YOU KNOW THE SCENE: Someone boards the plane with toddler in tow, and reactions ripple down the aisles. Some passengers smile, some nod in sympathy at the parent, and some tense up and scowl, recalling the crying baby on their last flight.
Travel can be inspiring for children, but sometimes the actual travel part is more challenge than reward. Here are 20 tips for taking babies and young children on long flights.
1. Book an overnight flight if you can. Your children will be worn out from the day’s activities, and hopefully sleepy.
2. Pick your seats strategically. Sitting at the back puts you close to the bathroom. But if your child is fidgety the bulkhead might be best. There, you don’t have to worry about your child kicking the back of someone’s seat.
3. Load kid-friendly movies or favorite TV shows on an iPhone or laptop. Be sure to charge all electronics before the flight.
4. The Frugal Traveler shares this advice: buy your child a new toy or book, just for the flight. Alternatively, you can wrap up an older toy. Seeing this toy in a different setting will be a novelty.
5. Paul Banas at GreatDad.com says to plan for the worst. Delays, cancellations, or hours of sitting on the tarmac will make everyone fidgety. Pack a lot more food, diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need.
6. For the sake of other passengers and yourself, pack non-noisy toys. An Etch-a-Sketch or coloring books are quiet, creative activities. If your child has electronic toys, be sure to check the volume settings.
7. Bring healthy snacks, especially if your child is a fussy eater. Foods that won’t melt or crumble are easiest; think trail mix or homemade sandwiches. Single Parent Travel suggests avoiding foods with caffeine or excess sugar.
8. Pack extra clothes for your child, since temperatures can vary on planes and in airports. Pack an extra shirt for yourself in case of baby spit-up or other mess.
9. Consider an inflatable potty seat to ease trips to the bathroom. On-the-Go Inflatables sells handy ones.
At the airport
10. Get to the airport early. After a car ride, lining up for check-in, then lining up again for security, kids will want to stretch their legs before sitting on a plane. You also might want to tire them out a bit with physical movement. Most airport websites will tell you whether a play area is offered. If not, find an open space where your kids can move around and play. As Travel Savvy Mom points out, this is also good advice for long layovers, as it burns up energy.
11. Children older than 3 or 4 should carry their own bags. Get a solid, comfortable rolling bag with shoulder straps so the bag can also be worn as a backpack. They can pack in it what they can carry.
12. Delicious Baby has great stroller advice: do your airport research to ease the transit. Most airlines will allow you to push your stroller all the way to the gate and check it there. Be sure to attach a tag to the stroller with your name, address, and contact information.
13. Before you go through the security point, explain the process to your child. It might be scary for a child to see his or her shoes or favorite toy disappear into an x-ray machine.
On the plane
14. Give your child the window seat. They’ll want to see what’s happening outside with the ground crew, and watching takeoff can be exciting for them.
15. Allow your child to take in the surroundings before busting out the toys. You can pass the time playing I-Spy, walking up and down the aisle, and people-watching. Give your child toys and games when he or she starts to get bored, and present them one at a time.
16. If you’re breastfeeding, feed your child during take off and landing. This eases hurting ears, and often babies will fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the flight. For older children, lollipops or hard candies work well for helping ear pressure.
17. If your child is prone to nausea, some ginger biscuits or candies are useful for quelling motion sickness. Plain foods like fruits and grains will sit well in the stomach, even through turbulence.
18. Don’t tune out, even if you’re tired. Always keep an eye on your child in case he or she gets fidgety or fussy. Don’t lose yourself in a book or movie, and don’t nap until your child is napping too.
19. Though it’s tempting to sprint off the plane, let other passengers disembark first. It will be much easier to scoop up dropped toys and shoes when there aren’t people waiting behind you.
20. Make all arrival arrangements in advance, and print records of the hotel booking, car rental, or bus/train info. Take a minute to review those print-outs before getting off the plane. This way, you’re not lining up at the information desk with your tired kids in tow.