Starter Mom: Don’t get grounded before your flight

by Nicole Loughan

flying with children

For many Miamians, traveling is second nature.  Transplants fly home to visit their families. Snowbirds make their annual trek north. Business executives travel.  We’re pros! But throw a few toddlers in the mix and you’re dealing with “a whole different animal” as Frontier Airlines would put it.

It all started off innocently enough, so how did it become some of the worst travel ideas I ever had? My first adventure flying with both children began with me booking discount airline tickets to Florida. The plan was to meet my in-laws for a week of fun in the sun. Being a discount airline everything on the flight was an extra charge: from the checked bags to the water. With this in mind I had the bright idea to pack all of our clothing into backpacks. I had to really economize on what I packed because I wanted to get away with as little checked luggage as possible.

To save on our car rental I also decided to bring our car seats with us.

So in theory one toddler, one child, and two adults would be traveling through the airport each with a backpack on and each parent holding a car seat in one hand and a child’s hand in the other.

Reality and theory never met. First, I packed the backpacks so heavy that neither child would or could wear them. And the car seats took two hands to carry, not one as I had predicted. What ended up happening is my husband and I each wore a bag, then we strapped one bag into each car seat using the straps. And when we got off the plan in Florida neither the kids nor us wanted to wear our winter coats so we added giant puffy coats to the mix. This left no hands to hold children, disaster. And when my toddler started to have a meltdown in the line at airport security I had to carry him and all of it. I’m still not sure how I managed it. I just kept throwing extra things on like a pack-mule and begged forgiveness from the multitudes of people hit in the face by my backpack when I boarded the plane. My seat was all the way in the back, as I did not opt to pay for an assigned seat.

In retrospect, I would have done many things differently, read on to see what I could have done to avoid having a grown-up travel tantrum.

Check your bags or mail them – I will never, never, never try to carry bags through the airport with children again. Not more than a diaper bag at least. With my everyday diaper bag, a crossover Skip-Hop, I manage to run after my children wherever they go, but to be bogged down with a loft of weight and no hands is a recipe for disaster. I told another mom of my plight and she said she always mails her bags to herself so she doesn’t even have to bother with getting the bags to the airport. This is brilliant. Even if I and checked bags I would have to maneuver them onto the shuttle bus that takes me from the parking lot to the airport. The price of mailing can be comparable to checking a bag on most flights when packing lightly, unless you are on Southwest in which case it’s free. On our flight checking a bag was $50 round trip.

Rent the carseats or borrow them – If nothing else, traveling without the car seats would have been much easier. They had to be inspected at the airport which slowed down our move through security and they could not be checked, meaning they had to be with us at all times, right up to the gate. If you are traveling with several adults and lots of hands checking a car seat can make sense as the FAA does require airlines to take them free of charge. Car seat rentals range from $10 to $15 per day at most major rental car companies. At Budget rental car, where we booked, the rental would have been $13 per day, with a maximum of $65 dollars for the rental.

Grab a few dollar store puzzles – Another unforeseen problem on our journey was a snow delay. We were in the airport for four hours beyond what we had planned. We had only brought a tablet loaded with movies and games to occupy the kids on the plane and didn’t want to waste it in the airport. The one bonus to having nothing to occupy the children was that we walked around often and met several new people. There are so few places with a sense of open community like the airport. I sort of love it. We found a family with children just a little older than ours putting together puzzles, they invited our children to join and the children passed the time as if it were a party hanging together. The other Florida bound mom told me she bought the tidy, Ziploc sized bags of puzzles at the dollar store.

Even though navigating the airport was scary having two children near escalators and multitudes of strangers with no free arms, the trip was great. No matter how stressful the travel doesn’t forget to enjoy the journey. Notice I did not recommend a great amount of swag to keep children entertained in the airport, because the lack of toys and games freed us up to meet our “neighbors” for the day. We were in a section of the airport where everybody was headed south, we were all dreaming of sunshine though our boots were covered in slush. The mood was high and as a group we shared stories, and food and acted as a community for the day. Vacation mode started for us the minute we boarded the shuttle to the airport.

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