Part 3: How I flew solo with two kids, internationally
In this third and final installation describing our travel home, I will talk about some of the biggest things that helped us to make our trip a great success. To recap, in part 1 I talked about all the planning we did prior to arriving at the airport, and in part 2 all the things we did during transit to keep it together. Continuing from Part 2, let us resume…
13. We shipped things
Amazon is an amazing modern convenience. Instead of dragging all the consumables we needed for our trip, which was considerable given it was a month, I ordered what I could from Amazon and had it shipped to my parents’. Diapers, baby food, wipes, eczema bath soaps and lotions – anything and everything we needed for a month that we couldn’t reasonably carry. On the upside, this meant that I didn’t need to check a bag on the outbound flight. On the downside, we shipped quite a bit back to Germany when our visit was done. [I shipped our items retail ground to our APO box. This saved us some money but it also took nearly six weeks for our stuff to arrive at home. Had I known it was going to take that long (chalk it up to lack of experience), I would have shipped some items Priority.]
14. We used smart tools
I ordered custom t-shirts to wear for our flights. My son’s said, “I’m 2. Nuf said.” My daughter’s said, “Go easy on me, it’s my first flight.” Mine said, “Don’t judge me, I’m new at this.” We wore them on our outbound and return flights. Many people didn’t notice (because our shirts were often covered by baggage, car seat straps, or babies) but those that did, appeared amused. They also reminded me to manage my expectations.
My kids rode the whole way: my daughter in our Ergo baby carrier and my son in his car seat on a car seat dolly. This kept my hands “free” to get to our Passports and tickets (in the carrier pocket), purchase waters, alternately change diapers, what have you. I was also not chasing kids through the airport when we needed to be moving.
I bought a hard-sided, swivel-wheeled, true carry-on suitcase that, when measured including the wheels, is actually compliant with most airlines’ carry-on dimensions. This gave me peace of mind that we wouldn’t be forced to plane-side check the bag. Plus, since it was hard-sided, I was able to get more into it without it bulging beyond the desired dimensions.
Along with our car seats, I purchased seat belt extenders. In my research, I read a comment by a woman who learned the hard way that her car seat was impossible to remove without disassembling the aircraft seat. The crew had to call the maintenance team on board to assist. She learned after the fact that the whole problem could have been avoided by using a seat belt extender. While I don’t recall the airline or car seat manufacturer, I preferred to learn from someone else’s misfortune in this case and purchased my own seat belt extenders.
15. I gave considerable thought to car seats
For this trip, we traveled by car, plane, plane, and then car (with the reverse on the return trip) on three full-fare tickets. At nearly one and 2 1/2 years old, my kids are still and will be in car seats for years to come. We needed car seats on the way to the airport, on the planes, on the way from the airport, plus for the out-and-about at our destination. Bmecause we were going so far, the trip was at best 15 hours with various transitions. Even if it was allowed AND safe, I certainly didn’t want to spend that much time with my nearly-one year-old on my lap. Nu-uh. So we needed to travel with car seats.
I don’t like spending money on things we already own but for several reasons in this situation it made sense. We had full-fare tickets so the kids had their own seats. Neither of our existing car seats will fit in an airline seat. While my son is big enough for a CARES harness, I wanted to be sure he couldn’t get out of his seat without me knowing about it. And finally, we expected my father-in-law when we returned to Germany. Our family plus a guest will not fit safely and comfortably in our small SUV with our existing car seats. So it was either rent a bigger vehicle for two weeks or purchase two new car seats. Getting new car seats was cheaper.
I knew I wanted my kids to be safely buckled, unable to get out of their seats alone, and comfortable. So I researched (a/k/a Google searched) car seats. I looked for seats that reportedly fit many airline seats and that we could use for long term. I ultimately settled on a Diono Ranier All-in-one Convertible Car Seat (long-term) for my son and a Combi Coccoro Convertible Car Seat (short-term) for my daughter. I also picked up a mint condition CARES harness for a steal at a thrift store. My theory is that when we make the international trip again, my daughter can use what is my son’s car seat while he is in the CARES harness and we check one of our original car seats (which are identical) for our destination.
At first, I thought we would haul the car seats we would travel with in the trunk of our car while they rode in their original car seats. I didn’t want to waste time removing the car seats at the airport, and subsequently reinstalling them upon our return. After some consideration I realized we couldn’t fit the car seats and baggage in the trunk. So we replaced the car seats in the car with the ones I purchased for the trip when they arrived. This did two things for us: it got the kids used to their seats; and it gave me practice at installing them (the kids in the seats and the seats in the seats).
Along with the respective airlines’ pages regarding flying with kids, I read these pages to inform my decision:
The FAA’s page on Flying with Children
The National Transportation Safety Board’s page on Child and Youth Transportation Safety
Trips With Tykes’ three part series on traveling with car seats
One thing I could have done more thoroughly is brainstorm how I was going to configure the kids’ seats. Airline regulations require that whatever configuration is used, it must not obstruct anyone’s egress from their seat. It’s safest to assume that all car seats block egress, rear- and forward-facing. In the smaller aircraft, a 2×2 configuration, the kids sat next to each other with my daughter next to the window while I commandeered the seat across the aisle from them.
In the larger aircraft, a 2x4x2 configuration where we sat in the center aisle, I had to consider my kids’ dispositions around strangers. On our outbound flight, the kids again sat next to each other with my son on the aisle. I sat between my daughter and a darling little Irish woman. Had I had more faith in my son’s ability to behave, for convenience I would have put him next to the Irish woman and sat in the aisle seat. On the larger aircraft on our return trip, we had all four center aisle seats to ourselves. This landed me on the aisle, then my daughter and son with the empty seat on the far right.
As detailed and long winded as this is, it is still not every detail of the preparations we took before our travel home. I hope that if you are embarking on the same or a similar trip that what I went through is of some assistance.