Travel is an enriching experience. It educates, builds character and gives the traveller a greater sense of their place in the larger world. Once bitten by the travel bug, it can be hard to shake, prompting many to continue their globetrotting after becoming parents. A long flight, however, is a daunting obstacle to overcome with a baby or a toddler in tow.
The Nightmare of Flying With Kids
Anyone who has flown knows that air travel can be unpleasant. Hundreds of people, packed together like sardines in a can, sit with cramping legs and squished behinds, watching hours of ludicrous romantic comedies and inane family-friendly movies about talking dogs.
The unpleasantness is only compounded when there is a screaming child on board. It is every parent’s travel nightmare: that theirs will be the screaming child, that the annoyed glares of the other passengers will be directed their way.
It is stressful to parent in a confined space, in front of a captive audience. Remain calm and proceed as normal.
Packing for the Flight
Children cry on planes for the same reasons they cry on terra firma. Prepare for the usual list of complaints:
Pack to deal with these eventualities.
Kids have a knack for sleeping through or not liking the in-flight meal and for being hungry at unexpected times. Have favourite snack foods and some water or juice on hand. Beverages should be purchased, once past airport security. Breast milk and baby formula are allowed through security, but only in quantities necessary for the flight. These liquids usually have to be presented to security personnel.
To help ensure the child’s comfort, throughout the flight, have diapers and a change of clothes available in the carry-on baggage. A pacifier may help to equalize the pressure in an infant’s ears at take-off and landing. It’s always a good idea to have the child’s comfort objects (teddy bear, blankie) available. Flying is an unusual and uncomfortable situation and anything that helps the child feel secure is a good thing.
To stave off boredom, bring some books, toys and activities like colouring books and crayons. A portable DVD player or laptop can help to kill a couple of hours. Take advantage of the in-flight entertainment if it is appropriate.
Prepare the child for the length of time they will be on the plane. Try explaining to them, in advance, that the family is having a sleep-over on the plane or that the plane is going to be the hotel. Then, encourage them to sleep. Go through the typical nighttime routine. Change the child into pyjamas, read a story and give them a familiar blanket. It may not work as well as it does at home, but at least the child will get some rest. Any nap is better than no nap, as a rested child will be more cooperative once the plane is on the ground and the family is running the gauntlet through customs, baggage claim, and transport to the hotel.
Travel With Babies and Preschoolers
Travelling with a baby is difficult yet simple. All a parent can do is prepare and then tend to the infant’s needs as they arise.
The older the child gets, the easier it will be, but realize that the flight may still be difficult. A preschooler is more likely to meltdown because of boredom, frustration or fear.
Help the child understand what is going on. Even a two- or three-year-old can begin to form an understanding if flying is explained in an age-appropriate way. Name the basic parts of the plane for them. Explain who the pilot, co-pilot and flight attendants are. Give the child some sense of what is happening during take-off and landing. This information will help keep the child calm and may spark their curiosity.
Accept that a tearful outburst is likely to occur at some point on the flight. It is not a catastrophe. Most passengers are very patient with children and sympathetic with parents. More often than not, there will be words of encouragement from fellow passengers who have been through the very same experience themselves.
Enjoy the flight and take it all in stride. With a little preparation and a calm disposition, it will be a pleasant holiday memory…or a really good story.