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Airplane Travel with the Kids

Use these tips to make flying with your kids an enjoyable experience.

Airplane Travel with the Kids

Fear of flying? Many parents rapidly develop this syndrome when they consider the challenges of flying with their kids. In reality, flying with kids is easier than driving with them (and driving is something you do every day). As with any other form of travel, the secret is preparation. As you begin your preparation, here are a few special tips for keeping your children well behaved high in the sky:

  • Examine your own expectations—you don't have (and won't ever have) storybook children who are polite, neat, and never speak until spoken to.
  • Schedule your flight times to coincide with your child's normal sleeping schedule (in other words, the red-eye).
  • Contrary to popular belief, nonstop is not always best. An hour or so break in an airport in the middle of a long journey can actually be a good idea.
  • Airplanes get you from point A to point B quickly. If you think of them as giant cattle cars in the sky (with you as a family of cows, unrespected and uncared for as individuals), you'll prepare enough entertainment and supplies. Pack coloring books and pens, books to read and to be read to, cards, dolls, stickers, toys, and stuffed animals. Segregate them into sealable plastic bags and only allow one activity at a time per child. Keeping things around your seats fairly organized will save you from a five-minute panic period as you try to stuff everything away as the plane descends or the plane enters a pocket of turbulence (“Look Ma, our stuff is flying! Cool!”).
  • Consider a small tape or CD player with earphones that fit your child. Then you don't have to pony up four bucks for a headset that doesn't fit to listen to music that nobody likes.
Behave Yourself!

Toys to avoid on airplanes: anything that makes noise, Play-doh or anything sticky, balls and other round objects, Legos and other toys made up of little bitty objects, Frisbees, board games (they have too many small pieces and take up too much room).

  • Some airlines still provide in-flight complimentary activity packets. Don't count on it, and consider it a nice bonus if it does happen. Ask the flight attendant (if possible, out of earshot of the kids).
  • Keep your kids well fed so they don't get cranky. Bring your own supplies of sandwiches, fruit, and snacks in sealable plastic bags. Airline food is as bad as, well, airline food.
  • A pillow or small quilt from home is a good idea (as long as you aren't traveling too light). Airplanes are cold, and your child won't be able to truly get comfortable under one of those thin sheets that pass for airline blankets.
  • Let your kids wander as much as allowed, and let the flight attendants be your guide as to what is allowed, not the uptight businessman in row 12D.
  • Try and keep yourself from saying “shhh” every two minutes. Measure your kid's behavior against that of the other passengers, not against your idea of the perfect, silent child. As long as he is relatively quiet and isn't bonking other passengers on the head or harassing the flight attendants, your child is far less obnoxious than the loud couple of sports fans chugging beer and tying up the bathrooms for hours.
  • Hope, hope, hope for other kids on the flight. (And hope that their behavior is impossible and unacceptable so that your kid looks like a little dreamboat in comparison.)
  • Remember that some people don't like children, no matter how well behaved. Unfortunate, but true. Look at the joy they're missing!
  • Stay active. Certain types of behavior are simply unacceptable, up in the air or down. You may need to haul your child to the bathroom for a talk.
  • If your child's reputation is irrevocably sullied, that doesn't mean yours has to be. If other passengers see that you are dealing with the behavior, they will cut the whole family some slack.

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