Getting yourself through the airport and flying on an airplane as an adult is difficult enough let alone. Now try getting through the airport and flying with a sensory needs toddler. Are you getting nervous? How about getting through an airport and flying with a sensory needs toddler ….
Wait, wait come back here!! Don’t run away just yet!!! We’re all safe and sound and made it to our destination in one piece. Matter of fact, we technically did it twice!
In the months before our trip, I read all the articles and pinned all the pins about flying with a toddler. The only problem was that all the articles pretty much said the same things: “Bring snacks”, “Download plenty of shows and movies on your tablet”, “Wear Them”, “Drug them”…haha just kidding! I have to make sure you’re still reading!
With my son, since he has sensory issues, I usually have to take everyone else’s ideas and mold them into what works for me. He loves snacks but he tends to eat them all right off the bat. He insists on pushing the home button repeatedly on the tablet. Even if you lock it, he is mad because he KNOWS you locked it. As much as I’d love to try wearing my son, I have awful joint issues and pretty sure I’d hurt myself further. Finally, drugs? Tempting but we’ll pass.
Now that we’ve made two trips on airplanes and two trips through airports I feel like I can confidently give you tips to keep your cool while finagling your sensory needs toddler.
1. Plan Ahead
Whatever you do, do NOT attempt to “wing it”. This will end in failure in any situation, not just the airport, 9 out of 10 times I guarantee. Make a list of all the things you need to bring with you on vacation. Before you even start packing, write out how you will be getting those items from point A to point B.
For instance, My list looked like this:
Take onto Plane:
Car seat, diaper bag with books/games, contents of my purse, Thomas’ medications, camera, cell phone w/charger
Check at Gate:
Check at Entrance:
Luggage with clothing and toiletries (pack shell of my purse for space saving)
This really helped me to see it in front of me to logically think it through to plan the easiest way to manage our stuff and a toddler in the airport. My main concern of my carry on items, was trying to access Thomas’ books and toys during the flight. His diaper bag was too bulky to fit under the seat and had to be stored in the overhead bin. I finally decided to put an empty canvas bag into the diaper bag and once we were past security I took all the games and books out and tossed them in there. That way, that bag could fit underneath the seat while the diapers and medications (things we didn’t need during the flight) could be stored overhead.
Having a list will also help you when its time to pack up and come home. You don’t want to leave anything important behind!
2. Ask for Help
This is a big one and also something that is difficult for me to do. However, sometimes it is necessary to call on strangers to help you but don’t be afraid to ask. Within reason of course. I mean, don’t ask the guy pounding back his beer at the airport bar to help you carry your bags. Common sense people, you have to use it.
When we began boarding the plane Thomas thought the ramp was a big open area for him to play. Trying to get him to stay in one spot while I collapsed his stroller outside the doors to the plane was just NOT working. Finally, I had to stop a seemingly normal person that was behind me and ask them to help me with the stroller.
Once we were on the plane, I headed to the last few rows so we would be out of earshot of as many people as possible in case things went south. Yet again, I was perplexed as to how to get him to stay still long enough so that I could install his car seat into his seat. Thankfully the airline stewardess was SO nice and I was able to ask her to hold him while I worked on the seat. If you are scratching your head right now wondering why I brought a car seat onto the plane….read the afterthoughts below!
3. Take Your Time
This ties into the first point for planning ahead. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to get through airport security and still have time afterwards to wander around the airport. Going from chaos with the security line and then rushing to get to a gate does not sound like fun to me.
Once we were on the other side of security, we had planned on parking in an empty terminal and watching all the planes take off. However, as anyone knows when dealing with children, nothing ever really goes according to plan. The airport this day was packed but thankfully we were able to find a few open rows after one plane boarded. We bought some munchkins at the Dunkin’ Donuts stand and plopped down right on the floor and took all our books out to read.
Not quite sure if it was the donuts or the books but my son was pretty happy for the 45 minutes we sat there. Then on our way back home we were able to stop and play with a Mega Block table for a good amount of time too!
4. Make Accommodations For Your Child
The moment we arrived at the airport I knew it was going to be a problem pushing my son in his stroller. On occasion he will sit calmly but 90% of the time he is thrashing around and trying to escape. This was one of the 90%. After we got past the security line, I soon realized that it was going to be easier (and safer!) for my son to just walk instead of being pushed in the stroller. Once he was out of the stroller and holding my hand, he walked along side me while I pushed the stroller/car seat combo with my other hand.
I always assume that nothing will go according to plan and being a mother to a child with special needs has really helped me think on my feet. Whenever I have an idea of how I want things to go, and it goes the complete opposite, I have to rethink the situation and come up with a new solution. Had I just stuck to my plan of pushing my son in the stroller and carrying his car seat, he could have very likely injured himself. Yet, just the mere act of letting him have a bit of independence was the world of difference.
5. Return Dirty Looks With a BIG Smile
Now THIS is something that has taken me a long time to perfect but I’m almost there! Just a few more ignorant people and I should be a pro at smiling on the outside and cursing their name on the inside.
Thomas was having a meltdown in the bathroom line and this woman kept glaring at him and I. Ok….first of all? He’s two. She can’t “see” his sensory issues but you can SEE that he’s TWO! Second of all? Its a line in a public restroom. Get over yourself. Like you’re so perfect. This lady got THE BIGGEST smile I’ve ever smiled in my life. Like the kind of smile that says “F*** Off….pretty please?” Ah ha, yes indeed that works like a charm every time!
I’m happy to say that our return flight was far less stressful than the flight to Nashville since I knew what to expect. Thomas was much better behaved as well since he knew what was going on that time. I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to us and she said that Thomas was the most well behaved 2 year old boy she had ever seen! If you’re curious about reading more about bringing car seats on airplanes keep reading below! I’ve also linked an affiliate link to the Cosco Serena, the car seat that we bought specifically for this flight. It fit perfectly in the seat on a Southwest airlines plane, super light weight, easy to install on the plane AND in a car, plus its under $40!
Car Seat Safety