I found a few great travel tips for flying in an airplane alone with a lap child when Precious and I went to Florida last month. (With a few added notes about lessons I learned on my first solo flight with Ladybug last summer.) I thought I’d share what I learned:
• Get a direct flight if possible. When I flew with Ladybug back in August—my first time flying alone with a small child—the second flight is the one that almost drove us both insane. (Side note: if your child is old enough to move around and has trouble sitting still—pay for her own seat. Or travel with a buddy so she can move between your seats, from lap to lap.)
• Plan the flight time according to your kid’s schedule. For Precious that just meant not too early so I wasn’t waking her up at 5:00 am to leave for the airport, (lesson learned from Ladybug…) and not too late so we got home just a little later than her normal bedtime.
• Pack some new, time-consuming toys for the flight but avoid noisy games for the sake of the other passengers. Also soft toys if your toddler likes to throw things at people. (Ladybug…) Precious had a lot of fun with a rattle but she can’t hold anything for long. I used a pacifier clip to hook the rattle onto her bib. Worked like a charm.
• Drinking helps a little one’s ears pop. Descending is the worst time for ear pressure. Plan a bottle feeding for a younger one or reserve some tasty drink for a toddler until the last 20 minutes of the flight. As soon as my ears started to pop, I started making her bottle.
• Bring a big ol’ bottle of water from the outside world. If you insist that it’s for making bottles for the baby, security will test it and allow you to take it through. Much cheaper than buying a bottle of water in the airport. If you put all of your liquids in a separate bin (outside of your carry on) it makes it faster.
• Bring a small, cheap, sturdy, umbrella stroller. I love the Jeep one we got for $5 at a yard sale. It’s compact and lightweight but has big rugged wheels and steers easily. Most importantly, because we didn’t pay much for it, I wouldn’t be upset if it was broken or lost after being gate-checked. The people at Southwest were sweet enough to set it up for me before we got off the plane both times.
• Pack as light as you can. This required a lot of planning for me. Knowing I would need my hands free to get Precious through security and onto the plane, I opted for a backpack as a diaper bag/purse and I checked 1 large suitcase for both of us. I think every airline allows you to check a car seat at no charge. (See below about car seat drama.) Between the backpack and the stroller, I was able to do everything I needed to do—check bags, get through security, buy dinner. Once I had my checked bag back, I could push the stroller with one hand and pull our big suitcase with the other. It wasn’t easy but it worked.
• Keep a change of clothes in your carry on—for both of you. If I had needed to change, I would have looked pretty silly in my tank top and knit shorts, but they were small and compact and would have been better than being covering in baby poop through a flight. I also packed 1 extra outfit, 1 set of sleeper PJs, and a few extra bibs and burp cloths for Precious. Four or five diapers and a small pack of wipes don’t take up too much space. I also tuck a few ziplock bags into the diaper bag (all the time) for stinky, soiled clothing. Our flights were less than 2 hours so we didn’t need to use the on plane diaper changing station in the bathroom but a friend who is experienced in international travel with her kids gave me this tip: Once you pull the changing table down, there is no room to move so just bring the diaper and wipes into the bathroom with you—not the whole diaper bag.
• Bring your own car seat, if possible. I decided I’d rent one from the rental car agency since they told me it would be free with my AAA membership. Upon arriving to pick up the car and car seat, I was informed that it would be $85 to rent a car seat for 5 days because my rental was not reserved through AAA. More than we paid for both our car seats combined! That’s a pretty freakin’ expensive miscommunication. Thankfully, after getting past the rude and persistent clerk, the manager waived the fee. However, it was a brand new, unfamiliar car seat and it took me over 20 minutes to figure out how to install it properly in the rental car and how to adjust it to Precious’ size. Lesson learned: I should have just brought our car seat. It would have been free, already the right size, I know how to install it quickly and it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal to strap it to my big rolling suitcase.
• Have fun! Be flexible and relax. Not everything is going to go according to plan. It will all work out. Remember, you’re on vacation.
There are some more extensive, detailed tips for airplane travel with small kids here.
(Stock photo above purchased from iStockphoto.com)