The last time I flew with my youngest she was 2 months old. It was was an easy and smooth trip with no hiccups. Flying with her at 18 months as a toddler, meanwhile, was … challenging.
My mistake was choosing an evening flight. My daughter’s normal bedtime hit during the end of the flight. I could tell she was tired, yet she was ready to play. She refused to be rocked or nursed to sleep, yet she wouldn’t go to sleep on her own, either. She wanted to play peakaboo with the kids in the row behind us. She wanted to jump on the seats. She cried at times. She screamed a few times. We tried everything we could to calm her down to no avail.
We had some bright spots on the flight, though. My 5-year-old is a great flyer, on the other hand. She took a nap, colored and watched a movie. Also, one of the flight attendants was super helpful with our youngest by giving us a can of water with a cup, lid and straw to avoid spills. He also gave her a cup filled with pretzels to play with.
Things got worse before they improved. We arrived in Chicago early, but when we went to baggage claim to grab our stuff, our toddler’s carseat was missing. Her sister’s carseat was sitting by itself next to the oversized luggage section. I asked whether more stuff was coming, and I was told possibly. After it was clear all the bags from our flight had been claimed, I knew something was up. We were asked to wait again and had our luggage tag checked into by a baggage claims worker. She told us to wait until there was an all clear that all the baggage had been retrieved from the plane. We waited. Finally we heard that we needed to head to Baggage Service Office (next to Carousel 1 at Chicago Midway Airport) to talk to them and grab a loaner carseat. That’s where we found out our carseat was still in Phoenix and would be on the next flight to Chicago. We waited more with an overtired toddler and a sick 5-year-old as Graham talked to the agent. She then gave us a loaner carseat, which was a thin, light carseat from a brand I can’t recall. We were told we would get a LUV voucher if we returned the loaner to the airport and picked up our carseat, but that wasn’t going to happen for us. Midway would be a 1-hour drive each way in Chicago morning traffic, and that’s simply not worth the stress. We loaded our belongings up and headed to our shuttle, which then took us to where our car was parked. (By the way, the shuttle driver had been waiting for us along with another customer, which was really nice of them.) It was a long night, needless to say. The next morning, our carseat was delivered via courier and we were told by Southwest that they wouldn’t be taking the loaner back because it would cost the airline too much money to send back to the airport via the courier service. They advised us to keep it or donate it. (Side note: If you have an idea of where I should donate it, please let me know.)
Some tips I’ve learned about flying with toddlers:
- Try to consolidate bags and check the carseats curbside.
- Give yourself plenty of time to check in at the full-service desk if you have a lap infant.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks.
- Coloring books with mess-free markers (ink-free) are the way to go.
- Choose flight times that avoid bedtime. In the past I may have said otherwise, but we will now try to avoid flying near bedtime.
- Accept that your child is crying, if it happens, and try not to stress about what others are thinking. People will hate parents with toddlers if they want. Don’t worry about them.
- Nursing or sipping on a bottle helps with the ear pressure during takeoff or landing.
Flying with an 18-month-old was definitely an experience. We will still travel when needed, because that’s the only way to teach kids how to behave in public and we need to see our family, but I’m learning each times ways I hope I can make the process smoother in the future.
Have you flown with young children? What tips would you share?