Monday, September 27, 2010

Air Travel Assvice

By are the finer points of some of the travel issues we encountered. Keep in mind our itinerary spanned four countries and ALL were different. I recommend checking with each place and/or airline you will travel with. This goes for hotels too.

1. Passports: Allow 2-3 weeks if you expedite them, otherwise allow 4-6 weeks. BOTH parents must appear in person with the infants when you apply. I highly suggest going to the post office, where they will take the photo and the application at the same time.

2. Airline info: Confusing at best. For domestic travel, infants under 2 in the the lap are free and are typically not ticketed. For international travel, there is a charge (usually 10% of the prevailing fare for your seat) and they are usually ticketed, sometimes with a paper ticket. Be sure you know which and how much before you book and keep your eyes out for the paper tickets in the mail. If you are using miles for your seats, the infant fares will still apply. Some airlines will let you use miles for the infant fare portion, some will not.

3. Seating: This is complicated. On MOST aircraft, if you have twins (or multiple infants) you and your spouse can not sit together in the same row, including across the aisle because of the number of oxygen masks available. Unfortunately, no one tells you this until you board and then you have to switch with someone, who is ultimatley inconvenienced. Some airlines will not let you occupy an aisle seat. And exit rows are out of the question. Plan ahead for this. If you are on a long-haul flight, you and your spouse will each need to carry a set of everything (diapers, bottles, etc) since you will not be next to each other. This can make for a miserable trip, so weigh your options carefully and identify which aircraft you will be travelling on ahead of time, keeping in mind that can change. If you are on a commuter-type plane, (for example flown by my favorite airline here on the West coast, Horizon Air) there are no oxygen masks on board because the aircraft don't fly above certain altitudes, so you and your spouse can sit together.

4. If cost and/or miles allow, fly First class or at least business class. Save up to do so if you have to. Here's why....
a) Often there are more oxygen masks available, depending on the configuration of the aircraft in first class and you can sit together.
b) trust me when I say you need the extra room to feed and wiggle around
c) bypassing the long ticketing/check in/security lines at airports when you're exhausted and have hungry/tired/wet infants with you is priceless. I mean priceless....
d) you have access to the airline's club lounge.....also priceless. This gives you a comfy place to set your stuff, feed and change the babies, grab a snack and beverage, and usually get additional assistance. On a long-haul flight, this can be the difference between you maintaining sanity and enjoying parts of your trip, or having a complete meltdown and suffer from exhaustion.
e) if you're going to buy business class tickets, shop around to see who has the best deal and the best ammenities for the airline/locations you'll be travelling. Business class seats are way more competitive than coach and there IS a difference in price, comfort, and conveniences.

In our case, we took an extra leg (plane change) to fly First class on British Air on the long haul portion of our flight. From the West coast, that's nearly a 10 hour flight to Europe. We used miles and paid the infant fares, however given the convenience we experienced, I would have paid out of pocket for Business class tickets and it would have been worth every penny had we not had the miles.

5. Practice buckling and un-buckling your seat belt at home while holding your baby. This is harder than it sounds. Some flight attendants will help, others will not. On domestic flights, most airlines require you to hold the infant unbuckled (while you are buckled). On international airlines, it varies. Ours gave us an extension with a loop to attach to our belt then buckle the infant in. There is a strappy harness device for infants that I rather like that is not approved by the FAA for use in the U.S. but is approved elsewhere. Baby carriers (such as the Bjorn) can be worn on board but the baby cannont be in them for take off or landing.

6. On long-haul flights, call the airline ahead of time and inquire about bassinets or "infant cots". Most have them. They attach to a shelf in the bulkhead walls. This means you MUST get a seat in the bulkhead rows. The down side is you have no storage under the seat in front of you. Again, plan ahead and see my details below about storage issues.

7. Double check your connections. Anything less than an hour is not acceptable when you're traveling with infants and in our case, travelling through Heathrow presented a challenge to make a 4 hour connection on the way home, after missing a flight with a 65 minute connection on the way over.

8. Take your own car seats and stroller and check them. "Gate check" is phenomonon in the U.S. only. You can wheel your stroller and/or car seats down to the gate and check them on the jet way and retrieve them there in the U.S. Not so elsewhere. Put luggage tags on them and pack them accordingly, then check them all the way through. Carry your babies in a Bjorn, or similar device. You can rent car seats with most rental cars but you need to request them ahead of time. Price varies from $40-75 per day, per car seat. Like I said, take your own.

A note on strollers: tandem is best all the way around. If you have a twin side-by-side, it will not fit into most hotel elevators in Europe or down the sidewalks. Moving through airports, security, the jetways, etc. would be a hassle too. Even in our case, the tandem one did not fit through the door of our hotel room without juggling it in at an angle. The doors are just too narrow. Also, buy the travel bag for your stroller and use it. Practice taking the stroller apart and packing/unpacking it in the bag at home a few times first. We have the Baby.Jogger City Select tandem twin which accomodates our Chi.cco car seats. The stroller comes completely apart and fits nicely in the travel bag that zips and has straps. On the way home, we were able to fill this bag with additional stuff and still stow the stroller in it.

9. Most foreign security checkpoints allow you to carry the baby through the scanner in the Bjorn. It varies in the U.S. Strollers are usually treated as wheelchairs if the they are the huge kind most of us twin parents have. Breastmilk and formula need to go through the xray in a tub, just like your liquids, however they don't need to be in a plastic bag. The quantity guildelines are a "reasonable" amount, per the TSA. In the U.S. and Canada you are not required to taste them. In the U.K. you are. They will randomly choose a bottle and ask you or you spouse to taste it.

10. Altitude changes: I suggest having a bottle ready for both take off and landing. Pacifiers work too, but the bottle is better. There may be some discomfort with the ascent and descent. In our case it was usually descent. We fed the babies or sat them up on our lap and tapped their backs to make them burp. These methods and/or the pacifier seemed to work. Remember if you are seated in that bulkhead row, you need to be wearing something with pockets to put the bottle and a bib in. And don't forget the pacifier straps!!!

11. Back-up plans: Our twins did remarkable on all of the flights. I saw people roll their eyes and groan when they saw us get on board, especially in first class. However, we made naysayers out of all of them. Our boys slept beautifully and had only an occassional peep. The trick is to keep them fed, changed, and let them sleep. That said, we did come prepared with a back up plan. I won't generally advocate the off-label use of meds, but because I'm married to an "expert" in the area, I felt comfortable bringing along the bena.dryl. If you choose to use this, obviously talk with your pediatrician first. And do a test before you travel. In our case, we tested each boy with a dose a week before our trip to be sure they wouldn't get wired from it - a possible, but uncommon side effect. In the end, we didn't need it, but it was a nice insurance policy. Since it only comes in 4 oz sizes, you will need to transfer enough doses to a smaller bottle to get it through security in your plastic bag. Bottom line - if your babies have colic, difficulty sleeping, or are not easily consoled using routine methods, seriously reconsider air travel at this point.

12. Double check that your hotel allows children and what, if any, the charges are. If you want a crib, ask about the price and reserve ahead. We traveled with our own travel bed and didn't need hotel cribs. (See my list of must-have gear below.) However, one hotel we ALMOST booked, did not allow children under 10. This was no where on their website or reservation system and I only found out after I emailed with this specific question.

13. Rent the largest car you can afford. Period. I have been known to reserve multiple cars at different agencies to be sure we get one that will work. (Remember you don't pay until you pick the car up and there's no charge if you don't.) However, I consistantly have the best luck with A.vis and abroad.

14. All about breast-feeding and pumping: In one word - hydration. I can't stress this enough. Travel (especially air travel), stress, and climate changes are dehydrating. Expect your production to drop by as much as 50% and plan accordingly. Forget about pumping in your coach plane seat. You might get lucky and be allowed to tie up a bathroom for a half hour but who will hold the other baby unless you have an on-board bassinet? I was fortunate enough to be able to pump in our first class seats because they were private and we had bassinets. (Remember you will need a battery pack with batteries that are replaceable NOT rechargeable.) Pumping proved to be the most difficult part of our trip. If you are breast feeding, it should be easier but ours were on fortifiers since birth and had not done much breast feeding. Carry additional power sources for your pump, including the car charger (which saved us!) and a quality 3-prong power converter with a power regulator/modulator. The uneven electrical current blew my pump power plug on the first day in Italy (and the bottle warmer), despite using a converter. I was left with batteries and the car charger. Ultimately, my resourceful husband tracked down a 240/9 volt output plug that would fit my pump and plug into the walls in Italy, but I was seriously pumping in the car and blowing through the batteries for the first 2 days.

15. If you are a twin mommy and you carry a regular diaper bag, I salute you. If you decide to travel with your twins, ditch the diaper bag (and your purse) and use a backpack. I found 2 that I liked and I packed them each with a duplicate set of almost everything - one for me and one for Mr. W. I could write a whole chapter on packing. I had it down to a science before twins, and I think we did really well with twins. Both backpacks are designed as diaper bags. One is from DaD.Gear, the other is from Baby.Sherpa and holds a laptop next to the changing pad pocket. (LOVE THIS!). Swap your handbag for a small keychain type wallet, then hook it to the inside of your diaper backpack on one of the clips. I guarantee you, if you set all of your stuff down somewhere, you will not walk off without the diaper backpack. But you will leave your purse behind. Don't bring one.

16. Travel with a routine. Get it down before you go. Verbalize it to each other consistantly.
Ours went like this:

1) Dress in pocketed, loose fitting attire, and slip-on type shoes.
2) Be sure both back packs are stocked. Carry a snack or 2 for yourself and your clipped in wallet and cell phone. I use the front pocket or pouch of both backpacks as the "parent part." This way, you will always know where your own stuff is.
3) Put the Bjorn carrier on first, this should not have to come off between the car and the airplane.
4) Put the backpack on next. This will need to come on and off through security. Make your quart bag of liquids easily retrievable. Be ready to remove the breast milk and laptop still.
5) Put the baby in the Bjorn last.
6) Pull a single (small size) wheeled carry on if necessary. We did on the way over, but checked them on the way back. We carried 48 hours worth of everything in the wheeled carry-ons and 24 hours worth of everything in each backpack.
7) Go through your verbal checklist with your spouse every time you change locations (seats, planes, restaurants, cars, hotels, etc.) Our verbal list was: Passports, boys' plane tickets, cell phones, wallets, husband's insulin, and diaper backpacks/luggage count. We didn't move until one of us had pointed to or touched the item we called out. Sound crazy? It's not. Trust me.

17. Cell phones: In our house, it used to be that traveling was an adventure and that the comforts of home could be done without for a trip. With twins, I'm not of that opinion anymore, mostly from a safety and security standpoint. We both have global crack.berries that were easy to enable for use abroad, including text and emails. It was $70 per month (pro-rated only for the time were gone), plus 99 cents per minute to talk, 5o cents to send text, and 5 cents to receive text, and unlimited data (internet and email). Worth every penny. Budget for this on your trip, even if it's only one of your phones. If you don't have a global phone, your carrier should be able to either swap your SIM card before you go or "rent" you a global phone for your trip. Take care of this at least 2 weeks before you leave and verify it is working before you go. We only needed to make 2 short calls while gone, and used the text sparingly, but the email and internet access were priceless.

Now for the gear list - these are the items we found we "must have" and travelled with them. Some sound frivolous. All I can say is you be the judge on an international journey at 3 am with twins. You can google them on your own.

A) Pea Pod pop up travel bed by KidCO, folds to a 9x14 with pouch.
B) Sleep Sheep
C) Dad.Gear backpack diaper bag
D) Baby.Sherpa Alpha backpack
E) Samson.ite passport zip wallet
F) Infant tylenol and motrin (liquid items) ask your doctor about doses ahead of time
G)digital thermometer
H)Badger Balm (infant safe mosquito repellent stick)
I) Orajel teething swabs
J) extra quart plastic bags
K) swaddle wraps by Summer.Infant
L) disposable bibs
M) soap leaves, shout stain remover packets, and compact bottle brush
N) a kitchen towel or 2
O) pod bouncer chair - we took this apart and it shipped nicely with the stroller in the stroller. I thought it was a luxury - turned out to be a lifesaver.

Hope this helps.........and you must all buy my book after it's written!


  1. OK, we are never leaving the apartment ever again!!
    I am so impressed with your abilities right now. So impressed.

    thank you!

  2. Wow -- what an amazingly comprehensive post. We are taking our first cross-country trip with just one. I've been nervous, but if you can do it international-style with two, then anything's possible!!!

  3. You are much braver than me (times 2!). I cannot imagine such a trip with baby in tow! But here's what I really want to know: how in the world did you have time to write such a long post with two babies at home?! Now I'm REALLY in awe! :)

  4. Wow. I think that you can adopt me and the girlz and only then will we go somewhere together. Fabulous post. Thanks for writing and sharing.