When I was single and childless, I boarded every plane casting a wary eye among my fellow travelers, scanning the crowd for any who may scream or cry when the airplane gains altitude. The kind who kicks the back of your seat or is enamored with the tray in front of you. The kind who bangs on the window or just needs to get up and go for a run down the aisle every 20 minutes or so. In other words, a child.
Now that I’m a mom, I’m on the other side of the coin, and I spend most of my boarding time avoiding eye contact with the passengers I know are hoping my toddler and I are seated anywhere but next to them.
What I didn’t know when I was young and carefree and traveling purely for personal fun or expense-account-covered business was that traveling with a child is the most stressful for the child’s parents, who are not only dealing with an agitated child who is less than enthusiastic about staying seated, seatbelted and quiet while speeding through the air in a metal tube at 200 MPH.
The first time I flew with my son, he was 8 weeks old, and spent most of his free time sleeping. An older man boarding behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I hope he’s good on the flight.” “I hope you are, too.” I said, and he looked like I’d just told him the flight was out of peanuts AND cookies.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it’s hard. So I asked my friends (and our aden + anais Facebook community) how they get through a flight with kids.
if you have a baby...
fly during naturally sleepy times
Most of us are buying flights based on price, not naptimes, but flying when your baby usually naps takes some of the stress away.
feed at take off and landing
It helps prevent their little ears from popping, keeps them occupied and (hopefully) is followed by a nice, long nap.
request the front
If you’re flying with a car seat, ask the gate agent for a seat closer to the front of the plane. Even if you board early, lugging all that weight to the back of the plane is not exactly fun.
if you have a toddler...
take a deep breath
because this flight, which you’ve taken a thousand times before and thought was pretty short, is actually going to last 100 hours longer than normal.
talk it over
Flying on a plane is an adventure! Tell your little one about how you’ll fly through the sky, but in a place that is as quiet as a library. Then watch their little minds go to work. Also, seeing air travel through the eyes of a child will really make you appreciate the wonder that it is.
pack their own bag
They may be too small to actually carry it, but if they’re a ticketed passenger, they get their own carry-on, and it makes them feel pretty special. I pack little bags and pouches within my son’s backpack, and we dig through it slowly: first a pouch of race cars, then the pouch with snacks, then the pouch with crayons…each little pouch is like a gift he’s receiving for the first time, and helps him forget that he’s captive for several hours.
Stickers are currency for toddlers. Stock up on a few sheets of stickers to dole out throughout the flight. Also, have you used Washi tape? It comes in sparkles, patterns, is easily torn with just your hands and provides kids with a lot of fun. Seriously, I brought two rolls on a flight from Minneapolis to San Francisco and my child just stuck tape all over the window, then peeled it off and stuck it on the tray. Then back to the window.
No matter what…
+ Dress for the worst: Changing a baby – or toddler – on a small, crowded plane is approximately 100x harder than changing them on land. Make sure your little one is dressed in clothes that make diaper changes – or outfit changes, heaven forbid – easier.
+ Pack the plastic: And by that, I mean bags. If baby has a blow out, or your little one can’t puke directly into the air sickness bag, you have a bunch of wet, stinky clothes you won’t exactly want to put in your own purse.
+ Remember to gate check:You don’t need to check your stroller with your suitcases, you can drive it right up to the door of the plane, and have it waiting for you on the other side.
+ Layer: Planes and airport temperatures vary widely. Pack an extra blanket -- we have some suggestions... ;) – and make sure your little ones have clothes that are easily layered/removed, to keep them comfy.
+ Don’t be too sorry: You know who was a baby at one point? EVERYONE. I’ve seen people on the internet posting little gifts (earplugs, candy, and notes from the baby) that they give to people around them, and it seems so unnecessary to me. Babies cry. That’s okay. It’s nobody’s favorite sound, but the baby isn’t doing it to ruin someone’s day. Don’t feel pressure to compensate for something you can’t actually control.
You know what makes a flight even easier? Having the compassion of the travelers around you, who know that kids are kids, and even the smallest among us deserve to be cut a break on a long, arduous journey through the sky.
Now, when I’m flying sans-offspring, I make it a point to make eye contact with every weary parent I see. We share a smile and a knowing glance, and when they apologize as their child drops yet another piece of soggy cereal over my seatback and into my hair, I say “don’t you even worry about it.” And I mean it.