For us, summer means visiting family. Since my son is the only grandbaby in either of our families he is kind of in demand ;) We like to maximize our time with them so my son and I often travel ahead of my husband. This worked well when my son was little. Flying alone with an infant was easy breezy. He slept well and went with the flow. But flying with a toddler….alone? Talk about terrifying. Toddlers are such fickle creatures!
I’m happy to report that we survived. It wasn’t even bad! I half expected to get off the plane, hand him to his grandparents, and then run away towards freedom. Okay, not really. But I didn’t expect it to go so well. And I really didn’t expect it to go so well twice. I flew with my toddler alone and I lived to tell the tale! Hopefully these tips will help you too.
- Use a baby carrier
We’ve been using our Ergo since right before my son turned a year old. To say I love it would be an understatement. Find a carrier that works for you and use it! My son is 2 1/2 years old and 30 lbs and I still back carry him all the time. He is quite the runner. I would not want to chase him through the airport so into the Ergo he goes. I know exactly where he is at all times and my hands are free. This makes going through airport security infinitely less stressful. We’ve traveled through quite a few different airports and my experience has been the same everywhere. I take off my shoes and put everything through the x-ray machine. He is allowed to stay in the Ergo while we walk through the metal detector. Then an agent swabs the palm of my hand (I believe this is for explosives). Once it is checked out we are good to go. I grab my bags and put my shoes on while he is still safely on my back. Honestly, it is as easy as it sounds. A baby carrier also eliminates the need to deal with gate checking a stroller. We did that the first time we flew with our son and said never again. For us our baby carrier is the key to a better airport experience.
- Pack a safety harness just in case
You know how I mentioned I have a runner on my hands? Well, he isn’t exactly a champion hand holder. At the airport he has two choices, the Ergo or his monkey backpack harness. It is helpful when we have too much time to kill before or in between flights. We will try to find a somewhat empty spot in the airport while he watches airplanes and releases energy. If you have a wild thing on your hands like I do, you probably already own one of these. Bring it with you just in case.
- Pick flights with enough connection time
For us this means at least a 45 minute layover. Since we love flying Southwest this gives us just enough time to get off the plane, find our gate, and get in line to board our next flight. I don’t like layovers that are too long either. Anything over 1 1/2 hours is far too long for me. Trying to keep an antsy toddler busy in a crowded airport is not something I want to do for longer than I have to.
- Bring a car seat and a cart to tote it around
Dealing with the car seat was hands down the most difficult part of our trip. It is huge, heavy, and giant pain to deal with by myself. The thing is, I know it makes our time in the air safer and more comfortable. My son is a little Houdini. He can escape any simple buckle and can only be restrained by a complicated harness. Convincing him to stay buckled and seated in an airplane seat….well that wasn’t going to happen. By carrying on his car seat he instantly knew what the expectations were. He sat down, buckled in, and knew he had to stay there. I could actually relax a little bit knowing he was safe and unable to go anywhere. The only thing I had to fight was the car seat. There was no way I could carry it, little man, and our bag. Thank goodness for my husband who found this handy Magna Cart hand truck. I used a couple of bungee cords to secure the car seat to the cart and then placed our carry on backpack on top. With my son in the Ergo and everything else being pulled by the cart I still had one free hand. Amazing! It folds flat so I had no problem storing it in the overhead bin.
- Don’t forget the snacks
So this might border on the line of bribery, but sometimes as a parent you have to do what you have to do. Aren’t snacks the key to better toddler behavior? Need to stand in a long line? Pack snacks. Have a 10 hour car ride? Pack snacks. Need to avoid annoying all the other passengers on the plane? Pack snacks! I filled a soft sided lunchbox with snacks my toddler loves but rarely gets. I packed things like fruit snacks, kids nutritional bars, cheesy crackers, and fruit pouches. Oh, I want to mention one little thing about the fruit pouches. Make sure you buy the kind that come in the smaller servings. I flew with two different brands of fruit pouches one time forgetting about the 3.4 oz of liquids or less rule. The pouches that were larger had to be opened at security. It wasn’t a big deal since my son didn’t mind eating them right away. If you bring the smaller pouches they don’t have to be opened though. Just something to keep in mind while shopping for snacks. Before heading to the airport I showed my son his snack box and told him it was full of snacks for good boys. Only good boys who listened and behaved nicely were allowed to have those snacks. When he was behaving well and listening to directions I’d ask him if he wanted one of the snacks for good boys and let him pick out whichever snack he liked. This little trick worked wonders for us. It was an incentive for good behavior and the occasional snacking kept him happy and busy. Don’t forget an empty no spill cup for water.
- Let your toddler enjoy that iWhatever
I know everyone has different feelings about technology and toddlers. When it came to flying alone with my toddler all I could think was whatever made the day easier was alright with me. Since my son enjoys using the iPod it was a no brainer to bring it with us. My only rule was that he could only use it when he was buckled up in his car seat. We preloaded it with his favorite movies and games. He ended up starting a movie and then falling asleep during almost every flight. Even though it makes it bulkier I carried it around in the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case. It was easier to keep track of and kept the iPod safe.
Have you had to travel alone with kids before? What was your biggest help for keeping things going smoothly?