Flying with Small Children

The holidays are the happiest time of the year, but the stress of getting to and from your holiday destinations can fill even the happiest of holidays with worry and dread. Traveling with small children is difficult. Trapping small children in a flying canister with nowhere to play is even worse. However, there are many ways to ensure that your family plane experience is a good one, and not a high-flying nightmare.

Prepare Before You Step Into the Airport

Preparing a small child for an airplane trip begins long before your hurried drive to the airport. Take time to discuss air travel with your children and prepare them for the journey. Talk about how airplanes work, how you will get through the airport, and what the plane ride will feel like. Look at maps of your destination and talk about how fun it will be to go there.

Children learn through experience and explanation. Plane rides can be scary, and crowded airports are overwhelming for even well-seasoned adult travelers. Discussing the details of the trip and what to expect can help assuage some of the apprehension and fear associated with a big, new, overwhelming experience.

Get Through the Airport

Once you are settled into the plane, that’s the easy part. Struggling with small children through a big, crowded airport with armfuls of luggage is the real journey. Running from the drop off to the gate and finding time to stop at the restroom in between is difficult for parties of one, let alone families with young children. Getting through security can be complicated, too. The most important component of a successful airport experience is an airport game plan.

The first thing to do is ditch your luggage, and minimize what you’re carrying. You might feel inclined to pack completely in carry-ons or bring a lot onto the plane, but wrangling children is enough work without also juggling suitcases and backpacks. If your children are old enough, have them each carry a small backpack with snacks, toys, and an extra outfit. If you are traveling with a baby, try to bring the essentials and leave the rest in the suitcase.

Carrying a baby or investing in a small umbrella stroller instead of a full-size stroller can make getting through the airport much easier. You will almost always be able to check a stroller at the gate for free, and pick it up when exiting the plane. If you are worried about baby gear, there are many companies that will be able to rent equipment such as portable ribs, car seats, and strollers at your destination. As long as you have a few diapers, food and clothes, everything else can be purchased in an emergency.

Getting on the Plane

Many airlines will offer family boarding, allowing families with small children time to get onto the plane and get situated before takeoff. However, for some families this is not the best option. If you have assigned seats and wiggly kids, consider waiting to board the plane to avoid sitting for long periods of time.

For children under two years old, carrying infants on your lap is an option. However, many children feel more secure and safe in a familiar car seat. If you have the option to bring their car seat, or even a cheap, light travel car seat, that is the safest option for young children on a plane. Whatever you choose, make sure your child is not sitting on the aisle seat, where it is easy to wriggle out of their seat or get knocked by drink carts or people in the aisle. get comfortable, find your emergency exits, and settle in for your flight.

Takeoff to Touchdown

Now that you have successfully made it onto the plane and buckled everyone in, it’s time to prepare for the harrowing hours of being stuck in a flying tin can with kids. When traveling with small children, the most important task is to keep them occupied. The easiest way to do this is with sleep. Flying at nap time or early in the morning, in pajamas, is the best way to pass the time. If your children won’t sleep on an airplane, that is when the more creative tactics come into play. Bringing snacks, wrapped toys, or an iPad loaded with their favorite cartoons are tried-and-true methods of kid distraction. You can also bring activities, like coloring books or a roll of painter’s tape to stick to the tray tables, to make the time go by faster.

There are some negative aspects of being on an airplane that simply cannot be avoided. One of the most difficult components of flying with children is the dreaded airplane toilet. It is barely usable for adults, and definitely not child-friendly. Even if your kid is potty-trained, an emergency pull-up can save you from disaster. Young children also lack the ability to regulate the pressure in their ears. Nursing, chewing, or drinking can help their ears pop during takeoff and landing. Keep your children contained, entertained, and you will make it through the flight without a fuss!

Keep Your Cool

Despite all the unexpected moments of traveling with small children, the one and only necessary rule is to keep calm. As long as you remembered to grab the baby on the way to the airport, everything else can be taken care of somehow.

So much unnecessary stress comes from worrying about how small children will affect other people. Pinterest and parenting sites are full of ideas on how to hand out earplugs, candy, and heartfelt apologies to every passenger and crew member on the plane. In reality, planes are a public space and it is your responsibility to keep your children safe and happy, not keep track of the emotions and preferences of a hundred random strangers in a public setting. Your baby might scream, puke, or cry, but the guy across the aisle is talking loudly on his cell phone, and the woman behind you took her shoes off and kicked your seat. Everyone is stuck in the same flying canister, and you can get through it in one piece.

Overall, when worrying about traveling by plane with small children, keep your destination in mind and focus on having a great time as a family. The plane journey seems stressful, but it’s likely that three times the amount of hours by car would be much more distressing. The plane journey is only a small portion of your trip, and with a little planning and some deep breaths, it won’t be a problem at all.

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