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Flying with a Big Little Kid

I was inspired by EastVanBaby's most recent account of their family trip to Mexico, and thought I'd share a few thoughts of my own on how we travel with Little L. We have taken her on over three dozen flights in the past 5 years; most of them were just interprovincial trips, although we did do a handful of flights to Hawaii and Palm Springs as well.

Let's just be honest here; traveling with children is no vacation. At least, not for most parents. You still have little people to take care of, and feed and dress and entertain. You have their schedules and routines to take into account. However, you've now removed all of the comforts of home; you must somehow keep everyone happy and healthy without having your usual things to rely on (like the Disney channel or Netflix) or the conveniences of knowing where everything is. Favourite toys? Couldn't pack all of them. Favourite foods? Turns out they don't sell them at the destination's grocery stores. Playgrounds? Don't know where they are. Starbucks? Quick, Google that one.

And that's not to mention the somehow exponentially larger volume of crap you have to haul with you onto the plane and into your at-weight-limit luggage. We have one kid. ONE KID. But now I pack like we have half a soccer team, because toys and books and stuffies all take up space. Books are heavy, too. We also haul gear with us, like a car seat and stroller, because walking through an airport with a whiny 5-year-old whose legs are tired is no fun at all. Carrying her is even less fun.

Gotta love Snapchat filters!

So, after half a decade of doing this so many times, I've made my peace with holidays not being a free and easy vacay for Mommy. Maybe one day when she's 19, if I'm still alive and able to travel, I will actually be able to feel like I'm on a "real" holiday again. Until then, I'm not holding my breath.

That said, traveling with a kindergartener is about a billion times easier than traveling with a toddler or a baby. Babies on planes must stay in your lap at all times, or else you have to shell out for a third seat so that you can fit the carseat inside the cabin. Babies also blow out and spit up on planes, and changing a squirmy infant in that closet of a bathroom requires an inordinate amount of flexibility and imagination.

Anyway, here's what we do for every airplane trip with Little L:

1) Bring snacks.
We bring along our Yumbox full of treats, even though we also buy treats at the airport and take full advantage of the free snacks onboard. You can never have too many goodies, and the airport ones are probably never going to be as healthy as the ones you bring!

2) Bring a stroller and gate-check it.
Ours is a giant Baby Jogger City Mini GT but it folds well and holds an easily-fatigued 5-year-old, so we haul ours for intra-airport use. We have also found it super helpful to have around for visiting farmers' markets, malls, tourist park-type destinations and when someone needs a nap or some alone time.

3) Bring a carseat and gate-check it.
We learned the hard way that the luggage handlers moving the bags to and from the planes aren't actually directly employed by the airlines, so even fragile-checked carseats are vulnerable to being manhandled when checked as "special baggage." We have had our car seat hurtle down the carousel belts multiple times, and eventually we had to force the airline to replace both our Clek Oobr and our Weelee bag on their dime when these came off the carousel damaged. Westjet came through for us. If you're flying with another carrier, you may be sh!t outta luck getting your gear replaced, so you might as well gate-check the carseat to ensure that from beginning to end, it's just the airline and you who are handling it, not the luggage guys who don't give a rip about your $600 seat.

Now that Little L is a big kid, we also bring a Mi-Fold for the cab rides to/from the airport. It isn't a suitable carseat option for really small kids, nor a safe one for long-term use (no side impact protection), but for bigger kids and one-off situations when you don't want to install your giant carseat, it is a good (and relatively inexpensive) alternative.

4) Bring an empty water bottle and fill it after security.
No liquids are allowed through security, so we have to buy overpriced airport water to keep Little L hydrated during the flight. We bring our Thermos FUNtainer because it keeps the water cool and it doesn't distort due to cabin pressure. It's also pretty leakproof, even in-flight.

5) Keep your devices charged, but bring a charger with you too.
Now that airports have finally clued in to the fact that our latest iOS updates tend to drain our batteries in record time, they've started offering charging stations. Airplanes also have outlets and USB connectors. Our kid thinks she needs digital entertainment to survive her flights, so we bring her technology pre-charged, and also have a charging cable and adapter to keep it juiced.

Someone was ready for a nap, & not thrilled to see a camera 

6) Bring good kiddo headphones for the flight.
Because nobody else around us wants to hear Peppa Pig, we always bring decent headphones with an airplane mode for flying. We tried using cheaper headphones but inevitably, they were too quiet to be heard over the rumbles of an operating aircraft. The Buddyphone headphones we scored back in December are perfect.

7) Bring non-digital entertainment for the flight.
Depending on how long our flights are, we sometimes need additional entertainment like Sticker Dolly books, or small figurines. Something, anything, that will help kill some time and keep our girl from complaining about flight length.

8) Preload your technology!
I forgot to mention - we subscribe to PlayKids Stories and Epic Books, so we also set up books for off-line reading while in flight. Books are an excellent way to kill time, but heavy to lug around. The digital versions are sometimes interactive, too, so these are a great alternative to hauling our entire kid library when we fly.

9) Bring gummy bears or chewy candies.
These are good for Little L to chew when the cabin pressure changes and her ears pop. She is a big fan of gourmet jelly beans as well.

10) Spring for seat selection.
When the plane lands, our kid gets anxious from seeing all the adults around her grabbing their bags and standing up. We travel in three's so on flights with three seats to a row, we try to grab the rows closest to the front if we can. Sometimes we spring for seat selection, just so that we can reduce our wait time before deplaning. This has proved to be a great strategy.

11) Arrive early.
Our family is not known for punctuality, so we try to leave for the airport hours in advance of boarding time. We don't mind spending an extra few minutes eating at the airport or window shopping their overpriced stores, but by arriving early we have never missed a flight or experienced the stress of having to clear security when the lines were long. Being proactive is a great philosophy when flying with kids!

12) Set low expectations.
We don't expect Little L to carry a bag (although we are happy if she does). We don't expect her to walk to the gate if the airport is sprawling. We don't expect the lines to be short or the flight to be punctual, and we definitely don't expect Little L to sleep on the plane. By setting the bar low, we are always pleasantly surprised and never disappointed. I know this sounds ridiculous, but kids are unpredictable to begin with, and the experience of travel isn't always exciting for every kid, so it's perfectly normal for them to have big feelings about flying and maybe behave totally out of character. When we reduce our expectations on them, it reduces our own stress levels when they're not behaving as they "should," because we've anticipated that.

Anyway, in a nutshell that's how we fly. It has worked for us for the past 5 years, and while we do make minor changes as Little L gets older, for the most part we stick to these tried and true practices. I'm still a stressed out traveler, but this has helped me out immensely. Hopefully there's something in there for you to glean as well! :)


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