Between kids and snakes, who would you rather sit next to on a plane?
Sure, kids are cute and all, but sitting next to one, especially on a long-haul flight, is the stuff of nightmares. I don’t know how they do it, but they seem to have the innate ability to make any seemingly normal and mundane activity extra--extra noisy, extra exhausting, extra disastrous...
So, if I had the choice, I’d definitely choose to fly with our slimy, writhing reptile friends on my next 10-hour flight to nowhere. But being a mom to a terrific three-year-old boy, I don’t really have a choice, do I?
Taking a Child on an Airplane is Never Fun, But...
I remember my first flight with my then-three-month-old. Save for the inevitable nappy changes in-flight, the experience went smoothly. All it took for my kid to behave was boobmilk and me rocking him to sleep. He was such an angel!
From then on, our small family had regularly traveled to visit our far-flung relatives, and every time, our flight experience was always painless and peaceful.
That is, until my son turned a year and a half old.
We were on a six-hour flight from Los Angeles to Boston and to say that it was pure torture is an understatement. My kid cried the second we took off and won’t stop fussing until we landed. If our fellow passengers’ looks could kick us off the flight, I’m pretty sure we would’ve been sent home the moment my child’s sobfest started.
But even though it was such a traumatic experience, I didn’t completely shut out the idea of traveling with my kid again. Why? Well, because I’m such a masochist!
No, really. The thing is, I’ve accepted the fact that it’s normal for kids to whine and cry, especially when they’re stuck in tight-spaced seats for hours. And while there’s no way around this hardship, I learned that there are tons of things parents can do to make the ordeal easier and less stressful.
Best Strategies for Stress-Free Air Travel with Kids
I don’t consider myself a pro, but I have discovered some strategies to make air travel with kids more bearable. Hope they work for you, too!
When booking a flight, consider your child’s internal time clock- The first rule for stress-free air travel with kids is to consider whether your child has a “best” or “worst” time of the day. For instance, morning flights may be suitable for early risers but not so much for those who get cranky in the morning. Late-night flights, on the other hand, may be great for kids who love “sleepovers” on a plane. In my case, we prefer to fly as early in the day as possible because they are usually less crowded.
Protect small ears from pressure changes- One common reason why babies and toddlers get irritable on flights is ear pressure discomfort. While we cannot protect our little humans from it, we can make it less bothersome. For babies, I’ve learned that feeding them or having them suck on a pacifier helps. For toddlers, nibbling on food or drinking water after takeoff and during the last 30-45 minutes of the descent is a must.
Pack an activity bag- Yes, packing light means you get to travel more efficiently. But when you’re with your little human, by all means pack an extra bag with an arsenal of things that will help keep your child busy during the flight. This includes coloring books, sticker books, pop-up books, crayons, markers, and plush companions.
Bring snacks on board- This isn’t a problem for young babies since all they need is their milk, but for toddlers, packing ample snacks is a must. I’ve learned that a pack of gummy bears can be a huge lifesaver when things are really melting down.
Prepare little presents- Nothing engages young kids more than unwrapping presents. Playing with new toys are also a surefire way to turn a boring flight into a treasure trove of fun. You don’t need to buy anything fancy, though. Just head on to the dollar store and get toys that will grab the interest of your child.
Brace yourself for the walk of shame- A change of scenery also helps especially when your little humans start to get restless and agitated. I call this the “walk of shame,”--that is, taking your child for a walk up and down the plane. Personally, it’s no fun parading yourself down the same walkway repeatedly, but it’s actually a win-win for your child as you get to stretch your legs while your child gets to see a different view.
Switch off screen time restrictions- When all else fails, time for screen time! I know, I know--the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that screen time should absolutely be banned before 18 months. But I also know that every parent wants to keep their sanity at 20,000 feet, so if a little screen time helps your kid (and everyone on the plane), then so be it! Get your phone or your iPad and distract your little human with his or her favorite game or movie. It’s not the end of the world. I promise.
Flying with our little humans can be such a harrowing activity most of us wouldn't wish even on our worst enemies. But believe me, you can still come out of your flight in one-piece with a little planning and preparation.