In the (almost) year since I gave birth to Rhiannon, we have gone on three major trips-a two week trip to the US when she was 2-3 months old, a week long trip to Australia when she was 6 months old, and the month long trip to the US this past August (9-10 months old). Ravi and I flew together with the girls on the first trip, and my inlaws and Ravi flew with us on the trip to Australia. But for our long trip back to the US, I had to fly solo with the girls on the way to the US (and Ravi flew back with us at the end).
I’ve flown solo with Ellie a number of times, but the idea of flying with her and Rhi was daunting. Below are some tips from me for flying with two children as a solo parent. Keep in mind my kids were 3 1/2 and 9 months when I flew, my 3yo is an experienced flyer, and we were dealing with a 3 leg international flight, and individual tips may or may not be helpful.
Keep in mind that flying with kids is about making the best of a not great situation. It’s about survival, not perfection. If you leave a seat with gummy bears stuck to it and crackers ground into it but the kids made it through the flight in one piece and without annoying everyone around them, it’s worth it. Pick your battles. Prioritize your problems.
Buy everyone a seat
Yes, you can put your child in lap before they’re 2 and save money. When traveling with multiple kids, your sanity is a HELL of a lot more important. Everyone having a seat means you can attend to each kid’s needs better as well as your own.
Also, if there’s three of you-grab a window, middle, aisle set-up. You don’t want to be in the middle–you can either take the aisle, blocking in your kids, or the middle so that you have a kid on either side. Car seats should go next to the window as they are a pain to climb over.
Pack carry on items strategically
I see no reason to stint yourself on checked luggage. There are always porters willing to help you (just keep some local currency–I tend to tip 3-5 per bag, rounded to the nearest 10/20 dollars with some extra if they’re nice to the girls).
Carry on items, however are another story. I strongly encourage you to minimize as much as possible.
Here’s what I traveled with
–A backpack with my laptop, the tablet, my cell phone, my iPod, Ellie’s iPod, relevant charging cords, some magazines for me and a book for Ellie, a packet of diaper wipes, 4-6 diapers per kid, and a change of clothes for each kid.
–A totebag with snacks, my DSLR camera, and another 2-3 changes of clothes per girl, and an outfit change for me, another packet of wipes and another 4 pullups for older child and 6-10 diapers for the small one, a carseat/stroller toy for Rhi. Bonus space save tip-kids pjs take up less space as do dresses (if you have girls).
–My purse with my wallet (carrying USD and SGD), passport case, anti-diarrhea meds, kids tylenol and ibuprofen, a hairbrush with several hair elastics wrapped around the handle, and chapstick
–E carried a small back pack with a few small toys–mini etch a sketch, color wonder markers & disney princess book etc. Nothing I’d be upset about if the pack was lost (this was her first time wearing one, so I had my doubts)
Once at the airport, and past security, I bought–bottles of water, a few snacks, and small odds and ends.
My set-up was as follows
–Rhi was in her car seat, which in turn attaches to a snap n go frame. The frame has a large basket under it, which is where I stored the tote and my purse (and E’s backpack when needed), and I wore the laptop back pack.
–When E was tired, I could perch her on the handlebar of the snap n go and still walk–also good if you’re rushing to a connection
–Everything I brought could fit under the seat backs in front of us. Travelign with kids often means you don’t get on the flight as fast as you’d like (particularly later legs when you’re changing planes) and overhead space is always at a premium anyways. Not having to worry about whether you’ll get that space or not is a huge relief–and doesn’t screw you if you miss out. (I once arrived very late to a connection in Hong Kong because of their security checkpoint system and had to gate check a rolling carry on bag–halfway to Chicago I realized it had our sippy cups in it, and was necessary to move Ellie’s car seat around as we used a t-strap that connected one to the other—luckily the flight attendants got me a luggage cart in Chicago to put the car seat on and roll it to luggage pick up–but I never want to deal with that hassle again).
Plan your security approach
In non-US airports, you will need to send laptops through the security individually, but you can retain your (and your children’s shoes). If your kid is asleep, most non-US security checkpoints will work with you to not need to wake a sleeping kid. But if they’re awake, the stroller needs to fold down and go through the machine as well.
What worked for me
- Pick a line either marked as “for families” or wherever we were sent if there was no better option (as frequent fliers the FF line was usually significantly shorter, so I did used for an over-all time saver)
- Appoint Ellie as “in charge of” Rhiannon.
- Grab a number of the bins
- Backpack off, laptop in a bin, tablet in a bin (ipods and cellphones don’t need to be pulled out/can be tossed in another bin), backpack on belt
- Remove Rhi’s carseat from frame
- Totebag on belt
- purse in a bin on belt with any other random stuff (pull meds out and next to purse-already in ziploc bag)
- fold stroller one handed, put on belt (if Rhi’s awake–if not, ask security what they can do to help as the line is approaching the checkpoint)
- Remove Rhi (if awake) and put car seat on belt
- Send E through metal detector
- Walk through detector with Rhi in arms
- Get car seat, strap Rhi in, and appoint E in charge
- Open stroller frame
- Put tote in stroller frame, put Rhi’s car seat back on frame
- Replace laptop, tablet, etc in backpack, and put on
- Put extra crap back in purse, toss purse under stroller in basket
- Get moving
In the US, you need to add in removing your (BUT NOT THE CHILDREN’S SHOES)-I strongly recommend anything that slips on and off easily without needing any sort of hand related assistance.
Again, it’s about thinking things through strategically–what needs to go come out of bags and knowing where it is and how to re-pack efficiently.
Handing your cell phone to the older child to keep them still is smart parenting at this point in the game if you have a kid who will wander (but will stay put if you hand them a cell phone)
Give in to the technology
I realize a lot of parents are anti-tv/screen time or want to really limit it. On an airplane, screen time provides the biggest bang for the smallest space. A tablet can show tv/movies, play games, books etc and takes up a very small amount of space.
Along with that–figure out a headphone solution if possible. Ellie is on the small side so earbuds were the stuff of my nightmares (“Mommy, put it back in” every. five. minutes. for over 7 hours straight–I pretended to have lost them between flights 1 and 2). Kid headphones sort of worked, but not well. The best solution was to drape adult headphone around her neck and turn up the volume so that she could hear it, but that it wouldn’t penetrate much further. However, when she was smaller, I had no problem (and will have no problem when it’s Rhi’s turn), putting on Elmo/Sesame Street whatever with the volume up to a reasonable (not loud) volume–if they’re too small for headphones, the adults around you aren’t, and sometimes that’s the only solution that works (and works far better than my kid screaming the whole flight).
If you’re doing longer flights (HK-Chicago is 15-ish hours), have a game plan to charge stuff as needed. The laptop could charge everything, so it was in my bag and fully charged, but not used for anything during flights except to charge other things like iPods and phones.
Many planes have in seat entertainment–let your kid watch that as much as they want to, as it will save on the battery life of what you brought.
Bring snacks for them and food for you
On longer flights they may serve meals, but expect your kids to hate it and for you to be too busy to eat it (or for someone to be asleep, etc–someone or many someones are going to be hungry). I tend to pack baggies of dry cereal, peanut butter crackers, some chocolate (M&M’s, Peanut Butter cups), bag of chips, nuts, and so forth. Bring a ton of gallon sized ziploc bags in the tote as well–they can work as places to store half eaten food, trash bags, barf bags, a place to put a dirty diaper if you have to change your baby at your seat (not all planes have changing tables and you have no choice–that’s life), somewhere to put clothes that have been spilled on and now need to be washed, etc. There is no end of the uses for gallon sized ziploc bags.
Have a game plan for getting on the plane
If you have a stroller with you, it will need to be gate checked. If you have a car seat, it will either need to be gatechecked (if they’re in arms) or brought onto the plane (if they have a seat of their own). Make sure you have enough free hands to accomplish this. I was a big weighed down, but I was able to manage the backpack, tote bag, purse and car seat, and E walked onto the plane on her own (even though at times it was a lot of cajoling and pushing her verbally to do it because I couldn’t carry her).
Getting seated on the plane
Once on the plane, get the stuff out of the aisle and under the seats. Know in advance who will sit where.
Install your carseat
- Bucket seats will fit rear facing, even in regular economy (although if it’s really tight, the person in front of them won’t be able to lean their seat back–and that’s life). Thread the seat belt over the top, just as you would if you were installing it in a car without a base.
- Convertible seats should be installed facing forward, and each seat should tell you how to best belt it in (and you can always google in advance–know how to do it, don’t try to figure it out on the go).
- If you’re using CARES (the only FAA certified place to put your kids apart from a car seat), install that immediately.
Buckle in or remind older kids to buckle up
Get out what you’ll need during take off and then buckle up yourself
Ellie was more or less potty trained when we flew, but I put her back in pull-ups to be safe. It was a long enough flight that if we were stuck in a situation where she needed to go but the seat belt sign was on, there would be an accident. She still used the bathroom as needed, though and no extra pull-ups were used in either direction.
When we’re flying to Hong Kong in a few weeks, I’m just going to let her use her panties as it’s just a 3 hour flight.
When Ellie had to go to the bathroom and Rhi was asleep, I left her in her car seat, knowing that she was safe and couldn’t go anywhere. When Rhi needed to be changed I’d either take her (or usually her and her sister, since E could always benefit from trying to go) and we used the bathroom with a changing table (somewhat bigger) or the accessible bathroom (bigger).
When I had to go to the bathroom, I usually left both of them, although I tried to not do that more than I had to by limiting drinks and trying to go right before the plane and right after the plane. But on a long flight, it just needed to happen. I knew E wouldn’t go wandering and that Rhi was in a car seat, so they were fine.
Have a game plan for getting off the plane
I try to get off the plane as fast as possible. Yes, you need to wait for your stroller, but it allows the older kid/s to move around a bit while waiting (and sometimes you luck out). Before the plane lands, repack everything minus the one thing each kid will have for descent. Then pack that once the plane is on the ground.
Repeat the mommy mantra
This too shall pass
On the flights to the US, Rhi got fed up with her car seat early into the second flight (or about 10 hours into 30 hours of transit). I unbuckled her and let her climb on me, stand in her car seat, and so forth. E did her own thing (which was mostly watching Winnie the Pooh over and over and over and over and over).
On the flights back (Ravi was sitting across the aisle so I sort of had back-up, but we’ve realized doing 2 and 2 will be better in the future so each kid has a parent), Rhi was an angel and Ellie was brat.
What if they’re both acting up? Deal with the bigger problem first (safety issues, louder, etc) and then the other one just as you would at home. Skip time outs in favor of bribing–because really, a flight is one long time out on its own. Just focus on getting everyone to the other side of the flight alive, not kicking the seat in front of them, not screaming, and not running around the plane.
What am I missing that you guys want to know?