Friday, May 31, 2013

Flying Alone with a Toddler and a Preschooler....Again

In January my girls and I flew to Walt Disney World to meet my best friend for a girls' vacation.  In May we repeated the journey, this time to visit with Granny and Granddaddy at their second home.  With a little planning and a little luck, flying went well.  May was Tink's fourth flight to WDW and Minnie's second (sixth and fourth trips, respectively.)  My husband couldn't join us on either holiday but is a good sport to go to work while we play.  He thinks we should travel while we can before the girls are tied down to school.  But I digress....(and aren't I lucky?!?)

Growing Up Disney: 10 Tips for Flying Alone with Small Children.  I'll have to remember these!

Here are my top ten tips on flying with small children.

1. Think Outside of the Box
We live in Eastern North Carolina and there are a few small regional airports available to us.  However, I book us on flights with Southwest out of Raleigh/Durham.  For one, their prices tend to be a little lower and the lack of bag fees helps since we are absolutely checking luggage.  Secondly, from this larger airport, we can get a direct flight from RDU to MCO.  Yes, we have more travel time on the road but driving in the van is much easier than flying in terms of the girls.  We leave nice and early and with any luck, at least one of them will nap on the way over.  My husband and I used this trick before kids as well.  We lived in Tulsa but drove to Kansas City for a direct and less expensive flight.

2. Stick to the Schedule
If you have multiple flight times available, I find that working around mealtimes and naptimes is helpful.  For older kids, killing some time on the flight with lunch might be good, but I'd avoid it with the little set if you can, too messy. We get to the airport in time to have a meal right before we leave so we don't board with empty tummies or low blood sugar.  And I've been fortunate that Minnie napped on both return flights so those were easy after take-off.

{I started this article prior to our trip in May.  That journey that makes me giggle a bit at my previous advice.  It's good advice but there weren't as many flight times this go-round so we ended up with a 10:30 am departure, landing just after noon in Orlando.  That doesn't sound so bad but we all were up earlier than usual and it just didn't work for meal or nap times. We were all in meltdown by the time we boarded Magical Express.  They behaved well on the flight but it fell apart later and honestly it was as much me as them.  Thankfully, Minnie finally got a nap and I let Tink play with some electronic device while I enjoyed the relative quiet. Given the options, we did the best we could but I shouldn't have planned a dinner for that evening.  I'll chalk that up to being overly excited and optimistic.  May just proved that a good flight time can really help.}

3. Cheat
Yes, I know children aren't supposed to have much "screen time" but if you have any electronic device, load that bad boy up with kiddo stuff.  Thanks to getting direct flights our time in the air is pretty short and I see no harm in watching a movie or playing a game or two.  I look for new games and shows prior to our trip.  The girls each have a set of headphones and I bought a splitter so they could both listen to the same show.  We should practice with the headphones at home more before the trip.  Neither of my girls has been all that interested in headphones as a toddler but Tink did well with hers.  We are an iFamily and I traveled with an iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch as well as Tink's LeapPad loaded up with a new TinkerBell book she had not seen previously.  And just to cover my bases, I pack an external battery in my carry-on.

I also carry candy.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  Ha ha.  Kidding.  My stash of Smarties and some small clearance priced Easter packs of jelly beans saved the day on several occasions.

And lest you think I just fill my kids with sugar and give them electronics, we do carry healthier snacks (natural applesauce and raisins), paper, pens, stickers, and a new trick in the old diaper bag...pipe cleaners.

4. Use All Available Resources
My preschooler is quite easy on an airplane but the toddler is a bit more of a challenge.  It's a strange environment and she doesn't want to follow the "get on the plane and sit down" rule.  When we managed to score a free seat for my lap child, that little extra bit of space was really nice.  While the rest of the plane was finding seats, Minnie was rearranging the magazines from one seat back pocket to another and getting out some last minute wiggles.  In May we had full flights both directions so we had tighter quarters.  I tried my best to keep her occupied before takeoff with a faceless air-sickness bag puppet (note to self: have a pen ready next time) and looking for puppies and kittens in the SkyMall catalog.  And that box of jellybeans may have come out...

5. Cups and Snacks
I carry a sippy cup on the plane for each girl that is about half filled with water, after security, of course. They can drink from them during takeoff to relieve ear pressure and when the apple juice comes around later, I have lidded cups ready to go. And it goes without saying but pack plenty of snacks.  Goldfish, raisins, cheese sticks, applesauce pouches, Mickey fruit snacks and peanut butter cups (jif to go, not reese's) have all worked well for us.  Be sure to carry something for yourself too.  That tiny pack of pretzels won't improve anyone's mood.

6. Stroller
My husband thinks I should check our stroller with the luggage.  Granted I don't particularly need it in Raleigh since so far they have been kind enough to let him have a pass to help us to the gate.  But I know the baggage crew is working fast and furious and I prefer not to have my stroller among the items they are throwing about so I gate check our strollers.  Plus, it's REALLY nice to have the ability to corral one or both of the kids.  My sanity is worth lugging carrying the stroller with me.  The line for security in Orlando can be a half hour and having the toddler safely in her stroller is a big help.  I would be a wreck if I had to fight to keep both girls in line for that long plus deal with our luggage, paperwork, etc.  My strollers fold easily and go through the x-ray machine without issue.

In January, we had a City Mini Double from Simple Stroller Rental waiting at Old Key West for us so I took my smallest stroller, a Maclaren Volo.  Minnie had a place to sit in the airport and it turned out to be a great back-up to the full-sized double.  Last fall, I broke down and bought ANOTHER stroller.  It's a Joovy Caboose Ultralight and was a steal at  This is a fantastic Disney stroller for my girls and worked great in the airport.  For the trip home, I made the stroller smaller by putting the canopy and snack tray in my checked suitcases.  Tink didn't need to ride after we arrived at RDU which allowed the stroller to also be a handy luggage cart.

7. Go for the Burn
We all know keeping kids cooped up for too long is a recipe for disaster so I try to let them burn off a little energy when they can.  Going for a walk in our terminal and finding an unused gate for some playtime have worked for us.  Also, don't forget that most, if not all, of the WDW resorts have places for kids to color and/or watch movies.  My kids enjoy coloring at Community Hall or watching old cartoons in Papa's Den at Old Key West while waiting for Magical Express.

8. Ask for Help
I don't know what the rules are on this but so far Southwest Airlines has allowed my husband to go to the gate with us on the three times I have flown alone with one or both girls.  I'm fairly sure we have reached the limit since Minnie will soon be two, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

This was just offered to me, but Southwest also allowed me to skip the main line at ticketing in Orlando since all I needed was a boarding pass for Minnie.  Our luggage had been checked at Old Key West.  I was sent to the upgraded area and only waited a minute or so for the next employee to be available.  If someone is working at the beginning of the queue, ask very nicely and see what happens.

9. Deputize Your Older Children
Tink has recently turned four and wants to do things for herself and be a helper.  I told her that I was going to need her to be a good listener and help me at the airport.  She carried her preschool backpack with a few toys for herself and little sister.  Tink held Minnie's hands while I was putting the stroller on the security conveyor belt.  I really appreciated my little assistant.

10. Take a Deep Breath
Even if the kids are going nuts and you can't wait to get to your destination, know that in the grand scheme of things, this is likely a very small portion of your trip.

That's my list.  What did I miss that works for you?  Please share so we can all learn from one another. Thanks! ~Amy


  1. couldn't have said it better myself! The only additional thing we do is wait until the last minute to board the plane with the little ones to minimize the time they are coiled up, however, I realize this tip won't work too well in Southwest with no assigned seats! Other than that, we use the same tricks. Our kids are usually in meltdown mode for ME too... It's unfortunate that we have to get right on another mode of transportation right after a flight. I think once we land they are ready for some freedom, but instead, we stick them in some more seats. We love renting a car for this reason... Bc if they're going to have a meltdown, at least it's only us who will suffer. You can't beat the price tag of ME, though: FREE!

    1. Thanks Sis! My parents drive to WDW and Dad had volunteered to come get us from the airport. I thought of the same thing...would be nice to have them in their own seats. But Mom and Dad were getting checked in and going grocery shopping and such so I decided we'd take DME. I love not carrying my own luggage and Tink really likes the bus.

  2. I'm flying with my one year old.. like tomorrow! Great advice! :)


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