Flying with a two year old

I can genuinely say that flying with a baby, while it has its challenges, is so much easier than flying with a toddler.  With each trip home from Singapore (approximately every six months since she was 17 months–17, 24 and now 29 months) she has slept less, gotten more frustrated with the length of the trip (a seven hour flight or less is fine, it’s the 10th/11th +hour of flying that she can’t take), and her increased independence clashes with her limited ability to do things like operate the iTouch correctly.

Flying through Tokyo was a good idea as all the flights had some extra seats open, allowing for me to be upgraded between Singapore and Tokyo and Ravi to be upgraded between Tokyo and Chicago (there were actually two seats open, but we aren’t such terrible parents as to leave the two year old to fend for herself in economy plus, so I stayed back with her), and for us to have a spare seat next to us on the Tokyo/Chicago leg.  The one negative is that the connection in Chicago is so tight that they were closing the door by the time we got to the gate, so we just barely made our flight (and even so, they forced us to gate check our carry-on).  The only reason we WERE able to make our connection at all is that as premiere executives, we were able to use the priority security line, rather than the regular one.

When traveling with a toddler, keep in mind the extra time it takes to wait for a stroller/get a carseat off the plane, the additional time it takes at security (especially when they don’t listen to you and try to force your large carseat through a too small scanner (we have a Britax Marathon 70), and it jams the scanner.  The airline will think you have plenty of time, and you won’t.  Making the connection worse was that all of that was after our flight arrived 30 minutes EARLY!!!  United…rethink your connections.  Even without a child, it would’ve been a super tight connection.

We also realized after the flights to the US that flying with a car seat once your child is big enough for a CARES child restraint system is a waste of your already limited sanity.  When the child is a car seat you can’t fold down their tray table.  With the larger seat, they are in prime position to kick the seat in front of them.  No matter how well-behaved your child, they’re going to want to stretch out their legs (especially on a longer flight), which means bumping the seat in front.  Obviously I corrected her (like a broken record) and explained WHY kicking the seat isn’t nice, but putting her in a safe alternative so that her feet aren’t anywhere near the seat in front of her is just going to be easier at her age.  You can check or gate check your car seat for no additional cost (I strongly recommend just checking it with luggage so you don’t have to lug it through security or any of the other hassles you’ll deal with).

E did sleep for about a total of 8 of the 30 hours of transit time.  The rest were spent in repeated viewings of the same two episodes of Ni Hao Kai-Lan (do you KNOW how many times you can watch a 23 minute program in a 12 hour flight?), her arguing with me whether her Ariel doll should have its tail on or not (hint–whatever the opposite of what I’d just done to fulfill a request by her was), and her telling me she’d read her books HERSELF (and then getting frustrated at her inability to read them).

I felt really bad when she begged me to let her out of her car seat and to take her off the plane.  By hour nine, there’s nothing I really want more than to get off the plane, myself.  It is a LONG journey for a small child (or a grown up).  Considering that, I should be thanking my lucky stars that she handles it as well as she does.

For other parents who may be considering flying with 2+ year olds, I strongly suggest the following for keeping kids entertained

  • Use a CARES restraint instead of a car seat to allow the child more space, the ability to use their tray table and make it virtually impossible for them to kick the seat in front of them.
  • Have an iPod or iPad or travel DVD player or something.  Regardless of your day to day policy on “screen time,” your child is a prisoner in a small confined space for a long time.  Give them all the tv they want to make the passing of time easier.
  • If they like books 4-5 good books that they love are a great distraction
  • Avoid toys with small, easily lost pieces.
  • Crayons and paper are good.  The triangle shaped crayons are better as they don’t roll.

When booking your tickets consider the following

  • If you’re doing something really long (like Singapore-Boston) break it up into the shortest segments possible.  We originally were routing through San Francisco, not Chicago (and still are on the way home) which cuts 3ish hours off the longest leg (redistributing it into a 7, 9/10, and 6 hour flights).
  • Even if the airline thinks you have enough time, really consider the airport and the connection.  O’Hare, for example, if it’s your first stop in the US means a REALLY long hike to baggage claim, going through customs and immigration, rechecking your bag, taking a train to another terminal (for the domestic leg) going back through security, and making your gate.  Two hours wasn’t enough….I’d suggest a minimum of 3-4 hours if Chicago is your first stop in the US.  It may seem silly, but look at the airport’s layout…forums like Flyertalk can give you information about how far your airline is from customs/immigration and the average travel time.
  • The ultimate way to break up travel (and we don’t really have the luxury of doing this, or at least when traveling with Ella and I, Ravi doesn’t) consider a 23 hour layover in a city.  It doesn’t add to your ticket cost, and breaks up the travel far better for your child.  We have never done this, but I dream of one day doing so, as I think everyone would be in a better mood by the end of the trip.

Some final thoughts on keeping your sanity…

  • Sleeping the night before helps.  This is always an issue for me, as my brain is racing in a thousand directions and Ravi is a notorious last minute packer.
  • Remember that you LOVE your travel companions
  • Remind yourself that this too, will pass.
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8 Responses to Flying with a two year old

  1. Maria says:

    I feel your pain! Would it help if I told you it does get better?

  2. Maria says:

    September 17, 2021. Give or take a few days. 🙂

    • Crystal says:

      How sad is it that my first thought was to try and calculate how old E would be in 2021? LOL

      • Maria says:

        I was calculating that on the age of the new baby! You’re only as strong as your weakest (ie youngest) link. 🙂

      • Crystal says:

        So for you it was when they were 8/9ish? I was holding out hope that by 5 they’d be fine (reading, watching portable dvd player). Sigh. I bow before the experienced expat mom and will adjust my expectations accordingly. You’re absolutely right that it’s all about the youngest. It occured to me that once E was 5.5 and “easier” (in my brain) that her sib would be at the place we’re at with her now (which means I’ll likely spend the entire time we live in Singapore with a small one for whom flying is arduous). Sigh.

  3. bookjunkie says:

    Oh no…..I too feel quite miserable on a long flight which to me is anything beyond 6hrs.

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