As my wife and I parade our three children down the aisles of airplanes, the looks go from sympathy to horror with each seat we pass. Often times, we see relief from other parents as they realize they are not alone in the stressful journey that is about to begin. And later on, when their children are crying and mine are quiet, I feel a sense of accomplishment. (Of course when their children are sitting quietly and mine are not, I am wondering what I have done to deserve such a punishment.)
Flying with my two older children can be fun. We have busy lives, and flying has become a special time to sit still next to our kids and talk, play games, or just watch a movie together.
Flying with my toddler is another story, though. I’ll say first that my wife and I are blessed to have a good-natured toddler. He smiles constantly and laughs a lot, but he is active… very, very active. Getting him to sit still can be difficult. And after a plane ride with him, my wife and I feel like we have had an intense workout. We’ve lifted him up and down and walked up and down the aisle, dodging other passengers, flight attendants, and food carts on our way to the bathroom in hopes that he will tire out.
Traveling with kids can be difficult, but we are not going to let that keep us from enjoying the world. Life is short and we are not going to wait till we’re too old to climb that mountain or see that great site, just so that we avoid flying with kids. After more plane rides than we can count, we’ve come up with an approach that makes the flight bearable, if not down-right enjoyable. Here are our tips for flying with children:
My Top 10 Tips for Flying with Kids
1. Prepare ahead of time. We usually prepare the day before the trip. The night before, we finish packing our bags and place them by the door. When it’s an early morning flight, we also lay out clothes for the entire family the night before. Also the night before, I prepare myself for all the worst case scenarios. If I’ve done this, I find that I’m more patient and willing to accept all the ill-timed spills, bathroom breaks, and rowdy behaviors. My expectations are so low leading up to a plane ride that things can only go up.
2. Make a Vacation Book. My wife and I like to do this for our older kids for special trips, and it also makes a good keepsake journal. Take an ordinary notebook or binder and print off some coloring pages from your destination, information about wherever you are going, and some other games such as word problems, crosswords, and Mad Libs. Include a map so that the kids can track their in-flight progress, and include some background about airplanes and flight. Include a Bingo game for the kids to check off completed activities – such as getting a drink and cookies, going to the bathroom, saying hi to the pilot and flight attendants, coloring a certain number of pages, and so on – during the flight. Bring along a glue stick, and once you’ve arrived at your destination, let the kids add mementos, like entry tickets, brochures, and post cards. On the flight home, you can look back over the vacation book and relive your trip.
3. It’s all in the bag. Packing an activity bag for the plane is imperative. Most parents understand this rule and follow it. Kids are not used to sitting for long periods of time. Bringing along a bag full of activities provides the child with options. (TIP: pack some of the items in your suitcase for the return flight, since, in our experience, the return flight is harder than the initial flight.) Here are the typical contents of our activity bags:
An electronic device. Even if you don’t usually let your kids play with your smart phone or tablet, a plane ride is a special occasion. Add some kid friendly apps ahead of time and download a few movies from the App Store or Play Store.
Notepad and pens or pencils. Go old school and let your kids draw, or teach them a few classic road trip games like connect the dots, tic-tac-toe, and race game.
Removable stickers. We love removable stickers, and our son gets a big kick out of decorating the seats with them. Plus, it’s easy to remove them all at the end of the flight.
Story books. Whether you go with an old favorite or bring along a new book, story time can provide a few minutes of calm from the storm.
A few new toys. We usually throw in a few mini containers of play dough, a mini etch-a-sketch, a couple of match box cars, some pipe cleaners, and the like. Dole them out one at a time for maximum impact. Some parents even wraps these toys, but that’s too much work for us.
A favorite stuffed animal or some other small objects of their choice. Familiarity is good.
4. Get to the airport early. This is self-explanatory. This not only keeps you from feeling rushed and stressing out yourself and your children, but it also helps them be at ease with the day. We also like to get to the airport early so the kids have a long time to walk around and exercise before getting on the plane.
5. If Alec Baldwin can be a jerk on the plane, why can’t kids? Giving a child a pass for bad behavior isn’t okay, but people are jerks on planes all the time. For some reason, though, if a kid acts up, everyone wants to ban children from flying. Remember that your kids have been told to go here and go there, over and over again, with little input. How would you feel? Don’t overreact when they act up. They’re just kids. And who cares what some impatient people on the plane feel about your kids or your parenting skills. Chances are you’ll never see the other passengers again. But if you are concerned about how others look at you, acknowledge the people around you right before the flight takes off. Make some friends and chat a bit. Encourage your children to talk with others as well. Other passengers will be more forgiving if you start off on the right foot.
6. Pack your own snacks. It might take a while for the snack cart to come down the aisle. You’ve already splurged a bit for plane tickets, so go ahead and pack some yummy snacks for the kids. Providing them with a tasty treat could also be a reward for good behavior while in flight. Keep the snacks in your bag though, or they might be crushed or consumed more quickly than you’d like. And pack some wet wipes to clean up any messes. We also pack a water bottle and fill it after we go through security, so that they always have a drink handy.
7. Reward yourself. If you have a favorite candy bar, bring it. At some point, when you need that extra something to get you through the rest of the ride, go for it and enjoy.
8. Ear pain. Most parents know that nursing a baby while landing helps infants deal with the changing pressure in their ears. Gum and lollipops work well for older children. My daughter’s ears always bother her and we realized that sucking on a lollipop helped relieve the pressure more than gum. My toddler also loves sucking on lollipops, but make sure if you are giving suckers to little kids, you’ve packed plenty of wipes to clean up the sticky mess.
9. Walk the aisle. If the kids want to get up and walk, let them. It is better to walk up and down the aisle with the kids than force them to sit in the seat and hear them cry and complain. Instead of waiting to give in after an argument, just do it right away. Play along and don’t make a big deal of it. We also love to head to the galley where we engage in a vigorous game of “Head and Shoulders (knees and toes)” and take turns looking through the galley windows.
10. Praise them when they sit quietly. If they only hear you when they are misbehaving, then they’re not going to really want to behave. They’ll be mad and so will you. So give them positive words throughout the ride. If you are doing that, when they do something wrong and you correct them, it has more of an impact.
Flying with kids isn’t always easy, but getting to the destination shouldn’t make the destination less enjoyable. Kids act up and push their limits; that’s what they do. Being in a small space accentuates that, but with a little planning, the flight can be one of the best parts of the trip.