Mommy Making It Work
The Tribulations of Traveling with Small Children
Published on March 21, 2012 by guest author: Cindy F. Crawford

My identical twin and little sister live on the other side of the country, so the only way to see them is to fly there. Without kids, it’s no big thing. With kids, it’s a nightmare.

My most recent cross-country trip via airplane with two small kids, ages 2 and 5, was to Spokane, Wash., for my twin’s Idaho wedding. That’s right. I said Idaho. From Alabama, that’s three airplanes and about 10 to 12 hours of traveling. And it was in mid-January, when it snows in that part of the country. A lot. So there was no guarantee our original flights were going to stick.

And they didn’t. We had layovers and flight swaps going both ways. Going there, we couldn’t go through Denver because of a snowstorm. We were rerouted through Minneapolis and it was 12 a.m. when we got to Spokane, which was 2 a.m. our time (central).

We got to the rental car desk at the airport and the car was ready, but the child car seats weren’t. I spent 45 minutes in 20 degree temps clicking car seats in so we could get to the hotel. Take it from me: Make sure the rental car company has car seats already installed in time for your arrival.

We thought ahead about food issues and picked a hotel that offered breakfast. It wasn’t free, but with small children, it was worth the money for waffles and fresh fruit.

The week in Idaho went as well as it possibly could, and I used some tricks I had learned from previous cross-country trips.

But it was still tough. The connecting flight from Seattle was brutal. For the first time in ages, it snowed there and Delta didn’t seem to know what to do about it. It took too long for them to decide to de-ice the planes, and our Atlanta flight ended up way down the totem pole after the international flights. That led to a four-hour wait on the tarmac. Not moving. Because four seats together don’t exist on airplanes, I was separated from my husband and 5-year-old son and ended up alone with 2-year-old Alli next to a 25-year-old brat who complained over and over about her “kicking” him and interrupting his peaceful viewing of "Moneyball" on his iPad. I would have rather had my 5-year-old with me.

There’s only so much you can do to entertain a 2-year-old for that long. I brought her Tinkerbell backpack with coloring books, her favorite board books, sticker books and even a magnetic bingo game. But she was done with that before the first hour was up. The plane had a TV, but she’s not quite old enough to watch shows yet.

I have become a master at packing snacks. Remember: You can get through TSA no problem with any solid food, so bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Nutter Butters, Cheezits, gummies. The only hangup is drinks, so bring an empty sippy cup and fill it up with whatever you buy after security., As for entertainment, I walked Alli up and down the aisles. We also made several trips to the bathroom (which is possible in a parked airplane; not so easy in a moving one, but in that case you have the window with clouds, etc. to watch). Strangely enough, she enjoyed running the water in the bathroom and just checking it out.

Once we got going to Atlanta, she slept on top of me, giving me a slight break where I could sleep too. Note: I bought a $775 ticket for Alli because she had just turned 2 and that’s the FAA rules. However, she is a very small 2 (weighs only 23 lbs) and almost every flight attendant made her sit in my lap anyway. So if you’re brave and you have a small toddler, don’t bother buying a ticket. Not one person of authority asked me how old she was or asked for a birth certificate. The only question I got was when they asked why she was sitting in a seat by herself when she was too small. On the flip side, it was nice to have her extra seat in the trapped-on-the-tarmac situation.

Because of that layover, we missed our flight from Atlanta to Birmingham and that is where the trip went severely awry. At this point, it’s midnight, so we rode in a van – with no car seats – to a flea-bag motel near the airport and slept in our clothes, since the bags were still on a plane, for only four hours.

At this point, I was out of diapers for Alli. I didn’t pack with plans for a layover and couldn’t get to my bags where there was a whole bag, so that morning I put her in my last diaper – after making her wear one for 14 hours. And I told her, “You can’t poop. I have no more diapers. You can’t poop.”

But she didn’t listen. As we ascended into Atlanta’s sky, she gave that face, and I knew I was screwed. At that moment, I figured I had three options. One would be to toss the turd in the toilet and put the old diaper back on. Another would be to go DIY and make my own diaper out of papertowels and tape. Orrrr – hey, that lady three rows up has a baby in her arms. I bet she has a diaper. The flight attendant let me unclick my seatbelt and head up there to ask, and sure enough, she had extras. Size 5. Alli wears two sizes smaller, but beggars can’t be choosers. I took Alli back to the bathroom and threw that size 5 diaper on her, rolled it over twice and we were back in business., When we landed in Birmingham, I wanted to kiss the Magic City’s ground.

Needless to say, we’re not making a cross-country trip again anytime soon.

But I learned a lot of tips. If you have questions about something I didn’t address here, just ask.

Cindy F. Crawford is the editor of a news publication in Birmingham, Ala., and the proud parent of two spirited young children.

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User Comments
J LeBlanc | March 22, 2012 09:07

I just checked TSA rules and you can bring baby food--thank goodness! My son can't really chew well yet! Also, how can they make you put her on your lap when you have purchased a seat for her?? The airline has always asked for a birth certificate for him from me when I check in.

Jon Daley | March 23, 2012 08:48

(hi cindy!)

we just flew from pittsburgh to san diego, and the only trouble we had was a fussy baby for a bit. we did manage to get seats near each other (five of the six seats in two rows). we flew to arizona last year, switzerland the year before, and florida a number of years ago. we have a trip scheduled to florida next month.

the kids look forward to the plane trips, partly due to flying and watching the flaps go up and down, etc. but also due to getting a soda during the flight.

there are so many interesting things to look at while flying. we do bring snacks and coloring books and mazes and schoolwork (we homeschool).

we did have one bad trip when the airline assigned seats and put the kids on their own. passengers didn't want to switch either - apparently thought it would be a good idea to have someone small next to them and get more room. after Jonathan talked nonstop the person relented and pleaded to trade seats...

the switzerland flight wasn't that much fun, but mostly because my wife and were separated, i was technically one row ahead, but I hadn't thought about the fact that the row with the bassinet is necessarily against a wall, which means a bathroom or kitchen is between that row and the next. heather had friendly neighbors and they held the baby. one trick i learned on that flight (red-eye) was to take their shoes off, it was much easier to curl up and sleep. i also found out that they bring food and drink by every hour all night long. very hard to sleep. and also, why they chose to play a slapstick looney tunes type cartoon while everyone was trying to sleep is beyond me. my boys laughed uproariously...

But, anyway, I like flying, but the cost is often too high, so we drive most places.

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