The thought of airline travel with kids used to make me sweat profusely and fill me with a sense of dread. I traveled a lot with the kids when they were little, often on my own as we were living in Chicago, and we had family all over the US and Canada. We were on a plane for every holiday (Canadian and US) and what seemed like a couple of weekends a month, not really, but it felt that way.
We have never been on a long haul flight; I admire everyone that has done one of those with kids. I would not know where to start except maybe by packing a lot of Benadryl, for myself of course.
There are two concerns for me when I travel:
- How to keep my kids entertained and in their seats, not easy for any child in the range of 9 months to 4(ish) years old.
- And how to not look like I’m climbing to the top of Mount Everest with all of the gear that I need to bring for them.
I made a promise to myself that I would not be one of those people juggling 500 things with screaming kids while out in public. Soooo, I broke that promise pretty early on. But I’m working on being more like my husband who does not care what people think of him, he just does his thing.
When the kids were little and there were only 2 of them, I would pack one backpack with everything we needed on the plane, my littlest one would go in the Baby Bijorn and my older one went in the umbrella stroller. I took one wheelie bag with all of our clothes for our trip, wore a funky necklace and chunky elastic bracelet that kept my lap child entertained and brought lots of snacks for everyone. That was my program, if I couldn’t carry it then it wasn’t coming.
As the kids got older they would each pack their own backpack with things for the plane. We had portable DVD players (now we’ve lightened the load with tablets) and a coloring book, the kind that only color on the paper that comes with the markers are a brilliant invention, and I fill their lunch boxes with snacks.
There are two pieces of equipment that I have used in traveling with kids that I think are amazing and I could not have survived without them.
The first, and my favourite, is a seat belt harness for the airplane – Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES); it is FAA approved. This seat belt harness is almost identical to what is used in a car seat and it actually makes it so the kids just sit there. I still have to do a ton of entertaining but at least they aren’t moving. (Cares is also available in Canada here).
The challenge with 2 year olds who are now old enough to require a paid seat on the plane but have the attention span of a goldfish is that they quickly figure out how to undo the airplane seat belts (great in an emergency, bad for kids), stand up, push the call buttons, bump the seat in front and make it difficult to win over other passengers, in my experience with my own kids of course. If I’m juggling a lap child then the one in the seat needs to stay put, even if I’m not juggling another child, they still need to NOT MOVE.
The CARES harness folds up nice and compact so you can easily toss it in your bag. Its primary purpose is for safety and the only real substitute would be taking your car seat on the plane (which some airlines won’t let you do) so it made me feel better.
We have been renting cars in some locations and most rental car companies have infant and toddler car seats so often taking a car seat on our trip was not something I wanted to have to worry about.
The Travelmate attaches to the back of your convertible car seat and effectively turns your car seat into a stroller so you can wheel the child around the airport like they’re a wheelie bag. They love it. I would wheel it right up and gate check it, and then use the harness for inside the plane. I feel like getting kids onto a plane is tough enough as it is without worrying about a cumbersome car seat.
I also bought the car seat cover/gate check bag, this isn’t a must have item but I was so glad to have it the day I gate checked the car seat with wheelies in the pouring rain. We arrived at our destination and still had an hour plus drive ahead of us, so a wet car seat would have been a problem, but this kept it perfectly dry. Go Go Babyz doesn’t make the car seat bag that I have anymore but there are still a few different brands available out there.
The travel must go on so we might as well gear ourselves up for it to make even just a little bit easier. Good luck to you in your travels and I hope to see you on a flight sometime soon. I’ll be the one with cheesies in my hair, sweat stains under my arms and a small child chewing on my necklace. Because all the gear in the world won’t take the stress out of flying with kids, right?
So tell me what is your secret to flying with kids? Do you have favourite gear that you can’t fly without?
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase these products from Amazon.com or .ca I will get 4% of the purchase price.