We've just come back from a 4 day trip to Christchurch, New Zealand. The girls and I joined my husband who'd flown over a couple of days before for work. It was WONDERFUL.
We've been a bit of a female trio the girls and I, rather a lot lately as my husband's work can require large amounts of travel, often at weekends, and since February (and apparently up until the end of May!), MOST weekends! So that said, it was rather nice to see him, and in another city to boot!
However, to get to enjoy the weekend, I had to be prepared to fly the outgoing journey with the girls on my own. Now I'm not a stranger to flying with kids. Our eldest has flown more times that I could possibly remember due to grandparents living interstate and overseas, and even the baby has clocked up over ten domestic and international flights in her frequent flyer portfolio. I have, also done one domestic flight on my own with them both before, so I've had pretty good practice, but it doesn't matter how much practice you've had, flying with kids always seems to bring up elements of the unknown, so my lesson number one is definitely AWAYS BE PREPARED TO BE FLEXIBLE!
To make life in the clouds as easy as possible, I have a few set rules I go by, whether it's me on my own or with my husband, getting things to go as smoothly as you can is the name of the game.
Pack light - especially hand luggage. I'm down to one rucksack now - hence free hands for grabbing little hands when little legs start running off in the wrong direction. You also often don't need nearly as much as you think you will. Let's face it, us mothers think of every single possibility and cater for it. You should see me leaving the house, every kind of strike, famine, storm, flood has been provided for in my packing, and of course, most of it never used. I used to fly with so much unnecessary junk - spare clothes for me, spare clothes for them, food for them, extra food for them should the food for them runout, toys, books, wipes, more wipes, drinks - I won't go on, you get the idea. Now I do still have quite a few of those things in my bag, but it's all been efficiently pared down to what I will actually need.
Make sure you have everything official that you need close at hand, ie. if you're flying domestic, keep ID, itineraries, boarding passes and for international, passports, departure/arrival cards etc. - close to hand and if possible, separate from other things you're taking. Try the front pocket of your travel bag or something like that. There's nothing worse than the frantic rummaging for something important with whilst bored children start finding something noisy and inappropriate to distract themselves, and you, with.
If your children are little and, at times, not the best in taking orders (my nearly three year old is an expert), try to travel with something you can restrain them in, that way you can pass through (most) of the airport at your own pace, not theirs. I've just purchased one of the really lightweight twin pushchairs and it's a godsend, or rather was - but I'll get onto that! Otherwise I use a single pushchair (again, extremely lightweight, no bells and whistles) and a baby carrier.
Try and fill out your documentation in advance. If you are flying from International for example, you will need to fill out a departure card, not only for you but for your children. These rather fiddly and annoying little forms can take a bit of time (especially when your pride and joy is tugging at your legs), and when you're filling them out for your child/ren too - this takes twice as long or more. It really helps to grab your departure cards when you check in, sit down at a cafe table or somewhere that you can find distraction for the kids and get them all filled in there. Much more comfortable than trying to keep your little ones at bay in the official Departure Area while you struggle with cards, hand luggage, crowds and them!
Cargo pants, or pants with lots of pockets are GREAT! You can keep all sorts of little necessary tissues/dummies/bribes - whatever your child will need, within very easy reach.
Try not to wear clothes or shoes that you will have to take off when you're going through security.
Security is always my dread when flying. It's when you have to take the kids out of the pram/baby carrier, take things off, remove all liquids, hope the kids don't run off, go through, put the kids back in said carrier/pram (provided that they haven't run off!), put things back on, repack all liquids, pick up rest of your luggage. It's a pain! On top of that, having to remove a belt, shoes, jewellry, whatever, is exactly what you don't want to have to do. Some airports I've been through demand you take off your shoes whatever, so you just have to wear it (or not wear them as the case may be!), but I've found in a lot of places, shoes like trainers generally go though beep free. Also, a bit of packing advice, make sure you do have those liquid items in the obligatory see through plastic bag within easy reach. The only liquids I bother with in my hand luggage these days are a squeezy tube of baby food if the flight is long enough, and sachets of paracetamol (just in case!). Always remember, you can always get water once your the other side!
Whilst on the subject of security, remember that laptops and DVD players are items that generally have to be removed for most security screenings. Again, this can be one extra hassle that you don't need. My husband and I used to swear by our portable DVD player when flying with our eldest, and I have to say, I still do think about taking it from time to time, but it's heavy and a pain when going through the above mentioned. We now tend to use our iphones for the entertainment of our kids, and they're every bit as effective.
I don't mind saying it, when flying I think bribes are great, actually for me, more than great - completely necessary. Try as I might, when she doesn't feel like it, my eldest does not respond to even my most scary tone (hmmmm, the trouble is, it's just not that scary). If she doesn't want to do something, she doesn't do it. I had one flight where she refused to sit down during take off and landing. All the airplane staff were getting really shirty with me, and her, but it didn't matter, she just refused. I didn't want a repeat of this this time, so a packet of chips did the treat perfectly. Once we were coasting towards the runway, I distributed them to her one at a time, and she sat through the whole thing. I like to think that mostly my kids eat pretty well, but there are times when the odd cheeky snack REALLY helps!
And lastly, the lesson I have learnt time and time again when, well doing anything with kids really, but especially with flying, is try to stay calm at all times. I've had moments when one child or the other is screaming at the top of their lungs, but I know them well enough to know that they will eventually (and probably quite quickly) stop. Just take a few deep breaths, wait for the storm to pass, and let what will be, be. You are generally on that plane because you have to be, you might well rather be somewhere else at the time, but that's where you are, so try and not get stressed by the tricky moments and enjoy as many of the others that you can. I love turning around and seeing who my baby's been making eye contact with, or watching my elder daughter staring out of the window at the clouds with a look of wonder on her face. I know that most people dread flying with kids, but there ARE moments of magic, just as there are any other time that you're with your babes. You just have to remember to look out for them.
So all of this said, both my flights were reasonably without drama this time. I silently thanked myself quite a few times when diving into pockets for hidden and needed treasures, passing fluidly through passport control with my pre-filled out departure cards, finding out that I could make a packet of Twisties last two and a half hours, and learnt a few more lessons along the way. Next time I will demand that I get a "fragile" label for my pram when I send it off to "oversized luggage"! The poor thing came out at the other end completely mangled, despite being wrapped in a plastic bag (I have to say, the airline HAS accepted complete responsibility and are due to replace it next week). I will also, even though I advocate light packing, take the baby carrier as back up. I was allowed to take my double buggy to the gate in Sydney, but not in Christchurch, so had to use an airport single. I guess trying to find out what the policy at the airports you will be visiting prior to you flying might be an idea - if you have time!
And so I continue to be The Practicing Parent when it comes to flying with my girls, and this fight to Christchurch was really a dress rehearsal for my next jaunt - solo back to the UK later on in the year!! Now that one really WILL be a test. Stay tuned!