I’ve been eagerly awaiting – and kind of dreading – this trip for months.
In November, we agreed to take part in a home exchange with a family from Copenhagen, Denmark. They would come to our place in Falls Church, Virginia and the three of us – my husband, Tommy, our son, Jacob, and I – would go there, for a period of two weeks.
I’ve been so excited to get away, and at the same time, crazy nervous and absolutely terrified at the thought of flying with a toddler. Jacob had never been on a plane before (and his longest car trip has only been 6 or 7 hours) and here we were, attempting an international flight that was 7 or 8 hours long!
I’ve been on flights with screaming kids before; haven’t we all? (Side note: I’ve totally always sympathized with the crying kid on the plane, because I can never get my ears to pop, my ears hurt like crazy, and then I usually spend the first hour at my destination half-deaf in one ear.) I’ve been on flights where the parents have been stressed to the max, trying to do everything to get their kid to chill out. I’ve been on flights where the parents have passed out goodie bags with candy and earplugs for their neighboring passengers. I considered the goodie bag idea for a day or two, but then I decided that since we were paying for the kid’s seat just like everybody else, we’d just deal with it the best we could, and hope and pray that Jacob would turn out to be a good flyer.
I read Jacob books about airplanes and flying. His grandparents got him a toy plane that he loves playing with. I started a Pinterest board for baby and family travel tips. For months, I read everything I could on the topic of toddler travel. Just like any subject out there on the Internet, there are tons of conflicting tips and contradicting pieces of advice: Keep the baby up late the night before your trips or skip naps the day of so your baby is super tired and sleeps on the plane. Stick to your regular schedule as much as possible. Fly overnight when your baby would be sleeping anyway. Don’t fly overnight because your kid won’t get much sleep and neither will anybody else sitting near you. Pack a ton of toys, snacks, and activities to keep your kid busy on the plane. Don’t bother packing a bunch of crap because you’ll have to lug it all around. Give your kid Benadryl so they sleep on the flight. Don’t give your kid Benadryl because it might backfire and have the opposite effect.
Here’s what we decided to do:
- Fly overnight.
- Pack a ton of activities and new little things for Jacob to play with on the plane: his Kindle, crayons, coloring books, stickers, post-it notes, Colorforms, masking tape, etc. I even wrapped some of them in tissue paper so it would be like opening a present. (I packed even MORE new stuff for the return trip home since that flight would be during the day.)
- Pack a ton of snacks, milk, and juice.
- Bring gummy bears or gummy snacks to chew on to help with any ear pain.
- Bring his blanket, pillow, and PJs to change into to make it seem a little more like “bed time.”
- Have one parent board the plane first, stow carry-on baggage, set up CARES harness in.
Jacob’s seat. The other parent would hang back and wait until everyone else boarded so we weren’t stuck sitting on a plane trying to entertain a toddler while waiting for everyone else to get on.
Our flight left Washington Dulles International Airport in the afternoon; we’d be stopping in Toronto first, and then flying from Toronto to Copenhagen. We ended up having to wake Jacob up from his nap a little bit early, which pissed him off, but once we got in the cab and headed to the airport, he was fine.
Going through security wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I packed anything TSA might consider “questionable” in Jacob’s little insulated lunch tote – so his drinks and liquid Motrin and gripe water (and even bubbles in case I had to entertain him by blowing bubbles in the airport terminal) were all together in one bag and came out at once. They scanned his apple juice (but not the milk?) and that was it. No big deal.
We got to our gate and found out that our flight to Toronto was delayed an hour. We took turns walking around the gate area with Jacob. Then the flight was delayed another hour. Then another half hour. We decided to go for a walk to a different terminal and grab something at a restaurant for dinner. We originally thought we’d be eating dinner when we landed in Toronto, but with all the delays, we weren’t going to have much time there.
We rode in a little express plane to Toronto. I think the flight attendant (there was only one!) might have said it was 48 passengers. Tommy went first and got the CARES harness set up so that when Jacob and I got on board, all we had to do was strap him into his harness. I handed over his Kindle and let him watch some Bubble Guppies.
The plane taxied to the runway, and Tommy and I told Jacob that pretty soon, we’d be “1… 2… 3… WHEEEEEE!” just like we talked about when reading his airplane books… and…
He didn’t care.
He had his Bubble Guppies.
He was completely oblivious to the fact that the plane had taken off or that we were now soaring high in the air. Tommy and I exchanged glances, shook our heads, and laughed. All this worry and THIS is what we were dealing with? Prayers answered, wishes granted, hallelujah, knock on wood, holy crap! WHEW.
I made sure to hand over some gummy worms and get him to take some drinks out of his sippy cup while the plane ascended, but other than sticking his finger in his ear once or twice, I don’t think Jacob’s ears bothered him at all. He wasn’t bothered by the landing, either. The first leg of the trip was a piece of cake!
In Toronto, what we thought was going to be a two-hour layover was shortened by the delays so that we really only had time to use the restrooms, do a diaper change, buy a bottle of water, and run around for a few minutes. Because the gate was so crowded and busy, we decided to just board the plane together this time.
We hoped that things would go as smoothly as they did the first leg of the journey, but it was a little rough. For one thing, they didn’t turn off the cabin lights until almost midnight, so Jacob was up and down constantly. We also hit some turbulence, so every time the lights would brighten and the captain came over the speakers, Jacob would pop up again. He finally managed to fall asleep on me for a little bit, but when I shifted to make myself more comfortable, he woke up… and he woke up MAD. He was so disoriented and confused that he grabbed at my sweater, tried to shake me, and let out a few cries… and then he collapsed onto my shoulder again, snoring. This happened two or three more times; each time he woke up, he’d be super disoriented, and then he’d conk out again. We finally managed to get him stretched out on the seat between us. I’d say he got maybe 3 or 4 hours of sleep, which was way more than me or Tommy. But considering that he at least got some sleep and wasn’t constantly screaming his head off, I’d consider the trip a success!
With two hours of flying time left to go, the sun started coming in the windows, and Jacob woke up pleasantly like he always does at home. We started our day on the plane with some breakfast, some coloring, and more Bubble Guppies. Anything to keep him chill for a little while longer. We did it. We made it. We survived our toddler’s first flight.