Travels with toddlers–flying

This past trip to the US was notable not just because Elanor and I each gained a status level with United, but also because it marks the first time I have flown solo with a toddler.

Flying solo with a toddler…was there ever a notion that strikes as much fear into a parent’s psyche?

I was lucky in that I have a friend who has paved this frightening path before me, and who had advice.  Also, I’ve flown well into the double digits with my child and husband together…it wasn’t like I’d never flown with a baby and the baby had never flown either.

The biggest pain in the ass of flying with a toddler is getting both of you from luggage check-in to the seats on the plane.  I use a “traveling toddler” accessory that handily connects my carseat to a rolling carry-on bag, creating a pseudo stroller. (Currently 13.99 at….heads up, you need an American LATCH compatible carseat to use this accessory).  This is great while walking…but it can be a nightmare when setting up or dismantling it…which you have to do at security.  Also, your child (even if asleep) needs to come out of the carseat, and you need an eye on them at all times while trying to re-assemble whatever nonsense you had to take off/ remove from a bag/ reattach the damn traveling toddler accessory.

Flying to Boston was relatively uneventful.  Relatively.  We both slept for a large chunk of the path to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was where things began to take a turn for the less fabulous.  Because my travel accessory does take a while to assemble (call it five minutes, but still, that’s a long time to hold up a line), I was one of the last people off the plane.  I hiked from the jetway to security, unassembled the traveling toddler, went through security, reassembled it, and walked back to the gate.  Where I was faced with agents who wanted to open every bag of every person.  Yes, this took forever, making me one of the LAST people to re-board the plane.  Where I was told that the overheads were full and that my rolling carry-on needed to be gate checked.  Whatever, I said and I handed over the bag…without thinking.

The spare outfits, the spare diapers, and the sippy cups were all in that carry-on.  Whoops.

Luckily, E didn’t need a spare outfit and I had J-U-S-T enough diapers on me that we got through the 14-15 hours from Hong Kong to Chicago.  But the sippy cups…well, I was truly fucked there.  But I did luck out that the flight attendants were all total sweethearts.  They didn’t mind giving me a half full cup for E and dropping by with another a bit later, even though drink service wasn’t currently happening.  They held my dinner so I could feed her, but made sure to hold back my first choice for me.  They were, in a word, fabulous, and the sippy cup issue because much less of one.

Except that whole gate-check thing?  I forgot that it meant something different for bags than it does for strollers.  A stroller that is gate-checked will be waiting on the breezeway for you.  A bag will be at the carousel.

I put my head together with the attendants.  There was no way on earth I was capable of carrying a back pack, two totebags, a giant car seat and a sleepy/grumpy toddler the very very very long distance between the gate and the luggage carousel.  Hell, I couldn’t even get all that off the plane myself (thank you random dude).  They tried to get a wheelchair for the carseat, so I could push it, but regulations said no dice.  Then someone thought of a luggage cart, and that worked perfectly (perhaps even more perfectly than my traveling toddler set-up would have, since the hike through O’Hare was a literal hike.

Once at the baggage carousel, I waved down a porter and threw sing dollars at him.  He got my bags, got me to where I re-checked luggage and got us on our way.

We found McDonalds and our new gate in short order only to hear two terrifying words “creeping delay.”  Followed by the sky mocking me by turning black and raining down hail to bounce off the windows.  Elanor decided that the bar under the flight info display was a toy, and proceeded to walk around it, try to flip over it, and generally kept herself entertained while I chewed my nails wondering why fate hated me.  Two hours from home…over 24 already traveled.  Really, universe?  You suck.

After a shorter delay than I’d feared (an hour and a half to two and a half hours) we took off and got home safely.  The gate agent in Chicago deserves a special “Dude, WTF?” because she refused to pre-board families because “they take too long”.  Um…yeah…that would be WHY you pre-board families, but okay, I’ll just hold up a line of 50 people instead of holding up no one, that’s your call to make.  Incidentally, this was the ONLY time I wasn’t able to pre-board on any of the six legs in and out-bound.

Going home, we lucked out into an upgrade on the domestic flight and Ravi took Ellie with him, letting me sit in another row, delighting in sleep and my iPhone’s video.  But in Chicago, the delays began.  One-two hours on the tarmac in Chicago.  A longer flight to Hong Kong because it was against the jet stream.  The double security pain in the ass in Hong Kong again, where they confiscated our bought after security soda because it was a “US bound flight” (no, it wasn’t).

Then, my worst luck in travel history.  Four hours on the tarmac in Hong Kong.  Two without air conditioning.  There was some kind of mechanical problem with the toilets and water.  At first it seemed like they were going to do the “we’re going to Singapore anyways, just don’t go to the bathroom for three hours” approach to dealing with it.  Then came the announcement that they were going to fix it.  Then Ravi, E and I fell asleep.  I woke up when the air con went off and the cabin had gotten too hot, confused that we were still on the ground.

Then they de-planed us.  Everyone was certain, at this point, that the flight was going to be cancelled and we were all going to end up in a Hong Kong airport hotel.  As our flight had been picked so we could arrive in Singapore at midnight and Ravi could get some sleep before going into work in the morning, this was migraine inducing.  But they announced that we would board the flight just after midnight (you know, when we were supposed to be arriving in Singapore) and the plane took off somewhere around 1, 1:30.

We got into Singapore at 5am. Let us never think of it again.

The thing about flying with Elanor that really struck me is that she is a consumate flier.  She doesn’t really complain about her confinement to the car seat (although in both directions, she did spend a good hour sleeping on me….maybe more on the way home).  The only time she cried was when she tried to kick the seat in front of her and got scolded for it….which is normal toddler “wah I can’t have what I want.”  She did cry a bit during take off and landing on the way home, but she had a bad cold, so the pressure, I’m sure was painful.  She’s content to color, sing, watch unlimited Elmo.  Even with the delays, she was a trooper through all of it.

Some stuff that got me through it…

1—The traveling toddler really is awesome.  It minimizes the number of things to push/carry.  I highly recommend getting one and just checking the stroller through with your luggage.

2—iPod touch.  We bought one for E for this trip, especially with the 14 hour leg in mind.  I pre-loaded it with Elmo, Sesame Street, and her favorite alphabet/numbers games.  A charging cable so you can hook it to your laptop is also critical on trips that are more than the 7 hours across the US or approximately the same time from the East Coast to Western Europe.  Sure, it makes us “THOSE” parents, but it just makes sense.  The average laptop has 3-4 hours of battery life, and unless you’re in first or business, there is no plug to keep it fully charged.  Some flights have in-seat headrest video screens, but the kids channel is geared towards older kids and requires that they were headphones; something most kids can’t do before age 5/6/7.  The iTouch had a good 7 hours of video life, and when it died (sadly as did my computer’s hard drive, never letting me charge anything) I had a 5th generation iPod with speakers ready to go.  And my iPhone.

3-Triangle shaped crayons and paper.  They don’t roll…’nuff said.

4-Crayola has some markers that don’t leave marks, except on the special paper.  Those are also good for airplanes, as they won’t damage anything or mark anything other than the special paper.

5-Sesame Street “Dress me up cube” –a six sided cube with different activities like a zipper, a button, a pocket, etc.  You could easily  make something like it if you’re crafty, as well.

6–Books.  We stuck with the classics–Leslie Petricelli and a new Elmo book each way to keep her happy.

7-a snap bracelet.  A friend of ours in the US gave us what we called “snap bracelets” as kids for E.  It had a small frog on it, and kept her entertained for easily an hour plus.  Who knew?


It was, in the end, easier than I had worried it would be, but certainly not “easy.”  I’m glad it’s going to be a while before we do it again.  These 30 hour door-to-door trips are brutal, as is the 12/13 hour time difference.  A week later and I’m still kind of jet-lagged.

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