Flying (with Children).

We have just returned from a trip to see my husband’s family in Costa Rica, which is a three and a half hour flight from Houston. Not too bad, right? Well. That really depends. 
This is not the first time we have flown since we’ve been parents, but this was the first time we’ve flown with both kids in tow. Our five (and a half!) year old is quite the seasoned traveler, having flown more times than I can count. She has been easy to fly with since she was around three and a half – the age at which she didn’t mind the headphones on her head so she could watch DVDs on the plane. Prior to that, flying was a bit of a challenge and required all of my energy to keep her happy. And, to the dismay of our fellow passengers, I didn’t always succeed. 
I had very realistic expectations going into this trip with our family of four (with seats for three) and felt relatively prepared to handle the plane travel with the children.
The flight to Costa Rica was OK. The first challenge was getting someone to change seats with us, because only two of our three seats were together. Luckily my smooth talking hubby was able to gain the sympathy of fellow Spanish speakers to solve our problem. Holding our toddler on our laps was not super fun (she’s at least 25 lbs), but we managed to keep her mostly entertained, and she eventually took a short nap in our arms near the end our flight. This was enough to refresh her and keep her somewhat happy for the remainder of our flight. This was a morning flight, which may have been the key to our relative success.
Our view as we waited at our gate.

Our return flight was… not awesome. Our three seats were already together (no smooth talking required), but it was an afternoon flight for which we arrived to the airport with *more* than enough time. Prior to boarding, we tried to wear our darling toddler out by letting her run around the gate area. Surely this would result in an in-flight nap, no? NO. No, it did not. 

We are able to pre-board, but watching the other people board only entertained her for so long. She didn’t want any of the books or toys I had for her, so we tried to get her interested in the baby across the aisle, and when that didn’t work, we went through the Skymall catalog. Then we went through whatever dumb airline magazine was there. She tore the safety card in half. She sat next to her sister for a few minutes to watch a video. Once she got irritated with that, we started the cycle over again: Skymall, dumb airline mag, tearing safety card, dvd. To change it up a bit, we tried to feed her a little when they gave us food, but it really just made things worse because she wanted to eat everybody’s food. Then we tried a nap, but she only wanted to be held – didn’t want to sit on our laps, or lie down, she insisted in being held up in our arms. Did I mention that she is at least 25 lbs and that I am very weak? 
She would get quiet for a while and then irritated all over again, so my husband decided to get up and walk down the aisle to calm her down. He was away for several minutes, and my older daughter was watching a video, so I leaned forward and put my head on the seat in front of me to rest and to enjoy some peace and quiet. As I was focusing on my breathing and starting to drift off, I felt a hand on my arm: my five year old. “Are you OK?”, I asked her gently. “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t asleep,” she says. And she said it so sweetly I couldn’t even get mad at her. (No, I don’t know why me sleeping would have been a problem for her. I was too tired to ask.)
A few minutes later, my husband returned with a sleeping baby! Success! Finally! And just as I start to get comfortable again… She. wakes. up. 
At least at this point we were less than an hour from landing. So… I get over it and decide to go change her diaper. Not an easy task on an airplane. Apparently toddlers should be out of diapers by the time they fly, because she does not fit on the changing table. But we make it work and head back to our seat and I am prepared to deal with whatever because I know we will land soon. My husband takes her from me, so of course my over-tired child protests. But because I can feel that we are starting our descent, I don’t let it bother me. Until her protest turns into, “Poop.” She was seriously pooping just after I changed her diaper and just before they were going to turn the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign on. So OF COURSE I got my ass up as quick as I could and raced to the back of the plane to change her again on the too small changing table so she would not stink up the plane. (After all of the crying she had done, it was the least I could do for my fellow passengers.) 
I was surprised the flight attendants didn’t knock on the bathroom door to get us to go back to our seats, but they didn’t and we got back to our seats with no problem. We landed just a few minutes later. However, we had to sit on the runway a few minutes longer because the other plane hadn’t left our gate yet. THEN they requested over the PA that if we didn’t have a connection, to please let those who do go first. Which is all wonderful news when you have an overtired toddler on a airplane. So, because Houston is home for us, we stayed put to let other people go. I’ve had to make a tight connection before and I know how much it sucks. I thought – despite Miss Crankypants – those five minutes will make a much bigger difference to them than to us, so we stayed put. And, wouldn’t you know it? Apparently we were the only people on the flight who didn’t have a connection to make… 
So when nearly every other person had exited, we deplaned as well and made it through immigrations and customs unscathed. We got to our car, drove home, made cheese sandwiches for the girls (because that was the only thing we had in the house after being gone for a week) and put the girls to bed. And had a drink.
The lessons to be learned from this experience are as follows:
  1. There is nothing you can do to adequately prepare for traveling with a toddler.
  2. Always make sure there is alcohol at your destination.
  3. See #2.