In a recent comment on my packing lament, Cathy asked for thoughts about moving to Germany and traveling with toddlers. I know very little about Germany, but I know a lot about flying with little kids. When two East Coast families combine and have a first grandchild in Hawaii, there is some traveling involved. When said family then moves to Australia and has two more kids while they're there, there is some traveling involved. Add in two emergency trips home from Down Under, and you've got a four month old with Premier level frequent flyer miles.
Here are my top tips for flying with small children:
1. In your carry-on (preferably a backpack), pack more clothes than you could possibly need. At least one extra set for grown-ups and a couple for kids. If you're flying internationally and will be continuing on after customs, put extra outfits in a zip-top bag just inside your checked luggage. When you retrieve your luggage to clear customs, you can pull out the bag of clean clothes and stuff the soiled things back in your suitcase. This is also a good place to stage extra diapers, wipes, snacks, extra toys and a spare sippy cup or bottle that you can't fit in your carry-on.
2. Bring your child safety seats. Many people think that this is a lot of work for a small reward, but I disagree. On a long flight, you need to have a safe and comfortable place to put your kids. They will be safer, too. There are negatives, however. The FAA requires that child safety seats be put in window seats, or in the center of wide-body aircraft. (Click here for more information on the FAA guidelines.) If you are flying with multiple children, they will not be together. If you are flying alone with more than one small child, you may have problems finding an acceptable seating arrangement that will accommodate more than one child safety seat. It all depends on the seat arrangement on the aircraft. I recommend bringing the seats and gate checking them if you are unable to use them on the plane. Another problem with the child seats is that they may prevent the seat back tray table from folding down. You will need to decide what is best for your family, depending on the size of the child and the number of children and adults that you have. Lastly, it can be burdensome to carry the car seat through the airport. Ask your airline for help. If the first person you ask refuses, ask again. Eventually, an airline employee should be able to get you the assistance that you require.
3. Pre-order half of your meals from the special selections: childrens, vegetarian, diabetic, kosher, etc. Your airline's website has a list of the choices and a description of each. There are three reasons to do this. First, the specialty meals will be served before the regular meals. This way, you are spreading out the eating and only having to manage half as much food at a time. Four meals stacked on your tray as you organize your kids will quickly turn into a disaster. Second, this will provide more variety for your child and you. I usually pre-order several special meals and then get one each of the regular selections. The kids graze on what they like and I eat the leftovers. It is not a perfect system, but it works. Third, the special meals often include fewer sauces and seasonings, making the food more appealing to children.
4. Utilize the airport USO lounge. Once I got over my shyness at using the USO services, I discovered how wonderful they are. Each lounge has different hours and services, but most at least have a quiet place to sit and a cup of hot coffee. Some have elaborate children's areas with multiple cribs, recliners for quick naps, spare diapers and baby food, and library areas. Click here to find a USO center on your voyage. This is especially great if your flight is delayed or canceled.
I'm sure that the SpouseBUZZ community has a world of wisdom on this subject. C'mon everyone, let's help Cathy with her latest adventure!
Update: Here's the link to FAA guidelines on bottles and sippy cups.