This summer, we went on an extended 'holiday' to the UK. We are expats living in Texas and we had not been back to Blighty for over a year, so we were keen to make the most of our trip back. Apart from the need for fitting in around the Big One's school dates, the biggest reason we hadn't been back sooner was that we couldn't face the prospect of a 10 hour flight whilst outnumbered. An occupational hazard of being a parent of 3+ kids! The last flight we had taken with the boys was the one that flew us to our new home in Texas, and the twins were only 17 months old at the time. Consequently, they didn't get a seat of their own and had to sit on our laps. We wussed out on that flight, and paid for my Mum to fly with us so we at least had a 1:1 ratio!
This time around, the Shouty One and the Chubby Cheeks One were approaching their 3rd birthdays and had to have their own seats. We also had a huge amount of luggage, a double stroller and 3 car seats to manhandle through the airport. Plus, we had to consider that cars in the UK are of more moderate proportions than the tanks we have got used to here in Texas. We needed to streamline the process dramatically!
The FAA strongly recommends that toddlers weighing up to 40lbs use a car seat for air travel. I guess this is for safety considerations, but in my view it was preferable anyway. A wriggly, uncomfortable toddler secured in an adult seat with just a lap belt OR seated in a secure, comfortable, familiar car seat with 5-point harness and head supports to help prop them up while sleeping. A no-brainer in my opinion. The only difficulty I could foresee was getting the 3 children, hand luggage AND two bulky car seats through the airport terminal from check out to the boarding gate between the two of us adults! Not an appealing prospect.
Luckily, by chance I stumbled across the Gogo Babyz Travelmate while researching children's travel accessories. Essentially, it's an attachment that converts your car seat into a stroller. Simple? Or too good to be true? Him Indoors was a little skeptical, especially considering the $90 RRP. However, we were both won over by this amazing product.
Firstly, I ought to point out that the company that manufactures this item has very detailed video instructions available online. It made assembly and use an absolute breeze... well done Gogo Babyz!
Attaching the Travelmate to the car seat
This was far easier than anticipated, even in the rush of the passenger drop-off lane. Our car seats are attached by the Latch system (ISOFIX) and so quickly unclipped from the car. It was then just a matter of turning the seats over and placing the Travelmate against the back of the seat. Then you pass a rubber strap through the car seat belt opening. A very simple ratcheting connection on the other side, allows the strap to be tightened quickly and securely. Bingo. Done! The video clip below shows how simple the process is. We have the Radian XTSL car seats very similar to the one shown.
Maneuvering around the airport terminal
Our kids LOVED these. The rubber wheels give a smooth ride and the telescopic handle can be adjusted to suit whoever is 'driving'! Even the Big One was able to pull his brother along in the car seat while I pulled the other & Him Indoors manhandled the luggage! The boys looked comfortable and secure, and seemed comforted by the familiarity of their own car seats. We were the source of much interest and envy, especially from other families struggling along with their tots in tow! Both twins were able to sit and enjoy their snacks and look at books while we waited in line for the check-in. No worries about them running off or getting lost.
Once our luggage was checked in, we were able to saunter off to the security gates with just a piece of hang luggage each and the kids being pushed along. In fact, one of the nice things is that it is easy to push the Travelmate in front of you, or pull it behind you depending on how much space you have in the crowds! From the perspective of a multiples parent, these things couldn't be easier. I was able to tow both car seats comfortably (one in each hand), and with a changing bag slung on my back!
Getting through security
With tightened security at all airports these days it is inevitably a source of concern to bring a large item through the X-ray scanners. Luckily, there were larger scanners at both George Bush International and Heathrow airports meaning that we just unclipped the kids and put the car seat with the Travelmate still attached on the conveyor. Once through the scanner, the kids were simply re-seated and clipped back up. Easy. However, I guess not all airports have these bigger scanning machines. I really can't see that being a problem as the Travelmate can be detached and re-attached so easily with the ratcheting strap.
Boarding the plane
The Travelmate was narrow enough to fit down the aisle of the plane, even through coach class! Admittedly, we have slimline car seats (Radian XTSL... fab btw!) and from what I understand, some wider car seats might find this a bit difficult! The only difficulty we encountered was when we got to our seats! At this point, we had both toddlers unclipped and fidgeting in the aisle while we detached the Travelmates from the car seats and then manhandled them into the airplane seats. We understandably caused a bit of a traffic jam at this point, but the most difficult part was actually fixing the airplane lap belt through the car seat, so not really a design flaw of the Travelmate... I just thought I'd point out the logistical difficulties! Once the car seats were safely attached, the travelmates were easily stowed in the overhead compartment taking up barely any space.
At the destination, the disembarkation process was easier ... we just waited until the other passengers were gone so that we could take our time. It was great to have the seats to wheel the boys through to the baggage collection... even if you check your stroller at the boarding gate on departure you'd be without it until after this point! The twins actually slept in their seats at this point and were blissfully unaware of being pushed around the airport!
So, in conclusion I would say that the Gogo Babyz Kidz Travelmate is an absolute godsend for parents with more than one child requiring a car seat, or for a parent travelling solo with their child. They may be expensive (although I got mine for $75 each including delivery from Amazon) but they really are worth their weight in gold and will probably hold their value to re-sell once you're done with it! I would particularly recommend them for parents of multiples!