If you’re a frequent flyer, you’ve probably experienced everyone’s worst nightmare…an unhappy, unruly child who’s making life difficult not only for his/her parent but for everyone on the plane.
This is a parent’s worst nightmare. Imagine the surprise when their otherwise sweet child turns into a screaming and kicking terror when confined to a small, belted seat at 40,000 feet with nowhere to go. While you may be annoyed, be assured that the mom or dad is more upset than you, knowing that their child is disrupting everyone around them.
If you’re a parent who fears traveling on a plane with an infant or toddler or has already had a negative flying experience with a little one, you no doubt dread your next airplane ride or have resigned yourself to car travel or no travel at all until the kids are older. Not necessary, say most child experts. Following a list of guidelines and tips should help make flying with kids much easier.
Preparing for your Trip
Preparation is key when flying with kids, especially small children. Being prepared to handle whatever may arise on the way to the airport, in the terminal, or during the flight can mean the difference between a good experience and a bad one.
- Talk to your child – If your child/children are old enough to understand, chat with them about what they should expect during the trip and talk about YOUR expectations as far as behavior, etc. Waiting in line, security checks, the motion of the plane during take-off, and other such things can frighten a child. Explaining these things in advance can help. Also tell your child that others on the airplane may be trying to sleep or work, so being as quiet as possible is important.
- Packing – This may be the most important part of pre-planning. What to bring and how much of each item to include can be tricky. Food - For infants, plenty of formula or breast milk is essential. Use disposable bottle liners if possible. (Be sure to adhere to regulations for carrying liquids.) Toddlers and older kids should have juice boxes and other healthy snacks, preferably non-messy ones. Remember to pack bibs.
- Clothing and Diapers – Think about how many diapers you’d normally need in the time period it takes to get from home to your final destination and pack more. Delays are inevitable these days! For older children, pack an extra outfit in case of bathroom accidents (some kids are petrified of airplane bathrooms) or food spills. If your child is in the midst of potty-training, forget it. Let them wear a pull-up during the flight.
- Toys – It’s essential to bring along a number of toys, but don’t get carried away or you won’t be able to fit everything in your carry-on bag. Better yet, buy a few new toys as a surprise for your child. It’ll keep them entertained for a longer amount of time. For older kids, hand-held video games, portable DVD players, iPods™, books, puzzle books, and books-on-tape are great. Let them help pack their bag with items they’ll enjoy.
- Other Equipment – For infants, a front pack is ideal for keeping your hands free. For slightly older toddlers, a baby backpack works well also. Bring a small, portable stroller that can remain with you until you get to the airplane door, at which time you’ll give it to a flight attendant. Also carry a “comfort” item for each child, like a blanket or stuffed toy.
At the Airport
Once you’ve arrived at the airport and made it through the various lines, you’ll most likely have a sizeable wait until you board. Don’t expect your child to sit near the gate and do nothing. As a matter of fact, tiring him out might be a good idea. If possible, let your child walk with you around the terminal, use the bathroom, explore the stores and buy a special treat of some sort that will be given to him after he’s settled on the plane. Some airports have a play area. Ask an airport official or scope it out online before you get there.
In the Airplane
Watch some parents as they board an airplane for a long flight and you can literally see their blood pressure rising. Even the most experienced flyers can’t predict what their child might do once the doors have closed and the plane has climbed into the clouds.
The biggest fear, of course, is that your child will annoy other passengers. Child rearing experts say that your first concern should be your child’s comfort, not that of others. After all, you’ll probably never see those people again! Nevertheless, all parents feel your pain when your child starts screaming, crying, kicking, or throwing up. But it doesn’t have to be that bad.
- Try to Identify Your Child’s Needs – If your child is acting up, spend a few minutes trying to find out why before you start offering snacks, toys, etc. He may be frightened, his seat belt may be too tight, or maybe his ears have popped. Once you isolate the problem, it’s easier to address.
- Accept Help – Believe it or not, there may be others on the plane who are willing to give you a hand, especially if you’re traveling with more than one child. It’s okay to say “yes” to a seatmate or other passenger who wants to entertain your child for a little while. (As long as they’re within your sight.) Often, the novelty of playing with someone new will keep your child happy for a while. Flight attendants may also offer to walk with your infant or toddler if they’re not too busy.
- Changing Diapers – Some airplane bathrooms have changing tables that fold down. Ask your flight attendant when you board if your plane has one. These are good for babies but often a little small for toddlers. Other options are to put down the toilet seat in the bathroom and use that as a changing table. If it’s just a wet diaper, you may be able to use your seat(s), but be sure to put a blanket or something else under the baby. Soiled diapers should always be changed out of sight (and smell) of your fellow passengers.
Smile and Hold Your Tongue
Remember, you know your child best. If others offer suggestions – or worse, if others make nasty remarks or rude comments – smile, let them know you appreciate their comments or concerns and that you’re doing your best to comfort your child. A child’s misbehavior on an airplane doesn’t make you a bad parent, just a frazzled one. Getting angry – either with your child or with annoyed passengers - will only make your child more agitated. Maintain your composure. It’ll be over soon.