You would think that after flying internationally with babies dozens of times that I would be an old pro at it. On the contrary, I have only now figured it out. It was just on this last trip to Toronto to visit family that we had a truly successful flight, so, assuming that this wasn't just a one-off, I thought I'd share a few of my hard-won lessons about flying with babies:
1) Go to bed early. If, like us, you have to wake up at 3:00 a.m. and leave for the airport at 4:00 a.m. to make a 6:00 a.m. flight, then this means everyone must go to bed by 7:00 p.m. the night before. If you are lucky and don't have to leave before the crack of dawn, go to bed early anyway. Once you have children, you will never again get to nap on the plane.
2) Get to the airport early. Getting to the airport two hours early (or three for an international flight) may seem excessive, but where little kids are involved there are always unexpected delays. Combine two or three unexpected delays, and you've just missed your flight. Trust me, I've done it. And there is nothing worse than waiting around an airport all day on stand-by when you have kids in tow. Now we just get to the airport extra early, have a big breakfast after check-in, and let the kids stretch their legs walking up and down the terminals. By the time we finally board, everyone has a full belly and is ready to have a little morning rest.
3) Bring a movie. We usually fly cheap no-frills carriers, but on this last flight to Toronto our plane had an in-flight movie, and Colin, my little restless flier, sat mesmerized for the entire three-hour flight watching The Lion King, The Smurfs, and all those other Disney movies we don't have at home. (And Kevin and I got to see all those new releases we've missed in the past year!) The price of a fancy-schmancy iPad or a portable DVD player may seem a little steep, but if they buy you even three hours of peace on your flight, they are worth every penny and the next-best thing to flying First Class.
4) Bring a car seat on the plane. Since Colin turned two he has been riding in his own seat on the plane, and until recently this was a disaster. He would spend the entire flight un-latching his safety belt and trying to crawl under the seat in front of him. Then, on our flight back from Arkansas last October, he fell asleep in Archer's infant car seat just before boarding, so I brought the whole thing on the airplane. And although it was not technically legal, it worked beautifully. This time, I brought Colin's own toddler car seat, and it worked even better. I don't know why more parents don't flight with car seats for their young children (I have almost never seen another parent do this), but I do know that I will never fly again without one. Sure, they are bulky, but you can buy a special backpack or carry-on case for them for about $25, and that--plus a portable DVD player and some diapers--are the only carry-ons you really need.
5) Bring a change of clothes. Did I just say you only need to bring a car seat and a portable DVD player? Well, bring a change of clothes for each kid, too. There is something about the change in altitude and cabin pressure that is the perfect recipe for explosive poo. This usually happen right after take-off and before you are allowed to move about the cabin and change a dirty diaper. We've started putting the nylon diaper covers that we use with our cloth diapers on top of the disposable diapers that we travel with and this seems to contain most of the mess. Most, but not all. So pack a change of clothes just to be safe.
6) And pack a few special toys. I also travel with a small back-pack for Colin that I stock with a few special things that are only for flying: a couple of Matchbox cars, some finger puppets, a few small animal figurines, a small notepad and some crayons, and a couple of miniature paperback books. Colin feels like such a big boy carrying is "pack-pack" as he calls it, and it saves me a lot of time that his toys are always close at his hands. To make things easier on me, I bring the same number of each item: three cars, three puppets, three animals, etc., so I never have to wonder if he's lost something under his seat. I just ask myself, "Are there three of them?" If so, we're good to go.
... and Archer tries to make a get-away with some of its loot.
What are your tips for traveling with children?