To hear a lot of people tell it, the ultimate nightmare scenario of plane travel (short of the plane actually going down) is getting stuck next to an incessantly crying child.
Those people, however, are wrong.
The absolute worst thing is being the parents of the incessantly-crying child and feeling super self-conscious about not being able to get your kid to stop crying. Ask me how I know.
In the past 13 months, our kids have made five flights across the Atlantic Ocean and I won’t pretend that everything has gone 100 percent smoothly. However, they’ve done a surprisingly good job handling flights and along the way we’ve picked up a few tricks to help save our own sanity. Now I’d like to share those with you. I’d also suggest you check out this post, which has a packing list for your flight with toddlers/preschoolers!
- Bring a car seat. At least, if your kid is younger. Chris and I go back and forth about this every trip because it really is fairly annoying to drag it through the airport — especially in Europe where it is much, much less common than in the United States — but every time we do I’m glad. Not only is it safer for the kid, but it is less stressful for me because I’m not constantly correcting Fiona or trying to make her sit right so the seat belt stays across her lap. I also know that if I nod off she won’t be able to crawl out of her seat and go visit the pilots without me. I’ve had a couple people tell me they don’t think their kid would stay in the car seat on the plane anyway, but honestly Fiona is much more accepting of her lot when she is in the car seat because the expectation is already there that she won’t leave it. Worth noting: If your car seat is heavy or bulky, buying a cheap, light ar seat can save you a little hassle. We got the Evenflow Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat, which cost less than $50 on Amazon.
- Invest in a travel cart for the car seat. Before we even left the United States, my friend Diane suggested I buy a travel cart to make carrying the car seat easier. I ignored her because it seems like just one more thing to manage and I’d already bought a backpack for it and really, how hard could it be? Yeah, I was an idiot. I bought this Britex travel cart after that and it makes things about a million times easier, especially when I can drag Fiona along like this.
- Position yourselves strategically. If you aren’t able to have the family all in the same row on a plane, try to arrange things so that your most-likely-to-kick-the-seat kid is positioned behind another family member. If your kid won’t stop kicking, at least it is only your family member who is bothered.
- Pack food. A hungry kid is a cranky kid. Imagine how many snacks you can reasonably imagine yourself allowing your kid to have. Now pack three times that number — first because you’ve definitely underestimated, and second because you never know if you could get stuck on the tarmac somewhere. I’d suggest both sweets that are guaranteed to cheer them up in an emergency, but also snacks that are a little healthier/more substantial, like peanut butter crackers or apples. For a long flight, packing something that could be an actual meal — a peanut butter and jelly, for example — is a wise idea if your kid is picky. Don’t count on always being able to get something to eat during a layover; we had two hours in Heathrow recently and getting through our terminal transfer and clearing security and a random bag check meant we were the absolute last people on the plane. No chance of food.
- Give suckers, fruit snacks or gummy bears during take-off and landing. These will help relieve the pressure on your kid’s ears during these times. Avoid allowing them to sleep during either of these times because they will wake up with their ears hurting if they aren’t swallowing/chewing to adjust to the pressure.
- Bring your own sippy cups or water bottles. Keeping the kids’ drinks in an open cup on a tray is a recipe for someone ending up soaked, and if your kid is in a car seat the tray probably won’t even be able to lay flat enough to hold the drink. Chris and I have an ongoing debate about which water bottles/sippy cups we prefer (he likes the Nuk ones we used when the kids were younger, I prefer CamelBak kid-sized water bottles.)
- Prepare for spills anyway. I detailed my full packing list in this post, but on it you’ll find suggestions for changes of clothes, baby wipes, plastic bags and wads of paper towels.
- Bring lots of entertainment. Before every long flight, I fill each of the kids’ backpacks with toys for the plane, usually including a couple of new things. I am not going to rehash everything we like to bring because you can find that all on my packing list on this post. However, I will suggest downloading a few movies and/or kid-friendly games on your tablet or smartphone ahead of time because you can’t always count on airport wifi working well. Kid-sized headphones are also absolutely essential.Coloring books and Plus Plus (those little plastic bricks) have been our favorites for long plane rides with kids lately.
- Dress in layers. Sometimes they are hot, sometimes they are cold — dressing in layers allows you to be ready for either extreme.
- Don’t stress. Honestly, despite what you see on TV (and in the nightmare situation I described at the beginning of these posts) most people aren’t actually jackasses. If they see that you are trying to comfort your crying child, they are going to be sympathetic instead of pissed off about 95 percent of the time. I’ve even had people offer things to our kids to help distract them. A surprising number of people seem to enjoy chatting with a nearby kid, or at least seem amused by them. Anyway, chances are your kid is going to cry or kick a seat or spill something at least once during a long flight — accept that, and don’t stress about it when it happens.
I’d like to hear from you! How do you survive a long flight with your kids?
Remember, sharing is caring! Please consider pinning or sharing this post if you know someone it could help, and if you aren’t already, please consider following my Facebook page at Babies With Backpacks!