Last week we had the privilege of travelling to California with some of my extended family. For weeks we looked forward to getting away from the grey (albeit not overly cold) Hamilton winter. We also looked forward to a break from routine. While we were excited to get away we were nervous about the actual flight time involved in getting us to California. We spent a fair bit of time thinking about and planning for those five and a half (that turned out to be six and half) hours. While I, by no means, consider myself an expert on this now, I thought a quick look at our first experience flying with a 2 year old (25 months at the time) might be useful to anyone planning their own first toddler flight.
We had 2 main concerns for the flight: keeping him seated and keeping him entertained.
Seating: We decided to use his car seat, as we didn’t think the plane seat would be comfortable and he knows what it’s like to sit in this for a few hours already. This worked out well. The airline is required to allow you to use your car seat, provided it fits, is approved by the FAA and is marked as such. Installation was simple – the process is the same as installing in a car seat with a lap only belt. One little tweak I made was wrapping the belt around the bar at the side of the seat to move the buckle location to the side of the seat (our seat, a Britax Marathon, has the forward facing belt path on top of the plastic shell, so it would have been in the middle of his back). Disclaimer: I have no idea if this would be endorsed by the FAA or Britax, but it seemed safe to me.
The car seat worked great, he seemed comfortable for the full flight, and we never had to worry about him squirming out of his seat. It also fit fine – we were worried about needing to put an arm rest up and the seat intruding into my space. On the way home I’m not sure if I installed it differently or if the seats in the plane were set up differently he could reach the seat in front of him with his feet. This meant hours of reminding him not to kick the seat, along with several death stares from the woman in front.
On the way down, we both agreed that this worked out as well as we could have hoped. We brought lots of little toys, a magnet drawing board, his quiet book, and loaded some Thomas videos on my phone as a last resort. The two items that were most used were the magnet drawing board and the quiet book. The magnet drawing board we got was the Fisher-Price Doodle Pro – and he loved it. He was able to draw without me worrying about getting markers on the seats or walls. It is a little big, and have seen pictures of other smaller models, but this is what we found in our last minute activity collection run. The quiet book is an ongoing labour of love by mom. The secret is to keep it for special occasions so it’s something new. Each page has different activity of colour matching or numbers. Each page didn’t keep his attention for too long, but it’s become a big book with lots to do. Google or Pinterest “Quiet Book” for ideas for your own. I’m sure there are fancy expensive versions for purchase, but ours was made with a glue gun, some felt, an assortment of dollar store finds and several episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.
The way down and the way home were two totally different stories. After a week of short nights and an erratic nap schedule, an over-tired child was impossible to keep entertained for more than a few minutes. Do your best to ensure your little one is well rested before the flight. I had hoped being tired would mean he would sleep more, but he was just harder to keep happy. One final piece of advice I can offer is to assume everything will take longer than it should. When we landed in Los Angeles we were assured we would be at the gate at any moment, so took our son out of his chair with no real plan for keeping him entertained. Every 10 minutes we got an update that it a few moments we would be at the gate. It ended up being a full hour after we landed before we actually made it to a gate. Sitting with a 2 year old on your lap for “5 minutes” that end up being an hour feels like an eternity. Any time you have a few minutes to fill, assume it will be longer and be ready for that. It’s easier to pack activities up than trying to keep a squirming, noisy child on your lap…