If you’re reading this, you may be dreading an upcoming flight with your young child or thinking about taking one, but aren’t sure you can handle it. I understand completely. Our of sheer panic, I almost cancelled my first long haul flight with my newborn baby. In the end, we were just fine and have since continued to fly long haul and domestically with her. With preparation, you too will survive flying with kids. Managing your stress levels during this time is critical. Here are 7 tips that will help.
Get to the airport early. If killing time in the airport with your baby or young child sounds like torture, rushing through security lines and not having enough time to respond to your child’s needs is worse. Kids can sense and react to stress. A resulting temper tantrum can slow you down. Allow yourself enough time to feed, diaper and move through the security line in a relaxed manner. If you’re airline status or class of service permits, use of a lounge alone is worth getting to the airport early for. Trust me, you’ll appreciate the clean bathroom, comfortable sofa and plugs for electronic devices.
Pack smartly. What you bring carry-on is key. However, being able to access it quickly can be even more important. Make sure to segregate important items and make note of where they are in your bag(s). Lists can help prevent you from packing something in your checked bag that on hindsight should have been in your carry-on. If you have more than one carry-on, pack one with essentials that you’ll keep under the seat in front of you or at your feet if you’re in the bulkhead. Remember that if you’re in the bulkhead, you will not be able to store a bag at your feet during take-off and landing.
Remember what you need when the seat belt sign is on. There is nothing worse than needing something in a carry-on bag that’s in the overhead compartment, when you are not allowed to get to it. Again, make a list of items you’ll need within arms reach during take off and landing. Place them in seat pockets around you for easy access. It helps to pack these items in the same area of your carry-on so you can whip them out quickly as you’re getting settled in your seats. Nerves can run wild during this time. You’ll be less likely to forget that special toy, if you’ve planned out your needs in advance.
Study your layover. If you’re flying with kids and have a layover, it’s helpful to know which terminal your plane will arrive in so you can get an idea of what restaurants or kid-friendly activities might entertain young ones during this time. Some airports may have strollers you can borrow and other amenities that may surprise you. I had no idea that Changi Airport in Singapore has a small kids play area and that Dallas airport has very nice family changing rooms, for example.
Dress appropriately. Flying with kids is not the time to be fashion forward. Dress as practically as you can. Black and other very dark colors hide spit up and spilled orange juice. If you’re juggling a baby and yourself in a small airplane bathroom, elastic waist pants are your best bet. Also, don’t forget to bring a change of clothes for yourself especially if you’re on a long haul flight. If you’re in comfortable clothing, you are more likely to be able to relax.
Pack snacks. Pack more snacks than you need. Young kids can fight ear pressure by munching on snacks during take-off and landing. You may get stuck on the tarmac for longer than anticipated or experience extended turbulence that causes flight attendants to remain seated. Also, your child may not want to eat the inflight meal, especially if you’re on a foreign airline. Make the snacks as protein filled as you can to keep the kids satiated. Also, limit sugar so they’re not bouncing in their seats. If age appropriate, lollipops can help quiet meltdowns since kids love them and they take a while to eat. Entertain while inflight. Don’t rely on the airlines inflight entertainment system to keep your child occupied. Older, smaller planes have the central TV screen that kids can’t really see. Some kids also have trouble with glare on individual TVs or with airline headphones. And, there just might not be anything on offer your child cares about watching. Portable DVD players, iPads and phones with video capability will be your saviors, but be sure to pair these items with kid-safe headphones as not to bother other passengers with volume. The headphones provided onboard typically don’t fit young kids. Bring toys for use during take-off and landing, when electronics need to be turned off. Be sure to tell kids to expect this time, so it’s not a surprise when they can’t power on their DVDs.