There are no words to describe the shear fear of taking our 16 month old on his first flight. We recently took our son to Alaska to visit my in-laws. That's 5-1/2 hours direct or in our case a 2 hour 45 minute flight followed by a 2 hour layover followed by a 3 hour 45 minute flight. Join me and my chaotic mind through our journey over 3, 100 miles!
When he was an itty bitty little baby, I thought how much easier it would be to travel if he was at least a year old. Man, was I wrong. The thing I did not think about was babies are so content just being held. In fact, they don't even know how to get around yet (depending on their age) and all they really want to do is be snuggled, sleep, and have a boob or bottle close by. A toddler on the other hand, is a scientific phenomenon for the unreasonable amount of energy they seem to generate. They are like the energizer bunny; they just keeping going and going and going.
Our travels began way before we even stepped foot on the plane. It started with the prep. I annoyed just about every other parent I know with about a million questions on what exactly did they do on their trip(s) with their toddlers. It was almost to the point of obsession. I googled tricks all night long and made a game plan. After all of my planning I knew first, I needed a massive amount of entertainment. Toys, books, the iPad, games, and coloring books. Better if they were new. Well I dumped around $50 on buying him new things for not just the flight out there, but the return flight as well.
I made him a busy box (you can check out how I put that together here). I hand made him a whole felt play mat that I just happened to forgot all about when it came time to pack. There was also a coloring book for each way, new toys in the busy box for each way, a backpack full of books (that i made my husband carry), felt activity books I found at Target for $3 each, the iPad packed full of new apps, and I downloaded several movies and TV shows (thank you Netflix for your download option!). We were fully packed, loaded and ready!
Fast forward to the morning we were leaving. We had a 7:00 AM flight. We always get to the airport 2 hours early. However, this time we hired a car service to take us since we had to be picked up so early in the morning. They had said that 90 minutes was plenty of time. When you are traveling with kids, the more time you have, the better. He arrived at 4:45 AM. My husband and I had set our alarm at 4:15. Plenty of time to get our stuff together and out the door. What we did not plan, was tip money. We are card people and very rarely keep cash on us. Total mistake while your traveling. I set out at 4:30 AM in search of an open ATM to withdraw money to tip our driver. I had to try 2 different locations before I made it home. The driver was already outside.
The plan was to load everything into the car and lastly, carefully move my son into his car seat in hopes that he would sleep on the drive to the airport. When does anything ever go as planed? My husband had everything but one suitcase (that we needed to pack some of my sons nighttime stuff in) in the car and ready to go. I went and picked up my son who rested so nicely on my shoulder UNTIL we went outside. He had this "where the hell am I going" face. I put him in his car seat in a strange car, in the dark, with a strange man, and my son lost it! He screamed, cried, made sure to wake the entire neighborhood. I quickly got in the back with him and began to comfort him. My husband was still inside. we were all waiting. After a few minutes, I realized I still had my car keys in my pocket and my husband was no where to be seen. I knew I had to run in. The second I left the car, my son cranked the volume up to a level I did not know was possible. I dropped the keys on the couch, grabbed the last suitcase and ran back to the car. My husband followed a couple of seconds later. He had checked the rest of the house and stopped in the bathroom. It took us almost 20 minutes to load up and go.
As we were driving to the airport, my son calmed down but was fully awake. In our quiet conversation, we realized that we left the car seat carrier (lent from a dear fellow mom blogger) sitting on our couch. It was one of those, well planned, poorly executed situations. We had it sitting inside the car seat, however, when we went to install said seat in the car, we moved it to the couch. We now realized that we had no way to move our car seat around the airport, except to carry it. This would fall to my husband. And carrying my 25 pound toddler, would fall to me.
Once we arrived, we quickly printed our boarding passes and stood in line to drop off our luggage. We are not light packers. Expecailly this trip where I packed every possible thing my son could need. We made our way to the security line. For being 5 in the morning, it was massive. I knew we would not make t to our gate in time and decided to try another area. Luckily the other side was a fraction of the length and it took us only about 15 minutes to get through. We boarded the train and off we went to the concourse. By the time we got to our gate, we were slightly out of breath from hauling all of our junk and in desperate need of caffeine. We looked at the clock and realized that they were about to begin boarding. Talk about cutting it close. We had thought we would have plenty of time to get coffee and breakfast at the airport. Not even remotely. My husband ran to the nearest store and picked up some water and he boarded the plane with the car seat to install it. I kept my little one busy until the end of boarding to minimize the amount of sitting for him.
I pulled out his busy box. This entertained him for all of 5 minutes. (I found out that it worked great in long car rides, not so much for him in the airplane on the way out.) I moved to a coloring book, he pushed it away. Pulled out the good old iPad. He actually threw it up against the wall! This is when the panic set in. We took turns holding him as he jumped up and down on us and he grabbed at all of the seats around us. I reached into my bag of tricks once again and finally found the winner. We had a reusable sticker pad that he decided he absolutely loved. He peeled each one off and put it on the other side. We finally took a small breath of relief.
After a quick diaper change, we went back to our gate and had my husband board the next flight. We made sure he was rear facing the rest of our trip. The unfortunate thing we discovered about our seating row on this flight was that we had NO window. This was such a bummer as we used that to entertain our son to some extent on the first flight. The only window you could see out of was behind his car seat. Luckily he passed out before we even left the gate and slept a whole hour! We were both happy to get a little shut eye ourselves.
After the first flight, we were a bit more prepared. As I said, my son fell asleep while we were still at the gate and slept for just over an hour. Now we just needed to keep him entertained for the remaining 2 hours and 45 minutes. We tried a few tricks again, but for my son, books and stickers were the ONLY things that he was willing to sit for. The rest of the time, he bounced back and forth between my husband and myself. There were 6 other babies on our flight. I think there was this unspoken understanding between us as we all knew what the others were going through. One parent was walking his son up and down the aisle. I asked my husband if we should give that a try and he said that if we did that, it would be the ONLY thing our son would be willing to do the rest of the flight and would fight tooth and nail to do it. We quickly decided against it and even diverted his attention away from the other youngling.
We landed and got off as quick as we could. I had to shoulder some room so my husband could get the car seat out. We made our way to the exit to find the welcome sight of my mother-in-law and sister-in-law waiting with a stuffed animal wolf for their grandson/nephew. While we waited for our luggage, I stripped my son bare butt naked right next to the carousel and changed his diaper (standing up) and put him in fresh clothes. He had worn his pajamas all the way up. We loaded up the car and set off for our week long adventure in the beautiful state of Alaska.
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