By Sharyn Alden
We’ve all been there at one time or another. You settle into your seat, the flight fills up, and then passengers with a baby and toddler struggle down the aisle looking for their seats.
Humorist Dave Barry set the scene this way: “We were one of those wretched traveling families you see getting on planes — the kind where you don’t actually see the people, just this mound of baby equipment shuffling slowly down the aisle toward you. This sight is always hugely popular with the other passengers, some of whom will yank open the emergency exits and dive out of the plane.”
It’s human nature to look around for another seat, even if it’s on the wings, or hope the cabin steward moves the family somewhere they’ll be more comfortable – bulkhead seats, perhaps, or that flight to Schenectady.
Alas, you have no such luck. Your seat companions are getting their howling-mode game face on. And you realize that your plane is still at the gate.
Anyone who’s flown can relate to kid chaos, and everyone has stories. On a flight to Brussels, I shared a row with a woman and her newborn. It was a tough flight, and non-stop misery for anyone without ear plugs.
Finally, a few hours later, when it was safe to get out of our seats, the mom stood up and tossed the baby around her head like a spinning top. Most of us were aghast, but it did the trick. You could hear the passengers’ unified sigh of relief when the baby responded to the spinning and almost immediately fell asleep.
Years ago, I was flying the globe with my three young kids. My son loved that he’d been to 13 countries before he was eight, but there were many learning moments before he became a seasoned traveler like his siblings. One of these mishaps involved his stuffed bear that he’d had from birth. He carried it everywhere. It was worn-out and well-loved, and looked like it had been run over by a truck.
Naturally we discovered its loss after our plane’s wheels were up and we were minutes into a nine-hour flight to Geneva. Suffice it to say there wasn’t any bear in Europe that could replace the one left at O’Hare.
We did our best to occupy him with other things — books, games and plenty of TLC. Eventually he stopped talking about his bear and decided he would find him once we returned home. That simple dose of optimism seemed to keep him grounded for the rest of the trip.
Through serendipity and a traveler’s empathy, we got the bear back a few weeks later. But that’s another story—how to find what you want (and need) at airport lost-and-founds.
In the meantime, here are seven tips for surviving your next flight with kids.
- Make Smart Reservations. If you’re flying en famille, book early so you’re not stuck in middle seats. (This is one of those times when paying the extra some airlines charge to choose your seat really pays off.) Be aware of your kids’ circadian rhythms, especially their bedtimes and nap times, and look for flights when your kids are more apt to sleep.
- Take a Walk Break. If you’re on a long flight, don’t expect young kids to stay strapped in their seats. When it’s safe, take them on a walk around the plane. A little bit of exercise is great for active kids.
- Yes and No — Snacks and Drinks. Absolutely bring snacks, as long as you’re not trying to serve full meals to your kids throughout the flight. Think hand-to-mouth food like apple slices, grapes or cheese, not containers of applesauce that require utensils. Go easy on the liquids so your kids aren’t constantly dragging you down the aisle to the bathroom.
- Pack Extras – Keep it Simple. Travel is all about encountering (and hopefully conquering) the unexpected. Flights get delayed and cancelled, and weather changes mandate different clothing and gear. Rule of thumb – have extras of everything you consider crucial, within limits. Make a list before leaving home then scale it down once or twice so you don’t become a pack mule.
- Gadgets Help. A bored child can be an unruly child. You may not give in at home, but there’s something to be said about letting young children use an iPad, listen to music on an iPod, look at books on a Kindle or play with other electronic devices when they fly. Don’t be too rule-heavy and keep all the electronics at bay. When you’re doing the best you can to juggle the kids’ crankiness at an altitude of 35,000 feet, gadgets can be game-savers. However, for the sanity of those around you, make sure the volume is off or headphones plugged in.
- Take Care of Yourself. You’ll have more energy and stamina – and enjoy the trip more — if you take care of yourself when you travel. Resist loading up on sugary snacks, and falling into “I’m on vacation so I’ll eat anything I want” mode. Reenergize with exercise; for instance, do some easy foot lifts while you’re seated.
- Apologize. If your child is kicking the back of the chair or ripping the headset off the lady in front of him, apologize – but mean it. The biggest complaint about babies and young kids on planes is not tantrums, but their parents’ seemingly indifference to fellow travelers. When you sincerely apologize, you’re more likely to get sympathetic nods instead of hostile grimaces.
You could also try handing out treats … just in case. And if those treats include earplugs, so much the better.
Sharyn Alden is a long-time travel writer with a media-relations business, Sharyn Alden Communications, Inc., based in Madison, Wis.
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