We’ve long said that our “family” consists of many important close friends spread all over the country, and seeing that family—celebrating holidays or graduations, being part of weddings, college reunions, etc—is likewise important. Naturally, our kids come with us, so we’ve logged many miles of Delta travel between the four of us.
Several friends have asked me how we travel with our circus (#2under2). Because they’re so young, they fly for free and sit on our laps. We’ve taken lots of flights with our kids, so yes, I would consider us experts…on flying with our kids. But I’m also convinced that you’ll become an expert on flying with your kids, too, once that first flight is under your belt.
While every family is different, here’s what works for us:
1. Checked baggage. Babies travel with a lot of stuff. We needed a bag to contain it all: the largest duffel bag sold at REI. It turned out to be our smartest purchase for streamlining air travel with a baby. It can hold a full-size swing or a pack-and-play, a rock-and-play bassinet, a breast pump, diapers, wipes, plus bags of everyone’s clothes and shoes. We pack it full, zip it up, and drag it to the bag drop (or curbside check it!) as soon as we arrive at the airport. It’s pictured below.
2. Carry-on baggage. We’ve tried a few different combinations, and our preferred way to navigate the airport is for each parent to wear a kid (in a Moby wrap until they were about 4 months, in an Ergobaby carrier after that). All strollers and car seats get gate-checked, a recommendation from a Delta employee as our safest bet. Since we wear our kids, the strollers are simply used to push the car seats, diaper bag, computer bag, etc. to the gate. See photo.
3. Security. Even if you show up 2 hours ahead of schedule, chances are you’ll encounter line of some kind. I’ve learned to ask for special treatment—we almost always get it. I look for a family security line, and if I don’t see it, I ask an agent. In Minneapolis, Chicago, Philly, and Vancouver, there weren’t specially-designated lines, but because I asked, I was escorted to the front of the line. Because we wear our kids (and no, you don’t have to remove your kid to go through!), we decline the 360-degree body scanner and opt for the basic metal detector. TSA then also swabs our hands and strollers for explosives. Ask Jon about the time he tested positive for explosives and an agent cited the policy that a positive result requires detention for questioning by Homeland Security. In the end they let us go. I think it was partly because Jack kept asking–loudly and insistently–for his dada.
Oh, and come prepared with documentation. We got Jack’s first passport at 2 weeks old because we crossed the border by air (if by car, just a birth certificate needed). I’ve heard that Southwest Airlines requires a birth certificate. If flying solo internationally with kids, your spouse may need to give authorization for the kids to leave the country.
4. Boarding. When flying together, we board first because of Jon’s frequent flyer status, but even when I’m alone, I try to be one of the first on the plane, for a couple reasons. One, I scope out the bathroom situation. Older jets have a flip-down changing table in the bathroom. If the plane is not equipped with that, I change diapers (using the seat next to me) as soon as we’re seated. Less attention, more space.
Two, we make friends while the rest of the plane boards. We learned with Jack that he liked to greet other passengers as they boarded, and they liked to greet him, too.
5. In flight. I take the “do what you gotta do” approach. I nurse my babies any time they want, whenever they seem anxious or need to sleep, and during all takeoff/landings. Swallowing helps clear tiny ears! After Jack weaned, we had a bottle at the ready to serve the same purpose—the flight attendants brought us a carton of milk (just ask!). One flight, Jack drank 20oz of milk. No big deal.
Also, I hate that this is even a thing, but you should know your airline’s policy on breastfeeding with or without a cover. I’ve never ever had a problem on Delta; others have. Know your rights, stand up for yourself, do what’s best for you and your baby.
A note on age: Jack is now 21 months. He did a ton of flying in his first year and not a ton since then. We’ve learned that sitting still in a parent’s lap is a special brand of torture for him, especially because there are so many new people around he’d rather be meeting! He doesn’t sleep well on us, either. When deciding who would represent our family at a recent weekend event in San Diego, it did not make sense to subject Jack to two 3.5-hour flights in 3 days. It was not essential for him to go, so I went alone with Grace.
Friends, it was the right decision for us for that trip (Grace slept the entire flight, every flight because she’s smaller, still breastfeeding, and not mobile). We’re looking at Chicago in October, and I feel much more optimistic about that 45-minute flight for Jack! I’m also hopeful that once he’s 2 and in his car seat on the plane, things will be different.
6. At your destination. We use our own car seats and pack-and-plays. No other way for us. We do our best to replicate the home environment especially because sleep has never been simple for Jack. We’ve definitely put his pack and play in a bathroom and a closet to achieve optimum darkness. We also enjoy suite-style hotel rooms when they’re an option; we can put Jack in one room, close the door(!), and be in the other room while he sleeps.
7. Returning the rental car. This one can be so tricky, can’t it? Kellers take the divide and conquer approach: Jon pulls up to the curbside drop-off and bolts to check the gigantic duffel bag. Meanwhile, I stay with the car, taking my leisurely time putting on the wrap/baby carrier, getting the baby out of her car seat, setting up a stroller, loading it up with our gate check items, etc. Jon returns from checking the bag and then it’s every man for himself. Jon speeds off to return the car and take the shuttle back to the terminal with Jack. I make my way to the gate with Grace. Usually I board first and Jon and Jack meet us in our row!
A note on the diaper bag: When we fly, this is my purse. Everything I need is in there: a swaddling blanket, a change of clothes for both kids and an extra shirt for me, one toy for in the seat, our iPad (photobooth and music!), more diapers than we think we need, and a plastic bag to hold any outfits that could get ruined.
These are strategies that have worked for our circus. How about yours? What works for you?
Liz, did I answer all your questions?! 😉