With the holiday weekend and summer approaching, many families will be flying the friendly skies. Here are a few tips I’ve learned that make air travel with a child a bit easier:
Things to bring:
1. Snacks. Airport food isn’t known for its quality, variety, or healthfulness. And you never know how long you will actually have in the terminal (sometimes those security lines can take awhile!). So, come prepared. Granola bars, dried fruit, trail mix, cheese sticks (wrap in foil to help keep cold), snap pea crisps, high fiber crackers, turkey jerky, or cereal are all good bets. Trader Joe’s or markets with bulk bins (Sprouts and Henry’s, for example) are great places to shop for snacks. Also, since liquids aren’t allowed, you can pack an empty sippy cup or cup with lid and straw, depending on your child’s age, and then fill it with water or juice either purchased in the terminal or on the flight. This will make it much easier for your child to drink.
2. Activities. If you have a portable DVD player or gaming system, these are great! Our little laptop that plays DVD’s and a Nintendo DS will keep our daughter entertained on a flight for a very long time! Remember to charge the devices before leaving, and find a headset that is comfortable for your child. Also, let them choose the movies or games to pack. If you’re feeling especially generous, a new movie or game is always great, too! And speaking of new, bring some activities your child hasn’t seen before – coloring books, workbooks, picture books, card games, stickers, etc. When we take a trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa, I like to bring cardstock, new stickers and a brand new box of crayons to have my daughter make them a nice card while we’re in flight. When she was a toddler, she loved tearing paper, so we’d bring an old magazine and let her pass the time by ripping away at the pages (always making sure to clean up the scraps, of course). Oh, and try to avoid anything that involves glue, paint, glitter, markers, or anything you wouldn’t want your child to play with on your own upholstered furniture. I tried play-doh on one of our flights – big mistake!
3. Change of clothes. I will never forget a flight I was on once – there a family who was potty-training their young son sitting right behind us. The parents forgot to take him to the restroom before we started our descent and as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign turned on, guess what happened? And since we were coming in for a landing, there was nothing they could do to help him. He had an accident, poor little guy, and then had to sit in wet clothes all through the landing and baggage retrieval because they forgot a change of clothes for him. An easy mistake to make, but after that, I always, always, always make sure I have extra clothes (and that I take my daughter to the restroom before we begin our descent!). And even if your child has been potty-trained a long time, you should still bring extra clothes, just in case they get sick and throw up, spill a drink, or any other number of fun things that could happen. Oh, and while you’re at it, you might want to throw in a change of clothes for yourself, too. You just never know!
4. Wipes, hand sanitizer, and two plastic grocery bags. These are a must! The hand sanitizer counts as a liquid, so it must be a small bottle and in a ziploc baggie when you go through security. I like to use the wipes to wipe down the tray, seatbelt, armrests, window, and other surfaces around us as soon as we sit down. They also come in handy to clean up after snacks and craft projects. Hand sanitizer is always a good idea when you can’t keep getting up to wash your hands, particularly since airports and airplanes are full of germs. And plastic grocery bags come in handy for cleanup – use one to corral trash, and the other for any soiled clothes you may have.
5. Gum. This works well on tender ears when taking off and landing. (If you are traveling with a child too young to chew gum, a pacifier, bottle or sippy cup works well, too). Also, it’s a great “boredom buster” for your child’s mouth and you can have bubble contests if you’re really in a pinch. Just make sure you have wrappers on hand to throw the gum away so it doesn’t end up somewhere it doesn’t belong.
6. Blanket. Okay, I despise the airplane blankets – they are scratchy, rough and just don’t feel clean, even if they are plastic-wrapped. I like to bring a little, lightweight blanket for my daughter when we travel so she has something to cuddle up with and keep her warm. It’s just a small baby blanket so it doesn’t take up too much space, but it does come in handy.
7. Car seat. If you have an infant or toddler and if your airline allows it (make sure to check first), consider bringing their carseat along on the plane. It’s a familiar seat, so they are more likely to be comfortable in it, stay put, and maybe, if you are really lucky, fall asleep in it. If you are bringing the carseat anyway, it’s much better than checking it through, since we all know how rough the baggage handlers can be.
Things to consider:
1. The carseat. If you are bringing a carseat and your child is an infant or toddler, consider carrying it on (see #7, above). If your child is older and you don’t need it on the plane, go ahead and check it, but make sure you bag it first. Many airlines offer large plastic bags to put carseats in. But large drawstring laundry bags (the kind you took to college) work well, too.
2. The stroller. If your child still uses a stroller, check it at the gate. Yes, it’s a hassle to take it through security – you must fold it and put it on the belt for screening. But then you have it while at the airport, and it will be waiting for you right when you step off the plane, too. It’s much easier to wait in baggage claim with your child in a stroller than to chase them around while trying to watch for your bags!
3. Your shoes. Getting through security with children can be a bit of a challenge, but having shoes that are easy to take on and off helps. Avoid laces and complicated buckles. If your child is old enough, try to pick shoes he or she can remove and put back on himself.
4. Security. While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about getting through security. First of all, explain to your child ahead of time what is going on, so that it’s not scary. I remind my daughter that they just have to make sure no one is bringing things on the plane that are too dangerous or could hurt someone else. Once she was old enough to walk, she was required to walk through the screening machine alone, so I let her know about that, as well. And when we walk through the machine, I have her go first and then turn around and watch me – I don’t want to leave her behind in case she changes her mind and doesn’t want to walk through.
5. Be prepared for anything. Your child will probably be a perfect angel on the flight – most are, really. But, be prepared that she won’t be, just in case. Babies cry and toddlers throw tantrums, and sometimes, there is nothing you can do about it. If you come prepared, the snacks and activities may be great distractions. But if nothing seems to be working, just take a deep breath, relax, and do your best to stay calm. The person sitting next to you may sigh, roll their eyes, and complain, but there’s nowhere for you to go, and deep down, they know that. Or, if they see that you have tried and nothing is working, they may just find sympathy for you. Either way, you’re all stuck on that plane together, so just make the best of it. You’ll probably laugh about it later, anyhow!
Safe and happy travels to you and your family…and remember, sometimes it’s about the journey, not just the destination.