Thursday, October 16, 2008

FLYING WITH TWIN TODDLERS

Today I have asked my good friend and twin momma partner in crime, Tonya, to write about flying internationally with toddlers. She has flown to Australia (she is an Aussie girl herself with the most gorgeous accent) with her kids twice now and has so many great ideas. You can use these ideas for flying domestically as well. I asked her for suggestions when we flew to Texas this summer and let me just say the portable dvd player was a life saver! In addition to her fabulous and popular family blog, she has a great craft blog (Currently Crafting) and party planning blog (Munchkins and Mayhem). I highly recommend checking them all out. This woman is just brimming with talent and great ideas. So without further ado I give you Tonya and her fantastic flying tips.

Flying with twins (or should I say twin toddlers) isn't as daunting as it appears to be.

In August I took our twins on their second international flight to Australia.   Their first flight was at around 13 months and this one at 23 months.  They have also traveled domestically.

I don't claim to have this flying thing down to a fine art, but I hope to give you a few tips to make your flight more enjoyable. 

Most people laugh at me as I'm walking around the airport, especially before baggage is checked or after collecting our bags.  I wish I had a photo, but you'll just have to use your imaginations. 

So picture one cart loaded with 4 suitcases, a giant sports bag, 2 single strollers, 2 neck cushions and at least 2 of the carry-on bags.  Jay normally pushes this.  He can barely see over the top but he does a great job.  He follows me around the airport while I push each child still seated in their car seat and carry the other 2 bags.  Once baggage is checked Jay and I each push a baby and take 2 carry-on bags and a neck pillow each.  We really are quite the sight. 

I remember when we arrived at Melbourne airport and we were standing at baggage claim, I noticed quite a few security personnel staring at us and talking.  I was secretly wondering whether they thought I was smuggling something.  I'll admit they were making me a little nervous.  I had each of the babies in their car seats, they were both crying because they were exhausted and tired of sitting and they were surrounded by our on-board bags.  I kept my cool.  What was the point in me getting frustrated too.  Jay collected a cart for our bags and security continued to stare and talk about us.  As I started loading our bags onto the cart a couple of the personnel walked over to us.  My heart was racing.  They asked if I needed a hand.  What?  They could see I had 2 crying babies and so much baggage and wanted to know if they could help.  I told them I was fine, but thanked them for their kind offer.  They told me that quite often a mother with one child and a few bags 'expected' them to help because she couldn't do it on her own.  They told me they wished they had a video camera handy so they could film me and play the video as flights were arriving so they could show other parents how it is done.  As I was talking to them both babies fell asleep, we finished loading up our cart and we took off for the exit and they were clapping. 

Now I'm not saying that it is this easy for everyone.  The staff are generally more than happy to help whether you ask for it or not especially when you are traveling alone with small children.  I do recommend trying to keep your cool and staying relaxed.

Here is a photo of the first time I took the twins to Australia.  My mum dubbed this one' Tonya and her entourage'.   I wasn't able to fly with 2 lap babies so I'd had a single male friend (who has no children) fly with me.  The kids went through 2 sets of clothes on the flight and we probably over-packed.  I learned from then.

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Things you need to know when flying with twins:

LAP BABIES & OXYGEN MASKS:

HPIM1395If you are taking your babies as 'lap' babies you MUST have a second person over the age of 18 traveling with you.  There is a 1 lap baby per adult safety requirement.

You cannot have 2 lap babies in the same block of seats.  If both parents are traveling, each carrying a baby, one of you will need to sit on the other side of the aisle.  There is only 1 spare oxygen mask per row.

Ensure that the airline is made aware of this lap baby requirement when purchasing your tickets.  In my experience some staff do not know this and others too freely sell  seats to other families, also carrying a lap baby.

Flight harness:  Before purchasing these check with your airline to ensure they approve them for us.  Even though they are FAA approved it DOES NOT mean that the airline you are flying with will allow you to use them.  Neither United or Qantas will allow you to use these during the flight.

BASSINETS:

Most international flights have bassinets available in the bulkhead row.  They normally (the airlines I have spoken to) will use one at a time so you cannot use this as an excuse to sit in the same row as there will still be the one oxygen mask dilemma.  You will need to check the weight restrictions on the bassinets as most airlines are different.  When I flew with United Airlines the bassinet was small, but I was able to use it for Marisol and she was 13 months old at the time.  Flynn on the other hand who is 1lb bigger and 1" longer than his sister would not fit.   I noticed on my recent Qantas flight that the bassinets appeared larger.

CAR SEATS:

51NyVHiwznL__AA262_If you have booked seats for your toddlers, the safest way for them to fly is sitting in their car seat if they are under 40lbs.  However, you must let the airline know that you will be taking a car seat on board.  The reason for this is some brands are not approved for air travel and others will not fit into the airplane seats.  They will most likely give you a different number to call where you will need to provide all of the relevant information pertaining to your car seat.  Once you provide the information you will be told whether or not your car seat is approved.  Your car seat will still need to be inspected at the gate to ensure it meets requirements. 

You may want to check that your child's boarding pass states that there is a 'car seat'.  We have only been caught out once and it wasn't on there and it did delay us in boarding the aircraft.

We use the Sunshine Kids Radian car seats for our twins.  They are airline approved and fit perfectly into the airline seats.  You will most likely have to install the car seats yourself using the seatbelt already attached to the aircraft seat.  Make sure it is tight to avoid movement of the car seat during turbulence.

IMG_9663I highly recommend that you do not place car seats next to each other on the aircraft.  Toddlers can become agitated at the best of times fighting over toys, books, food and vying for your attention, especially being seated for a long period of time.  If you are traveling as the only adult, place the car seats either side of you.  Ensuring that the baby who is least likely to throw things is sitting on the aisle side. 

You will most likely need to obtain clearance from the medical staff at the airline that it is suitable for you to fly alone.  I was traveling with our 13 year old who could keep an eye on the twins whilst I replenished drinks or went to the bathroom. However due to his age he is not legally old enough to 'look after' them on the aircraft (an adult is preferred).

13334_3 If you are taking car seats on board I highly recommend purchasing or hiring one of these or these.  We used the first ones (pictured) on our recent flight and it was a life saver.  I was able to check my stroller and wheel the babies through the airport and straight onto the plane.  It can take a bit of time to unscrew the car seat from the wheel attachment, but the staff were more than happy to help me. I honestly don't know how I would have gotten a stroller, 2 car seats and on-board luggage onto the plane without this.

* If you get on the plane first and off the plane last you will most likely get help from the flight attendants.* 

THINGS YOU'LL WANT FOR THE FLIGHT

travel collage 

portable dvd player & dvd's Our dvd player of choice is the Panasonic.  It has up to 13 hours of battery life and an 8.5" screen.  We purchased our first one 4 years ago and didn't have a problem with it until just recently.  Some portable dvd players will overheat and others have a very short battery life.  We finally had to replace ours this year after several overseas and domestic flights and constant use in the car and on vacations over that 4 year period.  We purchased the newer model this time and we love it.
diapers and wipes more than you would normally use for that time period (just in case of blow outs)
change of clothes and bibs if you use them clothes for the children and yourself - just in case of spilled drinks, blow-outs or vomiting
snacks fruit jelly candies, suckers (lollypops), pretzels, goldfish etc.  You can also take as much baby food as you need for the flight - don't forget a couple of spoons.
laundry bag for dirty clothes, cloth diapers etc
tissues little noses tend to get blocked or runny on planes
Mess free pad and marker sets You don't want to give your toddlers markers that will enable them to permanently leave their 'mark' on the aircraft
Magna Doodles small hand held ones are perfect
Stickers a pad of them and some paper
blanket & sleep toy your child's favorite
sippy cups you will be able to get water, juice and milk on the aircraft. You can take as much formula on board as you will need for the flight.  The airlines do NOT offer lactose free milk.
books they will love to flick through a new and a favorite book.
Child friendly mp3 player The headphones on these can be used with the portable DVD players, they are set at a kid safe volume
reins or harness These will come in handy for them to wander during layovers or at the airport before boarding.  Also to use on board so they can wander up and down the aisles.

I realize that this sounds like a lot of gear, but if you are traveling internationally like we do, you are looking at 16-20 hours of travel time at least.  You will also be surprised at how little room is needed for these items.  Don't forget, each baby is entitled to one carry on bag.  Make every attempt to stay clear of noisy toys.  The last thing that other passengers want to hear (besides a crying baby) is the sound of a repetitive toy.

TAKE-OFF AND LANDING

During take off and landing the air pressure can cause ears to pop.  For small children who are unable to pop their ears, have them chew a jelly style candy or have a drink during this time.

DIAPER CHANGING

There are a few lavatories on the aircraft that have changing tables.  If there is not a diaper changing symbol on the door ask a flight attendant and they will show you where you can change your baby.

I always change my twins diapers immediately prior to getting onto the aircraft as the chance of them falling asleep shortly after take-off is fairly good.  This limits the number of times I need to change them on the aircraft.

STROLLERS & CUSTOMS

You can take your strollers through customs however you will need to take your child out of the stroller so it can be screened and you will walk through the security check point with your child and collect your stroller on the other side.  Once you arrive at the gate your stroller will be taken from you before you get onto the plane.  It will be returned to just outside the plane door after landing.

If you are using a stroller through customs I recommend not putting shoes on your child as you will most likely have to take them off to go through the security checkpoint. 

Declare any formula or baby food you are taking on board.  You are only allowed to take an amount that you will need for the flight.

Most airports will keep an eye out for parents with strollers or babies and send them to a separate aisle so that you can be helped to get everything through the security checkpoint and you aren't holding up other passengers.  I was recently told by an airline staff member that they also don't like to keep babies in lines for too long because they know that a meltdown is bound to ensue.

BULK-HEAD vs REGULAR SEATING

The benefit of the bulk-head row is you have more room to stretch your legs, you don't have to worry about your little one kicking the seat in front and there is room for them to get down and play quietly in front of you during the flight as long as there is no turbulence.

The downside is there is nowhere to store your gear - toys, wipes, snacks etc.  You need to keep that in the overhead bins.

You will need to decide which way will work best for you.  When I flew and needed the bassinet, we booked the bulk-head, however when we used the car seats just recently we sat in a regular row. Sure Flynn tried to kick the seat in front a few times, but if I tilted his own seat back he couldn't quite reach. 

MEALS

Children will be served meals during the flight and you can ask attendants to fill sipper cups with milk, water or juice throughout the flight as needed.  If you have a picky eater make sure you take extra snacks.  I shared meals with my twins.  I would give them any fruit, bread or cookies that I was given if they wouldn't eat their main meal.

MEDICATIONS & OTHER ITEMS

Don't forget to take any medications that your child needs on-board.  These must be packed into 3oz containers and stored in a 1 quart-sized clear zip-lock bag - 1 bag per passenger.  Medications will be allowed in larger quantities but you must declare them .. it won't hurt to take a copy of the prescription  too.

PASSPORTS

If you are flying internationally, all passengers, including babies require a passport.  Make sure you order these well in advance.

CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

Please visit the TSA website to obtain more information about flying with children who have disabilities.

5 comments:

baby changing stations said...

Thanks for your tips..i was planning for a vacation.You ideas have helped me a lot to synchronize things before leaving.

Jessica said...

I very thorough and informative blog, thank you Tonya & Shar! I recently flew internationally (well, US to Canada, does that count?) by myself, with our 2.5 year old daughter, and everything on that list was very relevant. One more thing to add- when flying internationally and without the kid(s) father/mother- make sure you have a (notarized) letter from the missing parent stating it is okay for you take them in/out of the country, there is no divorce pending, etc. I got questioned pretty harshly by customs as to why I was flying apart from my husband... Overall though, a good experience! Just be prepared and you'll be fine!

Sharlene said...

Incredibly thorough and informative my dear T! Thank you for all your time and efforts. I know this will end up helping alot of people

Mattam said...

Love the post...thank you! We are flying...lap babies...to Maui next Wednesday! Can't wait

Susan said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Susan

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