This is Part II of a Three Part Series on Traveling By Airplane With Twin Infants. Part I can be found by clicking on the link above.
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THE AIRPORT EXPERIENCE
In general, COMMUNICATION is an absolute necessity to have a stress-minimized airport experience. Communication with your adult passengers, communication with your kids, communication with security, communication with the flight crew. If you communicate your situation, your needs, your desire to make as burden-free as possible for the staff and fellow travelers, the more likely they are to be helpful, accommodating, and FORGIVING.
If at all possible, print your boarding passes BEFORE YOU LEAVE for the airport.
TRANSPORTATION TO/FROM AIRPORT
Decide faaaaarrrrr in advance how you intend to get to and from the airport. Ideally, you own two carseats per child. If this is the case, then let the kids ride in the car in one set, and have the other set in the trunk/storage area for easy transport on/off the car. This is most helpful if the carseats are attached to some kind of rolling device. And if your car has the space to hold extra carseats and luggage. Otherwise, it’ll take about 5-10 minutes to deal with the carseats. This may not seem like a long time, but with multiple children and inclement weather and mealtime approaching, every minute saved is a week longer that you get to live.
You Drive Yourselves In Your Car – If you’re going to drive yourself and there are two adults going, go directly to curbside check-in. Both adults unload everything, including the kids, and one tries to corral the kids while possibly simultaneously checking-in, while the other adult goes and parks the car and enjoys five quiet minutes. Catch a skycap QUICKLY and TIP WELL.
Someone Else Drives You In Your Car – This, to me, is the ideal situation. You get dropped at curbside check-in, three adults help unload everything, one adult leaves with your car, and two adults remain to wrangle kids and check stuff in. This option offers the most hands resulting in the most efficient drop-off/check-in experience.
Someone Else Drives You In Their Car – Are you sure you can’t let them drive your car? Because it would be a lot easier. If not, this option isn’t too different than “Someone Else Drives You In Your Car” except you may or may not have storage issues based on the number of car seats and the number of luggage pieces.
LEAVING WITH ENOUGH TIME
This goes without saying, but it is still one of our biggest challenges. How early? Here’s a rough estimate of things you might want to consider and then tweak according to your own commute situation.
In our case, that was (30 * 1.5) + 0 + 0 + 10 + (10 * 4) = half an hour earlier than we used to leave for the airport.
GETTING THROUGH SECURITY AND TO YOUR GATE
Speaking of security, don’t wear a belt or lace-up shoes. It’s just easier not to wear this stuff when you have to remove the items to go through the gate. If at all possible, for kids that can’t walk, just keep them in socks and put those cute Robeez in the carry-on bag because you’ll have to remove their shoes, too.
At this point, we had checked our luggage and we were left with one double-stroller, two car seats on rollers with a baby in each, and two back packs. Some people will choose to luggage-check the carseats (because they have lapchildren) and just transport the kids in a simple stroller through the airport. Others luggage-check the carseats and do not take a stroller. If you do that, at least take a baby carrier (we have an Ergo), though you will most likely have to remove it to go through security.
DECLARE YOUR POWDERS AND LIQUIDS. It’s my understanding that they will want to see your water and formula powder, but since our items were in the backpacks that were going through x-ray, and since there was a long-ass line behind us, they didn’t even flinch or ask or sort through the bags. Declare it anyway.
Some (Most? All?) convertible carseats will not fit through the xray machine. (Although I think most infant carseats will). Request that they be “wanded” by security. Since we took our very large Double BOB Revolution that was going to have to be wanded anyway, they might as well wand the carseats, too.
We took of our backpacks, put them in the bins, along with our shoes. Took the babies out of the carseats. Security then directed us to leave the carseats and stroller and pass through the gate with baby in hand. Jennifer beeped so she and Harper had an extra special wanding while I passed BACK through the gate, as directed by security, and helped get the stroller and carseats through the area. Where they wanded and powder-checked and whatever they do with that Star Trek box near the back.
While the carseats and stroller were given a twice-over, Jennifer and Harper were cleared and we all approached the bins, picked up the backpacks, sat down and put everybody’s shoes on. By the time we were done with that, the carseats and stroller were ready, so we put the kids back into the carseats attached to the Travelmate’s, tossed the backpacks into the stroller, and one of us pushed both babies, while the other pushed the stroller and backpacks.
And we leisurely strolled to the gate, a bit overwhelmed by what had just happened, and stunned that it went relatively smoothly.
THE WAIT AT THE GATE
Depending on when you arrived at the airport, how long security took, and the number of unexpected circumstances blown your way, you may or may not have a lot of time before boarding. We had about 30 minutes.
If you are gate checking any items, go to the counter, SMILE, and ask for some gate check tags. While they’re tapping endlessly onto their keyboards, chat them up about whether or not the flight is full, and if not could you get on before everyone else so you can be sure to sit in the same row, and your inexperience in flying with infants and how you want to do things right and pretty much make them feel like they know everything. Not only are you doing this to butter them up to avoid situations like this, but because every airline and possibly every crew will respond differently so you shouldn’t assume how things went with one flight will work for another. Take their lead and be respectful and adjust your plans and gear accordingly.
Once we had gate-check tags and knew what the process was for this crew and for this flight, we had about 15 minutes. This was just enough time for me to go ahead and make their bottles (shielding this process from their view because HEAVEN FORBID they see a bottle that isn’t immediately going into their little suckers that close to naptime!). Jennifer kept them entertained with the couple rattle toys and the There-Are-Few-Better-Inventions-Than-Cheerios. After the bottles were made – and hidden in the bag – we changed their diapers right there on the floor at the gate. Five minutes left.
TO PRE-BOARD OR NOT TO PRE-BOARD?
Do you have assigned seating? Then you might be better off waiting. Unassigned seating (like Southwest Airlines)? Then you better have printed your Boarding Pass from home 24 hours before so that you can be in the first group. Then, it’s like trying to get the best seat on a roller coaster, everybody rushing, vying for position. Just consider that once you’re on the plane, it’s still a good 15 minutes or so before you take-off. So when to board becomes a game-time decision based on whether or not your seats are assigned, the demeanor of your children, and the number of adults traveling with you.
How you get from the waiting area to the plane depends on the amount and type of gear you are gate-checking and carrying on. For us, and given the size of our stroller, we put the kids in the stroller and the other of us rolled the empty carseats down. This allowed for the least amount of bending and unbuckling and keeping others waiting. Even if we had had no carseats, I still would have rather strolled than carried because it saves your arms for a few minutes.
BOARD ALL AT ONCE OR BIT BY BIT?
Again, it depends on (un)assigned seating and demeanors and number of adults traveling with you.
All At Once – On our flight there, at the plane entrance, I began unbuckling babies while Jennifer collapsed the Travelmate handles and set the car seats along the wall. She then unbuckled the second baby and held both kids while I folded down and bungee cord strapped the double stroller. This did create a bit of a traffic jam for those waiting behind us, BUT, (a) it didn’t really take but 2 minutes max AND (b) it allowed the people who had boarded ahead of us to get a seat and therefore out of our way.
Bit By Bit – On the flight back, the flight was going to be full (something I learned from the representative at the gate when I was obtaining gate-check tags) so Jennifer wheeled the empty car seats and boarded ahead of us in Group A, with the intention of getting our seats saved and then meeting us at the entrance of the plane to grab a baby once I got down there. She communicated this (SMART WOMAN!) to the flight attendant, who suggested that was not going to be a good idea, what without the contraflow lanes and all. I, of course, did not know this. So when I walked down the jetway at the back of Group A, I began unbuckling oblivious to the fact that Jennifer wouldn’t be there. HOWEVER, the flight attendant told me what was going on and said she and the pilot would hold babies while I got the stroller folded down. How sweet is that?? I would venture to say that they just wanted an excuse to hold two of the most adorable kids ever. But I digress.
So you made it this far, you’re not sweating too badly, the kids aren’t totally freaking out, and there are no delays. Congratulations. Seriously. Now the clock slows down because here you are essentially trapped in a space that barely fits your elbows with kids that could conceivably erupt at any time and you’re surrounded by strangers and other people breathing your air in an environment your kids have never been in. Oops, am I projecting?
The first thing we did was take out those couple rattle toys, string them to some plastic rings/links, and hook them to the tray table hinge. Now you don’t have to feel around the floor if the toy gets “dropped”.
Actually, that wasn’t the first thing. The FIRST first thing we did was say our respective silent little prayer of desperation for a speedy and uneventful flight.
The third first thing that we did was say to one another (within earshot of the nearby passengers) that we had all the things we needed for the kids and that they had been in good moods and things were going well and make sure you have everything you need so we don’t have to bother the people we’re sitting by. And the point of this was to purchase some goodwill for the just in case it all goes to hell situation. And because placebos really do work for lots of folks.
The first second thing (I guess actually, it was actually the fourth thing) is address that age-old directive of “all you have to do is give them something to drink or eat on the way up and on the way down.” I was really worried about their ears and all that, so we pulled the bottles out as we backed out of the terminal, at which point the kids began hyperventilating for their formula and throwing their heads back to lay down in our arms. We purposefully booked the flight near a nap time with the hopes that they’d take a bottle and sleep a bit of the flight. DIDN’T HAPPEN. Not only did sleep not happen, but baby girl sucked down her bottle BEFORE WE WERE IN THE AIR. And Mateo finished his before we reached cruising altitude. I’ll time that one better next time. Neither seemed to really be affected, though.
Then it was hold babies in laps and play and try and push Time along. An eternal 30 minutes into the flight, we began our descent. The tricky part on a short flight, however, is getting them to eat on the way down. Mateo as all “awesome, I get another bottle, this is exactly as it should be.” But Harper was all “don’t EVEN try to make me eat when I don’t wanna.” At which point my blood pressure rose a tad and I watched her like a hawk waiting for her head to explode or something worse because SHIT! What about drinking ON THE WAY DOWN? Her head stayed attached, though she did tilt it to one shoulder quite frequently. So cheerios – which make your mouth all dry and gooey – followed by some water in her cup seemed to suffice.
At last, we had arrived.
GETTING OFF THE PLANE
Pretty much work backwards from “Board All At Once Or Bit By Bit?” and “Jetwalking” and “Getting Through Security And To Your Gate”. One advantage of traveling with kids is that by the time you get them strapped into the stroller or car seats and maybe even take turns going to the bathroom, by the time you get to Baggage Claim, not only is it a clear shot to the conveyor belt, but it’s likely someone has placed your luggage next to the carousel in a ready-to-go position.
TRANSPORTATION TO YOUR FINAL DESTINATION
So much of this depends on what plans you made. Is someone picking you up? Are you renting a car? Do you need a taxi or a shuttle? Depending on the length of your flight and the amount of time to your final destination, you might want to take this time to go to the bathroom and/or change the kids’ diapers.
Up next, Part III: YOUR FINAL DESTINATION