Saturday, March 11, 2017

RyanAir with Toddlers - Rome Edition

It's been approximately 48 hours since my family returned home from our Roman holiday, and aside from a right ear that won't unclog, everyone is rested and back to normal routines. Which means, I am more than ready to start editing photographs and writing about our adventures. I accumulated a megaton of information while traveling, so I decided rather than write in my traditional trip reporting style, I'd break certain parts down into pertinent information and then double back to actual traveling details.

So, for this first one, I decided to concentrate on flying. This was our first time using RyanAir and our first "fun" flight. Honestly, the excursion from Florida to Germany is a blur in my memory. The international leg of the journey was all about survival. I wasn't thinking about entertaining my kids, I wasn't remembering snacks, I simply worried over how I was going to lug 2 babies, 2 car seats, a stroller, backpack, and our dog onto the plane. 

All the small details I have blacked out from my memory. 
Like childbirth, I have forgotten the bad and held on to how excited we all were at the arrival.

As soon as Alex and I confirmed with our family that our Rome trip was a go, I started researching the best ways to take a 3 year old and 1 year on a RyanAir flight. RyanAir is a discount airline that flies within Europe for extremely low fares. The catch to the company is that you are only allowed a specific carryon size, don't get to pick your seats, and the flight times aren't always ideal. 

From the getgo, my husband and I knew we'd have to spend a little more to be able to get the things we needed. We were going to be in Rome for 4 nights; there was no way we couldn't bring a suitcase with us. And since this was our first time flying with them, we used this experience as a test run of sorts.

We bought most of the upcharges and planned every detail of our travels.

First up:

We paid for 2 checked bags; one was a weight limit of 20kg and the other we got for half off (because of the kids) for 15kgs. I cannot remember how much extra this cost us, but I don't think it was more than 60 Euros. Having these bags saved us a lot of hassle when it came to following RyanAir's carry on policy. 
They only allow 1 overhead bag no larger than 55cm by 40cm by 20cm and 1 small bag that can go under the seat (such as a purse or diaper bag). The caveat with the overhead bags is that only the first 90 bags are guaranteed in cabin. Any extra will be gate checked and picked up at baggage claim. 

Our checked bags ended up weighing 16kg and 12kg. It was completely worth the extra money having them, because the smaller one contained nothing but food and toys. 

Alex and I made the mutual decision to invest in a really nice backpack to take on the plane. 

It's made by Swiss Gear and cost us 60 dollars.

The key to a great bag - we've come to discover - is pockets. 
Pockets, pockets, pockets.

The more the merrier.

Well, I should rephrase. Having pockets and remembering which pockets contain which items. 

In my opinion, the key to smooth traveling is having quick access to the things you need. The less time you have to spend rummaging around for wipes or passports, the better. 

Our bag had a back pocket designed for laptops that we used to shove all our Ipads in. That way, when we got to the security checkpoint, all we had to do was snatch them out and set them in a tray. 
Easy peasy.

The main pocket held diapers, wipes and food.

A small top pocket contained pens, hand sanitizer (SO. MUCH. SANITIZER.) lotion, and chapstick. 

The main front pocket had tissues, gum, and chewy snacks for the toddler during takeoff and landing. 

And the two side pockets held a power-brick for the devices, chargers, and headphones. Everything was accessible and organized. 

Just the way I liked it. 

Unfortunately, the morning of our flight, our bag was a little over the size limit so we had to quickly grab one of Landon's toy backpacks and shove it full with the spare outfits and toys. In the end, Landon seemed to enjoy having a backpack of his own, so no harm no foul there, but it would have been better if we hadn't had to worry about another piece of luggage. 

We also had our Tula toddler carrier with us.

This was a lifesaver when it came time to boarding and de-boarding. Our active 1 year old HATED being trapped in it, but for our sanity it was necessary. We didn't have to stress about chasing a baby through security or shuffling them up and down the plane stairs. 
(Or freak that our daughter would walk through a gate door without us and get trapped on the other side. That might or might not have happened at Ciampino....thank God for grandparents on the other side.)

I did my research on this one. 
I looked at countless mommy blogs and pinterest boards for flying with babies, and here are the two that I found the most helpful:

This was the clear winner. I took an old wallet I had sitting around the house and filled it with random pieces of paper and old cards. Everything in it could have been lost or thrown away if it fell out, and my 1 year old played with this almost the entire flight to Rome. 

Mini Post Its:
This was the main source of fun on the way back home. Alex held Evie in his lap and set the food tray down and let her have at the paper. She loved ripping them apart and sticking them everywhere. When it was time to clean up, Alex just crumpled all the paper into a big ball and shoved them in a pocket to be thrown away later. 

It was amazing that the simple act of tearing and sticking kept her happy, but it did. 

Right up there with a great backpack, was our brilliant decision to bring food with us. It was a pain in the butt to get it all in the bag, but we were so grateful to have the food when we were hungry. 
I bought a couple stackable lunch containers and filled them with 2 PB and Js, grapes, blueberries, carrot sticks, salami, and cheese sticks. 
It was a lot of food, but it was enough to satisfy 4 adults and 2 kids at noon when we were hopping from shuttle buses to metros to trams and had no time to stop and find food. 
Best. Decision. Ever.

If ever in doubt, bring the food.
Bring it all.
Shove it into every nook and cranny you can find.

Fed kids are happy kids.

More than anything else, keep those babies full. 

Our flights were from Frankfurt Hahn to Rome Ciampino and back. Hahn was a 45 minute drive for us, and the place itself was teeny tiny. We arrived at 7:05am for our 8:55am flight, and that was more than enough time to check in our bags, get through security, use the restroom, and buy a few waters. There's virtually no seating at the gates, so be prepared to stand around if you get there late. 
Boarding was a little cramped, because they kept everyone in a line in order to check passes, and then they herded you into a smaller room, until finally they opened the "back door" and allowed everyone to walk to the plane. 

Ciampino was only slightly bigger, but it wasn't large enough to accommodate the number of travelers passing through. Everyone was jammed into the gate waiting area like sardines, and the line for the women's bathroom was ridiculous. 
There were two restaurants open near the gate, three or four gift shops, and a grand piano that anyone was allowed to play. (I thought it was a cute little feature, and two people did play while we were there.) 
At Ciampino, they made everyone wait outside on the runway until they were ready to board. It was 60 and sunny out, so I didn't mind, but if it was August and blazing hot out, I would have been uncomfortable.
The security checkpoint was also a lot more thorough than the one in Hahn. They made me take off my watch, and that was the first time I had to do it in the 5 metal detectors I crossed over that week. 
I don't say that as a complaint, just informing you all so you can be prepared to spend a little longer there than expected.

Overall, they weren't bad. We arrived in Rome about 20 minutes ahead of schedule, but got into Frankfurt 30 minutes past our arrival time. 
The big thing on those flights are the upsales; every five minutes they were pushing food, perfumes, scratch off tickets, etc. Nobody was rude or pushy, just something to keep in mind.
(Oh, and in case you were curious, a Twix bar cost 2 Euro on the plane. We didn't buy one, we just happened to overhear someone else getting one.)

- Get Priority boarding. 
If you've got kids, pay for this. 
If you can only pay for one extra, pick this one. It enabled us to stand in a less crowded line,board faster, choose seats in Rows 2 and 3. 
I will never fly RyanAir with kids without getting priority boarding.

-Reserving parking during booking. Alex paid 32 Euro to park our car in a covered spot about 10 minutes offsite for the duration of the trip. The garage wasn't exactly close to airport, and it would have really sucked to have to lug the kids and luggage all the way from the site to the airport by myself; however, it'd be well worth it for a family. Alex dropped me and the kids off at the airport at 6:55 and made it back to us by 7:05. 
Easy peasy. 

-Was the cost worth it?
For the four seats, the checked bags, parking, and priority boarding our grand total was 462 dollars. 
While it could have been a lot cheaper, Alex and I weren't complaining. Transportation to Italy for a family of 4 for less than 500 dollars? 
We'd do it again in a heartbeat.

-Something for parents with infants to know:
We screwed up when making our reservation. We bought Evie's ticket under "CHILD" when really we should have called RyanAir and purchased an Infant Comfort Seat for one of the adults. When it was time to check in online, the site wouldn't let us check in Evie because her birthday said she under 2 years old.
We had to contact someone who had to manually put in our reservation that her seat was the aforementioned classification. It meant we needed to check her in at the actual desk in the airport and we probably paid more than we needed to for her ticket. 
The infant comfort seat still gave her a guaranteed individual seat, it was just attached to our reserved spot. 
(And as far as flying with her went, the flight attendents gave us a seat belt extender and required her to sit in a parent's lap for takeoff and landing. One snarky attendant told us she wasn't allowed to sit in Row 2 nor was she allowed to stay in the Tula. I think both were a load of crock, but we followed their rules and did as she said.)

Ultimately, both flights went a lot smoother than they could have. Naturally, there were times when things got a little hectic, but that just comes with having kids. It's hard corralling four people to a destination, and given the situation everything went amazingly well. 
Because I have an unhealthy terror of catching a stomach bug while traveling, I spent most of our time cleaning hands and wiping down the seats and windows of the planes. Those little things made me nervous and stressed, but that would have happened regardless of how we were traveling. 
Can't blame RyanAir for having little kids that think it's perfectly fine to eat Puffs off an airport floor.

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