By Cheryl Lage
If you are anything like my husband and me (pre-children, of course), you bravely attempted to mask your dismay and apprehension when you saw parents boarding your flight with an infant in arms.
Now, if you are anything like my husband and me, with the forces of the universe karmically in play, you have occasion to board a plane with not just one, but TWO infants in arms.
Fortunately, with a fistful of air travel awareness and some skillful/strategic planning, air travel with twins can be undertaken with minimal stress to you, your spouse, your twins, and your fellow flyers.
However, if you skimp on your preparation even a fraction, your probability of traumatic twin travel time is increased exponentially.
Thankfully, the corollary is also true; if you go above and beyond in your preparedness, your likelihood of trouble-free (dare I say, terrific?) twin travel time is similarly increased.
To lend the following suggestions credibility, we have flown with our twosome a total of three times: at three months, fifteen months, and most recently, at twenty-seven months. Each trip presented its own unique challenges; all were surmountable, and at worst, certainly endurable. According to our fellow passengers, our twins’ behavior was even commendable. No doubt, with some forethought and effort on your part, your twins will be fine, too. You might even have fun!
So without further ado...
Air Travel Awareness:
Many, if not most, airlines permit a parent to carry a child under age two in lap for the duration of a flight. Assuming you are travelling with one adult per child (and I wouldn’t suggest it any other way, although it can be done), two seats are all you need to purchase for four travellers...a financial twin benefit. But here is where you need to be careful--when booking your tickets, let your reservationist know you are travelling with infant twins, one per adult.
Unbeknownst to us when we embarked on our first full-family trip, air safety regulations prohibit two infants under two from flying in the same airplane row. (My understanding is that it has something to do with the emergency air masks, but regardless of the reason, you can’t do it.) Flight attendants and courteous co-passengers shuffled to get us near each other; but that little morsel would have been helpful to know prior to arrival at the gate.
Be polite, but assertively vocal with your ticket-seller. Ideally, you and your spouse should be seated directly in front and back of each other. That way, you can share access to not only to the diaper bag (your treasure trove of travel tricks) but more importantly, each other. Let the airline (or your travel agent) know that the chances of inconveniencing other passengers will be significantly minimized if you all can be in close proximity to one another.
You have concerns about lap-safety? You are concerned about “fidgety” twins who are older and can walk? You want to simulate car travel for your twosome? You may elect to go ahead and purchase four seats. Be sure to ask your airline; they may offer a discounted seat rate for your twins. Bring your twins’ carseats, and be sure to take advantage of the “pre-boarding” option. That way, you can get seats and infants safely strapped in before mass boarding occurs. Plus, since you will already have your carseats, you won’t need to rent them at your vacation destination. (If you aren’t travelling with carseats, and plan on renting a car on arrival; make your reservation not only for the car, but for two appropriately-sized carseats as well. Carseats are easily forgotten in the planning stages, but oh-so-mandatory. Many car rental companies have a limited number of carseats available, so don’t wait until you pick up your car to ask for them...especially since you need two. You don’t need that stress to start off your holiday!)
When buying your plane tickets, don’t be shy to your own detriment. Ask questions! Is the plane equipped with a changing table? (Many are not. Those that do have changing tables are cozy at best. You may decide to pre-emptively change diapers prior to boarding. Alleviate over-saturation potential...after all, they’re on your laps.)
Is there a way for flight attendants to warm formula or breastmilk if needed mid-flight?
Is there an outlet in the plane lavatory that you can use for your breastpump if needed? (Nursing moms: Speaking as a mom who nursed our twins the first year, I would not attempt to nurse one or both twins mid-flight. There is enough awkwardness and stress in a cramped plane seat without trying to orchestrate an effective nursing position. Don’t use this opportunity as a bully-pulpit to extol the virtues of nursing. Consider your neighbors comfort, and most importantly, your babies’.)
Guess what? When boarding, you can wheel your double stroller all the way to the end of the jetway, collapse the stroller, cozy up to a baby each, and board the plane. With a gate-bestowed tag, your stroller will await you at the plane door upon re-entering yor destination’s jetway. Very, very helpful.
When you feel you have grilled your airline/ticket booker to your satisfaction, then ask them a final question: What can WE do to insure we are good passengers with children in tow? They may have some suggestions, and many will involve your....
Be aware of your twins’ feeding schedule when booking your flight. At three months, our twins were relying exclusively on breastmilk for their nutrition, every three hours. And as a twin-nursing Mommy, if I went much longer than three hours without relieving breast pressure/milk accumulation? My breasts would have encroached and/or exploded on neighboring seatmates. The idea of a previously-enviable “direct” flight became out of the question. And by necessity, my dairy-strength electric breastpump was declared carry-on number one. [Side note: Airline security staff was highly curious as to what exactly the stylish, yet suspiciously mechanical, black bag contained. Once we revealed its non-sinister nature, it was rapidly returned to my care. Especially when I described that the “liquids” (evident through x-ray) were bottles of breastmilk, so that when we hit our layover, hubby could tandem bottle-feed them in the double stroller while I pumped out the supply for the next feed. With twins, sometimes revealing a bit too much information can work to your advantage!]
Believe it or not, you want a substantial layover. Why, you ask?
Whether you are bottle-feeding, attempting to nurse in the airport (if so, you’re a braver woman than I) or solid food feeding your twins, you will want to prepare and feed them their meal without the stress of having to rush to a connecting flight. The meal, however administered, can and should provide your twins with a mid-trip reassurance that all is still “on or close to schedule.” Count on at least 30 minutes for eating.
If you are a breastfeeding mom, and typically tandem nurse your twins for twenty minutes, any breast pump session lasting less than that time frame may not empty your breasts enough for the twins next feed. You’ll still feel engorged and uncomfortable. In order to keep our layover somewhat sensible in length, hubby bottlefed our twosome simultaneously in the double stroller while I pumped. If you each decide to each feed a baby individually, you’ll need to pump after the feeding. In that instance, count on 20 more minutes for pumping. [Side note: I was surprised to discover that airport restrooms rarely have discreet in-stall outlets. As a first-time-twin-travelling nursing neophyte, I wore a comfy pullover. In order to double pump my breasts, I had to pull the front of my sweater over my head and behind my neck so that my hands were free to hold the noisy, churning, sucking funnels in place while I non-chalantly gazed at a paper towel dispenser. The spectrum of reactions was hysterical. Ranging from the sympathetic reassurances of those who had been in my shoes (or funnels), to the squeamish moms who shielded their young son’s eyes, to the loudly-articulated biology lecture my conspicuous presence inspired, that twenty minutes was without doubt my most memorable pumping session. Short story long: Wear a front closure shirt.]
You will probably need to change your twins' diapers before, and quite possibly after, they've had their meal. Most airport restrooms have a single changing table. It's a popular destination. You may have to wait in line. Potentially four times (Don't even think about hauling both babies into the restroom simultaneously. Let hubby keep one entertained in the stroller while you change the other, then flip flop.) Add 20 more minutes to your layover.
You may want to rinse the bottles from the twins' meal. You may want to mix formula and/or fill them with freshly-pumped breastmilk, so they're ready in case you're stuck on the plane for any reason. Add 5 more minutes.
What? You think you and your husband may want to eat or pee during the layover? And you don't want to sprint to your next gate? Add whatever time you think you and hubby may need for your own well-being.
Have I proven my point? Please trust me. Book a generous layover.
Yes, it's a hassle to de-board & re-board, but far less hassle than the alternative of coordinating twin maintentance comfortably mid-flight.
In the weeks before your trip, try to look at your day-to-day activity with fresh eyes. Note key items that might be useful in making your vacation time more relaxing and safe for your twins. (e.g. things like nightlights, portable CD players with familiar night music, your nursing pillow, special "cozies", are easily overlooked, but can be very helpful in reducing your twins' away from home stress.) Plan on purchasing diapers, food, sunscreen, and the like upon arrival at your destination. You'll have enough to haul without adding the weighty and space-occupying sundries that are easily acquired anywhere to your packed bags.
Determine if laundry facilities are available at your vacation destination. If so, pack lightly, knowing you'll do wash. Even if your twins are boy/girl (as ours are) pack plenty of outfits both can wear.
Think about what you have implemented in your home for safety. Will you want to take along some outlet covers, toddler-proof doorknob covers, a pack-and-play for "containment" and safe play? We typically rent cribs, but at twenty-seven months, we had a bad case of the climbers. We packed our crib tents in Daddy's golf bag.
What will you want at arms length during your flight? Those items form the foundation of your in-flight diaper bag. You may decide to upsize your regular at-home diaper bag to an as-big-as-airline-will-approve carry-on.
What was in our diaper bag for our three-month-old twins air adventure?
1.) Diapers/Wipes/Vaseline. (More than we thought we'd need. Air delays happen.) A changing pad rounded out our diapering supplies.
2.) Burp Cloths and Bibs. (To mop burp cheese, vomit, and basically absorb any/all bodily output.)
3.) Gas Drops & Infant Tylenol. Adult Advil.
4.) Pacifiers and spares. (Altitude fluctuations impact infant ears dramatically. Sucking not only provides comfort in a new and unusual situation, but relieves that ear discomfort. Suck 'em if you got 'em. If your wee ones are non-binky babies, have a bottle standing nearby for the take-off and landing, or encourage them to suck on your finger.)
5.) A spare set of clothes per baby. We packed unisex outfits even though our twosome is boy/girl. That way, if one culprit had two diaper malfunctions, he/she wouldn't be forced to crossdress as a consequence.
6.) Lots of toys and small books. (We read aloud throughout flight, and traded toys and books back and forth between each other. Entertained babies are courteous babies)
7.) Anti-bacterial wipes. (For cleaning our hands, the babies' hands, and public changing tables prior to use.)
8.) Our wallets, cel phone, emergency phone number list, sunglasses, nutrition bars & breath mints. (True confession: I stashed a lipstick in there, too. The last thing I wanted to do was add a purse to the mix. Vaseline doubles as a wonderful lip gloss...I snitched a swipe the babies' booty protectant.)
9.) Our tickets, itinerary and photo IDs were easily accessible in front pocket.
Last, but far from least, we had stoked our secondary carry-on (the breastpump storage bag) with bottles of milk...again enough for one feed more than anticipated, in case of delays.
Surprisingly enough, the contents of our diaper bag changed little when we travelled again at fifteen and twenty-seven months. The breastpump was no longer a necessity, but more books and solid foods/snacks were. You will be able determine the imperative contents for your family's diaper bag based on your twins' age and unique needs...the above should just serve as a leaping point.
So you're all packed? Think about how you are going to handle your trip to the airport. Will Mommy, twins in stroller, and bags all be dropped off curbside, while Daddy parks the car in satellite parking and removes carseats if needed? That's what worked for us, but you may have an alternate plan. The specifics aren't too important, but to have a pre-discussed plan is.
Anything you can do to keep your parental stress at a low level will help in keeping your twins stress-free. Which in essence, is truly the key to pleasurable air travel with twins. You can prepare as best you can. You can be ready for the situations you can anticipate, but there will be those you can't. Try not to lose your cool when the unexpected happens. Travelling with twins, much like planning and executing a wedding, is fraught with unpredictable, unforeseeable surprises. Despite all best intentions, flights are delayed, even canceled. Children "hit the wall", or get sick at inopportune times. Try to relax, and do your best to to roll with the punches. Babies/Toddlers can sense your calm (or stress) and will mirror your attitude. If you sense your twins starting to "wig out", step back and see if you are starting to "wig out." Breathe deeply. Speak slowly, softly, and soothingly. You may diffuse the pending dual-detonation by modelling the behavior you desire from your twins.
Whatever you do, don't let the fear of twin-induced turbulence deter you from air travel.
Chances are, armed with your carry-on of airline awareness and your suitcase of skillful preparation, your friendly skies will prove smooth sailing indeed. Bon Voyage!
Feel free to contact me with your experiences in twin potty-training, or with any twin parenting dilemnas you may have at http://www.twinsights.com. I hope to hear from you!
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