It’s that time of year again! Time for trimming the tree, decking the halls and if you’re traveling to spend the holidays with your out of state (or out of country…..or continent) family — time to take a trip on an airplane.
When you have small children gone are the days of digging into a good book while sipping a glass of wine to endure the flight. Hello to juggling 6 carry-on bags for 4 people, meltdowns at the check-in counter (and security, and the gate…) and hours of trying to keep your kids entertained. It’s enough to send even the coolest mom into a panic just thinking about it. (Tip: A hearty glass of wine helps with that!)
With a little prep, flying with your kids can be less terrifying. After two trips across the globe with a toddler (23 hours of flying each way) to visit family I’ve learned a trick or 10 about what really keeps small children less screamy and more content on flights. Of course not everything works for everyone but I’m hoping some of these tips will help some panicked parents out there!
So take a deep breath, pour yourself that glass of wine and read on:
Plan to take red-eye or overnight flights
The hands-down easiest way to fly with kids is if they are asleep. The hands-down easiest way to get them to sleep is flying at night after their bedtime. With all the excitement of the airport, new experiences and the noisy and highly lit environment on the airplane it can be difficult for children to fall asleep on a daytime flight —even if it’s during their naptime.
On longer nighttime flights, airlines will serve a meal then turn off the cabin lights. This, along with with your child’s internal clock helps them catch some Zzzz’s. Keeping the same bedtime routine you have at home helps too. (“We are going to go put on our jammies, brush our teeth and read two bedtime stories. Then it’s time for sleeping okay?”)
Your flight does not need to be Pinterest- worthy
You’ve seen the cute Pinterest- worthy travel tips – goodie bags and drink tickets for the adults sitting around you. While yes it’s very cute, it’s also time consuming and unnecessary. Most people have kids and have been there themselves. Other passengers tend to be very understanding as long as you are respectful and do your best to curb any unpleasant behavior. By all means, if your child becomes overly disruptive, offer to buy the passengers around you a drink. But people will understand and may even surprise you with a friendly smile and a helping hand.
During boarding wipe down EVERYTHING
A recent article on the BBC profiled how “often” and “thoroughly” the interior of an airplane is cleaned. (If you really want to know you can read about it here.) Hint: It’s not enough.
Bring a pack of Lysol disinfectant wipes and wipe down every hard surface you can image your child touching. Remember: Be creative…Kids are!
People may look at you like you’re crazy but YOUR family will not be spending half your vacation miserable with pink eye thank you very much.
Author’s note: I am very passionate about this topic as I just spent a week with pink eye I caught on a flight home. Wipe. Down. Everything.
Kids Getting Restless? Walk Them Around.
You would think this is common sense but apparently not. It’s unrealistic to expect a small child to sit still on any length of flight. If they start to get restless, kicking the seat back or playing with the flight attendant call button, get up and walk them around. A change of scenery and a little exercise will calm them right down.
New toys to open on the flight are a great idea but just remember the typical attention span of a small child is 5 minutes (scientifically proven at my house) so they may lose their novelty quickly. Using them as bribes in parent- panic situations, like deciding that landing is the best time to take off your seatbelt and refuse to sit down, is extremely effective.
There are many great ideas online about the best toys to bring but do use your common sense. Does it really make sense to bring Play-Doh or a game with a million pieces onto an airplane? Not unless you want to be the one digging the Play-Doh out of all the tiny crevices around your seat. Crowd- pleasers usually include stickers, coloring books, reading books, magnetic games, small cars, dolls of favorite characters and….
And the Number 1 toy to bring along is…..
Shocker alert…..it’s an IPad filled with new movies plus a couple of old favorites. You know how mesmerized they are by the TV at home….now imagine that same quiet time the entire flight. (Bliss!!) Plug them in with a pair of over the ear headphones and Voila! Everyone’s happy.
Adjust your expectations and roll with the punches
This is the biggest advice I can give you. No child is perfect. No trip is EVER perfect. They want to eat blueberries and milk and only blueberries and milk the entire 12 hour flight? Fine. We’ll deal with the aftermath of that later. They insist on taking their pants and Pull-Up off in the passport control line? Go for it. As long as you march your naked buns up to the nice officer when it’s our turn.
This is not the time to worry about pants, nutritional intake or excess screen time. This is about survival.
With a little preparation and the appropriate expectations you will be less anxious, which will make the kids less anxious which will help keep everybody happy and sane.
Bon Voyage, Happy Travels and Good Luck!
What tips do you have for surviving a flight with children?