Ive flown a fair share with my babies and you will have to sit one adult with one twin with one of the older kids due to the oxygen masks. They only have 3 in one row. Your stroller might be too big to take to the plane they have to be collapsible like an umbrella stroller. You might be able to check it at your boarding gate but I would recommend getting a double umbrella for your trip I know amazon.com has some for reasonable prices. That way you can take the stroller all the way to the plane the flight attendants will have you leave it outside the plane but it will be waiting when you get off for your connecting flight. Pack a backpack for each of your older children with some activities or a portable dvd player book etc. I have never had in flight entertainment offered. Snacks and drinks and a throw blanket because the cabins get cold. Bring pacifiers or something you feel safe for them to suck on for the babies and gum or candy for the older kids for take off and decent. It can be very painful even as an adult I find it boarderline unbearably painful. I would recommend wearing the babies out as much as possible before your flight so they will sleep. And then pack a diaper bag with of course diapers wipes bottles a change of clothing baby snacks and a couple favorite toys bring a book or mp3 player for you an husband if the babes fall asleep. That's all I can think of right now
For the little ones- I never bring carseats, I rent them. I don't feel comfortable letting them get thrown around. Car places have them for rentals & I trust that they take child safety seriously.
As for stroller, mine isn't an investment piece so I'm fine with it traveling.
For distraction- food/bev during take off & landing, I never go overboard with toys. I would get a few new books that they've never seen before instead of doubling up on various things that will end up in the aisles. Less is more. Bring bags for dirty diapers. Don't pack anything you could easily buy at the destination like extra food, wipes, diapers, ect.
I have 2 year old twins and have flown from Sweden to California and back with them twice now.
Here is a mini-book I wrote for a friend who had a similar question before she traveled with her twins recently. I started out answering some of her particular questions and then went on to more general stuff. Not all of it will necessarily apply in your case, but I hope some of it helps. One important thing though is that with twins you will not be able to sit next to your husband if you each have lap children unless you are in a row with enough oxygen masks for the babies too. Good luck!!
On our flights we try to sit across the aisle from each other. We found that it was sometime nice to be able to easily pass kids back and forth to each other (easier across an aisle than over a seat). Our boys needed frequent changes of scenery and it was enough to trade of parents sometimes.
Even though we had a stroller available at our destination, we ended up deciding to bring our own last year and I am glad we did (despite the traveling issues which I will describe below). It was like a little home away from home for our boys during our long trip (4+ weeks). They actually even ended up sleeping one night in it in a particularly tiny hotel room where there were no cribs available and we were scared they would fall out of the beds.
I think it is free to check a stroller on most airlines and I think that in most places you can even gate check them. Unfortunately for us we anticipated being able to gate check our stroller and were not allowed to. Then we were told it would be available for us at our layover. It was actually shipped directly to SFO so after waiting around for it in Germany we put the kids in the wraps and carried them that way. SO glad we had the wraps!! (We also used them on some of the plane flights when they were particularly fussy. It was easier to walk with them that way because we had our hands free to help stabilize ourselves against any sudden movements of the plane.) On our non-international flights we have never had a problem gate checking the stroller and it was hugely useful in the airport to have a place to strap them down. It was also a nice place for them to rest if they were tired. We are choosing not to use our Kelty packs (and I think they are identical to yours by the way, judging from pictures) for two reasons- 1) our trip is so long so we are worried about getting tired carrying them and 2) we think they will rest better in the stroller. That said since our chunkers are pushing the moby wrap weight limits and we know we won't have our stroller during our layover in Germany this year, we are hoping the airport will have loaner strollers we can use somehow. We are looking in to this.
I have no carseat advice since we just purchased or borrowed a set in each destination. I think you can check one for free, but I would be afraid of it being damaged…
Here is some general advice I recently gave to someone else who asked about flying with babies/ toddlers. Some of it might be helpful.
Have you purchased your flights yet? We flew mainly at times where they were likely to sleep it it really paid off, particularly on long-hauls….
Gather new little toys/ containers/ books that he has never seen before. Stash them away until the trip and pull them out s-l-o-w-l-y. We bought a few small books as well as a few new toy cars etc... No balls or toys with small parts that will fall and get lost, but simple. Oh and obviously no noisy toys. I had them in a clear zipper bag so it was easy to find what I wanted.
Finding healthy food in airports is nearly impossible! We had brought some Ella's Kitchen fruit and veggie purees which were very helpful for healthy snacks. (They WERE allowed through security, you just have to request that they are hand checked.) We also had TONS of other snacks- crackers, raisins, baby puffs (a strange corn thing common here in Sweden). Anything that would keep over 24 hours, was easy to pack and not super messy. A mix of old favorities and new exciting things to try.
Have your carry-on(s) packed in such a way that it is fast and easy to get out anything you will need to take out of your bag at security. (laptops, baby foods etc).
Pack (at least) one change of clothes for each of you in your carry-on.
If bassinets are an option on your plane, they are worth trying to book. Our boys slept 8 hours straight in them last year. This year, they are too heavy so it is laps…
We brought a couple of light blankets in our carry-ons which were really helpful in blocking out the plane lighting while they slept (maybe not applicable to you, but you never know what will come in handy…)
Have a mini diaper bag that is easy to grab and take to the lavatory. It should be full of everything you will need (wipes, pad, one diaper) but not anything else. Space is SO limited and it is a pain to fuddle around to find exactly what you need in the full diaper bag. Once you get back to your seat, re-stock the diaper.
We each had a diaper bag with a compete set of everything (toys, snacks, clothes, even a copy of each boy's lovey so those didn't have to get passed back and forth).
On your layover, find a place to play to get out some energy. Either a play area (ask the gate crew where to find them) or a low traffic part of the airport where they can climb around on seats and not be in anyone's way.
On Lufthansa they were great and asked us right at the beginning of the flight when we would like the meal for our babies, but even if they don't ask, you could always take the initiative and ask if you can have their meals served before the other passengers (They sometimes do this with special order meals anyway so it is not unheard of.). I bet they will do it because who wants to listen to hungry babies cry? (But don't plan on them liking the plane meal so be sure to have plenty of snacks!) Also, depending on what they are used to eating try to see if you can order a meal for them. Our boys had never had store bought baby food before and would have been much happier with a regular meal or childs meal that we cut up for them. Luke tasted the jar of lasagne that they brought and just about threw up.
Take advantage of the time you have on the plane before take off to get organized (once you are sure you are staying in that seat). Get out your snacks, a few toys etc., get your mini diaper bag in a convenient place. Just standing on the seat looking around at all the new people and things should keep them pretty occupied while you do it. Don't start getting out your toys until you need to.
Take off and landing can be rough on the ears, so that is a great time to encourage him to drink something or chew on a snack to try to equalize the pressure. We also let our boys have their pacifiers then (which we NEVER do unless they are sleeping). I think I may have breast fed them as well. I know I did on the flight, but I'm not sure exactly when it was.
And this last piece of advice is a bit silly, but I think it helped. Dress them adorably. Go overboard on the twin thing. Someone suggested this to us and although we seldom dress our boys identically, we tried it. For the trip we decked them out in the most over the top matchy cute outfits we had and people loved it. I think people were actually unwittingly more understanding because of it.
I have 5 children and when hubby and I travel we almost always have a grandparent or two with us to we usually take up the entire row (assuming a plane has a layout of 2-3-2). We prefer go buy in full rows whenever possible. It makes it easier to keep an eye on everyone. As for planes with alternate layouts we always work on a 1 big per row theory. We often try and put as many big people as we can with as many little kids as possible. In the case of a lay out of 2-2 we put one adult in the first row with one infant twin and one at the back with the other infant twin. We usually put grandparent or aunt or uncle with Walter and Matilda and Eloise together.
I've got 4 kids, aged 8,7, and 5 yr. old twins(#5 is on it's way!). My family lives in Paris and we make frequent trips all over France during school breaks and summer vacations. We just took a trip in May to Australia with all four kids in tow, and pregnant wife might I add, and that flight is 21 hours! It sounds hard and deflating, but with the right tools and strategies your trip should be great!
First things first, Security Lines:
This is probably the hardest because you have tons of shoes to remove, diaper bags, backpacks, and kids running loose. Hopefully, you should have already checked your bags, and only have the necessities. You probably have your stroller too because you'll need that during the walk around the airport (it can be checked when you are boarding, Just double check with your airline). Make your life easier keep the babies in the stroller, and take their shoes off, put your stuff all in backpacks & diaper bags. Then Fold the stroller. Trust me it is ten times easier that way. You are going to have TWO carseats, you need to fold your stroller. have your 12 yr. old help out, by holding a baby, the stroller or even a carseat, and have the six year old prepped too.
Families are big, and planes are ironically small. You can't all sit together. You can sit across from each other, or in front/behind. Don't worry about the older kids. Put them together. They tend to like having their own seats, it makes them feel grown up. My wife and I used to put Plum & Arthur together, but now that the twins are older they like to sit with their older brother/sister.
For the twins, if you purchased seats for them bring them on. Install them, and ask if you can board the plane early to install your seats. Depending on the airline they might let you which allows more time for you to get situated with yourself, the babies and the kiddos.
For your six year old, check it. She will like the idea of having her own "big girl" seat, and most airlines do not allow booster seats only infant seats.
Older kids tend to be easier:
My daughter is 8 going on 15. All you need is to load up an ipod/iphone/mp3 with songs and games and they'll be happy. The 7 year old is more into games, and whatever his older sister is doing. I'm sure the same can be said for your 6 & 12 year old, no? Main thing: Load up on the ipod, but DO NOT forget the rechargeable battery. There are usually no outlets on the plane, so having an external charging device is a great thing to have, even for yourself. You can try to encourage the kids to bring books and sketchpads when music gets irritating, but don't push it, so there is no attitude!
My twins aren't babies, but they are still the handful. However the flight plan is simple.
Bring important toys, the security blankets, the fluffies and the Benadryl. Pay attention to them carefully, the moment you sense them get antsy, try to let them out of their seats for little while. Do things that will accommodate them for a while because then they will accommodate you (and the other passengers) with a cry-free ride. Also sleep when they do, or get work done, use the bathroom, etc. It'll be harder to do so when they are on full-speed.
It is going to be a pain in the neck to get everyone off the plane. Keep in mind: You've already been on the plane for 10 hours, 5 minutes extra isn't going to kill you. WAIT. Wait for the plane to clear and then uninstall your car seats, and your stroller would usually be waiting for you as soon as you exit the plane. Stick the babies in it, and go get your luggage. That's another pain, but don't keep the kids on full lockdown. Either you, or your husband keep the smaller kids confined in a back area or away from the crowd to waddle, toddle and run a little while one of you gets the bags with your 12 & 6 yr olds.
I really hope this helps. it's usually what we do with our kids, and we haven't had any meltdowns or complaints. Hope it all goes well, and you have fun here in the states!