In Tips for Air Travel with Babies and Young Children, I shared some helpful tips & tricks for making it through the airport in one piece. But getting to your gate is only half the battle.
Once you board your flight & do a quick headcount, take a deep breath and give yourself a pat on the back. Next, take a deep breath and give yourself a pep talk. You’ve officially become your child’s in-flight entertainment for the duration of your flight.
Gone are the days of casually flipping through the airline magazine, drowning out other people’s annoying kids with your favorite iTunes, or catching a few z’s. You’ll be lucky to get a moment’s rest. If you do, rest assured you’ll have a drooling child sprawled across your lap, putting your arm & leg to sleep.
Prior to Take-off
Hopefully you took advantage of pre-boarding and got on the plane first. You’ll need every precious second to stow the mountain of crap gear you carried on.
Put anything you won’t need in the overhead bin, but keep your child’s favorite toy, animal, or blanket easily accessible. Otherwise you won’t be able to get it until the fasten seatbelt sign goes off.
You don’t want to be that parent whose precious child is screaming at the top of her lungs from taxi to cruising altitude. It’s also a good idea to keep your diaper bag under your seat so you can easily grab wipes, diapers, bottles, and snacks.
Last-Minute Potty Run
If you’re traveling with potty-trained toddlers or young children, make one last potty run. You don’t want to risk an accident or suffer the embarrassment of having your child loudly announce to the entire cabin, ‘If you don’t take me to the bathroom right now, I’m gonna pee my pants.’
(Side note: I actually did this to my parents, but we weren’t on a plane. It was much worse. We were in a jam-packed cathedral on Christmas Eve. Oops!)
Before take-off there’s even a slim chance the bathroom will be somewhat clean. By the way, give up any hope of making it out without your child touching something that triggers your gag reflex. Not gonna happen! Pack some hand sanitizer in your carry on and apply generously upon returning to your seat.
If you’re traveling with an infant, most larger planes have changing tables in the bathrooms, but it’s easier to lay your child across two seats for quick changes. If it’s a nasty diaper, spare your fellow passengers and head to the bathroom!
Once the cabin doors close, you’ll need to have your infant-in-arms passenger in your lap. Buckle your seat belt and settle her on top. Your child should not be buckled in with you.
If you’re traveling with an infant, the best way to equalize pressure during take-off and landing is to give her something to suck on. Stick a boob or bottle in her mouth, and you probably won’t hear a peep.
The first time we flew with Bean, she was still nursing. I started feeding her during the lengthy taxi, and she promptly fell asleep and took a nap for the first hour of the flight. The combination of a full belly and jet engine white noise made for one sleepy baby!
For older children, a lollipop or piece of gum is an easy way to keep them occupied and relieve the pressure in their ears.
Once the wheels are up, the real fun begins. You know how difficult it is to keep your child entertained in your house, where they can freely roam and play with any one of a billion toys? Keeping your child entertained on a long flight is a gazillion times harder.
It won’t be hard in the beginning. Your child will be mesmerized by the flight itself. Things like the seat pocket instruction card will be highly entertaining, and playing peek-a-boo with the cute grandparents behind you will keep them busy for at least 5 minutes. But if you’re on a cross-country or international flight, you’ve got time to kill.
The Answer: SNACKS! And lots of ‘em!
Pack provisions! When we flew to Hawaii, we made sure we packed a metric ton of snacks for the girls. It takes a while for the drink cart to make the rounds, so pack your own chow. However, don’t underestimate the power of stale airline peanuts & pretzels to make your child ridiculously happy!
If you’re traveling with a toddler, bring juice or milk, unless you’re ok with your child drinking CranApple, which is approximately 400% sugar and 0.0001% juice.
Doling out snacks over the duration of your flight is an easy and sure-fire way to keep your child occupied, and, more importantly, quiet. In between snacks, the following distractions also work:
- If you’ve got a window seat, point out interesting topography. Seeing the stars above and lights below is a fascinating nighttime activity.
- On longer flights, take advantage of the children’s games and puzzles on the in-seat screens. The flight map is also fun for little ones and an easy geography lesson.
- Pack a few of your child’s favorite books for story time.
- Travel-size magna doodle – best invention EVER!
- Take a stroll up and down the aisles. Visit the flight attendant station in the back of the plane. You might even score some extra snacks!
- Go to the bathroom. Again. When we went to Hawaii for the first time, Bean was potty training. We went to the bathroom at least 700 times on the flight from LA to Kona. Disgusting, yes. Entertaining, even more so!
- When all else fails, pull out another snack. Food coma = in-flight nap!
Just remember, traveling with your children is worth all of the challenges en route. Once you reach your final destination, you’ll be rewarded for your herculean efforts with priceless memories.
Airplane seating photo By: Robert S. Donovan