Amy, I have a confession to make: I didn’t fly to Germany with my kids this time. Phew, now that that’s off my chest, I can tell you that I have flown around the US multiple times with my kids and once to & from Germany with a 7 month old Annika. It is true that you are not required to purchase a ticket for any child under 2 years old. I was completely ok with shorter flights without a ticket for our girls when they were babies. Breastfeeding babies can be the best fliers since you can quiet them with one flick of your handy dandy nursing tank-top, though you may also have to then contend with an insistent flight attendant who wants to smother your child with a blanket while she eats. (Yes, yes I am still bitter…but I digress.) They can also be awful if easily distracted forcing you to basically keep your boob hanging out for an entire 8 hour flight too. (True story!) Once they hit the 1-1.5 year range not having a ticket became a HUGE pain in the butt, so much so that even my frugal side was willing to consider purchasing one for them. Our eldest is a very active girl, and I could not even stand the 2 hour Cleveland to Tampa flight without her own seat at 18 months, so I cannot fathom doing a MUCH longer one without a place to strap her in and a little light to tell her that she HAS to have her seat buckled. This trip to Berlin, our littlest was 16 months when she flew, but we bought her a ticket knowing that we would have to purchase a seat for her on the way home anyway and that it would give us a 4th suitcase to pack too. I highly recommend trying to get your seats in a low traffic area of the plane if at all possible. You are going to be the first ones on the plane and the last ones off of it, so plan accordingly. Next to the bathroom=your children will never stand a chance of ever sleeping on the flight! You will need to bring their car seats for the plane ride(s), so make sure to check to see if your seats are suitable for air travel as well. Ours say it on the seat, but you can probably check online if it isn’t printed on them.
Getting to the gate is the worst part of traveling as a family in my opinion. Waiting in line to check in at the desk is no fun, but getting through security is far more challenging for many reasons. Because you are traveling internationally, you may have to go through security several times along the route too. Many security stations are great at helping families get through, but unfortunately they seem to be more the exception than the rule. If you are lucky, you’ll be sent to the VIP line so that you don’t have to wait as long and receive multiple looks of death and snide commentary as you hold up the line. You will hold up the line. You aren’t going to be able to get through security quickly. (If you can accomplish anything quickly with 3 kids along, I’m completely jealous and need to hear your secret!) Plan accordingly. Make sure you all wear easy on-off shoes without laces—major bonus points if your boys can and will put them back on by themselves. Have your papers in order—tickets placed inside each individual passport on the ID page. When Andy traveled here alone with the girls, he made them both wear those backpack leash things. This is as a direct result of a horrible screaming code red experience when Annika, then 2, ran through the security check-point in the Tampa airport and caused me to totally lose my pregnant-hormonal Schmidt on the not-so helpful judgy shouting security officer dude. Patience, extra time, and preparation sometimes are honestly trumped by unexpected kid antics, as you already know I’m sure, so steel your nerves and get through it the best way you can.
We like to pack a carry-on bag for our kids with some special surprises for them just to keep them occupied. I highly recommend packing special snacks, a new activity/coloring book, and a special new toy for them to play with en route. The dollar store is your friend for picking this stuff out, as it is more about the new factor than the price tag of the things in the bag. I won’t even get into product recommendations, other than to emphasize WASHABLE WASHABLE WASHABLE!! We also pack a change of clothes for everyone and basic toiletries just in case a bag gets lost. This saved us this past trip, as Mayzie’s bag DID get lost and our carry-on outfit plus mixing a few of the girls’ clothes in their suitcases really saved us.
Our BIG advice for during the flights is to throw some of your usual parenting rules out the window and indulge the wee ones a bit. A few of their favorite foods and watching movies on the plane can go a really long way! Let them explore the plane a little bit and you can all stretch your legs. Do some seat dancing and sing some silly songs that they love. Try very hard to just ignore the horrible stares of people who either don’t have children or had them so long ago that they’ve forgotten what it’s actually like to entertain 1-3 year olds for an extended period of time. They are NOT going to sit still the whole time. Resign yourself to a looong day. Also, bring sippy cups with you so that the kids can drink something on take-off and landing to help with the ear popping. The flight attendants are usually happy to fill them for you, or you can purchase something at the gate to fill them up between going through security and boarding the plane. Let your guys play new games on your phone (in airplane mode of course) and/or tablet if you have one. Sleeping on the plane is a DREAM if you can get them to do it. According to Andy, our girls slept for about 1-2 hours total and in spurts on the 8 hour flight here. Your journey is going to be much longer than ours though, so perhaps sheer exhaustion will take over at some point for your boys. Hopefully you can get some shut-eye in there too, but I honestly wouldn’t count on it.
I’ve already written about our jet-lag experience HERE if you’d like to read about it. It is no fun, and probably going to take at least 2 weeks to get over it completely. Make sure to get outside to get lots of fresh air and sunshine as soon as you can force yourself out of the house/hotel where you’re staying when you arrive. I promise you that once the plane ride and jet-lag are over, things will start to get easier.
In part 3, I’ll write a few tips for getting settled in your new spot.