By the time my son was 13 months he had flown 16 sectors. It wasn’t until the last flight that my son could walk and I needed to worry about entertaining him for 14 hours while we flew halfway around the world. I tried to be as prepared as possible, but being thrown into the moment is what really made me realize how daunting a task it is to have a toddler on board. Here is my best advice for flying with a young child.
Sleep the night before
Don’t think that you will be able to sleep on the flight; you won’t. And don’t keep your child awake the day before thinking he will make up for it by sleeping on the plane; they won’t. Rest well the night before your flight. You never know what will happen once on board so best to be well rested and energized for a day of travel.
Choose flights around sleep times
Try this if possible. If you plan for a long flight at bedtime, you may get lucky and have them sleep for a good chunk of the time airborne. Otherwise, try to arrange a short daytime flight for when they nap.
Carry only the essentials
First you need to check in, then go through security (and sometimes customs) and walk who-knows-how-long to your gate. Then there is the “waiting to board” period, finding your seat on the plane, and finally take off and a long flight before you do it all again in reserve. All this while dealing with a kid or two, so please be realistic when packing a carry-on. Take only the essentials for the children and yourself. Don’t put yourself in a position where you are carrying a kid on one side, a purse and diaper bag on the other, and pushing a small suitcase. Let’s be real, you won’t have time to read a book on the plane. What I finally learned to do was put my wallet, keys, phone, and passport in my kid’s bag so I didn’t have to carry an additional purse on my shoulders.
Carrier or stroller
You’re probably thinking, “My kid is so light, I will carry them and it will be okay,” or “My kid will just walk in the airport.” Wrong! Your kid will sense your hope and not deliver on it, so take a stroller all the way through security and check it in planeside. Better yet, put them in a carrier if they are still small enough. A stroller or carrier can be a lifesaver when they want to crawl or run around but you need them to be still.
The goal is to arrive to your destination safely and as stress-free as possible. If your kid is happy, chances are you will be too. Be sure to bring along all his favorites, from food to toys to blankets, etc. An airplane is a foreign environment, so make it as comfy of a ride for you all by having things from home that can keep him busy and content.
Again, the essentials
Because we can’t predict the future, we need to be prepared for tantrums, disrupted schedules, and poop explosions. On one long-haul flight, my son excreted through three outfits and I had to ask a nearby mother for a diaper. How embarrassing and annoying! Again, load up on all the essentials: diapers, clothes, snacks, stickers, pacifiers, wipes, etc.
Prep your station
When you’re sitting in that cramped seat and your kid vomits all over his clothes, starts crying hysterically, or poops a nasty, you don’t have time to go searching for items in your bag. As you’re settling in to your seat, and before the plane taxis to take off, put these five essentials in the backseat in front of you: milk/food, diaper, wipes, outfit, soothing item (such as pacifier, favorite toy, blankie, etc. My son was obsessed with stickers on our last flight so I had a book full of them handy to grab).
Are you that parent who refuses to let their children watch TV? Don’t be when flying. A screen can be your gateway to 10 minutes of quiet. The airplane is not a normal setting for kids, and so they can’t be expected to maintain their normal routine once on board. Read their cues and go with the flow. This isn’t the time to discipline or enforce structure. Remember, the goal is survival until landing, nothing else.
Don’t worry about others
Take care of your kids and their needs, not those of other passengers. They will be annoyed no matter what your kid does or doesn’t do. So when they role their eyes, huff and puff, or ask if you’ve tried giving them Benedryl, just smile and maybe even blow them a kiss, that will get them to leave you alone.
Make friends with the flight attendants
They can be a huge help. Period.
WE SAID THIS: If we are being honest, flying is no fun, not for adults and not for children. Hopefully this advice can help you get through the hours on board before arriving safely to your destination.