Flying today is a hassle when it’s just one person, but towing along little ones can make it down right intolerable. Any one who travels regularly know that air travel is particularly unpredictable, and overly crowded terminals, endless security lines and over-tired parents and kids can be the recipe for many meltdowns. I say expect it’s going to be a miserable experience for everyone, and if you get through it without crying (and I mean mom and dad, not the kids) you will feel victorious. Here are a few more tips to make your flight a little saner.
1. Check your bags: Flying solo, the goal is being able to squeeze your belongings into a carry-on bag so you don’t have to deal with fees, lost luggage, or baggage claim. When you have toddlers and preschoolers with you, less to lug around the airport is more. Getting rid of a bag or two will make transporting them in the terminal much easier.
2. Opt for an umbrella stroller: Your supped up travel or jog stroller may be great for getting around the neighborhood, but when you’re at the airport, keep it simple if you can with an umbrella stroller that folds up easily, takes up little space and is light to carry.
3. Bring a car seat: You don’t have to purchase a seat for a child under two, but if you can afford it, it might be a worthwhile purchase. The safest place for a child on a plane is in a car seat, and since they’re used to the routine when driving, it will help cue them into the fact that they have to stay seated during the flight. In order for your car seat to be FAA-approved for air travel, it has to have “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft” printed on the label. (Booster seats, however, are not approved.) Lugging a convertible car seat around the airport is not optimal, but there are several gadgets that make it a little easier, including this backpack that I’m a fan of as well as these snap and go-type devices that turn a car seat into a stroller.
4. Bring your own headphones: Santa brought my preschooler and kindergartener headphones for the holidays, and can I just say she was a genius for picking them up for our most recent trip. The “free” headphones on the plane don’t fit securely in their ear and only work about half the time. The over-the-ear style that I, I mean Santa, found was perfect for their sensitive ears. You don’t have to break the bank with a headphone purchase. I, I mean Santa, found ours at Target in the dollar section at the front of the store.
5. Have medicines, Band Aids, wipes and diapers handy: You never know when your child is going to spike a fever or get cut, so be sure to have a first aid-type kit with you on you on the plane. I actually give my children Motrin before take off to mitigate the ear pain that comes with pressure changes, and I’ve also known parents to give their children Benadryl if their child has a cold to help “dry them up.” And when packing diapers, if you think you have enough, always grab one more.
6. Have a secret bribe: It’s pretty obvious that you’re going to need to have a lot of distractions to keep your children still for the duration of a flight. Load your smartphones and tablets with movies and games—and be sure to charge them. Also, grab their favorite dolls, books and coloring books. Then pack something they truly want—candy, a specific show they want to watch but you never let them, a new Lego—for when you’re on the precipice of a full-blown meltdown that may concern even an air marshal. This “only breakout in case of emergency bribe” can become a reward if they make it through the flight without causing you to want to retreat under the seat.
7. Make friends with the people around you: When you get on the plane with small kids, people are going to be super nice and supportive. Just kidding. A fair number will roll their eyes or give you dirty looks because of that one time a child kicked their seat for 12 hours straight on a nonstop flight to Vienna. So smile at your neighbors and try to make nice, because more than likely your kids will be loud at some point, will probably cry or whine and will probably kick the seat in front of them. Jokes to lighten the mood or saying I’m sorry can go a long way in keeping them sympathetic to your cause. Because really, do you want to get in a screaming match with the asshole in front of you when you’re dealing with a screaming toddler next to you.
8. Fly during nap time: If you can swing it, fly when your child normally naps. A sleeping toddler or baby on a plane is worth its weight in gold.
9. Have plenty of food and drink: I was once stuck on the tarmac for two hours. Starving and parched, of course I had nothing to eat or drink. And the flight attendant told me they weren’t allowed to serve us anything until we were in the air. I was single at the time, but could you imagine explaining something that to 3-year-old. The same rule applies to diapers: When you think you have enough food and drink packed for your child, pack more.
10. Don’t forget the ride home: This is my biggest weakness. I spend weeks preparing for way there, but I barely give any thought to the way back. Find new movies and new apps if possible, and be sure pack a few extra activities for the return trip.