Image courtesy familytravelsuite.com
Whether traveling by myself or with my kids, I dread the task of getting through airport security and getting to the gate on time. Perhaps that is because I frequent Dulles airport which, in my experience, has the world’s slowest and least traveler-friendly (never mind family-friendly) security and, until recently, was one of a handful of airports that still used “people movers” to transport people between gates and the main terminal. But I digress…
Any parent traveling with a child feels some level of anxiety about getting through security, and I think that anxiety is multiplied tenfold when you have to either do it alone or with multiple kids.
Imagine how I felt after our most recent trip, our second in 2 months with 2 girls (ages 2 1/2 and 4 months), when we received comments from fellow passengers and airport/flight personnel like “You look like you’ve done this before” and “You all are quite efficient.” We even managed to get through security with no evil stares or rolling of the eyes! Yay!!! In fact, after we made it through security, we were stopped by a man who asked us for some tips for his daughter and her 4 week old who he expects will do some traveling in the near future. Can you believe it? I think we’re getting the hang of it!
Not to say that we’ve got it all figured out, but I thought I’d share our “system” and a few tips that have helped us get to the plane on time and with our sanity in tact:
we I pack:
Let’s face it – in most families I know, Mom does most of the packing. In our house, Dad is responsible for the technology – cameras, phones, portable DVD player, chargers, etc. He waltzes in the last half hour of packing – throws in his toiletries and a few shirts and pants out of the closet, and voila, he’s done. He makes it look so easy after I’ve spent the whole night packing for me and the girls and preparing for every contingency: cold, hot, rain, not…
So we have our suitcase or two that will get checked. And below are the items we take to the airplane. Now, you could check the car seats and take a double stroller, but my preference is to have the kids in car seats on the plane, and we often don’t need a stroller at our destination. A carrier for the baby will usually do. So here is how we accomplish it:
For the infant
A lightweight travel stroller,with a large storage basket for your things. Lightweight and compact means it will be easy to lift and put on the belt for the scanner. Make sure it is easy to fold and that you remember how to fold it (I forgot how to fold my stroller one time since I hadn’t used it in a while and ended up fumbling at security until finally they said just bring it through).
Infant Car Seat (minus the base). We take our infant car seat to the gate in hopes that we can snag an extra seat on the plane. Otherwise, we’ll pack it up in the carrier bag and gate check it.
Car seat travel bag. See above. This and the remaining items get packed in the stroller.
Baby carrier – for boarding with baby. As my babies get older, I take the Ergo; but with my infant, I love my Moby. For those who have one and are concerned, it’s really not too difficult to put on in a public place. I just keep the ends off the ground by setting them on the baby’s car seat. And keep in mind, the ends just hang around your waist – they don’t touch the baby, so if it happens to grace the ground, it’s not the end of the world.
Diaper bag. I prefer a backpack– when your hands are full, you’re not bumping it into passengers as you go up the aisle on the plane.
For the toddler
A rolling suitcase.
A toddler car seat. We take her seat on the plane because she’s much more comfortable and able to sleep than she otherwise would be.
Traveling Toddler car seat accessory. A simple $15 contraption that uses the LATCH system on the car seat to attach it to the suitcase. Voila – you have a stroller.
Squeaky shoes. We never go to the airport without these. Wherever our daughter steps, her shoes squeak. Not that she’s ever walked away, but we ALWAYS know where she is.
Before the trip:
Check the TSA website for the latest updates and restrictions before you pack.
If you’re traveling with a toddler, prepare them for what to expect. While my daughter has traveled numerous times, her anxiety about things changes with the wind so this year I bought the book, “Going on a Plane”. She loved the book and, when we got to the airport, was very excited about security and baggage claim because she’d seen them both in her book before the trip.
Give yourself plenty of time. Plan an extra half hour when traveling with kids. It’s no fun for any of you to be rushed.
Be organized and have a plan. Decide who will be responsible for each child and for which travel items. My husband was in charge of our toddler, her car seat, his laptop/bag, and the suitcase. I took charge of our infant, her car seat, the stroller, and all the items in it. A few tips:
Have liquids easily accessible. Note: Breastmilk, formula, and baby food are allowed through security in amounts over the general limit and do not need to be in a Ziploc, but they will need to be tested. Be prepared to hand them over to a security agent once you get through the scanner.
Make sure your pockets are empty, and don’t wear any jewelry.
Designate one person responsible for travel documents – that way you’re not getting to the other side and asking who has the boarding passes. This is a good idea for the entire trip – My husband is always in charge of our boarding passes and driver’s licenses.
Wear shoes that can be easily removed – that includes your kids. They will be asked to remove their shoes too. Skip shoelaces or buckles, and go for Velcro or slip-ons.
Arrival & Check-in:
Everything gets unloaded – baggage before the kids so you can get everything situated. We traditionally have 3 suitcases as we tend to take long trips to visit family, so two of them get hooked together while the third, our carry-on, is reserved for our toddler and her car seat. We load up the travel stroller, and then our carry-on and stroller are ready for the kids.
Both the girls are taken out of the car in their car seats – that includes our toddler. My husband just releases the LATCH system and picks her up in her seat and sets her on the curb. The infant is set in the traveling stroller in her car seat, and my husband attaches our toddler and her car seat to the carry-on.
At check-in, ask about available seating for your infant if you haven’t purchased a seat. You can ask again at the gate, but sometimes a friendly check-in agent can rearrange seating for you and your family next to an available seat and even make note for gate agents not to reserve that particular seat.
Use the designated “family” lane if available. You’ll find security agents and fellow travelers who are much more sympathetic and usually helpful here.
Remember: Everything goes through security. I’ve heard people mention that they’ve been able to push their strollers through security or carry their babies in a carrier, but more often than not you’ll be asked to take the baby out of the carrier/stroller/car seat to send it through the scanner. If it doesn’t fit on the scanner, it’ll have to be wanded.
Okay, so here’s how we do it: We leave the kids in their car seats until the last possible moment. As I mentioned, hubby gets the toddler; I get the infant.
- Remove everyone’s shoes and toss them in a tray.
- Disconnect the toddler’s car seat from the carry-on, and remove the infant car seat from the stroller leaving both kids strapped in their seats for the time being.
- Empty the stroller, and place all your things on the belt. Remove liquids.
- Fold your stroller, and place it on the belt.
- Remove kids from their car seats, and place seats on the belt (upside down).
- Walk through security, and gather your things on the other side, starting with the car seats. If possible, move out of the way of other travelers to a separate bench or table.
- Put the kids back in their car seats, and take inventory. Off you go!
Gate check and boarding:
Check in with the gate agent. As soon as you arrive at the gate (and/or as soon as an attendant is available),
- Ask (again to confirm) about available seating for your infant.
- Get your gate check tags for your stroller and car seat, if necessary.
- Ask for pre-boarding for families. Most times, this is a given, but sometimes the attendants forget or are crunched for time. You’re going to need a few minutes at the bottom of the ramp to unload your gear, and being able to walk up the aisle and get situated before everyone backs up behind you is going to be a major sanity-saver.
Bag and tag your car seat, tag the stroller, and put baby in the carrier. You are ready to board. I like to walk with my baby and get her asleep before boarding because she’ll sleep right through take-off much better than she will nurse or suck on a pacifier. (FYI – you will need to take the baby out of the carrier during take off, so be prepared to open up/remove your carrier).
Boarding the plane. My husband wheels our toddler down the ramp, while I carry the baby and the diaper bag and wheel the stroller down the ramp. At the bottom, he disconnects our toddler, and I fold the stroller. If we’re taking the infant seat on the plane, I’ll carry it on. Otherwise, I’ll help with the carry on and my husband will carry the toddler in her car seat onto the plane. Alternatively, we get the toddler out of her seat, let her walk onto the plane while my husband carries her car seat in one hand and the carry on in the other. This is the part we think could still be improved – we’re thinking of getting my husband a carry strap for the car seat so he can put it on his back before we even head down the ramp.
You’ve made it!
Now, if only you can make it to your destination with what’s left of your sanity. For some tips, read Keeping the Peace a Mile High – 6 Tips for Traveling with Baby.