Thanks to Jessa for our first “Ask the Moms” question! You and I must have been psychically connected, because this was going to be my topic if no one asked anything.
Yes, today’s topic is air travel with twins. Not for the faint of heart. If you thought it took some organization to bring your multiples out to the park, just imagine what it takes to prepare for several hours on a plane. Here, for your enjoyment, are tips from all over.
Whenever possible, buy as many seats as you can reasonably afford. Those airplane seats seem to be getting smaller and smaller, so you’ll be glad for the extra space. If extra seats are not in the cards, however (and with flight prices the way they are, that’s no surprise), be aware that there can be only one lap infant per set of three seats due to oxygen mask limitations. So you and your husband/travelmate will have to at least be across the aisle from one another, or in different rows.
If there is a secondary airport near where you live (I’m thinking Manchester, NH instead of Boston, or the like), I have found it very worth it to have the minor tradeoff in convenience and density of Starbucks, to have the smaller airport with friendlier TSA folks, smaller crowds, and generally happier fellow travelers.
Consider the time of day you’ll be flying. While some people swear by flying at bedtime because the kids will sleep, I have sadly found the opposite to be true for my kids. I don’t have easy sleepers, and they are very accustomed to their bedtime routine. When we flew at bedtime once, it was a screaming disaster. Know your kids…
Pack efficiently, and buy it when you get there
Depending on where you’re going, consider what you might be able to purchase when you get there. Especially if you’re visiting family, consider purchasing a few things and leaving them there. We now have a stash of bottles with both sets of grandparents, and two handy umbrella strollers in Florida. Also check out the local craigslist or try to find the moms of multiples club in the area. Especially if you have helpful parents or in-laws, they might be able to pick up a few gently used things for you before you arrive. Also, only pack enough diapers, wipes, baby food, formula, and the like to last the flight. Obviously pack somewhat generously in case of delays, but don’t bring a week’s worth of double diapers in your suitcase. There will be a grocery store or Target when you get there. Remember that, not only do you have to carry all of that luggage around while wrangling two babies/toddlers, but some of the airlines are even going to start charging for more than one bag per passenger. The nickel & diming never ends.
Get to the airport early. You do not want to be rushed trying to check in and get through security, because Murphy’s law dictates that it will be then that your babies have blowout diapers, or your toddlers have blowout temper tantrums. Give yourself plenty of cushion and everyone can be more relaxed.
Pack your carry-on judiciously. While you want to be well-equipped, you also don’t want to have to dig around and completely unpack everything in the middle of the airport just to find that spare pacifier. (Speaking of which, Lissa recommends a good stash of extra pacifiers if your kids take them. You never know whether the local store will carry the “right” ones.) Consider compartments, packing things in plastic bags for easy organization and retrieval. Obviously plenty of diapers and wipes, as well as extra clothes for everyone (nothing like arriving at your destination covered in spitup…). For older babies and toddlers, plenty of non-sugary snacks.
When checking in and checking your baggage, remember that even if you are not going to have the carseats on the plane with you in extra seats, you can keep them all the way until you board, and then gate-check them. Well worth it to have the seats/strollers with you all the way through security and to the gate. Reader AKLizzy also suggests that using the phrase “non-ticketed infants” is special airport code for “dear god, get these people a whole row to themselves if you can.” Hey, can’t hurt!
Speaking of security, this one involves careful maneuvering. In addition to the usual shoes, jackets, and laptop rules that you have to deal with, you will most definitely need to have both children out of their stroller and/or carseat. When traveling with infants in carseat carriers, this is indeed a feat. Here’s how we did it: keep babies in carseats in the double stroller all the way up to the security table. Get shoes, jackets, etc. into the bins (good lord, avoid bringing your laptop if you can!). Assign one parent to be the carrier of babies. Undo both babies, parent 1 can go through security with both of them. That leaves parent 2 with free hands to turn over the carseats (they go through upside down, make sure you take hanging toys off and put them in your carry-on first), collapse the stroller, and push all of your stuff through the screener. Hopefully you’ll have helpful TSA folk and patient fellow passengers. If not, well, try not to scream at anyone.
If you have kids in convertible carseats, LauraC heartily recommends the GoGo Kidz, which essentially turns those seats into a rolling suitcase. Much less bulk than a stroller!
To Pre-board or not to pre-board
Depending on the age and energy level of your kids, you may or may not want to consider pre-boarding (yes, you now qualify as someone who needs extra time getting down the jetway!). If you have infants in carseat carriers, or if you’re bringing your carseats into the plane with you, consider pre-boarding so that there is less of a risk of hitting other passengers in the head with all of your stuff. If you have mobile toddlers, and especially if you are keeping them on your lap, LauraC advocates waiting until much later to board, letting the kids run around (controlled, please, don’t let them pester other travelers) and burn off energy before the confinement of the flight.
On the plane
First, we all remember back in our pre-parent days when we were traveling. A parent came on the plane with a child, and we crossed our fingers that they wouldn’t sit next to us, and hoped against hope that they wouldn’t scream the whole flight. Be considerate of your fellow travelers. Make extra efforts to keep your kids happy and entertained. Some people have even been known to bring a bunch of inexpensive earplugs and pass them out to seatmates. It’s a thought.
For sensitive ears on takeoff and landing, it helps to suck on something. Nursing (please be discreet and considerate of fellow passengers – yes, you absolutely have the right to nurse in public, but I would argue that this is a good time to put effort into garnering goodwill with nearby strangers), bottles, pacifiers, even a lollipop will help with the changing pressure and avoid some of the worst screams.
For all but the youngest babies, new (small) toys can be something interesting and keep their attention for a few extra minutes. LauraC also suggests asking the flight attendants for extra cups, stirrers, etc. if they get bored (much in the same way that boxes are almost always more fun than what’s in them). This also may be a time when parents of toddlers might consider an exception to a no-TV rule: consider a portable DVD player, or find the kiddie channel on planes with televisions in the seat. Also some of their favorite books will come in handy. Reader AKLizzy suggests playdoh and finger puppets!
We have heard some people suggest a little dose of Benadryl to help kids sleep during the flight. If you’re considering it, please discuss it with your pediatrician. If you decide to use it, try it first at home, as some children actually become more hyper instead of drowsy. We aren’t advocating it, but we’ve heard of it being done. Desperate times and all…
Traveling diaper changes
Be aware that not all planes have changing tables in the lavatories, and even the ones that do can be next to impossible. For short-to-moderate length flights, consider a fresh diaper before boarding, and then tough it out until you get to your destination (unless you have diaper rash concerns or a poop incident, of course). The plane bathrooms are awfully hard to navigate, and people don’t take too kindly to you busting out the changing pad on your seat.
At your destination
Remember how it always felt like you waited forever for your bags at baggage claim? There’s a funny side effect to being the last one off the plane and stopping for diaper and outfit changes: twice I have gotten down to the baggage claim and found my flight was already long gone and they were moving the bags off to the side! From now on, I take the kids into the ladies’ bathroom (where there’s more likely to be a changing table, anyways) and do diaper and clothing changes while my husband heads down to the baggage area. After all, since I gate-checked my stroller, it was right there waiting for me!
Some hotels offer a babyproofing service. Not sure if it’s worth the expense, since how much time will you be spending in the room, anyways? LauraC found a great (and cheap) method on Parent Hacks. Also, while some say they offer portable cribs, a lot of times they just mean a Pack & Play.
One more thing…
More than anything, and this is obviously the case with all stressful parenting situations, keep your patience and sense of humor about you. If you’re stressed out and snippy, you probably won’t have happy kids on your hands. Practice and model good behavior ahead of time, prepare older kids for what to expect. Stick to routines and rules whenever possible, and listen to your kids’ cues and respect their need for rest (even if they claim they aren’t tired). If you stay positive and consistent, your kids are more likely to be relaxed in a new and overwhelming situation. And remember what my mom told me: “once you have kids, they aren’t vacations anymore – they’re trips.”
From the archives, travel stories from the moms of How Do You Do It?
Yours truly has made two trips so far, once at 4.5 months to Chicago for Christmas (when I learned the “don’t fly at bedtime” lesson for my kids), and a month later to Florida for some grandparent time. God help us, we’re flying cross-country in two weeks for my brother’s wedding. I must be insane.
Major props to CarrieinAK, as there are no short trips to and from Alaska. She made it to and from Chicago in one piece, and then did it again at Thanksgiving to Washington and Oregon. Her boys are super travelers!