Little C’s Traveling Friends: Eight-Year-Old Jackson and Four-Year-Old Samantha (Part 2)

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This frequently flying family had so many stories and tips to share, that their interview had to be broken up into two parts.  In the first part they shared information about some of the domestic and international trips they have taken, their experience flying in First and Business class with their children, and discussed how airline elite status plays into their travel equation.  In this post this awesome family will share some tips that helped make travel easier when their kids were younger, as well as what helps now.  They will also share some more about trips they have enjoyed in the past, and ones they are looking forward to in the future.

Your kids are now passed the infant and toddler stages, but do you remember some tips and tricks that you learned while they were younger that helped make travel with young kiddos as easy as possible?

My wife and I tell new parents that it is super-easy traveling with young babies, because they don’t move on a plane and can be easily placated with a bottle or toy – at least that was our experience.  Maybe we got lucky, twice!  (Mommy Points editorial note – yes, they got very lucky, twice!  That was not at all my experience with my young baby.)   The challenge is that there is an inverse relationship between age of the child and the amount of gear one needs to schlep along.  When they were babies, we needed to bring the stroller (which was gate-checked, but still had to go through security), we had to bring the diaper bag, and we had to bring the big car seat.  It is definitely ideally a two-person operation.  That is why I have to sing the praises of my wife again for traveling with our son by herself to and from France when he was young and I was studying in Paris.

During that transition phase when our children were starting to crawl and walk was the most challenging travel period with them, because they were no longer satisfied being confined in their car seat on board the plane.  When we traveled internationally with our son to the UK, we were fortunate to be seated in Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class, so space was not an issue.  We frankly had more problems flying domestically, because after flying in a lie-flat seat, he thought that all seats were supposed to do that, so he stood up in his economy seat and tried to push his seat all the way flat.  It was actually really funny!

Ultimately, what made travel “successful” with kids at a very young age was to arrive at the airport early; tell them well in advance of the trip what to expert;  and keep repeating every so often in a calm, reassuring voice, “We’re going to the airport, we’re going to fly on the plane, were going to XYZ,” as this helps to remove the anxiety of an unknown/unfamiliar situation. Because we have lounge access on many different carriers, it is also easier because we have a mini-oasis where we can get away from the crowds and noise of the terminal, which also helps to keep kids calmer, by removing some of the sensory stimulation.
We have taken day flights and redeyes, and have had positive and negative situations with both.  Day flights mean that the kiddos may take their normal nap on board, but then their clock is off on the opposite coast.  Redeyes usually meant a tougher flight for the parents, but since our kids were fortunately good travelers from an early age, it usually was pretty easy for them.
You mentioned all of the “stuff” you have to pack when traveling with young kids, can you talk more about how you managed all of that?
Parents need to pack lightly for themselves so that there is more room for kid stuff.  This is especially true for carry-ons during the colder months, because if the kids are wearing sweaters and other bulky clothing, we like to take that off and stuff them in the carry-ons before reaching security screening.  It makes the process much easier than having to shed a kid’s clothes right before going through the metal detector.  On-board, we made sure to pack snacks (bottles, baby food), board books, small plush toys, a portable DVD player, and noise cancelling headphones once the kiddos got closer to three.   When they were younger we also made sure to remember to bring teething tablets, and then when they were old enough, gum, to help with any ear clog issues upon landing.  Most importantly, make sure you have enough baby wipes, hand sanitizer, and travel diaper-changing kit, and at least two sets of spare clothes!
Often we would check one or two roller bags, gate check the stroller, and carry-on a big diaper/toy/clothing bag for the child, a backpack which carried electronic equipment, and my wife’s purse.  That was it.  When the kids were no longer lap children, and had their own seats, we had them pack their mini-backpack/roll-on, which was one of the best gifts we have ever received!  When the kids can pack their own stuff into a small backpack, they learn what they can and cannot carry on their own, and they learn to make smarter choices about what to pack to keep them entertained.  It gave them a sense of ownership and control, and became one less thing that we as parents had to think about.
If we have to rent a car at our destination, what I would usually do is gather the luggage and then leave my wife, child(ren) and most luggage somewhere in the terminal, near an external door.  If traffic at the arrivals level was heavy, we would make our way up to the usually less-crowded departures level, and get situated there.  Then, on my own, I would make my way to the car rental pick up.  We found it was easier to not have to lug everything and everyone to the car rental station.  In fact the only thing I would bring were the car seat(s) so that I could install them at the rental agency, to make sure that the car seats were a snug and proper fit.  Since I am Hertz #1 Club Gold and Avis Preferred, renting cars was and is a fast experience.  Then I would simply return to the terminal and pick up my wife, child(ren) and luggage.  One thing I have learned, though, is that I have to remember to ask my wife if she needs to use the restroom BEFORE I leave to pick up the car!
With two young children, what did you do for hotel accommodations?
When not staying with family, we would choose hotels with either a big king bed, where we would all cozy up together, or we would bring a portable bassinet.  The downside to the bassinet was that it was an extra piece of gear that we had to check.  The upside was that it was familiar to our children, making it somewhat easier to sleep.  As an SPG Gold, Hilton Silver or Gold (depending on the year), and Hyatt Platinum (now Diamond – thanks Star Mega Do 3!), my polite request for a slightly larger room would usually be granted at no charge, if it were available.  We always made sure to pick hotels with in-house restaurants, just in case it wasn’t possible to get outside with the baby/small children.

What are some things that help make travel successful now that they are a bit older?

Now that our kids are older, we don’t have to get to the airports quite as early, which does make it a bit easier.  Also, they are very familiar with airport security procedures, and don’t even have to be told to take off their shoes (though they no longer have to, thanks to a change in TSA rules).  Frankly, they handle security procedures better than many infrequent traveling adults that I have seen! I am very proud of that.  They are also used to going to the lounges pre-flight, and are at an age when they can usually serve themselves snacks and drinks, so this is helpful.  But even at ages four and eight, we still remind them, “Does anyone need to go potty before getting on the plane?”
On board, they still like to read books, play games, watch movies.  For that, the iPads we have are indispensable.
Tell me the truth, does travel get easier as they get “older”?  Why/Why not?
I do believe it has gotten easier.  They are more self-sufficient.  For example, our older child, Jackson, can now go to the lavatory by himself.  They also are so accustomed to the routine of air travel and hotel check-ins that it is almost second-nature for them.  Since they are relatively close in age they also help keep each other entertained.  They are old enough now to express their needs and wants, so that helps keep them happy and calm.
One thing that has gotten harder is keeping them on a schedule when we travel across the country.  When they were younger, they could fall asleep at any time.  Now that they are a bit older, the time zone changes seem to play more havoc with their internal clocks, so it can be an adjustment for them at the beginning and end of the trip.

Do you have a favorite family vacation you have taken so far?
With all four of us, we have enjoyed Hawaii, and the trip to see the final space shuttle launch was pretty spectacular.  When it was just my wife, son, and me, we had a great trip to the UK in 2006.
Where are some places you would like visit as a family in the future?

My family is booked in British Airways First Class for travel from Los Angeles to London to San Fransisco next summer.  This was a trip using two of the “two for one” rewards from Chase British Airways card.  Using those we “only” had to redeem 300,000 miles – er, Avios – instead of 600,000.  We did have to still pay a few thousand in fuel surcharges, but “saving” a net of $45000 off of the actual cost is pretty spectacular.We’ve talked about China or the Galapagos in the future.  Additional trips to  Europe are always a safe haven standby for my family.  When the kids are older, we also would like to take them to see the Pyramids in Egypt.  We’d like to go to Australia at some point, as we’ve never been.  We are fond of Japan and would like to return with kids.  Oh, and we also promised them a safari in South Africa, because they see the pictures of the South Africa safari I took when Jackson was 5 months old.  So many places to see!

Thank you so much to this family for taking the time to share their tips and experiencesHappy travels!

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  1. I read about three quarters of this interview post, but could not continue. Despite the “Better Class” seats and seemingly “Perfect” Children, I think the interview subject suffers from a bit of “Selective Memeory.” N short, No Kid is that good, especialy on a very long flight. I might get hate remarks for this, but anyone under about 16 years has zero business in the front cabins. Even those “Perfect” children – I’ve yet to experience one – cause disturbances. I pay subantial sums to avoid that sort of thing when flying and frankly NO! Children should not be allowed in the forward cabins. No kid is that perfect – not even mine. Someone has got some serious binders on, here. It is not so much about the uncontrolled scraning of a 14-month old, but the CONSTANT activity and movement of those older, until about 16. The are often polite and well-manered, but they are ALWAYS doing SOMETHING. The cabin is never at peace. Until that wonderful, perfect child is 16 or so, please stay the heck out of the quiet cabins. So sorry, Mommy and Daddy, but your kids are NOT any cuter or ‘more special’ than are mine. As a courtesy to other premium PAX, my kids do not travel at the front end. They travel in the back, with adult supervision. Sorry folks, but I won’t buy this kid’s up front thing – at all. I don’t care how many seats you buy, or what you pay for them, sooner or later that “Cute Kid” will become an annoyance – and one that I do NOT want to experience with my premium fare ticket. Back cabin – none! If one is so perfectly impressed with those kids, hire a private jet. In any case, please keep them, their noises and activities – and their odors, OUT of the front cabin environment. Nuff said.

  2. Always nice to hear a family viewpoint.
    My experiences (two girls now 12 and 10) are similar except we have done it all, so far, in economy without airline, car rental, or hotel status. Proper preparation is key (it’s distressing how often — not just while traveling — people drag their kids around without letting them know what’s going on. Also, including the children as responsible members of the family (as appropriate to their age) is also important.
    And may I just gently say, what’s with all the “is that an Asian over there?” Don’t people ever visit, you know, America?

  3. @Old Fart – well, I do hear you and respect your wish to believe that children don’t belong up front. But when I pay $3000 to $4000 for business class seats for my family (I don’t always use miles), they have as much right to be there as any other customer. And since I have lifetime 1K / Star Alliance Gold status via United, and Executive Platinum / oneWorld Emerald status via American, and Virgin Atlantic Silver status, expect to see these growing children at the front of the plane a lot.

  4. The only reason for children to be excluded from the front of the plane is if it runs contrary to the airline’s policy to accommodate them. Otherwise, there’s no implied expectation that any category of person will be excluded, any other belief is an invention.
    That’s _regardless_ of the behavior of the children. Adults are also not subject to a behavior test to determine whether they are acceptable to the other passengers in premium class. Were such a test applied, I’m not sure it would work to the benefit of everyone flying in front. If you take my meaning.

  5. My kids, 10 and 8, have been traveling since they where in their mommy’s womb. Every year, At least twice a year. We fly domestic and internationally. Front cabin or back cabin. They are truly used to flying, even as babies they only cried or fidgeted when hungry or soiled diaper and those are easy fixes. I’m not surprised others report good behavior from their kids, mine behave better on a plane than off!!! They usually go for a book, travel games, movies or flat out fall asleep. Now they breeze through security lines and know the terminals in most domestic hubs inside out.

    That said, there are children AND adults, that react to cabin pressure changes, that can cause in-ease, thus making people noise, uncomfortable or do whatever they do that annoys other people.

    PS To whoever made comments about kids being only in the back cabin, my kids have achieved Elite status some years (Star Alliance and Sky Team) and DO get upgraded by the airlines to front cabin seats. No ifs ands or poopie diaper butts.

  6. @oldfart,
    For every child that misbehaves in FC, there’s a grumpy old man who pulls the DYKWIA card too often. Yes there are some kids that cannot behave up front, but there are many who can. I know my 4 yr old is much better behaved up front than 25-50% of the “old farts” that I have to ride next to up front.

  7. Michael R.—-> that’s how he rolls:-) Hey Oldfart: Feel free to switch seats to the back & ask for a refund? Finally, no one has perfect children, except me….And here is when u burst out laughing if you knew them.

    I really enjoyed this post as I met Michael R. in SMD#2 and chuckled with some of the things he mentioned and the comments as I compared notes to my family travel adventures. Looking forward for my kids to ruin fellow BC passengers trip on LAN later this year, woohoo….good times!!

  8. I wouldn’t go to Chuck E. Cheese and expect a 5 star dining experience or to be ushered into the business center where I could have a professional business meeting and you would rightly call me a fool if I did. So why would you expect to bring very young children into a predominantly adult environment like FC or BC or an airline lounge and expect the environment to have to conform to your parental needs for your children?

    There are often passengers in FC or BC who might be embarking on their dream honeymoon, or 50th anniversary special vacation. Maybe being in FC or BC is something they’ve always dreamed of, just to be able to experience something so grand. Is it really fair to subject them to a screaming infant for a 9 hour international flight?

    Commercial air travel is, by definition, a shared experience. Can’t we all just be a bit more thoughtful of those around us and not instantly demand conformity to our personal needs?

  9. What elite snobbery! Why would the folks back in coach deserve a crying brat anymore than the FC/BC crew? If you want to know why the French Revolution took place, read OldFart’s comments in this thread.

  10. @Elle

    I did not realize that being in FC was equivalent to a professional business meeting. If that’s the case, I was taken to a baseball game as a child, therefore no adults should be able to go to a baseball game and get sloshed, because it’s a child’s environment. Again I say, not every child in FC is well behaved, but not every DYKWIA in FC is well behaved either. I’m not demanding conformity (in fact, I think you are demanding conformity by saying only adults), I’m saying that just because my kids are well behaved (and Micheal’s), doesn’t mean that no kids should sit up there. This is a never ending argument, but I will continue to allow my children to fly FC (both paid and award tickets) as I see fit, and they know how to behave. I DESPISE with a passion age discrimination (happened a couple times I was in SP lane to check in, and was told to move to other line, and then didn’t believe that I could possibly be a PM because I was too young). This is no different. In fact, let’s say that anyone over the age of 60 can’t sit in window seats in FC because they use the restroom too much, and I don’t want them to have to walk across me to get out of their seat. While we’re at it, why not just make FC only for white males aged 40-55. That way only DYKWIA’s take up the FC cabin.

  11. @Elle –
    “I wouldn’t go to Chuck E. Cheese and expect a 5 star dining experience”
    We wouldn’t go to Chuck E. Cheese, period.

    “So why would you expect to bring very young children into a predominantly adult environment like FC or BC or an airline lounge and expect the environment to have to conform to your parental needs for your children?”
    I DON’T expect the environment to have to conform to my parental needs for my children. My wife and I, as parents, are primarily responsible for our children. BUT, I do expect that if I pay for my children to be up front (paying cash or using miles, which do have a financial value on the books for the airlines), or in a lounge (since I have lifetime lounge privileges with United, and also membership access to AA, DL, US, AS, as well as other carrier lounges via Priority Pass), that they are afforded the same privileges that come with having status.

    “There are often passengers in FC or BC who might be embarking on their dream honeymoon, or 50th anniversary special vacation. Maybe being in FC or BC is something they’ve always dreamed of, just to be able to experience something so grand. Is it really fair to subject them to a screaming infant for a 9 hour international flight?”
    So I could turn this around and ask why should I, as an extreme frequent flyer, have to put up with the wants and desires of adults on a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, who do not normally fly up front, when I am always traveling and frequently traveling up front? Discrimination is not fair in either direction. And did you see the picture of my sleeping infant in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class LHR-SFO? I know it can be counter-intuitive, but kids having more space and better food options up front is usually a good thing.

    “Commercial air travel is, by definition, a shared experience.”
    EXACTLY. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    “Can’t we all just be a bit more thoughtful of those around us and not instantly demand conformity to our personal needs?”
    Again, the great common denominator is value brought to the airline. If I pay cash or miles (again, which have a financial value to the airlines) , and especially because I fly a lot, the airlines are happy to have my business. And frankly, passengers who pay a lot to fly up front and passengers who pay as little as possible to fly in the back have a symbiotic relationship. Each type of passenger needs the other: Higher front cabin fares subsidize travel for the back; lower back cabin fares help make the flight economics possible, enabling those up front and those with status to continue to get the special treatment they are paying for, and thus deserve, regardless of age.

  12. My 13 year old daughter has been traveling in first or business class since she was a baby. We typically travel to an international destination at least 2 times each year and take numerous domestic flights too – at least 80% of the time up front. We are fortunate that my daughter has always been shy so she rarely made a peep when traveling in first class. She is an avid reader so she occupies herself with a book, her Ipod or a movie so she certainly doesn’t bother anyone with her activities. A “perfect child” as Old Fart calls them? Not really, but she just may be a perfect traveler.

  13. I feel that children should be as well cared for and well behaved as possible, regardless of where they sit on the plane. Those around them deserve that courtesy equally in 1A and 40E. If parents are able to seat their family in First or Business, more power to them. If parents are choose to seat their family in Economy, that is great, too. In almost all airlines, children are welcome in all cabins, and (just like with adults) I can see a very strong argument for children actually having a better shot at a pleasant flight experience in a premium cabin as opposed to squished in a seat in coach. Michael, bravo for making flying enjoyable for your children, and yet still pleasant for those seated nearby.

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