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How to Survive Meltdowns, Panic Attacks, Delays & 2nd Degree Burns at the Airport

photo via Pillow Sew Cute’s Etsy Shop


A few weeks ago my family took a much needed vacation to my in-laws Montana lake house.  The time away was pure bliss, the getting there and back… not so much.  It was the first time flying for both 2 year old C and 7 month S and pretty much everything that could have possibly gone wrong did.  But I learned a few things along the way that I hope you will benefit from.  Click through for my tips (as well as all the gory details).
Lesson #1 – Never handle hot food while wearing a baby

Most experienced parents reading this will probably react with “duh!”.  I certainly would have.  But before going to the airport, it had been several months since I’d worn S and it’s amazing how quickly you forget to be on guard.


My biggest apprehension about flying with two small children was getting through security sans meltdown.  I figured surviving that line (and possible pat down) wearing a baby and trying to corral an antsy toddler would be one of the hardest parts of the experience.  So when we sailed through the metal detectors I kinda thought we were home free – I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It was only a few minutes later that S lunged for (and successfully grabbed) my piping hot fish and chips from the airport food court.  By the time I pried it from her little fingers, three massive blisters had already formed.

Lesson #2 – Always travel with a very well stocked emergency kit

By some miracle, I was actually carrying an emergency cold pack in my diaper bag that day.  My toddler group had included one as part of their summertime first aid kit (I think the intention was to use it for sunburn relief).  I still went to the gate agent and requested a medic to look at S’s hand.  But by the time they showed up (3 of them, by the way, who arrived via ambulance straight to the gate!), I had already given her ibuprofen and iced the burn so she was actually pretty calm.  If you don’t have a first aid kit in your diaper bag, I highly recommend getting one.  The ouch pouch pictured above is awesome for this but even ibuprofen, bandaids, neosporin, antibactrial wipes, tweezers, a thermometer, and an instant cold pack in a ziplock will do.

Lesson #3 – Always bring a bottle for baby (even if you breastfeed)

Since S had only started taking a bottle a few weeks before the trip, and because me and my boobs would be there the whole time, I didn’t have pumped milk as an essential item on our carry-on list.  But my in-laws were going to babysit for us our first day there so I did bring some frozen milk.  Once again, it was a good thing I had what I did.  


Once S was burned, I couldn’t get her to settle down long enough to breastfeed.  Oddly enough, she took more comfort from the bottle (a total 180 for my daughter) and that’s all she wanted the rest of the trip.  Between feeding when she was hurt and to alleviate ear pain during take-off and landing, S sucked down all 12 ounces of my frozen milk (which we had warmed by mashing it up with our hands).


Squeezable fruit is available all over: Trader Joe’s, Target, Whole Foods, etc… C loves it so much I barely got this pic!

Lesson #4 – Squeezable fruit is a great travel food for all kids

We had shown up at the airport a few hours early that day.  Our plan was to avoid a stressful rush, eat dinner there, and let C burn off some energy watching planes and running around the terminal before we boarded.  Of course, all hell broke loose once S got hurt and dinner went out the window.  Thank God I had plenty of squeezable fruit.  


Since it’s simply pureed veggies and fruit, I was able feed it to both my kids.  This was so helpful for packing our carry-on because I didn’t have to bring separate food for each of them.  It squeezed directly out of the package and onto S’s baby spoon quite nicely.  C thought sucking out the puree was the best thing ever – which came in handy when it was finally time to board (after a nearly 2 hour delay) and he started to panic about getting on the plane.  

Lesson #5 – Prepare your child for everything they’ll experience

Although I spent the entire week before our trip talking to C about things like metal detectors and airplane noise, I totally forgot that we would actually be walking out onto the tarmac to board the plane.  (Seattle to Missoula is a short flight in a small plane.)  As soon as we got outside C’s attitude went from “Wow, look at the planes!” to “I want to go home”.

Lesson #6 – Have lots of sources of comfort/distraction 

The moment I felt C tense up, I handed S off to her daddy and went into “make it work” mode.  I was able to calm his fears and coax him on board by: 


  • Showing him how not scary it was when Daddy got on board first.
  • Bribing him with the prospect of more squeezable fruit and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on the iPad once we were seated and in the air.
  • Comforting him on the plane with all the luvies he normally sleeps with.
  • Distracting him by singing, counting, and turning the seat lights on and off over and over.

Lesson #7 – Keep calm and carry on 

That meltdown I mentioned in my title – that was referring to me, not my kids.  When S got hurt, our already late-night flight was massively delayed, and they wouldn’t let us use the car seat we’d hauled through the airport for C – I pretty much wanted to throw myself on the ground, kicking and screaming like a toddler!  But (somehow) I didn’t, and amazingly enough neither did my actual toddler or baby.  Both kids did amazing through the entire ordeal (S is now fully healed by the way) and I think a lot of it was due to my husband and I putting on a brave face and refusing to crack.


So that’s it!  I did a lot of research about how to keep the kids happy in the airport and on the plane but I just wasn’t prepared for all that befell us that day.  I really hope my tale helps the next traveling family and if you have more helpful tips, please be sure to share them in the comments below!


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Lixa March 15, 2011 at 8:43 am

We got a book on airports (http://www.usborne.com/catalogue/catalogue.aspx?cat=1&area=ey&subcat=eymb&id=3302) when my son was 2. It has been a great hit ever since, and is now very passionate about airplanes. We make 3-hour trips by plane every few months, and he’s always looking forward to the experience.


Catherine March 15, 2011 at 11:49 am

Girl…I hear you on keeping your parental cool while traveling. My husband and I just came back from a trip to New Zealand with our four month old and found ourselves vowing to never fly again multiple times during the flights–especially after I walked him up and down the aisle for 2 hours to get him to sleep. But the calmer we stayed, the nicer passengers were to us, and I think it helped our little guy too. Glad little S is fully healed.


TranquilityKnots March 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Thanks for this post. Such a great timing. We are going on our first plane trip with our 18 month old. And I am freaked out. Thanks for the tips, I will definitely keep them in mind.


Rebecca March 15, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Reading this post was extremely helpful!

I have an 8 month old who has already done a decent amount of traveling (once by car and three times roundtrip by plane), but as she gets older I feel like each time is a whole new experience. An exhausting experience. I’ve learned to avoid tickets for connecting flights like the plague. In my opinion, it’s so worth every penny to flight direct. I’ve also learned that less is more. The less you have to lug around the airport, the more sane you feel once arriving to your destination.

I’m flying with the baby over the weekend and will definitely be taking an “ouch pouch”. I’ve never seen the squeezable fruit before (I live in a small town), so hopefully I can express order some before leaving. What a clever ideas!


Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com March 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Lixa – thanks for that link! That book looks great plus it would be a great activity on the plane with the magnets. We actually brought a Thomas magnet book for C on the plane too.

Catherine – Walking up and down the terminal with S for 2 hours was bad enough, I can’t even imagine doing it on the plane! I agree – almost everyone has been there so if you keep calm then most people are pretty empathetic.

TranquilityKnots – Hope your trip goes well, come back and let us know what you learn :)

Rebecca – I hope the fruit gets to you on time! I agree with you that less is more. It’s so hard though because of that fear that you won’t have the one thing you really need.


Nikki March 16, 2011 at 1:53 am

My kids have traveled quite a bit since they were wee ones, and I will agree that it’s a different experience every time. I like to pack little treats or presents, like a new coloring book, that the kids don’t know about. Then when they get bored on the plane I can surprise them.

On one trip home to Hawaii, I had my three year old son and eight month old daughter by myself. We had a four hour lay over in LA and I was potty training my son. Bad idea. Get the direct flight whenever possible and don’t potty train when you are going on a trip by yourself.

I’m definitely picking up some of that squeezable fruit!


Tina March 16, 2011 at 2:14 am

Wow! What a trip!

I laughed when I saw the picture of the apple carrot crushers. They were a staple for us on a trip last fall. As for flying with kids…both of my kids are fortunate to be somewhat seasoned travelers. It actually does get easier the more you do it. (Mostly because I figure out what I’m doing–the less the better in the airport and definitely squeeze fruit.) As for the fruit, our favorites include Trader Joes, Ella’s Kitchen (available on Amazon–but stick with smaller 3oz size for planes) and Kiddo Squeezies.


Elizabeth March 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm

We just took our first flight with our 8 week old to Hawaii. As a new mom, I was so apprehensive to go. Many friends with kids told us it was the best time to travel. One thing I learned is that babies are not bothered by pressure in their ears before 6 months because their ears are not fully formed until 6 months. Our son had a great flight and we are happy that we ventured out.


Anonymous March 24, 2011 at 9:36 am

I’m currently looking into bringing a car seat on a plane – why were you not allowed to use yours?


Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com March 24, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Hi Anonymouse,

I was frustrated with my experience trying to take my car seat on the plane. The issue was figuring out if it was going to be too wide for the seats.

I have a Britax Marathon, which is one of the wider car seats, so I looked up the dimensions online and called the airline to see if it would fit. My husband is a consultant and travels weekly so he has VIP status but even using his “special” help line the customer service agent couldn’t tell me for sure if it would fit or if the arm rests could be put up to make it fit.

We ended up hauling the seat all the way through the airport just to be told on the tarmac that we had to check it because it was too big :(.

This was frustrating since both the AAP and the FAA STRONGLY recommend that babies and toddlers fly in car seats for safety during turbulence and my friend had flown on the same type of aircraft with my same car seat the week before. The attendants simply let them put up the arm rest between her seat and her child’s seat.


Anonymous March 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm

We have a Britax Marathon and have never had a problem bringing it on the plane. We gave traveled at least 5 times with it on both regular planes and small ones on all different airlines. The only thing we found is it doesn’t roll down most aisles so my husband has to carry it. But it fits fun in any airplane seat.
We also being our new toys/books on the flight and it really does help. Also we give our toddler a sucker on the way up and down to help with ear popping. He never gets candy so it is a special treat too:)


Anonymous March 29, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Regarding the car seat–the flight attendant has the say about what can go on the plane, and what needs to go in cargo because it’s “too big”. Sometimes there is absolutely nothing you can do, but in general if you ask if you can give it a try, they will let you. When your flight has been delayed, though–really, all they want to do is board and depart as quickly as possible. That probably had as much to do with it as the size of the carseat.


Monique May 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I have the same ouch pouch, two actually. I love it for it’s convenience.


elisa May 1, 2013 at 2:47 am

I have been searching for the Ouch Pouch online but can’t seem to find it-can u lead me in the right direction?
I will be flying with my 9 month old for the first time and am trying to be as prepared as possible-loved the idea of the squeezable fruit and definitely bringing some bottles. My son gets very distracted and doesnt want to nurse especially with a cover over his face! I will have my husband with me which I know will be great help.
I plan on bringing my pump, does anyone recommend carrying it with or checking it out with the rest of my luggage?


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