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It was around 4:45 a.m.
We had just arrived at Hector International Airport for our first excursion as a family of five. I had read all the rules and all the blogs about flying with kids. I was feeling confident and ready.
That was my first mistake.
As moms, we know by now that the moment you think you’re ready, when you actually allow yourself to relax and feel like, “Hey, I got this,” is when your children remind you that in fact you don’t “got this” because logistically, you can’t possibly plan for every scenario, especially when flying with kids. Just as this beautiful euphoric wave passed over me, it was chased by a huge amount of vomit. My four-month-old daughter, dressed in an adorable blue and white gingham blouse, puked all over herself, me, and inside the baby carrier. And we hadn’t even checked in yet.
Tip #1: Don’t overfeed the baby before boarding.
When we got passed security and had a moment, I did some damage control. I had a cardigan I used to haphazardly camouflage my stains, and thankfully had packed extra clothes for my daughter. However, now that the buttons on her top were wet, it was nearly impossible to undo them to change her outfit. Which brings me to…
Tip #2: Skip the fashion show.
Pack clothes that are easy to remove and of course, two sets of extra clothes. And while we try to schedule flights during the waking hours, it’s not always possible. We now dress the kids in what they’ll wear on the plane when they go to bed, a.k.a. their “nice sweats” (you know, the ones that actually fit and are stain/hole free).
Tip #3: Do your homework.
To prepare for our trip, I did extensive research on the airline and connection options available. We ended up flying Delta with a layover in Minneapolis, so I’ll be sharing Delta’s rules. With that said, most major airlines have the same rules.
You can have one lap child per adult (18+) under the age of two. This means that you only have to pay for your ticket (but you must alert the airline when booking so your child’s name also appears on your ticket). Because your child doesn’t have a seat and has to stay on your lap, they don’t get a carry-on. If your child is close to two or looks older, it’s a good idea to have a copy of their birth certificate.
If you choose to go this route, you should know that you cannot have two lap children in the same row because there is only one extra oxygen mask per row.
While flying with kids we decided to go the “infant in arms” route because, first of all, it was cheaper. Secondly, in all my experience flying I have never encountered turbulence rough enough where I couldn’t safely hold onto a baby. And lastly, the guidelines for an FFA-approved child safety seat are extensive and not as simple as just strapping your car seat into a plane seat. That being said, you decide what works for you and your family, whether that’s keeping your child in your lap or bringing a car seat and buying them their own seat. Here is more information on traveling with an infant.
Tip #4: Consider all options when deciding “stroller vs baby carrier.”
For our first adventure, we used Ergo baby carriers. This kept our arms free and allowed the kids to sleep comfortably in our laps when needed. But this will completely depend on where you’re going and the details of your particular trip.
We have used baby carriers often, and we choose them over strollers when we go just about anywhere. As the twins got older, we have used backpack carriers.
Airlines will let you put backpack carriers and umbrella strollers in the overhead and it’s not considered your carry-on (see an example of one airlines policy on that here.)
Tip #5: Pack many small entertainment options.
If you’re not able to acquire Mary Poppins’ carpet bag and literally pack your entire play room, you’re going to need to be a bit strategic. Some planes will have it where each seat has its own television, but some will not. Regardless, it’s good to have a “bag of tricks.” I like to include tiny notepads, crayons, stickers, snacks, little crafts, kids magazines, flat books to read (like Little Golden Books), and iPads or tablets with headphones. Even with individual TVs, kids can get restless and these activities can provide great screen-free entertainment.
Tip #6: How to work a layover.
Unless you’re flying with kids to one of five places, a layover is inevitable when flying out of Fargo. For the most part, I hate that about our airport. But it has worked slightly in our favor when flying with children. For one, you can use the airport bathroom’s changing table instead of attempting to change a diaper on the plane (Expert tip: If your infant just has a pee diaper, I suggest changing that right in your lap).
Layovers also let you “air out” a bit. If you are feeling overwhelmed and if your spouse is a rock star, tag out for a moment by yourself, and do the same for them. Maybe hit the wine bar, if time allows. A quick recharge can really make the difference for the next leg of the trip.
For the kids, a layover can be a potential opportunity to nap or get some energy out, depending on what they need at that time.
Tip #7: The comfort of strangers is not your priority.
By our first trip, we were using formula exclusively. And my husband made the mistake of feeding our son formula every time he heard him cry. Thankfully, we were de-boarding the plane in Fargo when he had a massive blowout but heed this advice; passengers would rather hear your baby crying than smell their blowout. Trust me on this one!
I know with many moms, (and dads) a big fear of flying with kids is being “that family” with the child who will not stop crying.
If you get anything from this post, remember this: It is not your fault your kid is crying. And it is not your job to alleviate fellow passengers “inconvenience” by handing out “mini favor bags” of ear plugs and whatever else you think is necessary to apologize for your child’s existence on the flight.
Even adults get restless when traveling, so naturally kids will too. And anyone who thinks outside themselves will recognize that you’re doing your best, because you don’t want to listen to your child crying either. Know that I will hogtie my kid’s legs before I let them kick your seat, but I can only do so much to stop them from crying.
And sometimes people will surprise you.
We’ve sat next to some amazing people who’ve offered to hold my children. For example, a grandmother let both my twins sit on her lap so they could peer out the window, and a young man who didn’t speak English but wanted to bounce my daughter on his knee. Accept these blessings! For the most part, people get it and are kinder than you think.