For all his issues, T is usually a good traveler. It's probably because he spent so much time on airplanes when he was little. Living in Houston, we could get a direct flight practically anywhere we wanted, and airfares were dirt cheap, so we made the most of those opportunities. It took him longer to be a good car rider, but he got there, and now does great on even long drives across many states.
However, when it's just the two of us flying somewhere together, things don't usually go smoothly! One time, we flew AirTran out of Tallahassee and the flight was so delayed that we missed our connection in Atlanta. This would not be a huge deal, except that you had to stand on line to get seats on another plane (I love those Delta scanners that print out your new ticket automatically!) - and because rushing is not in our vocabulary - and we had to regroup and have a snack before we could even think about getting in line - we ended up last and were sent to a different airport altogether. It ended up being a very long day for us!
From situations like that, here are a few of things I've learned while traveling with T:
Try to fly in the morning or early afternoon. We avoid evening flights at all cost. There's only so well-behaved you can expect any child to be after his/her bed time (let alone a special needs kid). Leaving at 4pm and landing at 8pm is not enough cushion... expect delays! I can tell you from experience it is no fun waiting at the baggage carousel at 11pm with a kid who is so far out of his comfort zone that people can hear him crying on other continents.
Never reserve a car seat from a rental car company. Seriously, what will you do if they don't have one? It's happened to us; we learned our lesson and took ours with us after that. (He's 12 now and luckily big enough not to need one.)
Pack snacks! You'd be surprised how long your plane can sit on the tarmac just waiting to take off... or waiting for a gate to open up. When the pilot says, "we are twenty-first in line for take off," a snack can make the time go more quickly, and keep the crankies at bay. And these days, you're lucky to get a bag of peanuts on most flights.
A reusable water bottle is a good idea too. Pack it empty, and fill it after you go through security. This not only saves you money, it's good entertainment, at least for T, who is still fascinated by water fountains.
Entertainment. I am a firm believer in less is more, but there are a few things we always took along when T was smaller. The first is play-doh. The little party favor size cans are small enough to meet the 3 ounce or under TSA rule and are just the right size for rolling out on your tray table. A tiny plastic or wooden rolling pin and a few little plastic cookie cutters and you can have a good time. It's lightweight and easy to clean up (and much less smelly than those easy wonder markers that only work on special paper - yuck). 2nd fun item is a little train (like a brio or Thomas the Tank Engine). We use the in-flight magazine to make a bridge from tray table to tray table. :) And you must have his/her favorite book. Quietly reading aloud makes time fly. For this trip we are bringing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
A little surprise up your sleeve. These are your go-to items if things get rough. For example,
- usually I download something fun to my ipod just for T. One year it was all the trailers for High School Musical 3. (The screen is small, but it's crisp and of course the sound is great.)
- I like to find a new twist on an old game. T loves to play the alphabet game (where you find each letter of the alphabet in order). It's easy to play on the plane with the magazine, skymall catalog, and safety card and to make it more interesting we might go in reverse alpha order. He also likes to play a more complicated version where you have to think of an item that starts with each letter of the alphabet given a particular theme (popular ones include food, animals, animals that live in the ocean, stores and restaurants). While traveling, we might try cities or countries.
- hugs. You can't beat a good hug. It makes us both feel better. :)
Happy trails! We're scheduled to land at CLE at 4:59 this afternoon.