Flying With Toddlers: The Great Quandary

The last time we crossed the continent by air, Toddler Harbat was transitioning from baby to toddler.  Better to take a direct flight, we thought.  Better to get it over with in one go so she could sleep, maybe wander the aisles to stretch her legs in the middle, and five hours later we’d be there.

No.  No, no, no.  The flight over was fine, but on the way back she pegged out the squirm-o-meter by hour three.  She didn’t want to sleep, didn’t want to read or do anything but try out her newly-activated walking skills.  Which doesn’t go well when you’re in turbulence and confined to your seat.  Never again, we said.

So this time we decided to fly East in two legs with a healthy break in between.  My wife stocked our carry-ons with bribery toys, coloring book pages, snacks, and activities to be doled out at crucial intervals to prevent melt-downs.  Dora the Explorer in paper-doll cutout form kept us occupied for at least an hour.  Of ten hours total flight time.

My wife, clever and beautiful, made one other purchase that she thought would be the perfect item:  a car-seat rolling luggage strap carrying thingy.  This device promised you could strap your carseat (with child securely belted in it) to your rolling luggage and whisk through airports while your child sat comfortably and sang hosannas of your grace.  All this from a five dollar T-shaped nylon strap with metal D-rings.  Oh, I was beyond skeptical, I was predicting a mid-terminal catastrophic failure of luggage and carseat that would result in blunt-force trauma and four-letter words.

But I’m Uncle F@*k-Up so I was totally wrong!  This is one of the greatest inventions and really does work better than you could imagine.  Utilizing the attachment straps and latches already on your carseat, you latch this thing onto your bag, tighten the straps, and roll at top speed through the terminal while your child watches the miles roll away under their little feet.

Now.  This works perfectly if you’re only rolling one bag, but because we’re thrifty (cheap), we didn’t want to pay to check luggage so on the return flights we were trying to move:  two full-sized rolling bags, one folding stroller with a tendency to slowly close like the jaws of a Venus flytrap with the child stuck helpless inside, two shoulder bags, one carseat, and one “spirited” child.  By the time Toddler Harbat had flown 2 ½ hours in her carseat, she was, let’s say nicely, disinclined to sit in her carseat and be wheeled through the terminal at top speed.  The photo below utilizes brand-new technology to reproduce the blurred vision experienced when wrestling a “spirited” child into a carseat and moving roughly three metric tons of luggage from one terminal to another five miles distant.

At one point on the return, all logic escaped me and I thought we could ask Toddler Harbat with a Firm Voice to please walk with us.  Now I explain the “spirited” toddler.  Mousy children will cling to your leg if you turn your back to them in a public place.  Polite children will say, “Mother dear, shall I wait here while you run your errands?”  Spirited children make a break for it like hyperactive puppies spotting a front door left ajar.  TH falls smack in the latter category, and given the opportunity I imagine she’d run clear across the country like Forrest Gump.  That’s spirited.  And incredibly frustrating when it comes to airport travel.

So, the grand conclusion?  Hell if I know, but next time we’re going to:  1)check as many bags as possible since we’re not going through another timed strongman competition in the airport; 2)strap Toddler Harbat to ourselves or our luggage and keep her plied with toys and food until she’s sluggish and compliant; 3)book a direct flight OR a two-leg journey with layovers of at least two hours.

If you have a “spirited” child and have found some way to make travel bearable, please write in.  If you are a superparent with a polite child, please go away, you’re making the rest of us look bad.

Tomorrow, we visit historic Charleston!

  1. Steve said:

    Ava flew with us to Grand Cayman when she was about 9 months old and that was fairly easy, but we didn’t fly with her between ages 1 and 3. I don’t think it gets easier flying with children until they are at least 4.

    The worst is trying to squeeze into the miniature phone booth of a bathroom without touching anything. By the time you finish, you need a drink, a bath, and a dose of penicillin.

  2. Oh, you tried to get her to use the bathroom? I just did what they did in Dumb and Dumber and told her, “Just go, man. Just go.”

  3. Heidi said:

    I used to make fun of them before I was a parent, seeing them lighting up the back of the SUVs on the freeway, but I realize how foolish and judgmental I was: portable DVD player. It got us through many a squirmy hour across Arizona and New Mexico when even my make-up bag wasn’t entertaining anymore.

    Just don’t make the mistake of packing a bag full of our new Blu-Ray movies, or you too will be stopping in the middle of BFE New Mexico trying to find a DVD, any DVD, that’s rated G. Besides Veggie Tales.

  4. Keren said:

    Not looking forward to our 20 hour flight with our extra active 18 months old. Especially after reading this…
    Any tips?

  5. Tips? Well, make sure you aren’t encumbered with luggage. Carry-ons should easily slip over one shoulder and not bash people in the head as you walk down the plane’s aisle. If you don’t know how to collapse your stroller, don’t learn in the security line. When the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign is turned off, get up and walk with your toddler. They simply can’t sit still for very long.

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