

Take advantage of priority seating. DON'T sit in the front of the airplane where you have to stow your stuff in the overhead bin. It's a huge hassle to have to get up and open the overhead when you need the diaper bag.

Don't bother packing anything in any diaper bag for yourself. You will not have the time or the energy to read or take it easy. Make sure to bring your own sippy cups and when the flight attendant hands out drinks, pour theirs directly into the sippy cup.

Bring two ziploc bags - one for the garbage you will accumulate (used wipes and whatnot) and one for the possible sickness (for any of you).

Most of all, don't get frazzled - because they will feel it too. Don't let the other passengers get to you - there will be comments about having kids on the flight; people are rude and thoughtless at times (although many are very helpful as well).

Just keep remembering that "this too shall pass," that the flight won't last forever and it's only part of a day. Best of luck!!
posted by Sassyfras at 12:49 PM on January 14, 2008

Luckily we are flying Southwest so seating i HOPE wont be a issue.

Something to bear in mind is that Southwest changed its family boarding policies in October 2007. Families with small children are no longer allowed to pre-board. According to Southwest, your options are to check in online early enough to make sure that your whole party gets Group A boarding, or, one child+adult will get to bump up and board after Group A, but before Group B.
posted by pineapple at 12:50 PM on January 14, 2008

If you're bringing the carseat on the plane, I recommend the GoGoKidz Travelmate. It screws on to the back of the carseat and you can wheel it through the airport like a rolling bag. Bonus: You can strap the kid in and they can ride through the airport like the small potentate that he/she is.

We travel with this a couple of times a year with our two-year-old (ok, so I think we're talking 6 round trips so far, including several multi-leg international flights). Basically, it turns your carseat into a stroller. It's worth it just for travelling through the airport (you might want to bring (i.e.., check) an umbrella stroller for the trip itself).

As to southwest, boarding between groups 1 and 2 isn't so bad, but if you can check in early, do so. We learned on the last flight that even if you don't have access to a printer, you can still check in; when you get to the kiosk at the airport to check your bags at the airport, you have the option to "reprint" (in actuality, print for the first time!) your boarding passes.

Crayola ColorWonder markers aren't a bad idea either. In general, I'm opposed, but having something that lets the kids color without having to totally stress about getting marker or crayon on the airplane is nice.
posted by leahwrenn at 12:59 PM on January 14, 2008

Get a ticket that allows pre -seat assignment and then go to Steatguru and find a seat behind a bulk head. That will give you more room for the kids to crawl around or even sleep.
posted by Neiltupper at 1:07 PM on January 14, 2008

Response by poster: Ok, I am confused (and the FAA sites doesnt help much) Are carseats required or just highly recommended?
posted by ShawnString at 1:09 PM on January 14, 2008

Carseats are recommended. But unless you have a carseat/booster that's approved for airplanes, the airline will NOT allow you to use it. You can figure out whether it's approved or not by going to manufacturer's webpage.
posted by jujube at 1:44 PM on January 14, 2008

Give it to the kids about 30 mins before the flight.
have fun (and delegate).
posted by janicea at 1:46 PM on January 14, 2008

Something else to consider in place of a car seat is the Kids fly safe harness. I have not personally tried it yet, but we got one and are considering using it with our 16 month old in March. She flew at 12 months in a car seat, and we can also vouch for the GoGoKidz Travelmate. I'm hoping that the harness will avoid schlepping the car seat down the aisle of the airplane.
posted by dforemsky at 1:51 PM on January 14, 2008

If you bring a portable DVD player, make sure you have headphones! I was on a plane where a kid was listening to some Disney movie at fairly high volume without headphones, and it was very annoying!
posted by radioamy at 2:03 PM on January 14, 2008

"Something else to consider in place of a car seat is the Kids fly safe harness."

I have it and have used it on many flights in the past 18 months (my daughter is now 3 and a half). It is BRILLIANT. I've been the envy of every parent trying to wedge their car seat down those ridiculously narrow aisles. The CARES website recommends printing out the FAA advisory circular and taking it along in case any flight staff give you a problem (some have never seen the thing before and don't realize it's been approved by the FAA). I've only ever had a problem with one flight attendent, and once I produced the documentation she calmed down right away.

For the ears, I do lollipops since they're a rare treat in our house.

Good luck!
posted by chihiro at 2:31 PM on January 14, 2008

Don't take it personally when TSA staff behave like assholes to you. They generally underqualified, undereducated, undertrained, overworked and underpaid. They also have the power to make your life miserable. So take a deep breathe and do EXACTLY what they tell you to do.
posted by randomstriker at 3:34 PM on January 14, 2008

I was just reading a blog the other day about this couple from indonesia who travelled to cuba with their toddler.
some of the advice given might be relevant to you.
their blog entry is "Travelling with toddler"
posted by kryptos at 7:40 PM on January 14, 2008

You have four adults and two kids, so keeping control of them shouldn't be a problem. Worth having a chat with the adults to clarify expectations though. Sounds like you are just panicking a little because you don't know what to expect or how to plan. Can you call the airline and find someone to ask clarifying questions to. Or did you book through a travel agent? If so, they should be able to answer your logistical questions.

Some hints for general air travel:

- Pack light. You should be able to carry everything and still have at least one hand free.
- Carry on should be only one bag, but bags within bags are the goods.
- Airlines differ, as do airports. Give yourself plenty of time, check in early, go to the gate early, and be charming to the airline staff, as their help can be indispensible.
- Read the terms and conditions of your ticket. There's all sorts of info in there that is worth knowing ahead of time, many of which are completely unintuitive.

My mum used to dress my sister and I alike when travelling. It was the only time she did, but she said it helped because other people would realise we were together. Also helped with the charming of airline hostesses. Matching bright red T-shirts would achieve the same ends.
posted by kjs4 at 8:59 PM on January 14, 2008

Lots of people are saying "clarify expectations" with your fellow-traveling family ... but please consider that your 27-year-old brother (and your mother, for that matter) might not be interested in being your pack mule/babysitter.

Perhaps if you *ask* him to help nicely he would be willing to do a bit, but just assuming that he's willing to take responsibility for chasing one of your children around an airport, carrying their stuff, keeping them entertained, handling their meltdowns, etc. might be unwise.

He might be the most attentive, doting uncle in the world, but my issue is with the "expectation" that he will assume these responsibilities vs. the polite request that he do you a favor and help. Unless you're paying for his travel, you don't really have the right to assume/demand that he work for you.
posted by mccxxiii at 7:49 AM on January 15, 2008

Lots of people are saying "clarify expectations" with your fellow-traveling family ... but please consider that your 27-year-old brother (and your mother, for that matter) might not be interested in being your pack mule/babysitter.

...Unless you're paying for his travel, you don't really have the right to assume/demand that he work for you.

I'm going to throw out the really bold idea that 1) the OP probably knows better than us how to enlist his family's help, and that we can trust him to do so politely without being offensive or making assumptions, and 2) the idea that the brother and mother have the God-given right to freely cavort about while paying zero heed to the needs of the other four people traveling in their party is really just silly. These are family members, not professional colleagues or college pals. And minding a four-year-old for ten minutes so your brother can go to the bathroom isn't exactly indentured servitude.

The minute the extended family members agreed to join a trip that included two toddlers, they gave tacit agreement to be along for better or worse. Clarifying the expectations before the trip means improving everyone's experience... not just forcing the poor, abused (grown adult) family members to "be the pack mule or babysitter." The brother might say, "Screw you, I'm not helping!"... and would have every right to do so... but ShawnString might find it helpful to figure that out now rather than waiting till the six of them are creating a huge pile of mayhem at BWI.
posted by pineapple at 8:06 AM on January 15, 2008

"And minding a four-year-old for ten minutes so your brother can go to the bathroom isn't exactly indentured servitude."

Minding a 4 y.o. for 10 minutes is not the same thing as being told "this child is sitting with you during the flight and you are responsible for keeping her quiet and entertained", which is the gist of what one answer suggested. Maybe the brother gets airsick and needs to sit quietly in a certain position during the flight in order to not throw up. Maybe he's bringing along a book that he really wants to read and he's not the least bit interested in supervising a continuing stream of toys and snacks and wiggling and whining and repetitive questions and generalized chaos.

I don't doubt the OP's ability to be polite. I just note that the "expectations" to be clarified need to go in all directions. I absolutely agree that all that should be worked out before they get to the airport.
posted by mccxxiii at 10:04 AM on January 15, 2008

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