I’d never seen a stranger grimace at the sight of my children until the first time I walked onto an airplane with them. No one wants to find themselves on a plane with children. I was apprehensive about it myself, and they’re my little darlings.
My sons were 3 1/2 and 9 months old when we set off for Tallahassee en route to St. George Island, off the panhandle of Florida. Air travel is torture to begin with, and as our departure drew closer, I worried about Rushton, my older son, disappearing into the crowd at the airport; or Devlin, the baby, screaming his head off, or a delay stranding us in an airport.
Only one of these three things happened. On the first leg of the flight home, Devlin was inconsolable. But on the whole, it went better than I expected. Here are things I learned:
- Trunki was worth the money. My husband, Josh, travels frequently for work and saw kids riding little suitcases on wheels around airports. They’re made by Melissa and Doug. The Trunki is a suitcase with a strap. Your kid sits on it, and you pull him. I was skeptical. I assumed Rushton would fall off, and it would be one more thing for us to carry. But that didn’t happen. It was an efficient way to cover ground in the airport, and my son loved it. It’s $30 on Amazon.
- Distraction is the name of the game. About a month before the trip, we bought Rushton his own tablet. The Nabi Jr. is a tablet just for kids. It’s loaded with games designed to teach the ABCs, counting and other skills. Rushton became adept at using the touch screen, and it has Laurie Berkner singing on it, who I love. We also bought a set of headphones. The tablet was $80 at Walmart.
- Everything has toy potential. On the plane, Devlin was enchanted with the air sickness bags.
- Try to fly during their normal waking hours. We thought it would be best to fly at night, assuming the kids would sleep. They did not. They were fascinated by all the new things to see, so they stayed awake and were exhausted to the point of hysterical tears when we finally hit Tallahassee at midnight.
- Get to the airport early. When you fly alone or with other adults, you can laugh in the face of the TSA warning to get to the airport two hours before your flight leaves. You’re Joe Cool with your one carry-on and documents at the ready. With kids, there’s so much stuff to take, and all of it has to be inspected. A TSA officer tested my bottles of formula. I had to take the baby out of the stroller, collapse it and send it through the X-ray machine. I had to then remember where I stashed my boarding pass while I passed off the baby and took my shoes off.
We wanted to eat and get the kids settled before we got on the plane, but it was a mad dash.
And speaking of boarding passes, you have to ask for one for your lap-child, even though you didn’t buy a seat for him. We didn’t get a boarding pass for Devlin when we checked in, which led to confusion and delay at the gate. An airline employee had to create one while I stood there, holding up the line.
The airline might ask to see proof of age if your child is approaching the cutoff for lap travel (2 years old), but otherwise they assume you’re allowed to be traveling with the kids you have with you. No birth certificates necessary.