Monday, November 15, 2010

Natural parenting & air travel with young children

This is another in a series of guest posts by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Michelle from The Parent Vortex. This post is also part of my special HAVE KIDS, WILL TRAVEL series to give you advice and wisdom on traveling with kids along with some fun giveaways of travel-friendly items. Michelle is sharing her tips for floating peacefully above the clouds, even when kids are along for the ride.

Flying on an airplane is one of the quintessential experiences of modern life. High in the sky at 30,000 feet above the ground, we are far, far removed from our ancestry as primitive hunter-gatherer people. Space is tight, movement is restricted, safety is paramount and we're surrounded by a hundred other people in close quarters. It's not exactly the ideal situation for human beings in general, but the allure of quickly traveling around the world is strong and being able to fly somewhere in a few hours is certainly easier than many days of travel by car or boat. So how can you make air travel easier for yourself and your child?

Before you depart:

  • Find out what kind of restrictions your airline currently has on hand baggage and its contents. Can you fly with a bottle of pumped breast milk? How many pieces of hand baggage are you allowed to bring?
  • If you can choose seats in advance, choose some that are close to the bathrooms. Aisle seats are good for parents with children still in diapers or who are currently toilet learning or doing EC, so you can make a quick getaway to the loo when needed.
  • Talk to your child about what flying on an airplane is like. Practice using inside voices instead of outside voices. Read books about airplanes and spot them flying by.
  • Consider booking a flight during your child's usual nap or bedtime. Chances are good that they will sleep at least part of the flight, which makes keeping them occupied a little easier.

Pack wisely:

  • Resist the urge to bring every single thing you know your child likes. I know I have a tendency to over-pack, so I have to consciously remind myself that it is better to bring a few things and do laundry frequently than lug a massive bag (plus the carseat, stroller and carry-on) through the airport and keep track of my toddler at the same time. I usually bring our cloth diapers with us and launder as usual while we're away, but I know many families prefer to use disposables while away from home. If you do choose to use cloth while away, a nice big wet bag is a great investment.
  • Give toddlers and older children their own carry-on bag, and let them choose a few toys or activities to bring. I usually sneak a few new toys in, too, like tiny books, a new box of crayons, a small stuffed animal, or hand puppet.
  • Always bring snacks, including protein such as cheese, roasted chickpeas, a hard boiled egg, or nuts. Protein will help avoid the perils of a sugar high and subsequent crash.
  • If you are traveling with a breastfeeding newborn, remember to bring lots of extra nursing pads, diapers, a change of clothes (or two) for baby, and at least one clean shirt and nursing bra for yourself. When I flew with my 4-week-old baby from Ireland to Canada, I went through two shirts and three sets of baby pajamas over the course of our journey. After cleaning up the third diaper blowout in an airport or airplane bathroom I figured I had survived my new-parent initiation rites, only to leak milk through my last clean t-shirt during the next feeding. I was really glad I'd worn a cardigan that could be buttoned up to hide the giant milk stain on my shirt.

While you're airborne:

  • Most airlines will ask you to hold infants and young toddlers upright and facing back over your shoulder during takeoff and landing. While you won't be able to breastfeed during these times, nursing or offering a bottle as soon as the seatbelt sign goes off will help your baby's ears adjust to the change in pressure.
  • Practicing elimination communication (EC) on an airplane is possible, but it's challenging. If you want to offer your baby or toddler a potty-tunity during the flight, it's best to take them to the bathroom and hold them over the toilet there. Understandably, airplane bathrooms can be scary for little kids, so don't push it if they're frightened. At the same time, if your toddler is accustomed to eliminating in the potty, they may well hold it and wait for the chance to go in the toilet instead of in a diaper or pull-up. If your habit is to offer the potty every time you think they need to go, continue as normal when you're on the plane. You might just be pleasantly surprised, and if not, have some extra diapers or pull-ups on hand just in case.
  • Read stories, sing quiet songs, do some coloring, look at the in-flight magazine or watch cartoons on the tiny TV in the seat in front of you. If your child wants to walk up & down the aisle, go with him or her. If your child has a tantrum, take a deep breath and try to stay calm. Sometimes flight attendants can provide a small distraction with an extra packet of cookies or a blanket. Do your best to comfort your child and remember that every kid has tantrums. You're not alone.

After you arrive:

  • Adjust to your new time zone by going about your day as the local time dictates, and do the same for your child as much as possible. On our holiday back to England/Ireland two years later, I found the first night and day was the hardest. After a harrowing trip to Marks & Spencer, during which my toddler actually fell asleep on her dad's shoulder mid-tantrum, she ended up adjusting to the jet lag faster than Tom and I.

In general, I've found that flying with kids is not as difficult as I thought it would be. The hardest part, for me, is accepting that I won't be able to sit back and read my novel through the entire flight! Being prepared with a few interesting toys, some good snacks, and a big supply of patience will help make your journey a peaceful one. Bon voyage!

Michelle Carchrae is a freelance writer and mama to two little girls. After moving from Ireland to Canada with a newborn baby, she can safely say that while a transatlantic move during the postpartum period isn't exactly recommended, it's certainly possible! You can read more about Michelle's adventures and thoughts on parenting at her blog, The Parent Vortex.

Photo Credit: Author

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Diaper Dad said...

This is a great post. Our first flight with our baby is coming up in December, so thank you for sharing your tips!

One tip that I can add, for new parents that will be taking a long haul flight, is to check and see if they have bassinet seating by the bulkheads. Some airlines have bassinets that basically hooks into the bulkhead wall right in front of your seat. There is a surcharge (usually around 10% of the ticket) but it is well worth it to have a place for your little one to lay down.
These fill up fast, so book far in advance, and check to make sure that your baby will fit the size/age requirements set by the airline.

Alicia @ Lactation Narration said...

Nice post! I just wanted to say that I have always been able to nurse my babies during take off and landing and have not been asked to hold them in any specific position.

Olivia said...

So, what was security like when you flew recently? I am so upset at the possibility of my daughter receiving an "enhanced" pat-down or having to go thru the full body scanner (nude images + radiation = BAD).

I don't even have a flight coming up any time soon, but the way TSA is all, "Civil rights? Right to privacy? Hahaha..." I really don't know if I will make plans to fly for a long, long time.

Traveler of the World said...

This is Godsent for me...going to fly ALONE with my 14 month old son, so any hints and tips are very valuable..great post!

Jamie Willow said...

I've always nursed during take off and landing...which was great. baby was locked and loaded and his ears didn't hurt him.

in SWA plane's the front bathroom has a changing table which is nice :)

Anonymous said...

Great post, especially for all of us flying this holiday season.

Our family travels by plane relatively frequently with our two children (ages 1 and 4) and far and away, the most daunting issue for us is making it through security in one piece. (Note: I have NEVER heard of the super invasive security that Olivia mentioned...that would be scary...but so far I have not seen anything like that for kids. Hopefully that helps to ease any fears for the moment.) It is especially rough when I'm going through security by myself with the kids. Here are a few bits of information that may help future fliers:

1. Everyone's shoes must be removed then replaced once clearing security (which just adds to the security chaos).

2. All your electronics have to be unpacked for inspection (cameras, computers, phones, iPods etc.)

3. You have to make sure that all your liquids are placed in a clear, one quart zip bag (hand sanitizer, juice pouches etc.) Also, you need to make sure that all your liquid item containers do not exceed 3.4oz each. (Breast milk, formula, and juice pouches are a few exceptions.
For more information go here:

4. You have to get all your other paraphernalia (diaper bags, jackets, backpacks, strollers, car seats etc) loaded through the scanners.

5.AND through all the chaos, you still have your little children to keep track of, AND all the boarding passes/identification documents that have to be guarded with your life.

Cont. below...

Anonymous said...

So, here's what has helped us in the past:

1. We always take one of those plastic folders with a clasp on it to hold all of our copies of birth certificates, passports, boarding passes, driver's licenses etc. just to help us keep things safe and organized while making sure that the documents are available at a moment's notice. Just be prepared to be very vigilant about getting everything back in the folder each time you have to present your documents so you don't misplace anything along the way.

2. A stroller has been a lifesaver on our flights with the kids because we use it as a safe 'home-base,'if you will, while in the airports. The best/safest way I have found to go through security with young children is to leave the baby/toddler safely strapped into place, and instruct older children to stay with the stroller until you give them further instruction. This not only helps you as the parent to be free to take care of all the activities at security check point, but it helps the kids feel a little more secure in a chaotic situation until you are able to fully return your attention to them. The last thing to go on, and first thing to come off the security belt is the stroller--the 'airport home-base.' This has really helped us make sure that our kids are in a relatively safe place while we are busy loading/unloading/reorganized from the whole security ordeal. (We love our Sit-n-Stand stroller for our two kids, because it offers them both a place to sit, but I think any stroller work to help you and your kids through security.)

3. I was VERY surprised the last time (April 2010, Seattle-Salt Lake City) that my husband flew alone with our son, because I was offered a special pass that allowed me to assist them through security and to the gate. I don't know WHY this has NEVER been offered to me when I'm the one traveling with our TWO children but for some reason, this little-known-airport secret was let out of the bag when my husband tried his hand at traveling alone with a child. So, if you are traveling alone, I would absolutely find out at the airline's check-in counter how to get a pass for a trusted loved one to help you and your children to the gate.

As for the flight itself, I think think this post is a fabulous resource. One thing I'd add is to bring some sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer--they are very helpful and can help insure that you don't spend your vacation being sick. I also think that on a long flight, a car seat is is really hard to hold a baby for hours while they nap...and you will want them to nap if possible.

Thanks for all the travel tips! I thought this was a very helpful post!

Michelle @ The Parent Vortex said...

Thanks for all the comments!

Diaper Dad - we had bulkhead seats with a bassinet on one of our flights, but my daughter wouldn't be put down in it for longer than ten seconds! It might work for some folks though, so thanks for mentioning it! The extra legroom is always nice anyway.

I'm also glad to hear that other parents were allowed to nurse during takeoff & landing. Perhaps the "burp hold" is an Air Canada policy.

The new body scanners and patdown policies in the US are mind-boggling to me. I am curious to hear if this continues to be standard procedure for everyone, including children.

Anonymous said...

I recently went on a long-haul flight with my two kids and I was expecting the worst, but they loved it. After traveling for more than 24 hours, my son didn't want to go home and suggested we stay at the airport to watch the airplanes.

Olivia said...

Anonymous, thanks for the suggestions and I'm happy to hear your children haven't been subjected to invasive security checks. My worries are stemming from the recent (two weeks maybe) institution of "enhanced pat-downs" given if you opt out of the back-scatter scans (this is the one that sees under clothing and many are concerned about regarding radiation exposure).
I have seen reports of children being patted-down.

Lauren Wayne said...

Thank you so much, Michelle, for this wonderful article! I love all the real-life details, and my apologies for snickering about the shirt incident. :)

Diaper Dad: Great idea about the bassinet seating.

Alicia: I haven't been asked to hold my baby in a specific position, either, though I've heard from other travelers (like Michelle) that it happens. I think it must depend on the airline's policies and/or the particular flight attendants. I guess it's best to be prepared in case.

Olivia: We're flying today at an airport that has the yucky new machines and yucky new pat-downs, so I will let you know how it goes with our three-year-old and me (pregnant). I'm not looking forward to either choice. :( I'm going to try to get in a metal detector line if that's possible and request the pat-downs if not. I can't imagine Mikko enduring a lot of invasiveness, though. Here's one 3-year-old who really didn't like it.

Traveler of the World: Good luck!! I hope it goes really smoothly.

Jamie: Nursing during takeoff and especially landing is sooo helpful. Our ped wanted us to give Mikko those ear plug things that regulate pressure, but they kept falling out. It's nice that some lavs have the changing tables now! Of course, if you're ECing, it goes over the toilet usually, which is a little fiddly, but still. :)

Anonymous: Dude! You are the master. I would love to ask you to guest post on getting through security. You could do it anonymously if you like!

muminsearch: That cracks me up. On our last trip, I talked up the airplane ride so much that I forgot to brief Mikko on the idea that we were staying awhile at our destination. He so totally wanted to take another airplane the next day, and the next, and the next. Whoops!

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