It’s Not Flying. It’s Falling, With Style: Ten Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

Willy Wonka had his Greek Chorus. Mine's located just beyond the TSA. (image via

In a few days, a friend of mine will fly with her fifteen month-old daughter from Washington, D.C. to Melbourne Beach, Florida, a distance of just over 750 air miles, two hours flying time, and what will most likely be as much time at the airport beforehand and what will seem like at least a solid thirty miles from the Departure door to her seat.

If I sound like I know what I’m talking about, it’s because I do. As a survivor of ten such trips, either with just Mbot, with Mbot and with Gbot under my belt (literally) (this is a good time for Tip #1, Do Not Wear A Belt), or with both Mbot and Gbot under the ages of 3 1/2, I have become intimately acquainted with the quirks of the TSA. Yet still, I manage to learn something new with each take-off. Just when you think you’re an expert, the game changes–not because of the TSA, but because of your children. A few months in the life of a Bot means monumental shifts in behavior. And then there’s the danger of becoming overconfident. Even if the TSA can’t take your uberprepared mommy-ass down, hubris can every time. Don’t let it happen to you. The Greek chorus is waiting just beyond security.

I have a list over thirty items long of how to make it through security with infants, toddlers, strollers, and hormonal imbalance, but, having recently flown, I only have the energy to write down ten of them. Consider them a gift from the Greek Chorus. And ignore them at your own risk.

1. Channel Eli Manning. (for those of you who were breastfeeding or rinsing out poopy underpants during the Super Bowl, Eli happens to be the quarterback of the 2012 NFL champions (that would be the New York Giants–don’t sweat it, I had to Google it).

The key to successful flying with Bots is visualization: In the week prior to a voyage, I imagine it, move for move, like a quarterback going into the Super Bowl. This ensures that I have enough hands at each strategic point along the way. Once, this resulted in eleventh hour fashioning of a baby sling from six yards of checked cotton and then watching a YouTube video on how to use it, five hours before take-off. And then searching the internet for references as to whether or not one can wear it, even empty, through security. (No.)

2. Leave the Laboutins at Home. Or at least check them. It is difficult enough when you and your Bot are wearing slip-ons, and you’re removing not only your own shoes but the monster slippers of the two-year old and the dragon slippers of the one-year old, while the single woman behind you with the briefcase and headset tightens her lips impatiently. Am I really misinformed here, or was Al Queda and the Taliban known for its recruitment and inclusion of women? Especially middle-aged white women lugging teddy bears?

3. Utilize The Girl Pocket. Longtime readers will be familiar with The Girl Pocket, those go-to spaces in the bra handy for boarding passes, personal IDs, and binkies (only clean ones; dirty ones can go anywhere). If this is inconvenient, consider wearing a biking jersey, with three handy pockets across the back.

4. Breathe Deeply. This comes in handy as you are unscrewing the second bottle of breast milk for a TSA employee to hold scraps of paper over to ensure that one bottle isn’t nitrogen tetroxide and the other monomethyl hydrazine, while you are also replacing the laptop and re-constructing the stroller and shoving three boarding passes and the cell phone back into your bra while replacing the shoes of a toddler and an infant while holding their hands while checking that your drivers license isn’t back on the conveyor belt.

5. Don’t Flatter Yourself by thinking that you can carry on anything that will be as captivating as the safety manual in the seat pocket in front of you, the latch on the tray table in its locked and upright position, or the buckle of the seatbelt pulled firmly across your lap. So don’t waste valuable diaper bag space with Woody and Buzz Lightyear, when it could be filled with raisins and goldfish and a second pair of extra pants.

6. Embrace the Sound of Silence. If you bring a DVD player, leave the headset at home. The under forty-month set is captivated by the pictures. For at least ten minutes. I use the DVD player mainly in the waiting area.

7. Embrace Your Local Starbucks. Even if you’re not a fan, you need to drink, and so does your Bot. Leave enough time to buy a bottle of water before you get on the plane, or fill your own empty bottle at a water fountain. Buy yourself a latte. I know it’s one extra thing to carry, but you will find a way.

8. Check the Nutrition Nazi at the Gate. There is a time for shameless application of goldfish, raisins, graham crackers, and peanuts. This is that time.

9. DD. It no longer means a enviable bra size. Now it stands for Double Diaper.

10. Gettin’ Around on the Ground: If your Bot is crawling, stuff into the diaper bag a rolled-up twin sheet or other thin piece of fabric that can be spread out in the waiting area, and then on the floor under your seat. Even if they’re already walking, this provides a good play area in the airport, and then on the plane, you can just let ’em take a nap under your feet without worrying that they’ll be snacking on the dropped pretzels of the last person who sat in your seat.

11. (It’s a Baker’s Ten) Don’t Bring Anything New (Or Really, Really Old): Flight Number Nine, where hubris caught up with me: So there I was in the middle of Idaho accompanied only by a twenty-two month-old, a thirty-eight month-old, an antique, diabetic carry-on cat, a diaper bag, a computer bag, a Spiderman rollie bag, two stuffed bears as big as the Bots, and a stroller provided by my mother, that hadn’t been in service since it had carried my younger brother’s diapered ass in 1971. Diabetes of course means that a lot of peeing can be expected. A collapsible metal stroller thirty-five years old means that, in spite of extensive testing in the garage, where it actually seemed cool, it might collapse with the twenty-two month-old in it, in front of a long line of strangers at the security gate. Whoops.

*   *   *

The only good thing about flying with small children is that you eventually get where you are going, and you do not have to spend fourteen hours wishing you had a sound-proof divider between the driver seat and the back. The only other good thing is that strangers, reminded of how grateful they are not to be you, often offer to help. They carry bags. They attempt to re-construct the stroller. Except when it was built before the first Arab oil embargo and collapses with your child in it. Then they cease making eye contact, no doubt fearing potential liability and also suspecting that you are actually, really, in fact, insane.

And keep this in mind: It will soon be over. You will soon be on vacation. In a strange place without baby gates in the right places or familiar beds or blankets; with knives in unchildproofed drawers at eye-level.

And remember, even for the completely prepared ultramommy, it’s still–in the immortal words of Woody and Buzz: not really flying. It’s falling, with style. Or without.

2 thoughts on “It’s Not Flying. It’s Falling, With Style: Ten Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

  1. Having just completed a long flight with my kids, I wish I had this list before I left home! And to make matters worse where do you change a childs diaper on a full flight?!? Thanks for enlightening me and making me laugh!

  2. SO sorry I was too late to help! Also sorry for the full diaper on the full flight….But to answer the question….If it’s a diaper with just pee in it, I change it right there in my lap. Because don’t get me started on how un-motherfriendly the design of airplanes is, right down to the lavatory. If you expect me to change a diaper in the lavatory, make the lavatory bigger than a thin man standing. Give me a clean drop-down changing table above the toilet. Wait a minute, you wouldn’t be giving them to me, didn’t I pay $500 for this ticket?? And as far as a poop….I don’t have the answer. I have never had to cross that terrible bridge. When we were alone in a row, I just changed it right there and then disposed of it in the lavatory trash after the fight attendants had drawn straws about who would sit with the Bots while I was gone. I would love to know what other mothers have done on a full flight.

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