Air travel, whether for business or pleasure, has become commonplace for many adults. We know the ins and outs of airports. We have packing down to a science. Even security checkpoints can be navigated with ease. But throw a small child, or more, into the mix and suddenly we’re lost. If you plan on flying with a small child, careful planning and preparation can make a world of difference on your trip.
In planning a flight with a small child, the first important step is to look at your flight options. It is important to be cognizant of your child’s sleep and eating times. Depending upon the distance you will be traveling, consider your layover options. While some families prefer a non-stop flight to their destination (having to get on and off only one plane is a bonus), many others prefer to schedule a layover so their kids have a chance to run, play, and eat in the middle of their travels. Consider the age of your child and their desire to move. Will they be happy sitting through a feature-length movie or a marathon of their favorite shows? Or after a few hours of travel, will they be climbing the walls?
Many parents hope to avoid travel troubles by flying through the night. Too often, though, this plan can backfire, as children are thrown off their typical routines and may be unable to sleep. Although infants might have an easier time flying through the night, most toddlers and preschool-aged children may simply become cranky and exhausted.
Have you ever noticed that lady in the airport seemingly drowning in bags? Look closely, for she just might have a child hiding behind the backpacks, suitcases, or diaper bag. Smart parents know that what you pack for a child on a flight can make or break the experience. Start by thinking about what your child occupied best. Do they like to color, build, look at books, or play games? Pack their carry-on with a variety of these activities. Think of each option as buying you 15-30 minutes of engaged-child time. Don’t forget the screens! As much as parents try to limit screen time for children, flying can be an exception to the rule. Downloading a marathon of favorite shows or finding an app that sparks your child’s fancy is a great way to keep kids happy—and you sane. Just don’t forget the headphones! Snacks are another very important part of flying with children. While many airlines offer kid-snack options, your best bet is to pack a plethora of of your own. Fruit snacks, crackers, cookies, and applesauce packets are convenient options. A change of clothes is also a great thing to stash in a carry-on, both for you and your child.
After all of your planning, the time has come. On travel day it is best to take a “go with the flow” attitude. Breathe deeply as you step onto the plane with the knowledge that millions of parents around the world have done this same thing and survived. Do your best to make friends—not enemies—on your flight. Be kind to the flight attendants, apologize in advance to your neighbors, and do your best to dismiss the eye-rolls of fellow passengers. Know that there is a pretty good chance that those around you, who are less than thrilled at having a small companion on their flight, will most likely be—or already have been—in your same shoes.