Clear for Take Off: Flying with Kids
For some parents, flying with their kids, especially on a longer flight, is as enticing as getting audited by the IRS. There can be so much to dread with flying: the long lines, the stress of making a connection, and, of course, being trapped in a flying tube with a teething toddler and those not-very-understanding glares from other passengers. But, bringing kids of all ages on flights can be less painless than many think, and sometimes it can even border on fun.
For those who haven’t attempted flying with their children, it is common to have reservations. Marie Wright Rogers, mother of two, says, “I’ve never flown with mine. One of the reasons is the fear of not being able to calm them down if they get upset.” However, those who have taken the plunge realize often through trial and error what makes flying easier. Canadian-native Jennifer Williams-Cook has been flying with her daughter Aiden since she was six months old. She explains that they always took her own seat with them when flying and learned to check-in with the gate agent to let them know if she needed assistance when boarding, especially when having her hands full with luggage and a young child. It is advice like this and the following tips that will help parents gain confidence with flying with their children.
Secrets to a Smooth Flight
According to local seasoned travelers, the secret to successful family flights starts and end with snacks. well, maybe not ends but close enough. Most flights do not provide inservice meals unless going overseas, and the airlines only provide small snacks like pretzels. Saltillo mom Elyse Phillips Smith recommends booking children the window seat. Let them take turns looking out the window if more than one child is flying. More than distraction is needed, however. Jean Wheelan-Rist suggests bringing chewing gum. The most uncomfortable part of flights for children can be take-offs and landings when their ears pop. In addition to chewing gum during these times, children can drink something to help relieve the discomfort. Parents can bring drinks with them that they purchase after the security check. Alisha Lee says her son was a world-class traveler, but it bothered him when his ears would pop during take offs and landings. She didn’t have anything for him to drink with her, so she asked the flight attendants for Sprite before taking off, which helped significantly. For babies who are nursing or taking a bottle, take-offs and landings are important times for them to drink in order to both help soothe their ears and calm them. Once these basics are covered, parents can plan for keeping children entertained while flying.
Looking out of the window can entertain children for hours, but parents need to have a back-up. The earplugs mentioned above can be used to block out noise, and headphones are needed to enjoy an in-flight movie. Michigan-born mother-of-two Mariya Webb brings snacks, drinks, coloring books, and a kids’ tablet loaded with games and movies that do not require Wi-Fi access because even if Wi-Fi is available it
is usually at an additional cost. Also, paperback books, cards, sticker books, and small etch-e-sketches are also fun for planes.
Traveling with Small Children
Some parents take advantage of boarding early with small children, while others choose to let their children wait until the last minute and stretch their legs at the gates. Many airports also have playgrounds available for kids to burn off steam. Janaya Peters of Fulton has experienced 10 take offs and landings with her infant son in the last year; she enjoys early boarding to have time to get settled in and not feel rushed while boarding. She also has a bag right by her feet with everything that she needs for the flight for her baby boy, including diapers, wipes, snacks, bottles, and activities. And she has also discovered if warm water is needed for bottles, attendants will warm it for guests. Flight attendants are always happy to help just be sure to ask.
Timing Flights and Layovers
Often times the cheapest times to fly are also the most inconvenient for families. It is not worth the lowest fare, if parents have to drag kids to the airport at 5:00 am. Remember to also arrive at least 90 minutes before a domestic flight and two hours before an international flight. If at all possible, schedule direct flights with children to avoid the predicament of layovers. If it is not feasible, then be sure to schedule plenty of time in between the flights—at least 90 minutes. Parents want to have enough time to not have to rush; however, they don’t want to schedule too much time in between flights where it prolongs the trip unnecessarily. If families have more than one and a half hours between flights, they could also use this time to have a meal.
If bringing a stroller, parents can check them at the gate, which makes it helpful when traveling through huge airports. Parents need to make sure that they and their children are wearing comfortable clothes and shoes when flying. Also, remember to bring a couple of changes of clothes in a carry-on bag not only if there is an accident on board but in the event checked luggage gets delayed (or even lost). Some parents give children medicine before flying to help them sleep, but make sure to check with one’s doctor first. Also, do not give any medicine for the first time before boarding a plane, or else the parents and the other guests could be in for a difficult flight if the medication has a reverse effect on calming the child. For fun, Janaya Peters says if flying American ask for a junior flight log: “They will jot down all the flight info and give your child a pin like the pilots. Use the log every time you fly.” And regardless the airline, ask for pilot wings for a child, especially if it happens to be their first flight. And finally, take a picture with the child and the plane before boarding for a keepsake.
While parents may not receive bonus flyer miles for surviving flights with their little ones, it can be more enjoyable for everyone on board if families are prepared.
Heather Gausline Tate is a travel agent, freelance writer, and private English tutor. She lives in Guntown with her husband Logan and their boys London (4 years) and Christian (3 months). London loves to fly and cannot wait for Christian to join them on their first family of four flights this year to Amsterdam and New York City.