Flying the not-so-friendly skies: Tips for airplane travel with infants, toddlers and preschoolers
Flying With A Child 101: Airplane Travel Tips
You haven't endured a true in-flight experience until you take an airplane with your small child. The sea of dirty looks incurred before even boarding the aircraft is enough to send all adult males in your travel group in search of the nearest vasectomy clinic.
I'm not talking about a couple of unkind glances and some scattered eye rolling. I'm talking about the sort of maniacal expression you would expect to see on the face of your mortal enemy as you descend from the darkness to avenge your parents' deaths. It is the equivalent of pure unadulterated evilness coming from strangers in an airport, just because two years earlier an egg was successfully fertilized.
From packing your bags to arriving safely at your destination, flying with an infant or toddler is a tricky business which must be handled from start to finish with the delicate precision of hand painting a Chinese egg or applying a street mime's make-up.
Here are my Top 7 tips for traveling on an airplane with an infant, toddler or preschooler.
1. Keep Calm and Bring a Carry-On
When it comes to planning, the carry-on is perhaps the most crucial component of successful airplane travel with kids. If you mess this one up, your flight will likely end in tears and a shiny new stomach ulcer.
Since your attention will most likely be at all times focused on keeping your child as busy as possible your personal carry-on is pretty much rendered useless. Go ahead and bring a magazine, but you probably won't get a chance to read it. You may as well just concede and pack your carry-on with your kids' stuff too.
But realize that even with a perfectly packed carry-on, it is unlikely that things will go as smoothly as planned. Try to stay calm. An overly stern, "Don't make me turn this plane around!" isn't going to work after take off. As soon as you lose your cool, your kid will also lose his or her cool. It's not exactly Murphy's Law, but that applies here too. Just try and sit back in your uncomfortable seat, take a deep breath of recirculated air and settle down.
All that being said, long before you arrive at the airport be sure to pack a carry-on full of your child's favorite toys and activities, including (but not necessarily limited to):
- Electronics: The portable DVD player, Nintendo DS, Leap Pad, iPad, laptop, etc., are your best friends in times of air travel. Bring a good selection of your child's favorite programs and games, as well as some brand new ones. Also, don't forget the headphones. Not everyone finds Caillou as charming as your child. (Actually, no one other than your child finds Caillou charming).
- Coloring Stuff: A pad of blank paper, a coloring book or three (your kid is picky), crayons, markers, etc.
- Stickers: Stickers are an AMAZING distraction. Not only can you stick them on paper, but your child can stick them on the seat in front of you, all over your child's body, all over your body, etc. Bring several sheets and stick away.
- Books: Bring a good combination of your child's favorite books and a brand new book or two that they have never read before.
- Beloved Blankie or Other Loved Object: If your kid has a favorite blankie or a particular doll he or she cannot be separated from, then for the love of all things good and mighty, by the power of Grayskull, DO NOT forget to bring it. If you do forget to bring it, you should probably just cancel your trip.
- Snacks: A hungry child is an unpredictable child, so don't scrimp on snacks. But try not to pack your kid full of sugar and preservatives. That's unhealthy for them and dangerous when you're in a small space. Bring a good variety of healthy, fresh snacks, including fruits, veggies and protein-filled food. If you're worried the food will go bad, bring an insulated lunch box with an ice pack.
2. Don't Book the Red Eye
Don't make the same mistake we made the first time we traveled by airplane with our son. We booked the red eye. It seemed like a logical equation:
Night + Sleep / Peace + Quiet = Happy Mommy ≥ Happy Daddy
We dressed our son in his cutest footie pajamas and hopped on the flight thinking he would be so tired he would just sleep the whole way, and we'd arrive at our destination well rested.
Not a logical equation after all for it does not take into account intervening variables such as: Too much exciting stuff happening in the airport and on the airplane, new people, the engine noises, the fasten your seat belt sign and the captain's announcements, etc.
He was awake basically THE WHOLE TIME. I was exhausted and grumpy the entire vacation, which means my husband was stressed out the entire vacation. Do yourself and your family a favor. If at all possible, try to fly at a time that doesn't completely mess with your sleep schedules or nap times.
3. Turn to the Bottle
No, not a bottle of vodka (although I'm not completely ruling it out as a helpful tip for mommy). I am talking about your child's bottle, if you're traveling with an infant or young child who still uses one.
The change in air pressure upon airplane take off puts a lot of pressure on a young child's ears. Think about your own ears and how badly you want to make them "pop" when you fly. A young child doesn't know how to do that and instead ends up in pain. Sucking on a bottle helps to alleviate that pressure and gets their ears to "pop" naturally.
If your child is too old for a bottle, try giving him or her a lollipop to suck on during takeoff and landing (preferably, sugar-free unless you want to endure the consequences of a sky-high sugar high).
4. Behold the Bathroom Break
Bathroom breaks are good for obvious reasons, but also because it isn't healthy for anyone to sit in one place for an extended period of time. Even if your child isn't potty trained, a trip to the bathroom for diaper changes will also afford you guys a nice change of scenery.
It is also a nice opportunity to scan the airplane for those who shunned you in the airport, and return some of their evil glances.
5. Cure for the Common Seat Kicker
I think it's happened to all of us. Despite his or her parents' incessant begging, the kid behind us on the airplane refused to stop kicking our seat.
We were annoyed and angry at first, but once we glanced behind us and saw that dead, empty look in the eyes of that child's parents we couldn't help but feel like deep down we somehow deserved to be kicked.
- Kick a stranger no more: By quite a happy accident, my husband was once placed in front of my son on a four hour flight to Michigan. At first I was panicked because it meant I would have to keep my son busy all on my own. But it actually took a bit of pressure off knowing that if my son did indeed kick, he would just be kicking his dad (sorry, Howard). Plus, once we were able to unbuckle our seat belts, my husband was able to turn around in his seat and entertain my son, who got a "kick" out of seeing his dad in the seat in front of him.
- Beauty of Bulkhead Seats: This is a little tip we learned on our last flight. The Bulk Head Seats are those seats between cabin and first class which have extra foot room (and no seats in front of them). They are reserved for people with disabilities. But if they are not filled, you can request to sit there. This was awesome because there was nothing for my son to kick and lots of extra room for mommy and daddy. My son was also impressed by the really cool, unfolding tray table that "magically" appeared from his arm rest.
6. Tips from the TSA
For safety reasons, the Transportation Security Administration screens all passengers at the airport security checkpoint (even infants). Ever tried juggling your child, a stroller and carry-on luggage while removing your shoes from your feet and your keys from your pocket? It isn't easy! Here are some TSA tips for traveling with children.
7. The Power of Good PR
I know a woman (she also happens to be a public relations professional) who was traveling a long way with toddler twin girls. Before takeoff, she stood up and handed out earplugs to everyone around her on the airplane, "Just in case!" Everyone was very amused, and it removed some of the unspoken tension.
Besides, who doesn't love SWAG.
© 2012 Aleza Freeman