Our triplets aren’t yet two and they’ve been on three big trips on airplanes, twice to Hawaii and most recently to Seattle. Each time has been a different experience because they change so much every couple of months and this most recent trip was our first with them as toddlers. Here are some tips I pulled together after that trip that I hope will be helpful to other MoMs as they prepare to take their toddlers on an airplane!
Tip #1: Sign up for both text & email alerts regarding your flight status!!! My email to check-in for our flight went to my gmail “priority” inbox while the email about our flight cancellation somehow went to my promotion inbox & I didn’t see it!!! AAAAHHH! Nothing like getting three babies out of bed at 4am only to get to the airport & learn that your flight was cancelled!!!
Tip #2: Travel lightly! Check bags, car seats, & strollers (if taking one) so you have as little stuff to manage in the airport & plane as possible because believe me, managing three toddlers is enough! We packed one big bag for all five of us. Knowing we could do laundry while we were in Seattle was helpful! Then we checked two car seats & carried on the third (see tip #7). Some hard core car seat folks highly recommend gate checking car seats because of rough baggage handling, but personally I think car seats are made tough enough & we just knew that lugging three car seats through the airport would be too much. The nice thing is that car seats & strollers get checked for free. Our bag was just a tad overweight so we offloaded a few things into the car seat bags. I was hiding things under the car seat fabric but have since had friends tell me that most agents don’t care if you stuff your car seat bag with other things so that is helpful.
Tip #3: Use all available airport resources to keep them entertained so you don’t have to dip into your airplane tricks! Our tiny little airport has luggage carts out for anyone to use & this served to be a great distraction for a while! It also kept them all close & not running in all different directions. Having a squirell-y one get off and push worked well too. We also climbed on/under/over seats and a couple of parked people movers and watched a lot of planes and trucks.
Tip #4: Do some quick internet reconn to see if there are any kid-friendly play areas to let off some steam between flights. If you are flying through O’Hare they have a great Kids on the Fly play area that has tons of things for kids to explore. Our original flight plan had us with a very short layover at O’Hare & would have been very tricky. Our flights the next day had about a three hour layover and while on paper that seemed agonizingly long, thanks to the Kids on the Fly play area though, it actually worked out great.
Tip #5: Find alternate ways to burn energy! If there’s no play areas then you have to work a little harder but you can still get some of that toddler energy out in the terminal & keep them entertained.
Tip #6: Baby carriers rock for getting through airports! Did you know that you can wear your baby (or babies as the case may be!) through security? They just have to swab your hands to make sure you aren’t carrying a bomb in your baby. =) They are also great for getting down those narrow plane aisles & still having hands free to pull/lug a suitcase or car seat. (See the next two tips re:car seats)! And carriers work well for walking naps in the airport too!
Tip #7: Always opt for an extra set of hands when possible! So, while kids are under 2 they can be lap babies, but you can only have one lap baby per adult. This policy is a very good policy for many reasons…one of which is that it keeps crazy spendthrift triplet moms like me from thinking “I’m sure I could manage two babies on my lap in a space the size of a shoebox for hours straight!”. Okay, I’m really truly not that crazy, but I do like to travel, don’t have a ton of money, & do sometimes overestimate my own supermommy powers so let’s just say, I can see how it might happen. =)
Anyway, getting back to the point…this means that when you have three toddlers you need to purchase a third seat. Your choice then is to try to rope an unsuspecting family member or friend into making the trip with you & holding the third baby or to lug a car seat along for that baby. My first choice is almost always to go for option A because the extra set of hands makes lots of things easier including carrying/herding babies through the airport & entertaining them on the plane. We were lucky that it did work out for us to bring a third adult for the first two big trips with the babies at 6 & 9 months old, but that isn’t always an option (though we did ask around for this trip too!) Even better was the flight with my sister & her family, where our adult to child ratio was 5:4 & we could pass the kiddos around & go to the bathroom alone or just sit quietly for a few minutes while someone else walked the aisles! Also important to know when you are booking travel for triplet toddlers is that you can’t all sit in the same row of 3 on one side of the plane! The online systems will let you book the seats, but you will have to be moved because there aren’t enough oxygen masks. Given that, I highly recommend booking seats in the same row but across the aisle or one behind the other. If you have a third adult you can book aisle-aisle-middle or three aisles near each other but if you have to bring a car seat then you have to do an aisle & then a middle & window across the way or the row behind because you have to install the car seat at the window.
Tip #8: Plan ahead for car seat configurations: When taking a third adult isn’t an option, then you really need to do some advanced planning and ideally practicing to make the car seat on the plane experience less hellacious. It’s hard enough to sit in the tiny space allotted in coach nevermind get a car seat installed while you have one or more toddlers also in that space. Before we left I checked with my sister who’d flown with car seats a number of times & got some tips & tricks from her. We have two different car seats right now, the Combi Coccoro & the Diono Radian R100. The advantage with the Coccoro is that it is really light & very easy to install on a plane rear facing because you have easy access to the entire beltpath & it’s pretty compact. Both of our seats are the narrowest on the market–they have to be to fit 3 across–which helps when it comes to fitting them in a plane, but the Coccoro is also not very tall so it doesn’t impact the person sitting directly in front. The Radian is MUCH heavier & taller, but we still ended up taking it over the Coccoro & here’s why…it was easier to get through the airport.
We bought a cheap steel framed luggage rack from Amazon to attach the car seat to so we could pull it through the airport. I tried to get the Coccoro attached to it and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get a secure fit because of the rounded shape of the bottom & certainly not in a way that I could actually buckle a kiddo into it. The R100, on the other hand, was a dream to attach to the luggage rack & with one extra bungee at the top I could easily strap a kiddo into it & pull them around if I wanted. This set up worked out great for us & because the seat is so narrow we were actually able to pull it down the plane aisle right to our row. The day before our trip I spent 15 minutes or so of nap time practicing putting the car seat on the luggage rack & then taking it off & folding up the rack so I knew I could do it quickly & with minimal effort rather than stumbling around when people are waiting to get on or off the plane. As you can kind of see in the picture of me wearing two babies we didn’t end up pulling a kiddo in the seat at the airport, but we did stack our backpack & other carryon on the seat & pulled those. The backpack was actually heavier than the kids so that worked out well. And the R100 has this great strap that is meant to hold the bottom seat up in a folded flat position that worked great through the top handle of the backpack to keep it secure.
We opted to install the seat forward facing on the plane to make things simpler & since we weren’t really worried about the added saftey factor of rear-facing we thought the novelty of forward facing was worth it. And it was! I expected the battle to be convincing someone to sit in the car seat instead of on the lap, but actually there were a few fights over who got to sit in the seat!
Tip 9: Find the balance between novelty & familiarity for in-flight entertainment! I think this is one of the tricky things about planning your in-flight toddler entertainment. You want to find things that are fun & exciting, but you only have so much space so you kind of want to know if it’s going to be a hit before you dedicate precious space to it. And you know how toddlers want to read the same book ad nauseum, right? So they dig familiar things too. So figuring out what “old stand bys” & how many new things to bring can be tricky. One thing that I think can help with the old standbys is to make them disappear for a week or so before the flight so it has a little more pull. Here are some things we did:
Tip #10: Feed the Little Monsters! Make sure you think about when you will be flying & if you need to pack “meals” or snacks will suffice. We were flying over at least one meal time & didn’t want to have to spend money or deal with finding decent food in the airport so we packed protein filled foods. Our little lunchbox was stuffed with hard boiled eggs, cut up avocado, string cheese, Stonyfield’s version of go-gurts, & some melon & blueberries. We tried to plan snacks that had some staying power, we were pretty sure they would be happy to eat, & were as least messy as possible. But really, nothing is mess free with toddlers & the go-gurts definitely needed to be “mom-controlled!” We also tried to balance the novel & familiarity when it comes to snacks too. We intentionally didn’t give them some of their favorite snacks for the week or so before the flight so they would be more exciting when we busted them out in the plane (TJs cinnamon apple sticks & multigrain crackers). We also got some snacks we never get like Annie’s bunny grahams, pretzel rods & yogurt covered raisins. We did over pack on snacks, but that meant we had some left for the ride home so that was nice.
Tip #11: Prepare to be exhausted! Our flights went very smoothly & the kiddos were very well behaved with only a few minimal bursts of crying/whining, but let’s be clear, it is NOT just because we have “good kids.” All our planning of activities & snacks paid off and we worked our tails off changing activities, quietly singing songs, reading books, & telling stories! Do your very best to stay positive & keep your energy up! That means making sure you have easy access to quick snacks for yourself too! And if at all possible, recruit help on the other end so you can get a mini break from entertaining babies when you get to your destination! Having help when you get there is great too because it’s tricky to manage bags, getting out to the car & getting the car seats installed in a new, unfamiliar car!
I think the take home message for traveling with triplet toddlers is to be prepared!!! The majority of this content was originally published on the Therrien Triple(t) Threat blog.