Traveling with Toddlers

12/23/2011 09:42 am ET | Updated Feb 22, 2012

My husband is a very frequent flier. In fact, he travels so much that he uses the super-secret United security entrance and is more likely than not upgraded on every flight. While I often enjoy these perks, along with free checked baggage and access to the airline lounge, they can prove problematic at times. This summer was one of those times.

In early July my husband and I packed for an extended weekend in St. Louis and Louisville. Even though we would only be away four nights, we checked five pieces of luggage (two carseats, pack-n-play, two suitcases) and brought along four carry-ons (purse, backpack, computer bag, and a bag with an outrageous number of snacks). When we arrived at the airport we learned that two of our four seats had been upgraded to first. In eight more years this would have been exciting; the adults could relax in the luxury of first, while the kids entertained themselves in coach. Needless to say, we are not there.

It was decided that the adult that sat in first had to accompany the more difficult child, in this case that would be the two-year-old who refuses to nap in unorthodox settings, and tolerates television only in half-hour intervals. I was more than happy to sit in coach next to the four-year-old who was extremely excited for an opportunity to be granted four-and-a-half hours of unlimited screen time. I kissed my husband on the cheek and chirped "Enjoy your warm nuts!"

The first hour of the flight was all that I could hope for. My older daughter happily played with my iPhone and watched a few episodes of The Magic School Bus, while I caught up on the latest news (have you seen the pictures of LeAnn Rimes in a bikini????). We ate apple slices and crackers while we discussed who really did wear it best.

But, then she had to pee.

This is when my husband's status became counterproductive. Even though my older daughter and I were not upgraded, we were placed in the first row in coach. And the drink trolley was blocking the aisle directly behind us. And, she had to go NOW. We had no choice but to use the first class laboratory.

Although I frantically tried to scoot past my husband and toddler relaxing in their double wide seats, just as I was about to close the accordion door to the bathroom, the two-year-old calls out "Mommy! Sister!" And, that was the end of our merry flight.

My husband and I spent the next three-plus hours playing musical chairs with our seat assignments. We tested every combination: four-year-old and Daddy in first, four-year-old and Mommy in first, two-year-old and Daddy in first, two-year-old and Mommy in first. In the end the only agreeable arrangement was both girls and Mommy in first, while Daddy sat alone in coach.

Unsurprisingly, we received many exasperated stares from the other first-class passengers, especially when the girls decided to play "kitties"-- cleaning their faces with licked fists and meowing in volume that would have been appropriate in coach, but not to the coddled first class. "That's one," I told them.

To my astonishment the threat of splitting our happy trio, calmed the girls enough to settle them for the remainder of the flight. However, the descent put the final nail in our luxury coffin.

The seating arrangement went like this: four-year-old in 1A, me in 1B, and two-year-old on my lap. Unfortunately, now that the little one is two, airline regulations require her to be in her own seat during take-off and landing. The empty seat was now in coach, next to Daddy.

At the last possible minute, the ever so patient flight attendant grabbed the confused toddler from my lap and brought her to Daddy. For the next five minutes, the entire cabin, both coach and first, was filled with the tortured screams of the tot. Legs kicked, arms flailed, and foam began to seep from the corners of her mouth. I felt the judgment of every set of eyes in first glaring at me. One passenger shook his head and mumbled "Sheesh." "Mommy," the older one informed me, "She is mad!"

As soon as the wheels touched the ground, the same nice flight attendant reappeared at my side. "Tell me she's not two, yet," she implored. "Sh-sh-she's only one-and-a-half," I stammered. And with that she quickly brought the exhausted and red-in-the-face child back to my lap.

There is no faster way to age your skin and gray your hair than to travel with two kids five and under. It does get better as they grow older. I am anxiously awaiting the day my youngest can sit still and watch a full-length Disney feature on a mini-DVD player, or better yet, read to herself. In the meantime, the website offers these tips when traveling with babies and toddlers:

• Wear footware (for you and your children) that easily slip on and off.
• Allow extra time. When you have kids everything takes twice as long.
• Place a small bag with one diaper, wipes, and a changing pad in the seat pocket in front of you.
• Use disposable bibs.
• Wrap toys for added entertainment value.
• At the airport, strap your toddler into a child's harness, lease, or muzzle.
• Bring a baby sleeping bag so that your precious child does not have to come in contact with scratchy airline seats.

I offer these, more practical, tips for traveling with babies and toddlers:

• Buy a box of ear plugs to offer those passengers unfortunate enough to be seated within two rows of you and your child. Even if they decline, your neighbors will appreciate the gesture.
• Pack lots of treats, the kind that you don't usually let the kids have. These should include: gummy bears, lollipops, and M&M's.
• Include all of the following in your carry-on luggage: iPad, Sony PSP, and a DVD player. Every five minutes rotate the devices between the children.
• Don't be shy with the Benodryl, for the kids and you. I prefer the "thin strips" as these are the easiest to administer.
• Bring an extra change of clothes for you and the children, in case they should spill juice, pee themselves, or vomit during the trip.
• First class is no place for toddlers. Keep the young ones in coach.
• Best tip of all: LEAVE THE KIDS WITH GRANDMA!!!

So now it is your turn. What's your best tip for traveling with tots?