How to Survive Long Flights With Kids
There is nothing more stressful than making your way through baggage checks, long lines at airport security, and onto a flight on time. That is, with the exception of making your way through baggage checks, long lines at airport security, and onto a flight on time while carrying a baby, dragging a toddler, and pushing the stroller that neither child wants to sit in.
The stress of traveling with young children can be significant enough to raise blood pressure and cause notable physical anxiety. Adding to the extreme stress of navigating the airport with children, is the knowledge that your worries won’t end when you are finally seated in the plane. Then follows the long hours of the flight when you fear the wrath and contempt of your fellow passengers if your children are noisy, fretful, fighting, or crying. Plus, let’s face it—chances are high in the extreme that they will be.
So how does an experienced parent and traveler survive long flights with kids? While there are no foolproof methods of guaranteeing your children will behave like quiet little angels while in the clouds, there are some tips to reduce the level of stress and apprehension about traveling with children.
Plan Your Trip on Kid Time
When you plan your air travel, make certain that you are planning everything in “kid time.” This means that you must simply assume that everything is going to take much longer to accomplish with kids in tow than it would without them. You will have to get up earlier, allow for more time to reach the airport, plan on arriving at the airport early enough to have ample time for unexpected delays such as diaper blowouts and bathroom breaks. Your anxiety level will be much lower if you have plenty of time for each stage of airport navigation.
Kid time also means taking your children’s schedule into consideration. According to experienced flight attendants, families do best on early morning flights. Planning your flight for early in the morning generally means it will be less crowded. After the excitement of the airport, by the time your flight is in the air, chances are that your children will be ready for a nap, and so will you and your seatmates.
If you are fortunate enough to get your children to nap simultaneously, this is the ideal time for you to nap as well, so your parenting batteries will be recharged when they awaken. This is where parents need to put the needs of their children aside long enough when packing their carry-on bags to include some TLC items of their own. Traveling with a supportive neck pillow will allow you to nap and not wake up and have to face further parenting with a stiff neck.
Bringing along a pair of earplugs for sleeping will ensure that you have enough silence to be able to achieve at least a good power-nap before having to entertain your over-excited or cranky children.
Unlimited Screen Time
A long flight is not the time to be the hyper-vigilant parent who is cautious about allowing children screen time. When traveling with small children, this rule can be tossed right out the oval window into the clouds. Hopefully, the thrill of being allowed long stretches of time to binge-watch movies or their favorite TV series will be invaluable at helping your children to get through a long flight without causing you and your fellow passengers the stress of being trapped in a small space with screaming children. Being allowed to use kid-sized headphones is also a fun novelty for young children.
Traveling with a tablet or iPad with plenty of children’s programs downloaded is the key to less stress and travel anxiety.
Seasoned parents know the advantage of keeping small, age-appropriate travel games and toys that children are ONLY allowed to play with during travel. At home, they go up out of reach in a closet and stay there, making these particular toys something that allow your children to look forward to traveling because of the anticipation of being able to play with these coveted toys and games. Colorforms are fantastic for keeping young children entertained, as well as coloring books and crayons. Older children may enjoy travel scrabble, Bananagrams, Story Cubes, and Mad Libs. And of course, preteens and up will be easily entertained with video games.
And don’t forget books! The long hours of a flight are the perfect time to keep children’s undivided attention on books.
Children’s Carry-on Bags
Letting your children keep their travel games and coloring books in their own carry-on bags is a fun experience for young children. Children’s carry-on bags should be backpacks, as it’s important to stay as hands-free as possible and limit the possibility of dropping and losing a bag. Also in each child’s backpack, it’s advisable to pack a change of clothes, including socks and underwear. This could be invaluable in case of motion-sickness and unexpected vomiting, spills, and bathroom mishaps. A change of clothes for each child in their carry-on is also a good idea in case of lost luggage. A large Ziploc or plastic bag should also be brought along to contain any clothes that become soiled during travel.
Bring along a healthy selection of snacks and some surprise treats. Crackers, cheese sticks or babybel cheese, goldfish crackers, yogurt-covered raisins, and other non-messy snacks are critical in keeping young children contented during a flight. Another tip is to bring along some treats, such as lollipops, to use as rewards for good behavior, or to silence crying and fussiness if nothing else works.
Yes, it’s true that you don’t normally want to reward this type of behavior, but those rules—like the limited screen time rules—can be left behind when you leave the ground during air travel. Lollipops are also helpful for minimizing air pressure in the ears for children too young for gum.
Another good tip from experienced flight attendants is for parents to pack only nut-free snacks for air travel. Occasionally, there will be an announcement that a fellow traveler has a severe nut allergy and you won’t be allowed to bring them on board.
While nothing can completely eliminate the stress and apprehension of air travel with children, these tips can at least limit the possibility of any in-flight turbulence coming from your kids.