A friend of mine recently asked a few of us for advice on taking his 7-month old on an airplane to Disney World this past weekend. Their whole family, grandparents and friends included, were heading down there this weekend to take part in the Star Wars marathon, but had never flown with the kid yet. And you know, since I’m an expert on all things kid related, due to the fact that I have a kid and a blog… and the fact that we’ve flown a few times with our daughter when she was just about a year old, he figured I would have some advice for him.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like giving out unsolicited advice, but when someone asks me for tips or pointers on a topic that I’ve had even a little experience with, I’m happy to help.
About a month after our daughter turned 1, we took her for a long weekend to New York City. We have friends that live in Manhattan, and some of our other friends that live out west were going to fly to NYC also, so we were going to all spend the weekend together. Thankfully it’s a super short flight from Chicago to NYC, so we weren’t too worried about how Thing One was going to act when we were on the plane, but we prepared for the worst… and that’s the first thing I told him.
My Tips for Flying with Children
1. Prepare for the Worst
No matter how good you think your child is, always prepare for the worst. If your kid is a nightmare it’s not just going to make your life miserable, it’s going to make everyone around you miserable as well, and that’s a terrible feeling. Maybe it’s just cause I tend to be a pretty courteous person, but I hate when I ruin someone else’s experience… in anything. Especially when it could have been avoided. So definitely prepare for the worst so that you make your ride more enjoyable, as well as those around you.
Now I’ve seen posts where people have passed out earplugs or candy or whatever to other people on the flight as a preemptive way of saying ‘sorry for how my kid might act on this flight’, and while the sentiment is great, I don’t see the point. It’s almost as if you’re already giving up, and there’s no point in trying because your kid is just going to be shitty no matter what. If you just prepare for whatever situation may arise with your child, you’ll be fine, and nobody will be too upset if you’re trying.
2. Something to Suck on for Takeoff and Landing
Bring a bottle of milk or water (even diluted juice if you want), and give your kid the bottle on takeoff and landing. It doesn’t matter what is in the bottle, as long as it’s something that your child can suck on to help with the pressure change in their ears. I’m 35 years old and I still hate going through the pressure change, so of course your kid is going to hate it. If they are older and don’t want a bottle, give them a lollipop, or a hard candy (if they are old enough), just give them something to suck on during takeoff and landing.
There’s a chance your kid will flat out refuse to suck on anything, but you have to at least give it a try since you can’t standup or walk around during takeoff and landing, so outside of an iPad/screen, it’s one of the few ways to comfort them.
3. iPad/Tablet – Just Give it To Them
I’ve said before that we limit our daughter’s exposure to tablets and phones, and general screens, but when it comes to flying, those rules go right out the window. Load up a movie or some cartoons on the iPad and use it to calm your kid down. A few hours on a flight of watching Elmo or Monsters, Inc., isn’t going to turn your kid into a screen obsessed drone, it will honestly just make your life easier.
If old enough, pick up a cheap pair of headphones similar to the Beats By Dre headphones that go over the ears, and not earbuds. There’s no way your kid is going to keep earbuds in their ears the whole time. And the noise canceling effect that the over the hear headphones have will be enough to keep them immersed in whatever it is they are watching.
4. Snacks on Snacks
Bring snacks, simple as that. Bring cheerios, those fruit pouch things, fruit, whatever you want, just make sure you bring snacks. For one, snacks on the plane are most likely going to have to be purchased and will be expensive. Secondly, you never really know what the plane will have, or if they’ll have something your kid will like, so you’re better off just bringing your own.
5. Walk Around if You Have To
After that initial NYC trip in May, we also went to Florida in June, and we never had to get up and walk around with our daughter during any of those flights, but be prepared to do so if nothing else works. If the kid is old enough to walk, you can let them walk up and down the aisles, but only if you accompany them. DO NOT let your kids run loose up and down the aisle, nobody will have any sympathy for if your kids are running around like lunatics on the airplane… DO NOT just let them run around on their own.
6. If Everything is Failing, At Least Make an Effort
Everyone is aware that parents dread flying with their young children, but if you’re not making any effort to calm them down or make them more comfortable, those people are going to get annoyed a lot faster than if you’re at least trying. If your kid starts to act up, or get fidgety or starts to cry, do everything in your power to try and calm them down. If there seems like there’s nothing you can do, at least you’re making the effort and most people will see that. And I’m talking to both the mother and the father (if flying together). Dad’s, don’t just sit there while mom is trying to do all of the comforting, offer to help. I can’t tell you how many times (on my own, and when my wife travels), that we’ve seen fathers just sitting idly by while the mom is struggling to calm down the kid. Or better yet, when both parents clearly don’t care and just let their kids continue to kick the seats, run up and down the aisle, and throw fits. Don’t be those parents.
I understand that every kid is different and every circumstance is different, so in some cases none of the shit I mentioned above will work and your kid will just cry the entire time. And it will absolutely suck for you, as well as the other people on the plane, but sometimes it just happens. Being prepared for the worst is the best thing you can possibly do when flying with a toddler or a baby. If you prepare for the worst you should be able to manage short flights with relative ease. Long flights… I don’t know what to tell you.
We have yet to take our daughter on a flight that was longer than 2.5 hrs, but in a couple years we will be flying to Asia with her, which is almost 24-hours worth of travel to get to our final destination… just kill me now. I’ve been dreading that flight for years now, but now that it’s actually on the horizon, I’m terrified. I’m sure it’ll be ‘ok’, but it’s definitely not going to be great. So if anyone has any other tips for longer flights, outside of what I’ve mentioned above, please feel free to chime in, in the comments.