In my dreams, I am the woman who dresses up for travel, breezes through security, sips only bottled water on the flight, carries a single chic carry-on bag, and arrives unwrinkled, hydrated, and each hair in place.
In reality, I am the woman in sweatpants, struggling to wrangle a toddler, hopping on one foot to take off my shoes while folding the stroller with the other hand, apologizing profusely for holding up the line, begging the flight attendants for milk (for cranky toddler) and chugging down caffeine (energy = patience with cranky toddler) before the Nugget can knock over my cup, carrying 2 overstuffed diaper bags and a non-glamorous LL Bean backpack, and arrives covered in a layer of non-descript airplane grime and stains (what DID he wipe on my shirt?!).
Nevertheless, we are frequent fliers and have gleaned some great flying-with-child tips to share!
1. On most airlines, each passenger gets 1 personal item (purse, backpack, briefcase) and 1 carry-on. I bring a purse and backpack. Nugget brings 2 diaper bags. Hubby brings a backpack and sometimes a roller bag.
2. We bring the mondo stroller, which doesn't count as a bag (woo-hoo!). We check it plane-side. It is a bear to fit in the rental car, but we can stash the diaper bags in the stroller which is priceless when running through O'Hare for a connection. You also need to have a stroller with a slowpoke or runaway toddler for your sanity and safety.
3. We don't hesitate to rent the Smarte Carte for $3 to get our stuff in and out of the airport. If you look around your car carefully, you can usually find an abandoned one in the parking lot for free. Not that we've ever chosen a parking spot just because of the proximity to a free Smarte Carte or anything. Ahem.
4. Your car seat is a freebie to check. Most car rental companies will let you rent a car seat if you prefer to go that route. Don't assume that your car seat or booster will fit in the plane seat Our first flight with the Nugget, we brought his Graco Snugride intending for him to ride in it, but it would not fit in the plane seat! Here's a link for more info. Now we check his toddler car seat and use the CARES harness on the plane.
5. Remember to pull baby's non-edible liquids and gels out of your carry-on and put them with your toiletries in a quart size Ziploc bag (lotion, oils, baby wash, diaper cream, sunscreen, hand sanitizer). Make sure they are travel size (3 oz. container or less). If your favorite brands don't offer a travel size, you can find empty 3 oz. containers at most drugstores and decant your stuff into them or check the big tubes.
6. Contrary to popular myth, the security guards cannot make you taste formula or breastmilk at security to "prove" it, but they may do a dip test with a paper strip. Babies and toddlers up to about 2 years old (not preschoolers, unless the guards are feeling magnanimous) can bring formula, milk, juice, baby food, and cold packs with them. Just pack them in a small separate bag and notify the guards before you send it through the x-ray.
1. Think quiet lightweight toys, few pieces. Books, magnetic puzzles/games, stickers, coloring pages, puppets. Triangular crayons that won't roll off the tray table. If you have a mini DVD player, that rocks! Your kid's special lovey and a small blankie for naps and peekaboo will help too. Many kids love to play with toy planes while riding the big plane!
2. We offer cheap foam earplugs in a bulk jar to our fellow passengers once everyone is seated. Many just laugh and refuse them, but there's always at least one taker, and it helps build goodwill towards your potentially loud and disruptive family!
3. Be super nice and polite to the flight attendants! If they like you, they'll help with extra snacks and drinks for your little ones with a smile and extra attention.
4. From friends J and W, the best tip ever: for teeny babies who throw and drop toys constantly, tie a shoelace to each toy and tether them to your belt loops. Now you can reel the toy back up instead of crawling in the aisle or asking fellow passengers if they can see a purple kangaroo under their seat.
5. Plan to change diapers before and after the flight, then pray that baby doesn't need an inflight change. An overnight diaper might come in handy for a long flight. We've been yelled at for changing the Nugget at our seat (with a changing pad to protect the seat of course!), but the restrooms I've seen have no changing table, just a ledge that's about the size of a shoebox, meant to hold a purse.