20 December 2013

Part 1: (Before) Flying with Young Children

How can you possibly prepare for 13 straight hours of sitting still with a squirmy child on your lap?

Well, you can do a few things, and doing them will not only ease your trip but also ease your mind as you think ahead to that dreaded plane ride.

1. Call the airline.
Even if your departure city is overseas, they will have someone who can speak in English. Google search finds that phone number pretty easily, and the open hours will be in your time zone. Here are the questions I always ask:

  • Can we reserve bulkhead seats?
  • May I order children's meals?
  • Is it a full flight? If not, can you block off a seat next to me?
  • What is the baggage allowance for my lap child?

I'll detail those now. 

The bulkhead and I have a love/hate relationship. I love the extra space, but I hate that I have to keep the aisle clear during take off and landing. Every time, though, the love wins out, and we try our hardest to reserve those seats, especially so my lap child will not kick the person in front of us. I pull out the necessities for take off and landing: nursing cover, drinks/bottles, burp cloth, and one toy for each kid. Your list of must-haves may be different, but don't forget to snatch them before your bag goes overhead.

Sometimes, the bulkhead has a bassinet available (either attached to the wall in front of you or lying on the ground at your feet), so ask about it--and the stipulations for use (age and weight of the baby). Those are great for babies who can transfer easily from arms to bed, but you'll have to pick him or her back up if there is any turbulence.

If the bulkheads are not available, you can request certain seats. Look online for a seating chart of your specific aircraft. (Look at your e-ticket.) Sites like SeatGuru color-code the picture to show ideal seats versus terrible ones. 

Flights need 24 hours notice to order children's meals. These are awesome for two reasons: 1) The kids like them better because they look familiar (hot dog, hamburger, mac-n-cheese), and 2) the kids' meals come out earlier than the main meals.  I'm usually able to finish feeding my kids before my meal arrives, which then allows me to put my tray on one of their tray tables since I've got a baby on my lap.

Ask also about infant meals. Some airlines do this for lap children, and the meal is basically two jars of baby food and a bottle of 100% apple juice. Even if your baby is exclusively nursing, snag these freebies because they don't expire for months.

If you only have a lap child (and no older children) traveling with you and your husband/mom/kind soul, then consider ordering a vegetarian meal for one of the adults. This allows one meal to come out early, so you can take turns holding the baby while the other eats. 

If you're scheduled for an overbooked flight, then shrug your shoulders and say, "Oh well." But if the representative says there are still seats available, check about keeping the empty one beside you empty. There is no guarantee, but the airline can mark it as a last-pick, so other seats get assigned first. You should do this (again) at the check-in counter too.

And check for your baby's baggage allowance.  Even though sharing your seat, your baby should get a certain amount of check-in allotment. It may be half the usual allowance, but it's still something, especially if you want to bring lots of things with you.

Kona Mae's baggage allowance is 10 kilos, which is her weight now, so . . .

2. Pack Progressively.
Don't save all the packing for the day before. Why do we do that to ourselves? It's as if we completely forget how much time our children take just for normal care--then when the house is in upheaval, their energy levels skyrocket! 

You can pack progressively. The first three pieces of advice in this summer vacation article translate well for airplane travel too.
  • Create a master checklist.
  • Designate a packing spot in the house.
  • Pack efficiently.
I recommend making your checklist in a google doc so you can reuse it every time you travel. The items will be mainly the same. List things you want to pack in your check-ins and in your carry-ons separately. Then also list the things you want to have done before you walk out the door (i.e. unplug appliances, turn off heater, close the curtains). 

Those last few moments before heading out are always nuts when you add little children. Having a list to verify that you've got everything and done everything is so reassuring.

When you start packing (days ahead), pile things in a designated spot--a guest room or a corner--where your curious kids cannot "help" with the fun. Use a baby gate to block their entrance or pack while they are asleep then put zipped-up bags out of the way (like out on a balcony or in your bedroom). During the day, I usually go through our normal routines but pick up things I want to pack as I see them, put them on my bed (our bedroom is the designated spot since the kids aren't allowed to play in there anyway), then pack those in a bag while the kids sleep.

If you do run up against your own deadline, by all means put on a cartoon so you can all calm down.

While we waited for our ride to the airport, I made sure they didn't unpack anything.

And when you've got little ones that need items packed but will not be hauling them, you've got to be efficient. Consider these suggestions:
  • Have your children carry their own backpacks for the flight if they are able. {I will talk about what to pack in the next post.} Even a teeny backpack helps ease the weight of your diaper bag.
  • If you're planning to bring lots of things back on your return trip, pack extra duffel bags inside of your luggage. 
  • Another option for bringing back more than you originally had is using disposable cardboard boxes.  
  • Use diapers to cushion breakable items.
  • Stuff clothes into items with empty space, like tall boots.
  • To avoid packing bathroom supplies, you can plan to make an immediate trip to the store upon arrival to buy the needed toiletries: shampoo, soap, toothpaste, even diapers and wipes.

3. Arrange Baby Gear at Destination
So you need a playpen, a carseat, a Bumbo, a feeding chair, toys, books, a bouncy seat, and a stroller. Do you need to pack it all? 

{Well, if you're going on vacation--maybe yes. But first check if your hotel provides a playpen or crib, at least. And don't bring the bouncy seat or other luxuries. An infant car seat rocks well, and you can use that or the stroller as a feeding chair.} 

But it's more likely that you're visiting someone or at least know someone in your destination city. Utilize them! Arrange to borrow car seats and feeding chairs and even books and toys. Do they say they don't know anyone with young kids? They can ask a church--their nurseries are usually stocked with baby gear. If you'll be returning to that city multiple times in the next few years, it would be worth it to buy these things and leave them with relatives or friends. 

This was hard! That's why it's better to arrange baby gear to meet you on the other side.

Unless your children are all strong walkers, I recommend bringing a stroller along for the travel time. Checking these at the gate make the airport treks so much easier (and faster). You could still arrange to have extra strollers available wherever you're staying. For example, when my older two were ages 1 and 2, I brought a single stroller for the airports but arranged to borrow a double stroller upon arrival. And I have friends who have done the opposite: brought the double and borrowed the single.

4. Expect to serve.
Someone wise once said this equation:

Flexibility - expectation = happiness.

Prepare yourself before ever heading to the airport: you will be serving your children. Go with the mindset that you will be holding them, distracting them, helping them, quieting them--the whole time. This way, you're not disappointed if you don't get that time to yourself. If it does come, it will be a pleasant surprise.

5. Pray, and recruit prayer.
Do not forget to do this! When you feel anxious about the flight, pray. When you feel overwhelmed with the packing and the kids, pray. When you think it would be better to cancel the traveling and pull a staycation just to avoid that dreaded airplane seat, pray pray pray. 

And before you feel any of this, pray. God sees us, and He cares

The smoothest flights I ever experienced (with young children) were the ones I prayed for the most. When I was 37 weeks pregnant and traveling with a 17-month-old lap child, the sweetest people sat beside me for the multiple flights it took to get home to Seoul. On top of that, my toddler napped without much fuss and seemed unusually content with limited space and the challenge of teeter-tottering up and down the aisles. Before that flight, I had cried out my anxiety to God and asked many family members and friends to pray for me. I felt God giving me peace and support and strength. 

So prepare well and pray. 

Do you have preparation advice to add? Please bless others by leaving your wisdom in the comments section.
Up next in this series: we'll cover what to pack for the tick-tock of airplane travel. I'll see you back then. :)


  1. I agree with asking for a baby meal and/or a child meal when needed. The jars of baby food lasted over a year, and they happily gave them to us (including the extras from a baby that didn't make the flight!) even though my baby wasn't eating solids yet. Also, I never thought to get the vegetarian meal so that it came early, I was actually a vegetarian ~ but that's brilliant! Now, though, I order the fresh fruit plate instead. I can eat it with one hand and share it with the kids. Plus, the fruit keeps us more hydrated and prevents travel constipation.

  2. Anonymous4/28/2014

    Just used these tips while booking a flight back to the States--super helpful. Now, about to get on the phone with the airline!


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