Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Favorites | Traveling on a Plane with Twins

(Originally posted 6.3.14)

Hello Twin Talk readers! My name is Samantha. I'm a lawyer turned stay-at-home-mom of fraternal twin girls, Mia and Alexa, born in December 2010. I blog about life with twins at where I have shared our experiences flying from our home near Toronto, Canada to Sarasota, Florida every winter for family vacation. We have made the trip three times so far -- when our twins were 13 months, 27 months and 37 months old, respectively -- and I have 10 tips for flying with twin toddlers for you today.
Sarasota (2013)
10 Tips for Flying with Twin Toddlers
Tip #10 - Avoid It Our first trip was when our twins were 13 months old and let me just say it did not go very well. Despite all of my preparations and advanced planning, this was just a difficult age to have two toddlers on a plane. Our girls were in the walking toddler discovery stage and were just not interested in sitting still. Mia spent the duration of the flight shrieking on the ground while touching all of the dirt and germs beneath the airplane seats. Alexa cried in my arms for most of the flight and once she fell asleep then Mia started crying. Twin mom problems, right? Despite the histrionics, we managed the short flights and lived to tell the tale -- and to travel again.
Alexa was not happy (2012)
Mia touched every germ on board (2012)
Now I'm sure you're wondering why I would share stories about disaster flights in a guest post about tips for flying, right? My point is that if you are flexible and can avoid flying when your twins are between 12 and 18 months, then I say avoid it. Maybe go a little earlier when your twins will be content to sit in your lap or a little later when they can be distracted with electronics. If that's not the case and you have to fly with toddlers at this stage, then don't fret and the read the tips below. Even if it's awful, you will survive.

Tip #9 - Plan Ahead If you have twins under two years of age and are planning to fly with them as lap infants, this is a very important tip to note: most airlines do not allow two lap infants per row. This means, they probably will not permit you, your husband and your twins to sit all together. That's very important when you are planning and packing for your flight. When flying with my twins at 13 months old as lap infants, we preselected two aisle seats in adjoining rows so that we would be nearby with a toddler each. We checked in as normal (another warning: often an airline will not permit you to do online check in when you have lap infants so you must check in at the terminal) and then once we got to the gate, we spoke to the flight crew about moving us to be together. The flight crew was kind and moved things around so that the four of us had an entire row to ourselves. My husband sat in the window seat, I sat in the aisle seat with one twin and the other twin was technically sitting in the middle seat (which is how we got around the "no two lap infants" rule). Other passengers were very generous in switching seats for us (they were actually thrilled to get away from us). Obviously, there's no guarantee you can get a row once you're at the gate but it's very well worth talking to the flight crew about it. Once my girls turned two years old, we purchased seats for all four of us and pre-selected our seats upon booking. I sat in a row with my girls and my husband sat in the adjacent aisle seat. This configuration worked out great. It's expensive for a family of four (or more) to purchase airline tickets but I have to admit that traveling was a lot easier once my girls were in seats and were no longer lap infants.
Much easier the following year (2013)
And even easier the year after that (2014)
Tip #8 - Time It This next tip also has to do with planning ahead. When booking your flights, try to pick a flight at a time of day that you think will work with your twins and their schedule. For my twins, I have always found that flying earlier in the day is better because they are usually happier in the morning. Plus, airports are usually less busy and have shorter lines in the morning. You may prefer to instead fly at night and hope that your twins sleep. It's not always possible to fly at a time that you would like but it's worth looking at different flights to pick the best option for your family. And of course, avoid connections by flying direct to your destination if possible.

 Tip #7 - Pack Smartly I am a major over-packer and like to be prepared for anything. On our past flights, I have carried the following bags: (1) a purse for passports, boarding passes wallet, phone, sunglasses, hand sanitizer spray, etc., (2) a diaper bag with diapers/pull-ups/potty seat, wipes, spare clothes, bibs, pacifiers, sippy cups, snacks and light blankets, (3) a backpack for my hubby to carry filled with things to entertain the twins (click here to see more about my entertainment bag) and (4) small backpacks for each twin to carry with a favourite stuffy or other comfort item.
If only we could pack our kids in our luggage (2012)
I think packing is a very personal thing and there's a huge spectrum of what's acceptable from people that like to be over-prepared versus those that prefer to travel light. In my experience, twin moms are the over-prepared types because we know how quickly a situation can get messy, loud and crazy and we want to be ready. My best tips would be to make sure : * you carry a cross-body bag or purse with essentials for easy access * go light on toys instead bringing an iPad or other electronic device to entertain your twins (see tip #6 below) * bring a variety of snacks for the twins to eat to pass the time and candy for when they may be inconsolable * when packing changes of clothes for your twins, throw in an extra shirt for yourself in case you get peed, pooped or barfed on
* do not wear jewelry while flying because your twins will likely pull at it and drive you insane And remember... if you are flying with two lap infants then chances are your family will be separated and accordingly, your carry-on should be arranged so that each parent had the supplies like sippy cups, diapers, etc. that they will need for one twin for the duration of the flight.
Diaper bag and purse carry-on (2013)
Tip #6 - Do Not Rely on the In-Flight Entertainment Adding to my last point about electronic devices, my advice is to not rely on the in-flight entertainment to entertain your twins. I have experienced one flight which had personal TVs with no satellite connection (i.e. totally useless) and another flight where you had to download the in-flight entertainment app on your phone before boarding the plane except we were only advised of this after boarding the flight #wouldhavebeengoodtoknowbeforeboarding. We might just be the last family in North America to not have an iPad (only because we would need two of them with twins -- and that's a whole other story). We have relied on our iPhones and our MacBook Air to provide in-flight entertainment to our twins. These were the absolute best way to keep our twins occupied while flying (not so much when they were crazy 13 month olds but definitely since then). We made sure to have child-friendly headphones and a headphone splitter cable with us, and Mia and Alexa were more than happy to watch movies on the MacBook or play iPhone games. Whatever it may be that works to occupy your twins at home, whether it's movies, apps, computer games, TV shows, iPads, mini iPads, iPods, iPhones, LeapFrogs or whatever, bring them with you when you fly. My girls were so well behaved while watching movies on our last trip to Florida that I was actually able to read a book on the plane.
MacBook Air, child friendly headphones + headphone splitter cable (2014)
Tip #5 - Accept That Going Through Security Is a Pain Going through security is a pain, there's no way to escape it. It's especially painful when you have twin toddlers. Keep an eye out for the family lanes in the security area because they move faster and are more accommodating. I have carried formula and baby food across security and have never had an issue since baby formula/milk/food is exempt from the normal liquid restrictions. Children are not allowed to go through security while sitting in strollers so be prepared to take them out of the strollers, collapse the strollers and have the strollers go through the security x-ray machine. Small children do not have to remove their shoes but they do have to go through the metal detectors. It's also worth noting that you can reject the full body x-ray scanner for children. Here's a story to highlight the frustration of going through security: On our trip out of Toronto when our twins were 27 months old, we tried to do online check-in from home. The online system wouldn't permit it, so we went to the check-in desk at the Toronto airport where we were notified that Alexa had been randomly selected by the computer for enhanced security screening. Yes, a two year old needed extra security. Apparently, the security system does not check for age when doing the random screening. So at every step of the airport process, she was flagged. Now the extra frustrating part is that the Toronto airport is set-up so that if you are flying to a U.S. destination you clear U.S. customs at the airport in Toronto before you go to security. So we had to take all of our checked luggage, carry-on luggage plus the twins in their strollers and make our way from the check-in desk, through U.S. customs, to the checked luggage drop off and then through security. It was a total pain. And then because of the security flag they inspected every bit of Alexa's belongings at every step. It was ridiculous. I almost lost it when they asked to pat her down at security. We refused because... come on, she was two! I know the security guards were following protocol but it was just too much. In the end, they asked if they could pat me down in her place and I agreed before proceeding to make our way through security, regroup and head to the gate to wait for our flight. So you see why I say airport security is a pain. There was nothing we could have done to prepare ourselves for this unanticipated hassle; however, it was good that we arrived at the airport early and had plenty of time.  

Tip #4 - Gate Check Your Stroller I highly recommend bringing your stroller into the airport because it helps to keep your twins contained as you travel through the airport (and you probably want it at your travel destination). We have always traveled with two Maclaren Triumph umbrella strollers rather than our Baby Jogger City Mini double stroller. It's our preference to have two light and collapsable strollers when traveling rather than the double stroller. Whatever stroller(s) you travel with, consult the airline's policy on gate checking the stroller before going to the airport. We were always able to take our strollers all the way to the gate and down right to boarding before having to collapse the strollers and have them checked below the undercarriage of the plane. Our strollers would be waiting at the gate at our destination. Easy peasy.
Umbrella strollers at the beach (2012)
Asleep in Magic Kingdom (2014)
Tip #3 - The Car Seat Question The number one thing my mom friends have worried about when traveling with babies and young children, twins and singletons alike, is whether to rent or bring the car seats. If you need car seats at your travel destination, the issue is this: if you bring your car seats from home then you have to check them with the airline and worry about them getting lost or damaged in transit. If you rent car seats at your destination (whether from the car rental company or a baby gear rental company), then you have to trust that you get clean and safe car seats at your destination. And with twins, it's more of a hassle in either case because you obviously need two car seats. Admittedly, this isn't something we have had to consider. We travel to Sarasota because my husband's parents live there in the winter. This means that we have been able to purchase car seats online from Walmart, ship them to my in-laws in advance and my in-laws have them waiting at the airport for us. We know this is a huge advantage for us. Buying the car seats alleviates this hassle for us and it's also cheaper than renting. If buying car seats is an option to you (or borrowing from friends/family at your destination), then my advice is to go for it.
Cosco Scerena Convertible (2012 + 2013)
Cosco High Back Booster (2014)
Otherwise, I think it's okay to rent car seats if you are traveling to a major North American city. If you are going to somewhere tropical or to Europe, then I would recommend bringing your own car seats and checking them with the airline to avoid any surprises at your destination. I have also known people to bring the car seats right on the plane to ensure the utmost of safety. In order to do so, your twins would each need their own paid seat and could not be lap infants. You should call ahead to the airline to let them know of your plans to bring two car seats on the plane and how they would want your seats arranged (again, they may not be permitted in the same row). They will want to know the make and model of your car seats to ensure they meet the airline's safety requirements. We have never tried this; my concern would be navigating the airport with the twins, strollers, luggage, carry-on and car seats.  

Tip #2 - Plan Plenty of Potty Breaks We have flown with twins in every stage -- in diapers, in pull-ups and in underwear. Each situation had it's own challenges. Diapers were easier in many ways because the "situation" was contained. If you have twins in diapers, try to time one last diaper change before they call for family boarding. Same goes for twins that are potty trained even if they say they don't have to go. It's not fun to change a diaper on a plane or to bring a small child to use a plane toilet. In the case of using the toilet in the airport or on the plane, you may want to bring a folding potty seat with you in terms of making potty-going more comfortable for your toddlers, and also to reduce exposure to germs. And remember, hand sanitizer is your best friend while traveling through an airport!
We used this folding potty seat...
... and this hand sanitizer spray
Tip #1 - Try Not To Stress Try to not stress about traveling with twin toddlers. The best things about toddlers is that they are endlessly enthusiastic. Since they get excited about every little thing, air travel can have plenty of fun moments as your twins experience the sights and sounds of an airport even if the experience is stressful for you. You are already a twin mom, so you are AMAZING in what you handle on a daily basis. When you're traveling with twin toddlers, expect things to take longer, expect one or both of your twins to meltdown, expect people to look at you like a circus show, expect that both twins will want to sit with mommy, expect delays, expect the worst.... No matter how badly things may go, you can handle it and it will all be worth it for the family memories that you're making. And if all else fails, have a few emergency lollipops in your pockets to give to your twins.
Worth it (2014)
*** Like all things twin-related, traveling with twin toddlers may not be easy but it is totally doable and completely worthwhile. Our last trip to Florida included a visit to Disney for Mia and Alexa's third birthday and it was the most magical time for our family (click here if you want to read more about going to Disney with three year old twins). We are already planning our annual trip to Florida next winter.
It really is the most magical place (2014)
It's been a pleasure sharing my twin travel tips with you today. If you have any questions, comments or follow-up thoughts on my post, please email me at and I will get back to you.

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