Flying with kids is sure exciting. When we showed up at the airport here they informed us our flight was delayed due to bad weather and that we'd have to take the red eye, arriving in Baltimore at 6:30 a.m. Well that didn't work for us (I just knew Levi would scream the whole way), so we had them keep checking for other options. There were other flights, but none of them had 6 empty seats. We ended up flying into New York instead. We were planning on driving up for the pageant anyway, so it seemed like a great solution. My brother Aaron helped us find a hotel, but the problem was that there weren't any rental cars big enough for us in New York - no minivans or SUV's; so we flew there not knowing what we'd do when we arrived. We got in at 1:00 in the morning, and when we called all the national rental companies, they still had nothing. Apparently no one in NY owns a car; they just rent them on the weekends. Someone suggested we call the local rental companies anyway - they had none (at this point we were beginning to think we would be sleeping in the airport or renting 2 little cars), but finally Hertz said they did have a couple of minivans. What an answer to prayer!
The flying itself went amazingly well, there and back. Everyone wore a backpack with all their own clothes, activities and snacks. We checked one large suitcase and two car seats (which are free, by the way), and Dave and I each had a carry-on. The boys did incredibly well. They had their own row, ordered their own drinks, drew pictures, watched movies (Diary of a Wimpy Kid on the way home - they were so excited), ate snacks and generally kept themselves occupied. Levi was a bit squirmy, but he only cried a few times and even took a couple of small naps. I nursed him during take-off and landing to help with his ears and fed him snacks the rest of the time. All the flight attendants were super nice and helpful. Our trip to NY was a light flight, and they brought the boys ice cream left over from 1st class (with hot fudge and whipped cream on real dishes), and sent us away with warm cookies and cans of soda. Here are some things I've learned about flying with kids:
1. Pack light. We joke that the more kids we have, the less we pack. Everyone only needs a few outfits - then plan on doing laundry every few days. Otherwise you'll get overwhelmed with clothes. Only pack enough diapers for the trip and plan on buying more when you get there. Don't pack a bunch of stuff "just in case." Instead, remember that they will have stores where you're going, and you can always buy it there if you need to. When you're traveling with kids, your arms will be full going to and from the airport, to the car rental place, and on shuttles and trains. The less you are carrying, the better.
2. Strollers are a good idea for in the airport, since they let you check it right at the plane and pick it up as soon as you get off. Ask people you're staying with (if you're staying with people) to round up things like cribs and high chairs for you. They'll probably know someone they can borrow it from, if they don't have it themselves.
3. Bring just a few activities for the plane. Each child had 1 activity book/notepad and a pencil and/or a few crayons. We packed a portable DVD player also, which came in handy on our long car trips while we were there. And bring lots of snacks. You never know if food will be available or if there will be delays, and everyone gets cranky when they're hungry.
4. If flying early in the morning, rent a hotel room close to the airport. This makes a huge difference. For our 6:30 a.m. flight home we stayed at Sleep Inn and Suites (which slept 7! so hard to find) by BWI, and Dave was able to turn in the rental van the night before while I got everyone ready for bed. Then we took the hotel shuttle to the airport early the next morning, which saved us a lot of time. When traveling with kids, the less you try to do on flying day the better.
5. Get up and walk around often on the plane. It's hard for kids to sit still in a confined space for 5 1/2 hours. Heck, it's hard for me to sit that long. So we took several potty breaks and even just hung out in the back with the flight attendants. I don't know if they want people to do that, but they didn't seem to mind. In fact they were super chatty and even held Levi for me while I helped Brennan in the bathroom. Whenever Levi got fussy, this calmed him down.
6. I didn't do it this time, but I sure wished I had: pack cups with lids, even if your child has grown out of them. Those silly little plastic cups on those tiny little trays spill so easily! Especially when you're holding a squirmy baby or getting in and out of your seat.
7. You know how they don't let you take water through security? Well they let us take a water bottle "for the baby." There are special privileges when traveling with infants, so it's always worth asking.
8. Have your kids wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off for going through security. And give yourself plenty of time. It's always more stressful when you're rushed.
9. Make it fun for the kids. If you act like it's going to be stressful, it probably will be. But if you really talk it up with them, it will feel more like a fun adventure. And then if something goes wrong, have them pray with you that it will turn out okay. My boys were praying hard that we'd be able to get a rental van and a hotel room in New York, and they were watching us close to see our reaction to the situation. When everything worked out, they were so happy. Then they immediately suggested we say a prayer of thanks.