On The Plane

Dealing with long flights with kids makes many parents flinch. The one thing that is worse than sitting next to a crying baby or fidgety kid is being the parent of one. In fact many people have said they won’t travel with their kids because they are too worried about the flight. What we say, is “Remember it is only 4 or 6 or 8 hours of your life and once you have reached you destination and are having a wonderful time with your children, the flight will be a distant memory, a funny story to tell.” Keep in mind, we have been flying across oceans since Nathan (our oldest son) was less than a year old and we have never (knock on wood) had a flight where any baby was fussy the whole time.

Some tips to remember, to help you stay relaxed:

1. Don’t Get Carried Away with Carry-Ons

Keep It Small and Simple.  We have the kids pack their own carry-on bags (with supervision and direction); that way they are responsible for what’s on-board and more importantly, what left behind (no way they can say, “I can’t believe you didn’t pack ‘x’!”  Think small and quiet.  Other passengers will thank you!  We love toy planes, coloring/activity books, travel size games, cards, clay, pipe cleaners, Wiki sticks.  On our flight toAfrica(17-hours) Seamus spent a good 2 hours making African animals out of pipe cleaners and then playing “zoo”.

2. Turn to the “T”

The back-up plan is of-course the “T” word…technology.  A hand-held game, MP3 player with music from the destination, smart phone can be wonderful in a pinch.  Many planes, especially on long hauls, provide seat-back entertainment systems with games and movies that will keep the kids occupied for hours (although you may want to keep an eye on what they are watching as there are a full range of movies loaded on the players.  Some airlines also allow you to rent DVD players for the trip and some airports have DVD player rentals, which can be dropped off in your destination airport or when you return.

3. Stroll the Airport

Even when our kids were a bit too old for strollers, we brought along small, lightweight umbrella strollers. Not only are they vital in big cities when little legs get worn out and parents may want to continue exploring, but they can be used as luggage carts for all those carry-ons in the airport.

4. Release Some Energy

Even though you have the strollers with you, have the kids walk through the airport.  It will help them burn off some energy before the flight. We tell the kids what gate the plane is departing from and let them find it. They have fun running around, looking at signs, and get lots of exercise without even realizing it.  You could also design a scavenger hunt with things you commonly see in the airport to keep them moving and burning that energy.

5. Avoid Meal Time Mayhem

Many airlines do not serve meals, even on longer flights, nowadays. So be sure to ask what will be available.  I try to hold the kids off on eating until we are on the plane as it gives us something to do to pass the time.  I pack something they like from home or buy sandwiches or something easy in the airport.  I also pack several healthy treats, but ones that do not need to be refrigerated, to much along the way…and some not-so healthy treats for when the kids get a bit cranky.  A lollipop or gum for the descent is key to keeping their ears clear.  For babies, try to arrange bottle/breast feeding for the take-off/descent as well to help with their ears.

6. Timing is Key

For long flights, we try to arrange take-off at night or late afternoon.  That way the kids can have dinner, watch a movie and go to sleep.  It’s also vital if you are changing time zones to try to arrive in the afternoon/evening, so that you can stay up until normal bedtime in the new location…that is the best way to adjust to jetlag.

7. Engage, Engage, Engage

The main thing kids want when sitting right next to you is your attention.  This is vacation time after all and without the school, sports schedules, etc pulling everyone’s attention in a thousand directions like at home, the kids will definitely want some one-on-one time.  Play cards with them or a travel size game. Tell them stories. Draw with them.  I made the African zoo with Seamus (see #1) which is why he was so happy to play with it for so long.

8. Let Novelty Man Save the Day

I always pack a few surprises for the plane ride; something small from the dollar store that I can bring out when the kids get a bit antsy.  Some parents recommend wrapping them, so the kids can actually open them on the plane. I never have, but it sounds like a fun idea!

With modern technology flying is easier than ever. Most planes have some sort of in-flight entertainment (even on short flights these days). Our kids aren’t allowed to play unlimited video games at home, so that makes the flight a special treat with video games and movies on the seatback set. Even if the airline you are flying doesn’t offer seatback entertainment systems, there are lots of ways to keep your kids busy during flights to avoid problems…

Here’s a list of things we bring on-board the plane. We try to keep carry items light and small so they are easy to pack and quiet so we don’t disrupt other passengers.

  • Special toy/blankie (don’t bring one that can’t be replaced)
  • Coloring/activity book/crayons
  • Books about the destination
  • Hot wheels cars/small dolls/toy airplane
  • Card games and travel size games or handheld video games
  • Sketch pad and pencils
  • Journal – Encourage this…they will thank you for it in the long run.
  • MP3 Player with a Playlist for the trip – include songs from the destination
  • Handheld video player with movies about/set-in destination
  • Several healthy snacks or a meal
  • Many airlines don’t serve meals; call to find out what’s available.
  • Rechargeable batteries and a charger; charger for all electronics
  • Electricity converter for outlets – converts the shape/output of electronics to available source
  • Headphones for everyone for the in-flight movie and music
  • Disposable/Digital camera for each child to document their trip

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