Almost everyone has been on a flight where a baby screams much of the flight. You are trying to catch a nap, but apparently someone has given the little guy a megaphone. How can such a little body make so much noise? His wailing is drowning out the sound of the engines. Time stands still. Noise canceling headphones explode. Seasons go by before you finally feel the wheels touch down at your destination. As you exit the plane you look over at the culprit and find he has drifted off to a peaceful sleep.
This is the fear of EVERY parent who travels with infants and toddlers. The fear that MY child will be THAT child crying nonstop or doing something else that brings the ire of the entire plane. Those stories you see on the news about families who are kicked off the flight because they cannot get their child under control? These were the sorts of nightmares that woke me up at night in a cold sweat. With twins you have double the chance of being the focus of hatred for all 150 passengers onboard. How do you keep your young children blissfully quiet during the flight so YOU don’t end up on the 6 o’clock news?
The answer: planning, preparation, and execution. This is the recipe we used successfully while traveling with our young girls. Before each flight we would worry anew. How will the girls behave this time? Now that they can walk will we have more difficulties? Time and again we were rewarded with good behavior. We used the same formula with little variation for each and every trip. With practice the girls learned their roles and travel became easier. Let us explain how we did it.
We are huge believers in keeping your twins on a set schedule. There is little enough time left over when caring for one young child let alone two of them. If our twins had been on different schedules we would have lost our sanity long ago. A set schedule makes life more predictable for you and them. For example, you can use the schedule to your advantage when choosing your flight times. You maximize the likelihood of twin naps onboard, especially on the longer legs of the trip. Our girls have always slept well at night. We maximized this by taking redeye long haul flights whenever possible. The flights are much easier when your twins sleep 8-9 hours. That is only one part of the battle, however, as over tired babies can be volatile critters. Getting your twins to sleep shortly after liftoff should be your primary goal when flying. What can you do to increase your chances of success?
1. Get the right flight and seats. Time your flights close to when your babies/toddlers nap/sleep if you can. Please read our travel tips about choosing the best airline seats for lap babies.
2. Layovers. What are you going to do during those layovers? You will need a minimum of 1 hour to get off the plane, get your stroller, get your kids fed (“messy” foods- baby food, yogurt, etc), bottles cleaned, babies changed, and get to your next flight. That allows for a bathroom break for the parents, but not much more. With twins 1.5 hours is more realistic and comfortable (have at least 2 hours if you need to go through customs). What if you have extra time? There are other things to do: sit down meals, shop, explore, play with the kiddos. Use family bathrooms to your advantage. Some airports have play areas for kids which is a plus. Try to keep your children from napping in airports if you can. You want them asleep on the plane.
3. Feeding and sleeping. Again, the goal of every flight should be to get your twins to sleep right after takeoff. We would give our little ones a bottle of milk/formula at takeoff. This helps soothe them and it helps decrease ear “squeeze” by popping their ears with the pressure changes. Most importantly is the math equation: dry diapers+ full tummies + warm and snuggly on top of mommy/daddy + engine background noise = sleeping babies. As the girls started eating foods, we would often feed them messier snacks (pasta, Gerber Yogurt Blends) in the airport but minimize liquids until the flight. We would bring dry snacks (goldfish cheddar) to give on the plane. If you want your children to sleep on the plane, you must do EVERYTHING WITHIN YOUR POWER TO KEEP THEM AWAKE WHILE IN THE TERMINAL! I’m not proud to admit it, but I once attempted to use a frappuccino in a last ditch effort to keep one of our girls awake just before boarding. It failed. She slept for 10 minutes, woke up when we boarded, and was awake the entire flight. Despite your best efforts, there is only so much you can do.
4. Math 101. You need to estimate how many diapers, wipes, formula servings, food/snacks to bring. This seems daunting, but getting it close is critical. Having your children on a consistent schedule makes this calculation easier. Try to have 2 or 3 extra diapers and 1 or 2 extra servings of milk/formula just in case. You don’t want to be delayed for hours on the runway (or worse, your little ones get a stomach bug) on the last leg of your trip and run out of diapers! Some (international) carriers have limited diapers and some have extra milk/water for children, but you can’t rely on them. You also won’t have enough space to overestimate by much. Try to hit the sweet spot as often as possible.
Traveling with twins is like being in the boy scouts: you must be prepared! When traveling with young children you want to bring the minimum amount of accessories that covers 95% of expected and unexpected problems. All parents do this with everyday short excursions (to the store, restaurant, or playground), but it takes a bit more detail to plan for a 24 hour trip consisting of 3 flights and 2 layovers. More difficult than bringing too little is resisting the urge to bring too much. My wife brings 1 diaper bag and I bring 1 small backpack onto the plane. Our gear is split fairly evenly so, if we are separated for some reason, we don’t miss a beat. Our rule of thumb is that the bags must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of us. What to bring?
1. Passports/copies of birth certificates. Many domestic airlines require copies of birth certificates for babies. Don’t forget passports for the whole family when leaving the country!
2. Individualized carry-ons. As stated, we have our carry-ons setup in advance for each child. We bring two sets of most everything including a few small books/toys, diapers, wipes, spare clothes, bibs, napkins, snacks, formula dispenser, water etc. (In general, we only bring 1 changing pad and things like medicines and foods for layovers are not doubled up).
3. Baby bjorns or slings. These are great for little babies and allow you to keep your hands free once you check your stroller. They make it easier to board and deplane. You can also use it to help your baby fall to sleep after boarding.
4. Ziploc bags. Organize items in your bags into Ziploc bags. Have a bag for toys, a bag for food/snacks, a single bag containing the emergency spare outfit (the bag then serves to hold the soiled outfit until you can clean it). It is much easier to find what you need when you are organized (and you’ll be surprised how many times having an extra Ziploc or two comes in handy with little monkeys around).
5. Ready to drink milk/juice/water in the bottle. Little ones get restless during the boarding process (especially if hungry) and can have ear squeeze during takeoff. Have drinks ready to go. Early on we would have milk pumped and ready to go (thank you airport family bathrooms). If you do this, have a small soft cooler and a Ziploc to store extra milk. You can get ice on the plane to keep it cool. As the girls were older we would have premeasured bottles with formula (2 servings in 1 bottle: mix, split, serve) so we just had to add water once we boarded the plane. Have formula pre-measured in bottles/containers. We bought a formula dispenser from Munchkin that made it easier when doing multiple feedings in the air. It is impossible to measure formula on a cramped plane with a thirsty little wiggler on your lap. We would bring enough pre-measured feedings for the entire flight. (Note: Key step here is to buy water after you go through airport security).
6. Snacks for toddlers. Bring their favorite snacks onboard. This is not the time to experiment! You want the best chance for success on keeping your kiddos content. As there is limited space you also want to minimize mess so bring dry snacks (Cheerios, crackers, gold fish, etc) instead of messier ones. If you are able to get your children to sleep, give snacks after they wake up from their naps. Avoid sugary treats if you can. You want your kiddos under control not doing sprints up and down the aisle. If the airline serves snacks (few still do), they will often give a couple of extras if you ask. Have snacks readily available and put the snacks in a catcher container so it won’t spill and make a mess. We used Munchkin snacks catcher container that worked well.
7. Pacifiers. Bring them if your child uses them (and probably an extra or two). Our favorite pacifier is Wubbanub pacifier. Its larger size made it harder to lose (you’d be surprised how many strangers brought them to us after our children launched them without us noticing). It also doubled as a stuffed animal to hold.
8. Toys for babies: Have an emergency toy ready. Flashing lights and sounds do a good job of distracting quickly at young ages. When our girls would start to cry we quickly grabbed such a toy to get her attention while diagnosing the reason for the crying (Diaper? Bottle? Ears?) and working to soothe her as quickly as possible. This almost always worked for us. Our favorite distraction toy is Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes. We also bring other small toys (small books, teething rings, rattles, etc) usually a small Ziploc bag’s worth per child. Be creative. You can grab a few cheap toys from dollar store before you go. You can even use plastic straws, cups, spoons, etc to entertain.
As your children get older you will likely have to have more advanced toys to distract them (especially if until they have the attention span to watch videos). Some hits with our girls were legos, sticker books, Pat the bunny (touch and feel book), Munchkin traveling flash cards, travel doodler pro, crayons and small coloring books – get the Crayon Color Wonder on the Go Tiny Tube . When we took our 16 month olds to Italy, we bought reusable stickers from Melissa and Doug. It really entertained them and these stickers are easy to clean. Bring anything small and light that your children enjoy depending on their stage of development. When your child gets bored of every arrow in your quiver, switch toys with the other twin!
9. Soothing items. Most children will have one item that they want when they get really upset. It can be a pacifier, a stuffed animal, a blanket, or a favorite toy. Whatever your children’s items are, bring them with you if you can. Our girls soothing items were stuffed bears that they wanted any time they were hurt or sad. If only these bears had frequent flier miles too!
10. Clothing and blankets. Planes are often cold. Even though your children will likely spend most of the time on your lap, dress them warmly. Long sleeves and pants/tights are the rule. If you are flying a redeye flight, you can even bring them preloaded in their flannel onesies or sleeping blanket ready for sleep. Always have 1 spare outfit per child in case of emergency. For long haul redeye flights we would have our girls in onesies and bring a blanket or sleep sacks for them (with a chance of clothes for the next day).
11. Medicines. We always bring medicine on board with us. If your child spikes a fever midflight and your medicines are in your checked bags, it will be a LONG flight. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibubrofen (Motrin) are must haves in case of fever or pain (teething, colic). Other things you might consider are suppositories if your child suffers from constipation or diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to assist with sleep and/or ease jetlag. Also, if you are going to use Benadryl make sure you try a dose at bedtime before you travel. A small percentage of children have a paradoxical reaction to it and get hyperactive. It’s not good to discover this late at night hours before landing. Ask your child’s doctor before using any of these medicines to make sure you give appropriate doses!
12. Tablets/Ipads. These weren’t very useful to entertain our girls until they turned 2 years old, but they have been invaluable ever since! We strongly recommend getting a tablet. This is like bringing multiple distractions all in one compact device! Books, movies, games, drawing apps… and there are even things for your kids to do! We also recommend them for road trips with toddlers. Remember that little ones can cry when you turn off tablets for landing. Have a distraction ready to go.
EXECUTION (of the plan, not your children)
Game on. Planning and preparation have brought you this far, but it isn’t until you step into the airport that things can start to go wrong. Making sure you have everything can lead to sleep loss and rechecking bags, but you don’t care if your children cry, scream, and wail at home. Once you are sailing through the skies at 550mph in a tiny aluminum tube filled with strangers THAT is when you want your children on their best behavior. Here are a few tips:
1. Make sure you have everything you need before you leave the house! If you don’t realize you forgot the teddy bear or favorite blanket until you are at 35000 feet, you may be in for a long flight. Keep a list and check it twice.
2. Don’t forget to buy water (for formula) after security! Don’t wait for the air hostess to get you one!
3. Change diapers shortly before departure. Dry diapers are one of the keys to getting your twins to sleep in the air.
4. Board last. Use the last few minutes making sure everything is ready to go. You want to board the plane with dry diapers, some food in little stomachs, and all eyes open. We often flew aisle-aisle with our lap twins so we would board last minimizing people moving onboard and the time the girls would be constrained. Those reserved seats aren’t going anywhere. (Note: This assumes pre-assigned seating not carriers like Southwest.)
5. Check double stroller at the gate. You need to get a tag from the gate counter prior to boarding. You will need the stroller during your layovers! (We recommend a lightweight collapsible stroller.) Please read our post about how to choose the right double stroller when traveling with twins.
6. Once you board the plane, get everything ready. Pacifiers and soothing items should be out. Get out a few toys (including distraction toy) and snack containers and put them in the pocket in front of you. Get your bag under your seat where you can get anything else you might need at a moment’s notice.
7. Get milk/formula out when the plane leaves the gate or takes off. If our girls saw us preparing the bottles they would start to cry for them. We would often mix them (out of sight!) before boarding and give them bottles right before takeoff. If we mixed on the plane they would want them immediately. Our girls were often a bit cranky and squirmy as we started to taxi. When we gave them their bottles before takeoff they would finish their bottles before or just after liftoff. This wasn’t usually a problem. If they had ear squeeze we would just give them extra water. Beware soaked diapers if you give more fluids than your children usually drink!
8. Inflight entertainment. If all goes well, your children will sleep shortly after takeoff. If not, no problem. Nap, toys, snacks, games, tablets, medicines… this is why you brought all that stuff along. YOU are the entertainment!
9. Layovers. Maximize whatever time you have. At a minimum you will likely need to change and feed your kiddos. Take advantage of family restrooms. Almost all big airports have them. We have used them to change diapers/clothes, breast feed, breast pump, wash bottles, and more! Try to keep those eyes open!
10. Repeat as many times as needed.
That’s it! Yes, it is a lot to think about the first time you do it, but it gets easier every time until you are in a rhythm with each trip. We recommend a first trip when your babies are young (we started when ours were 4 months). It is actually easier to travel when they are younger because they sleep so much. The more you travel the faster it becomes routine for the whole family. Happy travels!