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Managing Children at Airport

Outnumbered at the Airport

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

Next month I am traveling with my two sons (who will be five months, and three years respectively when we go) to visit my extended family, and introduce the baby to the rest of the clan.  We’re flying…with a connection.  This is kind of a surprise trip, suggested by my husband who knows that it’s really important to me that my grandfather get to meet his great-grandson.  I’m psyched and more than a little terrified since it’s just going to be me and the two kids.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesSo, how do you suggest I go about this?  I’ll need to bring both carseats for the kiddos since the toddler sits in one on the plane, and my family doesn’t have any that I can borrow once we’re on the ground.  Also, my older son is a peanut and so a booster seat isn’t possible.  So…bring the ginormous double stroller and hope that I can strap enough stuff on my back to make me a legitimate sherpa?  Or bring the single stroller, wear the baby, and hope for the best?  My three year old likes to run in wide open spaces (ie. airports) so I kind of think I need a stroller just to cage the monkey.

Beyond that, I’ve never traveled by air with an infant and it kind of scares me.  While I don’t want to be that lady with thosekids, I fully accept that it’s a strong possibility.

Mostly, I need reassurance.  Am I epically stupid to try and make this trip solo?  I know I really want to see my family, but I also don’t want to be a complete basketcase (I am completely okay being a partial basketcase) before we’re even through security.

Any tips or suggestions that you might have?

(Also, your boys are adorable).

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Here’s the funny thing about me: I’m not a nervous flyer. But I would say I’m a nervous TRAVELER. But only, really, when it comes to navigating airports and train stations. I get all bogged down in worries about long lines and security checks and finding my gate and screwed-up tickets and seat assignments and generally just obsess over everything that could possibly go wrong.

It sounds like we could be twins — you seem pretty zen and accepting about the actual flying-on-the-plane-with-two-kids bit, which is good, and we’ve covered that topic before here.  But you sound more worried about the crazy logistics of getting said two kids and all their related accessories through the airport and ONTO the plane. YOU AND ME BOTH, SISTER.

First, let me suggest you consider this handy little contraption for your toddler’s carseat, the incredibly generically named “Traveling Toddler Car Seat Travel Accessory.” This is what we used for Ezra’s carseat when we flew to Jamaica (also with a connection). We’d originally planned to get one of the accessories that simply turns a carseat into a stroller, but found that most of them were close to $100 — more than we wanted to spend, honestly. So instead we went with the much, much cheaper option that is essentially a strong strap that allows you to fasten the seat to a wheeled carry-on-sized suitcase. A suitcase we then filled with stuff we’d need for the kids, like extra snacks and DVDs and toys and diapers and changes of clothes, and were able to streamline the contents of our diaper bag instead of shoving EVERYTHING we might possibly want or need during two flights and a connection into a heavy shoulder bag.

I LOVE this thing. It was relatively painless to unhook at security to send the suitcase and seat through, and that was our only truly anxiety-inducing moment when we had TWO UNRESTRAINED CHILDREN to deal with. But people were nice and even though I wasn’t solo, folks in line totally helped me get the seat up on the x-ray and blocked Ezra’s escape path until my shoes were off and I was able to corral him through the line.

Other than that, we kept Ezra and his carseat fastened to the suitcase all the way down the plane aisles to our seats (we have a Britax, and it fit), and then we quickly unhooked the seat, plopped it (and Ezra) down and put the suitcase in the overhead bin. We were given priority boarding as a family with small children, but I was surprised at how little time that actually gives you before other passengers board and you can officially become “in the way” if you’re still trying to lug carseats down the aisle after gate-checking a stroller.

So personally, if I were you, I’d wear the baby, strap the toddler to the carseat attached to a suitcase and bring one nice-sized diaper bag. Don’t pack that bag too heavy (keep stuff in the suitcase and then move it over at the gate on an as-needed basis). If you need an actual stroller for the trip, check it along with your luggage, or have your family buy an inexpensive umbrella stroller or check yard sales or Craigslist for something used.

Same for the baby’s car seat. Since it sounds like you plan to bring the baby on the plane as a lap child no matter what, I REALLY suggest you figure out a way to leave your carseat behind and procure one at your destination. (If not…I’m sorry that basically all my advice is useless, because I have no idea how one could haul an infant seat as well, short of leaving the base behind and wearing it like a backpack with the straps, but oh my holy hell that’s a lot stuff for one person who is also in charge of two little people. Commenters?) So your immediate family doesn’t own one, but I AM SURE they could find one for you. Put them to work tracking one down, along with the stroller. Ask neighbors/friends/people-from-church with slightly older children (or visiting grandchildren) if they still have an infant seat hanging around the basement.

While secondhand car seats tend to get treated as OMG SCARY DANGEROUS DEATH TRAPS, it is generally considered perfectly safe to use a seat for a good six years before it’s recommended you retire it. Infant seats are in use for all of six months to a year, so it’s pretty likely your family will be able to track down an acceptable seat that is no longer being used for a baby  but still not past its expiration date.

Otherwise, I’d say just check your  infant carseat with your luggage. (At that point you’ll still have your husband with you to help, right? He will of course stay with you and help you carry everything up until the security line, right? Right.) But you’ll want to check ahead of time and see if your airline considers carseats and strollers as part of your baggage allowance. Some do, some don’t. If your airline does not, score! Check suitcase(s), infant seat, stroller with aid of husband. Proceed to gate with toddler seat strapped to carry-on, baby in your most comfortable carrier, diaper bag. Insist that a family member meet you at baggage claim in the destination airport to collect everything and help you out to the car.

If your airline DOES count strollers and carseats and checking them will result in like, $50 fees both ways, beg your family to do a little beg/borrow/steal action, and barring success at that, buy an inexpensive car seat and cheap-o stroller on Amazon and have them sent directly to your family.  (Here’s a Prime-eligible convertible car seat for $50, and a stroller for $25.) Rather than seeing it as a one-time waste of money, look at it this way: Knowing your family has a couple pieces of necessary baby equipment will make it easier and maybe even more likely that you’ll be able to repeat this trip and visit again super soon. Because it’s going to be fine! You can do this! And you will. And afterwards you’ll be all, “AM WONDER WOMAN. I CAN DO ANYTHING, EVEN IF A FEW PEOPLE ON THAT SECOND LEG OF OUR RETURN FLIGHT HOME THINK OTHERWISE BECAUSE THE BABY CRIED THE WHOLE TIME. BIG FREAKING WHOOP, YOU GUYS.”

Published July 27, 2011. Last updated July 19, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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