France Vacation Part I: Flying Internationally with Kids

I wish I could say that things went smoothly, better than I thought they would. In reality, flying that many hours (about 17 on the way there and about 13 on the way home, including layovers) with two little ones was challenging. Granted, it could’ve been a heck of a lot worse, but it also could’ve been a lot better. Even with our experience flying numerous times with just Reece, this was our first time traveling internationally with kids and flying with both. After lots of research and asking those more experienced than us, here’s a summary of what we did and what I would do differently next time.

Layovers

Shorter isn’t always better. Normally, I prefer direct flights, especially with kids, to keep travel time to a minimum. Flying from San Francisco to Nice, you’re guaranteed at least one layover. On the way there, we picked the four-hour layover in New York as opposed to the one-hour layover in Paris because we didn’t want to risk missing our connecting flight to Nice. One the way back, we chose the one-hour because getting stuck in Paris didn’t seem so bad. 🙂 I was really dreading that layover, but it really wasn’t bad. It took awhile to get to our gate, we grabbed a bite to eat, let Reece run around for a bit and before we knew it, it was time to board.

Stretching his legs during long layover

Baby Equipment

Our final decision was to gate check the stroller and rent car seats in France. This was a tricky one to decide on and we tossed around various scenarios of lugging car seats and strollers before coming to our decision. I’ve gate checked car seats before, using the wheel attachment so it’s like a stroller, but I knew we wanted to take our stroller and I didn’t like the idea of having a stroller and both car seats on wheels, plus the two kids and all our carry-ons. Bringing Reece’s car seat on the plane hasn’t worked well for us in the past, partly because of where the seatbelt makes a bump in the seat when you thread it through. Emme was a lap baby, so we would have had to check her car seat one way or another. Since we were going to another well-developed country and there were numerous options for renting from baby equipment rental places as opposed to just a car rental company, we decided that would be our best option. We used Kidelio and were very happy with their service, the quality and cleanliness of the products (we rented two car seats, a high chair and they threw in a complimentary sunshade for the beach). They met us at the airport for pick up and return, and even installed them for us. My only complaint is that European car seats don’t have a chest strap, which I should have realized in advance from the information on their website.

Gate checking the stroller made it easy to transport the kids and our carry-ons around the airport. The Joovy Caboose is a fairly compact stroller for two kids and we only ran into a problem gate checking it going from Nice to Paris. Apparently in Nice they don’t allow gate checks. Or Paris doesn’t allow it–I got two different stories from two different flight attendants. Either way, I had never heard of this before and would’ve never thought to look into it. They had to check our stroller the regular way right before we boarded (would’ve been nice for them to inform us of this at the ticket counter!) and that meant we couldn’t pick it up in Paris. Thank goodness I had my beloved Beco Gemini (a traveling with baby must-have) for wearing Emme, so lugging our things over to our connecting gate wasn’t too much of a hassle in Paris.

Kids on a Joovy Caboose
Our Joovy Caboose at the park

Seating

Seats with more legroom are not always better, which surprised me. Nearly all my research prior to our trip recommended requesting a bassinet for the baby, as well as seats with more leg room. Turns out this whole process is annoyingly complicated and airlines will not commit to giving you either of these things in advance. If you want these, you need to show up three hours in advance of your flight and request them at check in.

However, now that I’ve done it, my advice is to skip the bassinet and pass on the bulkhead seating too. From JFK to Nice, we had the bassinet and it was just barely any bigger than Emme. Not to mention it was very shallow and a cold vinyl, so I needed to lay a bunched up blanket in it to make it comfortable before placing her in. There is also a cover with straps that you need to place over baby and you are supposed to take them out when the seatbelt sign is on. I thought the bassinet would be the key to us all getting a little bit of sleep, but it was far from it. After nursing Emme to sleep (no way was she going to just fall asleep in that thing on her own), I managed to place her in it and click all the straps closed without waking her up. I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping myself because it was possible for her to wriggle her way out and fall down. She slept for about a half hour before she attempted to roll over, making her butt hit the netting on top and smooshing her face against the bunched up blanket, waking her up. After that I decided to hold her for the rest of her *brief* sleep times and just used the bassinet to sit her in whenever I ate. I was glad to have it for that purpose, but Doug and I could’ve easily taken turns eating and holding her, if we had been sitting together.

Right. So, in requesting bulkhead seating to have more legroom, they only had one seat available, so we were separated. This actually wasn’t so bad for Doug and Reece because they actually got to sleep. Also, in the bulkhead, you are losing valuable under seat storage space and the armrests don’t lift up, which would’ve made it nearly impossible for Reece to sleep comfortably with his head on our lap. The extra legroom was not worth sacrificing those things. On the way home, we stuck with regular seating and no bassinet, which worked well for us.

Sleeping on an international flight

Entertainment

Three-year-olds are pretty easy to entertain on a flight. Give them all the movies, TV shows and iPad games they want and you’re set (I’m totally fine with unlimited media on plane rides. It’s all about just keeping them happy).  Reece would actually get tired of all the screen time and want to play with his monster trucks, so that was fine. I definitely brought along way too many toys for him and will cut that back to just a few things next time since most of it went unused.

Nine-month-olds are not the easiest to entertain in such tight quarters, but it worked out fine. I didn’t even use many of her toys i had brought since spoons, straws and barf bags were the most interesting to her. Of course, we spent lots of time walking up and down the aisles and I would stand up and let her stand on my seat to stretch her legs and move around a little, which made her happy.

Fun with daddy on international flight

Meltdowns

This is what every parent dreads on an airplane. Pre-iPad, we endured a fairly awful flight to Hawaii with 2-year-old Reece and there were quite a few meltdowns involved. Fortunately, the iPad seems to have solved that for him. Babies are another story, though. Emme had many moments where she would cry and take awhile to be consoled. It was rough taking the redeye to Nice because she just wasn’t comfortable sleeping for a long time in my arms. With all the other noises on the airplane, though, I rarely felt like we were being any more disruptive than anything else. She did have one major meltdown on the way home because she was tired and nursing to sleep just wasn’t working. I took her to the back and hushed and rocked her until finally she gave in. The only look I got from anyone were ones of sympathy and understanding.

Sleeping baby on international flight
Finally asleep

Plane rides with kids are certainly not something I look forward to, but they’re necessary in order to enjoy the vacations we want to. I’ve never once regretted any of our vacations, no matter how bad the plane ride. I’s all about just waiting long enough until you’re ready to brave a flight again. 🙂

Curious to hear about how your experiences have differed from ours. Any tips that would come in handy next time?

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