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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tips on Tuesday: Traveling with Kids Part Two

Today's list of travel tips mainly deals with airline travel. I've braved airlines with one, two and even all three kids by myself. It takes a little extra planning and preparation, but it is possible to do!

Airline Travel Tips
Over the years, I’ve learned to travel on airplanes—all by myself—with one, then two, now three kids. It can be done and it doesn’t have to be a nightmare! Airline travel is getting more costly (and more difficult) in the respect that it’s hard to understand the new rules and how they apply to children. I’m hoping that by sharing tips and tricks that I’ve learned, airline travel with small children will be less frightening and more manageable.

TSA Rules—One big question I always get is regarding babies, bottles and formula/breast milk. I find it very hard to wade through the mounds of information at the site. Here are some things I learned along the way. It is now permissible to carry with you formula, juice or breast milk for your children. It does not have to be under the 3 oz. Limit nor does it have to fit inside a quart-sized baggie. It does need to be inside of a baggie and declared to the inspection officers. You will not have to drink any (or force your child to drink any) to prove it is safe. However, the TSA reserves the right to take a sample and check it for explosives. Chances are they will never do this, but it is allowed. For that sample, they would pour a little off of the bottle/cup and not dip into the bottle/cup.

I always take one extra bottle or one extra meal of baby food for each layover we have along the way. If we fly direct, I take one more than I think I will need. The TSA site clearly states that only ‘reasonable amounts’ will be allowed. Use good judgment when you decide how much to pack. The only time I was ever questioned was on a trip where we had two layovers. I explained we’d have almost an 8-hour travel day if there were no delays so I brought enough food/milk for an entire day. The man checked my ticket to confirm I had two stops and let me pass without a hitch.

It is not required, but I find it makes them wave you through much faster if you also put into gallon baggies any jars of baby food, children’s snacks and formula—I use the formula travel tubes (powder for a 4oz bottle in each tube) when we travel. Having it all together in your carry on makes it easy to pull out all bags and put into a bin. Shoes must also be removed—even for infants/children. I would leave the baby’s shoes off until we made it through the checkpoint. Or we would wear slip-on shoes/Robeez that are easy to get off/on. Make sure you pull out all food/liquid items before the bags go through the x-ray or they can be confiscated.

One final TSA thought—I do my best to pick the longest line when going through security. Most people avoid the line when they see me and my stroller and kids in the line. I make the big kids take off their shoes while we wait in line and when we get to the front, if I have an infant I will stand there and ask NICELY for help. Sir/Ma’am, can you help me load this stroller or these bags? (As my momma always said, "You catch more flies with honey." These TSA workers are worked hard and put up with a lot of anger issues from travelers. I try to be a bright spot in their day--even though I know I'm a little bit of a pain.)

Two useful TSA weblinks are:

Gate Check—Use Gate Check to your advantage. I have a junky stroller I got at a garage sale specifically for travel. I paid $10 and if the airlines damage it, I’m really not out anything. I also gate check the car seat if I’m unable get a free seat for my under 2 aged child. Ask when you check in your luggage and again at the gate to see if there might be an open seat if you have a non-ticketed lap-sitting child under age 2. I pile the stroller high with everyone’s carry on bags and the car seats and carry the baby while making the other two hold each side of the stroller. I’ve also had wrist leashes and most recently the backpack halter leash for my kids. Depends on how much you trust them not to dart and run.

What to carry on—Each child is responsible to carry their own backpack with their toys and books and diapers/wipes/pull-ups if they weren’t potty trained. We take a couple matchbox cars, a couple small action figures/dolls, and a couple coloring/activity books. Add colors, pencils and some books and you have lots of entertainment for a flight. I also will pack a small notepad of blank paper to color on as well as a small stuffed animal friend. I save up some coveted kids meal toys that are hidden and stay that way until we get on the plane. I’ll pull them out from the bottom of the backpack and tah-dah, mom’s a hero. My kids also know the Sky Mall is a free magazine that they can take with them. I let them circle what they want (yes, I’ll look into that $25,000 gold plated Jacuzzi for your Christmas present) and take them off the plane in their backpacks. I recycle them back at home.

Boarding/disembarking—Make sure you tell the gate personnel that you need extra time to board the plane and they will generally pre-board you. When you arrive, we allow every person to get off the plane before us. This way, the kids can take their time meandering down the aisle of the plane, our gate checked stroller is waiting for us and I’ve had time to unbuckle the car seats and double check our area to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind.

Bathrooms on Planes— We try to potty before we board and let the big kids take one potty break in the middle. I know babies will almost always poop during takeoff. It seems to be Murphy’s Law for flying. Just be prepared for changing time. If they are very small, change them on your lap if you can. When they get a little bigger, you have to use the awful changer in the tiny airplane restroom. Yes, almost every plane has one—you just didn’t know where it was. The right wall above the toilet has a latch. When you release the latch, there is a drop down changing table that is as wide as the bathroom. Use your can opener to squish the child on the changer and change quickly. Bring hand sanitizer because trying to hold an infant while messing with those airplane faucets is almost comical enough to sell tickets to the event.

Reminders—Most passengers on airplanes are very patient with your children on the plane. A few may grumble, but I’ve found it to be pretty rare. Most have traveled with their own small children and feel sympathy for you. One kind man told me, “Don’t worry if they cry, only the three rows in front and in back of you can hear them.” I learned to remove shoes during the flight so little feet can’t kick the seats in front of them. I do discipline and try not to ever allow any sort of seat kicking. We make sure sippy cups (or pacifiers) are ready for takeoff and landing. Little ears don’t like the pressure changes and drinking or sucking (candy and suckers works, too) will help the ears to keep popping. Even when I breastfed, I tried to use a bottle or cup or paci on the plane. I find it to be almost impossible to breastfeed well on a plane. I end up with a strained back and it’s too hot to cover up well. I also usually had the baby in the car seat and I never let them out once they are in.

The biggest tip for airline travel—RELAX!! The more uptight and anxious you get, the worse your children will get. Try (I know it can be tough) to keep your cool. We try to change our toy/activity every 20 minutes on the plane. Even if we rotate and do the same thing every other time, it breaks up the trip and provides something new to distract them.

Try to have fun. And remember, down the road, you might even be able to catch a snooze with the kids on the plane or even read a book. For children who have a basic grasp of discipline, I lay out expectations of behavior and consequences before we go. If we all know what to expect, it makes a much smoother trip.

Happy flying!


Sher said...

This isn't a comment about your post but I really like your new background.

Anonymous said...

For children's ears, I've also seen little ear plugs that are to help with take off and landing. I saw them at REI so assume any travel store or outdoorsy store would have them.

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