Thinking of planning a trip for your family but worried about taking your young child on a plane? Or maybe you’re just counting down the days to an already planned trip with a confused mix of excitement and dread. Consider these tips to make your trip as pleasant as your deserve it to be.
First thing’s first: travel reservations! As unappealing as late night flights sound, if often means less crowded airports (and planes) and a chance that your child will sleep the miles away! Regardless, leave yourself lots of time between flights if your travel plans require you take a layover. Keep in mind that if you plan your trip before your child turns two, the child can travel for free and sit in your lap. However, some families might find it worth it to spend the money on a seat for their youngster, since that allows for a little extra space, especially on long flights.
Spend some time a few weeks before your trip simulating the airplane experience with your child! Start with just a few minutes at a time, having them sit in make-shift airplane seats (just line up a few kitchen chairs) reading and playing quietly. Increase this time daily, explaining that “when we go to Disney World (Grampa’s house, Timbuktu, or wherever your destination), we will get to sit in special seats like these, where we can read and draw…” Explain that there will be lots of people on the airplane and teach them how to keep their feet off the seats in front of them. Then when it comes fly time, the “new rules” will actually be a familiar situation for them. Your fellow passengers will appreciate it, too!
Before you try to pack your whole world in that suitcase, check the airline’s policies on weight regulation and number of bags you can check and carry on. It may seem like bringing all your child-caring ammenities will help you out, but in reality, the less you have to carry, the easier your traveling is going to be. Pack enough to get you to where you’re going, and then purchase things like diapers, wipes, and formula at your destination. (Make sure to have a little extra in case of travel delays!) Many hotels will have cribs, high chairs, etc that you can request to have in your room. If you will be staying with family, have them ask around before your arrival to see if they have friends with small children. They might be able to borrow some of the items that you need for the extent of your stay!
To avoid high and rising costs of airport food (which isn’t exactly a delectable treat anyway!) pack snacks and drinks in sippy cups or spill-proof kiddie cups with straws. (The sucking action will help prevent ear pain during take-off and landing.) Airports will allow you to take juice or milk with you through security, but water must be purchased after going through to your gate, for security reasons.
Make sure to leave yourself extra time to get where you need to be. It takes an extra few minutes to fold up strollers and shift booster seats than it does for you to sprint through the airport by yourself.
When you get to the gate where you will be boarding, let your child expend some energy. After all, you’re about to spend a fair amount of time cooped up in a small space! Many airports have play areas for children, so ask the gate attendant if they have one. If not, an empty gate area makes a great jungle gym… empty aisles, vacant rows of squishy chairs…
Almost all airlines offer preboarding for passengers requiring assistance or extra boarding time. This includes people with handicaps and small children. Some might argue that small children are a handicap of sorts! Do not take advantage of this opportunity. The longer you wait to get on the airplane, the less time you and your children have to sit still. If you’re traveling with more than one adult, one of you can bring your carry-on bags and find a seat, and the other can follow with the kiddos.
Up we go!
Now’s the time to bust out those sippy cups! Let your child sit next to the window and sip on their juice (or whatever you packed for them!) A very young child that is either nursing or bottle-feeding can be fed now to avoid the helplessness and frustration of a screaming baby with inner ear pain.
When the flight attendants come around with drink selections, ask him or her to refill your child’s cup so that you can repeat this process at landing time. A binkie for an infant who isn’t hungry will have essentially the same effect.
Depending on the age of your child, there are a variety of things you can do to keep your child busy. Books, crayons, and stuffies are obvious choices for babies with enough dexterity to scribble, but older toddlers might enjoy a trip to the cockpit. Ask your flight attendant if the captain that is flying your plane accepts visitors! By purchasing new toys and activities for your child, and not allowing them to be used until they are on the airplane, the novelty will be more exciting. You can even gift wrap these items for an added level of interest and to eat up a few more minutes!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Yes, there are some people who do not appreciate how difficult it can be to travel with children. But the majority of the people around you will be sensitive, understanding, and more than willing to lend you a hand should you need it.
Lastly, try to cut yourself some slack. Give your child lots of love and attention and try not to get too frustrated, no matter how longingly you want to try your new book of sudoku puzzles. This is a memory in the making, and you want to be able to look back on your time together and smile.