Flying with children can be one of those "make or break" moments in the lives of parents, when our mettle is tested and we find out what we are made of. How can you navigate this potential minefield of disasters -- a bored and whiny or squirmy child, tantrums, fear of safety screenings, glaring fellow passengers -- and make flying fun for kids?
The answer: plan ahead. Pack lots of entertainment and snack items in your carry-on, and prepare kids for what to expect. Here is a great checklist of things to do beforehand to make your next airplane trip fun and relaxing for the whole family.
1. Book seats together.
When making reservations, book seats together so that your whole family is sitting together and your child’s frequent bathroom breaks do not disturb fellow passengers. Kids like to look out the window, so try to book a window seat if possible.
2. Build in some extra time.
Rather than stress about being late, give yourself some time to get to the airport and your gate when flying with children. Gone are the days of pre-parenthood when you could throw your bags in the taxi or a car and zip to the airport just before your flight. In addition to the time-consuming security measures at airports, you’ll have to contend with doing things on kid time, which means you should plan on adding at least an extra hour for trips to the bathroom, pleas for a turn on the videogames that some airports so thoughtfully install near gates to entice kids, and several other unforeseen detours to look at all the interesting things to see at the airport.
3. Prepare kids for airport security screening.
Having to go through metal detectors, taking off jackets (and for kids over 12, shoes), putting belongings on a cart--all this can be confusing, overwhelming, and even frightening for children.
To prevent kids from becoming anxious, explain what will happen and why. Tell kids that this is an important step in flying so that everyone will be safer and explain that the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) officers are there to help passengers by looking for anything that could be harmful in order to keep everyone safe. Go through each step and talk about what to expect so that kids don't have any surprises.
For more information on airport screening and traveling with kids, read the TSA's "Traveling with Children" information page.
4. Bring some great kids movies.
Even if you don't think you have room for a laptop, iPad, or other movie-playing device in your carry-on, trust me: You will be grateful to have it, particularly if your flight is a long one. A good kid movie
can easily take up an hour and a half or more of your trip, which means, you probably won’t hear "I'm bored" for at least that long. (For longer flights, be sure to load several movies onto your laptop or iPad.) And be sure to pack earphones for movies or any videogame players so that fellow passengers are not disturbed.
5. Pack coloring books and other quiet activities.
Coloring books, crayons, drawing paper, and markers will help kids occupied when they're bored with screen time. When you're flying out, you can encourage kids to draw pictures of things they want to do once you get to your destination. On the way home, you can have kids draw pictures of their favorite memories of your trip or what they missed most about home.
6. Don’t forget the books.
Bring some great kids’ books along, both in print and on CDs or on your iPod or MP3 player. And older grade-schooler may enjoy reading a book quietly while a younger child might prefer listening to an audio book
. Either way, consider choosing something exciting or action-packed, so that your child’s attention is more likely to stay focused on it for a period of time.
7. Pack family travel games.
Travel checkers, chess, Scrabble, or any other board game that is compact and has magnetic pieces (because tiny games pieces will get lost) are perfect for airplane travel. And because Murphy’s Law tends to apply to any sort of travel with kids -- especially flying with children -- it’s a good idea to prepare for any delays by bringing along some fun family travel games.
8. Pack snacks.
Your grade-schooler may not be a toddler who needs to eat every couple of hours, but you will not want a hungry, cranky kid on your hands if there are any sorts of delays. And bringing along some healthy snacks such as lowfat cheese, crackers, and fruit can help you avoid the high-fat, high-sugar snacks that you’re bound to find near airport gates or on the plane. (But remember to buy juice and water after you pass TSA screening since you won't be able to bring liquids through security.)
9. Bring lollipops or gum.
The weird sensation of your ears popping due to air pressure changes during takeoff and landing can be disconcerting enough to adults -- just think about how it may feel for a child. Be sure to include lollipops or other hard candy or gum to help alleviate the ear-popping sensation.
10. Prepare your child for an emergency.
Make sure your child knows his or her full name, address, and home telephone number in case you get separated. Tell your child to ask a woman with a child for help in the event that you become separated.
The best way to be safe in crowded public places such as the airport is to never let your child out of your sight. And be sure to emphasize to your child that he should never wander away without mom or dad. (That goes for using public bathrooms at airports, too.) If you’re traveling alone with a child of the opposite gender, use a family restroom.