Flying with kids can be quite daunting... certainly not the relaxed way to start a family vacation. Yet, despite gas prices continually on the rise, almost 40% of all airline travelers are families with kids. Are we parents a glutton for punishment or what? Not to mention the seemingly identical looks of fright we get from other passengers as we cheerfully make our way down the airplane aisle with our children in tow (after popping into the cockpit to say hello to the pilot, of course). You know what I'm talking about... the ones that silently scream "Oh boy, please, PLEASE don't let those kids be sitting anywhere near me." Then, of course comes the looks of dismay as the passengers closest to us realize that they have indeed, drawn the short straw.
Parenting is hard enough without the added stress of long hours in an enclosed environment. Not to worry, though. We at Flight Center are here for you with five tips to help ease the way to a more relaxed, enjoyable trip. Hopefully, these tips will help you get the ultimate compliment from all those doubters (albeit laced with a good dose of surprise), "Your kids are such terrific travelers!"
1. Prepare Early and Fly Direct
One of the biggest obstacles for family travelers these days is ensuring that parents are not split up from their children on the plane. That's why Flight Center gives you the option of viewing your seats before you book them. However, the earlier you book, the more likely seats will be available together for that flight.
In the past, I've tried to arrange flights around my children's nap times with admirable success. Unfortunately, flight delays have now become the norm rather than the exception, and I've had to readjust accordingly. Early morning flights are less likely to be delayed and are often less crowded. Let's face it...we parents don't exactly sleep-in anyway, and less delays mean less boredom for the kids. Overnight flights for longer trips are another option to help ensure your little ones sleep on the airplane. Whenever possible, go direct. Not only will it shorten your travel time, it will also reduce the stress and frustration in the event of a flight delay. Plus, if you miss your connecting flight, it will be extremely difficult to get your entire family on another one. If you have to connect, though, make sure you leave a sufficient amount of time between flights for deplaning and re-boarding.
2. Expend Some Pre-Flight Energy
Try to get to the airport early so there is plenty of time to get some excess energy out of your children. My little one loves riding back and forth on the people movers that are common at many airports. I also make sure to find an open space (usually by an empty gate nearby) so that he can run around to his heart's content until our flight is called. My older ones go through a series of hops, jumping jacks and toe-touching in the form of a Simon Says game. The exercise and giggle fits will usually tire them (and you) out enough to combat most restless tendencies for at least some of the flight.
3. Mix Some New Toys with Old Favorites
Finding simple ways to keep little ones entertained on a flight can be quite the challenge. Try taking a trip to the dollar store before your trip to pick up some toys. Talk to other parents to get different ideas. Favorite books are a no-brainer. A small bag of chips to shake or piece of cellophane to crinkle provides a great sensory experience for the smaller babies (9-12 months). My youngest absolutely LOVES brushing his teeth and hair, so I take a couple of toothbrushes, training toothpaste and a hairbrush to keep him busy for a while. Making bracelets using colorful pipe cleaners and some Fruit Loops or Cheerios in a spill-proof cup will entertain preschool children while developing their fine motor skills. Old favorites like Magna Doodles, disposable cameras, Wikki Sticks, color by number and Mandalas are great for elementary kids. My oldest son absolutely loves the extreme dot-to-dot books, Sudoku and classic Mad Libs…so do I.
The trick is to make sure (especially for very little ones) you only take out one toy at a time. Get as much use out of it as you can before you pack it away and introduce a new one. Leave tags on new purchases…those alone provide their own entertainment. You can even partially wrap (leave one side open to get through security) some toys to make them presents to entice good behavior. Yes, I admit it…I am all for shamelessly bribing my kids with presents on an airplane to avoid "the look" from my fellow passengers. Oh, and don't forget to get your older kids to lighten your load by carrying their own backpacks.
4. Embrace the Power of Technology
Say it with me, "Technology is your friend, technology is your friend." Just keep repeating that mantra over and over in your head as you go against all of your typical rules of limiting electronic games and videos. Many airlines offer in-flight entertainment with kids' stations, but a portable DVD player with favorite movies or shows can be invaluable, especially on a longer flight. If you have a smartphone or tablet, there are so many downloadable movies and educational apps that are inexpensive (or free), you can feel good about spoiling your kids a bit on your flight. It's okay…you deserve the break.
5. Snack Smart, and Snack Often
Some airlines still serve snacks, and even meals for longer flights, but we all know our kids for the impatient and picky little angels they are. Come prepared with a nice combination of healthy snacks and special treats to keep your kids satisfied. If you're bottle feeding an infant, consider using the powdered version for travel…you can always get water to mix with it, and it will really lighten your load. I feed my youngest son Kix or Cheerios one at a time and count them out loud to draw out the experience. Fruit Loops come in lower sugar versions and are great for practicing colors. He absolutely loves the toddler squeezable food pouches you can get at the supermarket (sweet potato, apple, cinnamon is his favorite), and all my kids like the squeezable applesauce pouches for older ones. Raisins, bananas and crackers are also good choices, but don't forget to pick up a bottle of water at the gate so you can keep the sippy cups filled. This is another time you might choose to relax your rules a bit and treat the kids to some snacks they wouldn't normally get all the time at home, like M&M's, cookies or gummy bears….after all, it is their vacation too. Don't worry; your secret is safe with us.
With the right balance of preparation, patience and perseverance, you can make flying with your kids an (almost) enjoyable experience. Just keep in mind how little of your family trip is spent on the airplane, take a couple of deep breaths and enjoy the ride.