Visiting those relatives across the country or hitting the tropics on Boxing Day seemed like a great idea when you booked it a few months back. But as your travel day approaches you may be wondering what possessed you. Did you forget that you have children?
Mother of two and travel blogger Kelly Ouimet says it's not too late to avert disaster. She figures her son has taken 150 flights in his three years on Earth to visit family scattered across Canada.
As with most things, planning is key, especially in an era when airlines have begun charging a premium for window and aisle seats. That means many parents arrive at the airport only to find that their prebooked seat assignments have been changed and they are no longer seated with their toddler. So do your homework and be prepared to pay extra if necessary, or else prepare for the soul-destroying task of asking strangers to swap seats with you.
First up, break the habit of taking too much. "Especially now that most airlines charge fees for checked bags," she says. Can you borrow a car seat or playpen at your destination? Ouimet suggests even calling ahead to museums or other travel destinations to ask about amenities. The Museum of Civilization, for instance, is known for offering strollers to parents. Can you do laundry so you don't need to pack two weeks' worth of clothes? (The only exception: babies. Ouimet's record is three changes for a baby on a single flight. You know why.)
And to keep your luggage to a minimum, Ouimet suggests asking little ones to choose the toys and books they want to bring and packing them in little knapsacks of their own.
You should also bring along plenty of snacks and drinks (maximum 100 mL per individual drink; check your airline's rules on total quantities) to tide them over during the inevitable delays, and to minimize resorting to the overpriced sky-service menus.
Even if you always allow yourself loads of time to check in and get through security, add a little visualization in there. How many hands will you have when you get to the gate? Can you manage a carry-on bag, a babe in arms and a toddler? Or should you keep your stroller and check it at the gate? And if you're juggling a lot, don't expect an excited child to hold your hand.
By all means, ask for help, but don't expect it, she says. "I've been alone, wearing a baby in a carrier and lifting a car seat off the luggage belt – with not one offer of help."
Don't skip the family security line just because it looks longer: "The people managing those lines tend to be more patient and helpful."
On the flipside, don't necessarily take advantage of pre-boarding. If one or both of her children seem to have tons of energy to burn, she'll wait it out and board last.
And don't apologize in advance, she says. While some moms have earned praise for their tales of bringing little loot bags of treats, snacks and ear phones for fellow passengers, Ouimet see it as "sad."
"I'd never apologize before a flight. You're saying to your child, 'You don't have a right to be here.' They do."