I’m a week away from completing the second 3-week long trip I’ve taken alone with my 2 kids in the past 5 months. The first trip was when my baby was 6 weeks old and my older daughter wasn’t yet 3 years old. I flew with both kids from Grand Junction to Rochester, New York in a haze of postpartum sleeplessness and nursing issues. Our flight was from GJ to Salt Lake, then to Atlanta, then New York. Just me, my 6 week old, and my 2.5 year old. Somehow we avoided any serious mishaps, leading me to believe I could really accomplish anything I set my mind to. And that’s how I got the courage to fly again with both kids, this time to Florida and New Orleans to visit my parents.
I've seen quite a few horror stories on social media lately of travel sagas involving rude passengers and flight crewmembers, moms being made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, and breastmilk tragedies. I can honestly say that throughout all the trips I’ve taken solo with my kids, including all the traveling I did with my first born back in 2016, the most important thing to remember is this: you will never see any of those people on your plane again. Just don’t do anything to land yourself on Good Morning America.
When a child screams on a plane there are usually two kinds of reactions. The first is, “Oh my God, there’s a screaming child on this plane. Someone shut that kid up.” The other reaction is, “That poor child/mother. I feel so bad for them.” What someone’s initial reaction is will usually fall in line with whether or not they have children of their own.
I didn't bring along an iPad on any of our flights but I did make sure to snag a coloring book, a magnetic drawing pad, and some books for my 3 year old to stuff in her backpack. My newborn slept most of the time in a Boba wrap or carrier and by the end of every flight other passengers were coming up to my older daughter to praise her for not throwing a tantrum. (Even on the flights she did have a meltdown, older passengers made it a point to compliment her on how great of a big sister she was. Surely they did this to make me feel less of a failure as a mother, but I’ll take it.) Maybe it was the novelty of flying, or the excitement of going to see Grandma and Grandpa, but the girls, for the most part, were well-behaved and fit for public consumption.
Traveling with little ones? Here are some tips I picked up:
1) Bring a stroller to shlep the stroller-size kid through layovers and to stuff extra bags and coats beneath. I thought I could be a hero on this last trip and forgo the stroller in favor of a leash, which is great for walking through large crowds, but I ended up dragging my 3 year old through the Houston airport because she insisted on crawling on her hands and knees like a “real dog on a leash”. A dog that barked, too.
2) BABY WEAR! I carried my 6 week old in a wrap but by the time she was 4 months old she fit snugly into the more structured carrier.
3) Bring a special zip-up bag of Band-Aids, ibuprofen, teething gel, a thermometer, and other essentials in your diaper bag. I like to bring elderberry syrup, a colloidal silver gel for cuts and scrapes, and an herbal immune tincture in the off-chance someone near us sounds a little coughy. I also bring enough disinfectant wipes to clean the entire airplane. We've made a little game out of it: when we get to our row of seats my older daughter will scrub the heck out of the seats and windows. It's so cute to see the indoctrination working.
5) Check your specific airline for rules about checked bags and car seats. Every airline is different and unfortunately despite their written rules and regulations, how easygoing and accommodating they’ll be depends on the individual employee enforcing those rules, or not enforcing them.
6) You can say no to the body scanner! You do not have to go through the body scanner at the airport if you’re traveling with kids. Even if you’re not pregnant or baby wearing, you do NOT have to go through the body scanner. You can instead go through the metal detector or ask for a pat-down by a TSA agent of your same sex. You are under no obligation to walk through a body scanner no matter how much TSA says you are. I just let the first TSA agent know by saying, "Hi, I'm opting out."
7) SNACKS! Snacks as bribery! Snacks as sustenance! Don’t forget to bring food for yourself, too. Airport convenience stores generally have super sugary food. I like to run to Target a few days before a flight and stock up on beef jerky and trail mix.
8) Fly an airline with a reputation for great customer service. It's worth any increase in price to know I'm flying an airline that will allow me to gate-check my jogging stroller (some airlines don't allow this), board first (again, some airlines don't allow this), and request more snacks than initially allowed (my daughter became really fixated on those Belgian cookies they hand out).
9) If your layover is in Atlanta, know there's a Chik-Fil-A at the airport but if you're flying on a Sunday Chik-Fil-A is closed. Don't fly on a Sunday through Atlanta.
10) Don’t be too proud to accept help! Moms flying alone with little kids are heroes - I was SO surprised how many people wanted to assist in any way they could. When my toddler began to panic during landing, I handed the baby to the woman sitting next to us (a mom of 2 under 3 herself) so I could attend to my toddler. She entertained her for 15 or so minutes while I held my bigger baby until she fell asleep. When we were getting off another plane, both kids were sound asleep so I carried both of them while a man sitting behind us grabbed our bags for me. After another flight, someone set up our stroller while I had both kids in my arms. On our most recent flight from FL to NOLA, a couple my parents’ age whom I’d never met before actually switched their seats with another woman so they could sit next to me and hold my baby for me the bulk of the flight while I tended to a fussy Quinn. I’ve found that if you aren’t afraid to accept it, help will come pouring in. Some people definitely disappointed me with how unwilling and unhelpful they were, but for the most part, total strangers were enthusiastic about making my job easier.
No matter how stressed you are about flying, know that in just a few hours you’ll be at your destination (weather permitting!) and the events of that flight will NOT matter anymore. Kids feed off their parents, so if you’re saying things like, “This sucks! Oh, no! This is awful! I hate flying!” your kids will feel that, too.
As always, you can do hard things! Don’t let fear be the reason you don’t do something you really want to do.