Preparations Before the Trip
I always try to pack as light as possible. This is not an easy task because when you travel with little ones you have to pack so many things... diapers, food, bath stuff etc! In addition if renting a car or traveling anywhere by car, we will also need to bring their car seats and possibly a stroller. The list can go on if you want to bring a pack n play and booster seat and bathtub...
Most places will have a Walmart or Babies R Us.. so we actually decided to just buy diapers and baby food at our destination (can do this if staying long enough or have another baby around the same weight that we can split diaper costs with). Paying money for an extra checked bag is probably around the same price as a box of diapers.
Thankfully, we were also very fortunate that we had family in both places we traveled to. They were able to help provide some of these bulky items (pack n play, booster seats) so that we did not have to bring it with us on the plane. That was a huge help!
Now if one has to bring all this extra stuff, I would recommend just biting the bullet to pay extra money and checking as many things as possible. Going through security with a million carry-on bags is just stressful and chaotic!
The Airport Experience
Keeping track of luggage as well as a toddler and infant is not an easy task. I actually carry my infant in the baby bjorn so that my hands are free to help with luggage and to grab my toddler's hands if daddy is busy with luggage. We use the stroller and carseat to load backpacks, diaper bag, and my pumpbag so there is less to carry. I've also seen some folks strap their toddler to their carseat and then push the carseat with a handle so it is like luggage. That is a pretty good idea for the toddler who likes to wander!
So the challenge is to get everything on the conveyer belt while keeping the toddler out of trouble... and without banging my infant in the head (since I'm carrying her in front and have free hands but some of our stuff is bulky!) Usually, I put my bags on the belt then walk through security with toddler in one hand and infant strapped to me while husband is left putting the rest of our stuff (strollers/carseats etc) onto the belt. After going through I usually have to wait with the security guy because every time they have to take out my bottles and pump stuff and run some test on them. I have learned to keep all my liquids in a separate bag that is easy to remove from the diaper bag. Otherwise, these security people make a mess rummaging through pulling things out and they don't necessarily help put things back!
Finally we are through security. Whew! Now we go to the gate and while one parent watches our stuff, I take one kid at a time to the bathroom... diaper change one last time for infant and potty run for the toddler. We keep her in her pull-up just in case she has an accident as well as xtra pair of clothes. Thankfully she has been great. It is such a pain though to go potty with a toddler in those tiny airplane bathrooms!
Most airlines will allow you to pre board if you have kids. This is a huge help because there is so much stuff. We usually have to roll our car seat and strollers to the end of the gate runway right before you board the plane so they can take it. Then we bring our toddlers car seat on board so she can be strapped in it during the flight. With the narrow aisle to walk down and all our stuff.. it is just cumbersome. But finally... in our seats!
So previously I said to pack light. However, it is crucial that we remember to bring some entertainment for our toddler for during the flight. 3 hour flight to Houston was nothing compared to the 6 hour flight to San Diego that we had to endure! Now... timing is everything. If you have a child who will sleep anywhere and anytime then flying during nap time is great because you know they will be out for 1-2 hours which is less time to entertain them during the flight.
With out kids... they are not great sleepers and usually get very cranky when they are tired. However, if we bear with it.. they should pass out. Our little one screams her little head off.. but will pass out... however, one of us has to hold her and sometimes walk the aisle and bounce to keep her asleep. The most painful moments are when we are not allowed to get up because of take off or landing or turbulence and she is just screaming. Oh well. Little we can do...
Our toddler on the other hand... sigh. She totally melts down when she is super tired and it is not easy to get her to fall asleep in such an environment. Now when she does fall asleep, it is just as hard keeping her asleep since her head bobs around. I thought buying her a neck pillow was the answer but she just would not put it on. Oh well.. again. It is what it is.
So I try to bring some new book or new toy that she has never seen as part of her entertainment. Plus, eating snacks take up some of the time as well. Finally as a last resort... Dora videos!
Getting off the plane is a little harder I think. We have to gather all our stuff from different overhead compartments as well as the stuff under the seats and we have to unstrap the car seat our toddler is sitting on! Some people choose to sit all the way in the back. This way we don't feel like we are holding other people up. Plus it is closer to the bathrooms and to the back area in case we have to get up to bounce our little one.
As a side note... where you end up sitting can actually make or break an experience. Folks who like kids and try to entertain them before/during/after the flight are probably the ideal folks to sit near. Ha.. they should probably add a feature to the online booking where you can designate if you want to be as far away from kids as possible. Folks who do not like kids are a nightmare to sit next to... adds to the parents' stress I think.
So how to have an overall good airplane experience? Attitude is key! Gotta think positive... lower expectations... expect the unexpected... plus a sense of humor always helps =) Bon voyage!