Imagine this: your child screaming his or her lungs out (kicking, punching and a deluge of tears) in the middle of a quiet overnight flight. Your only relief? The dark cabin—at least you can’t see everyone’s dagger eyes (but you can hear it in their frustrated “tsk tsks”).
Ahhh. Air travel with toddlers. The world is our oyster but because air travel is such a daunting (exhausting, frustrating, frightening) journey, many parents shy away from amazing vacation adventures. I know because I was one of them. My husband and I planned on going to Thailand for our annual getaway with our toddler but because the flight is so long, we ended up passing up the opportunity. Next year? Perhaps. We’ll see if we have the guts to attempt 24 hours of travel time (more than half of which is spent in a plane).
But there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. We have flown with our son (albeit Hawaii and not Thailand) and it is completely doable. Here are a few tips:
1. Don’t stress. I know. This is like me asking you not to think of a pink elephant and all you can think of is a pink elephant in a blue tutu. How about this: try not to stress. You’ve made the decision to fly with your kids and you certainly aren’t going to back out last minute so make the most of the journey. I’m willing to wager that the typical adage “the destination isn’t important; it’s the journey there” does not apply here but still, enjoy your time—you are on vacation, after all.
2. Bring toys. And I don’t mean toys for you. Forget about the in-flight entertainment for adults. Don’t even think about opening that Kindle/iPad,etc. It’s just not going to happen. As long as you realize that from the beginning, you’ll be better off. Now, on to the real toys. Bring toys that your kids haven’t seen before but that you know they’ll like. Even if you are the “no tv” kind of parent, I highly recommend forgoing this rule and bringing your kid’s favorite program or introducing a new one.
3. Pack light. How is that even possible with all the junk you are carrying to entertain your child in the cabin? This is a good rule for packing in general. Unless you are trekking in Antarctica, you can be pretty sure that you’ll find diapers and clothing for your child at your destination (maybe even cheaper). Is it worth the hassle of lugging around a gigantic suitcase just to be sure? Keep your carry-on bag light and manageable. You are already juggling baby/bags/passports/tickets/insanity. The “just in case” syndrome is a vacationer’s worst enemy. Pack the stuff that really matters—leave the rest at home.
Let the kids carry some of their own stuff. Kids with a job are less likely to act out.
4. Be on time! In fact, because you are travelling with baby, leave extra early. Don’t do as we did: late for our flight, we were rushing like idiots through security and I had a panic attack when the slow as molasses security guard decided to test every bottle of formula, lotion and doodad I had stupidly packed. We BARELY made the flight. Do yourself a favor and leave on time (or early).
5. Pack something warm & bring food/snacks. I know this is contrary to the 3rd tip but airplane cabins can get really chilly and nowadays, there’s barely any food options, especially for kids! Don’t rely on the airline’s supply of blankets; they often run out of them. Bring something that can double as sweater (even if you go to a tropical destination, you are likely to encounter a chilly night) or fleecy sleeper. Bring plenty of snacks. Even if you don’t finish them inflight, you will certainly eat them up along the way. Keeping your child comfortable eliminates one source of the tantrums.
6. Apologize in advance. Make friends not enemies. I once read a story online about a couple who apologized to the passengers by writing an apology note along with a goodie bag. Obviously this is not feasible for most people (and I’m sure, if the story is true, the plane must’ve been tiny) but I found that a good way of calming the nerves is to walk my son up and down the aisles to show people that the source of the screaming is a cute, innocent child (and not a demon). Once people see your darling angel they might not be as easily agitated by the eardrum shattering screeches. Well, maybe not but it’s worth a try.
7. Make friends with the staff. I highly recommend being overly nice to the flight attendants. If your child just can’t get enough OJ or you need a million napkins to wipe up the spilled OJ, you really want them on your side. Some airlines have perks for kids like little snacks, air plane activity kits and who knows…maybe your child could actually meet the pilot in the cockpit (if that’s even still done).
8. Bring drugs. I know, I’m going to get in trouble for this one but hear me out: I’m an adult and I get terrible motion sickness. I know I feel much more comfortable with some motion sickness drugs in me so if your kid suffers from motion sickness, I don’t think it’s a big problem to give them some drugs to settle their stomach. Of course, it’s also a huge side bonus that these motion sickness drugs make your kid drowsy. Look, if your child is totally uncomfortable, stressing you out and screaming his/her lungs out, I really don’t think slipping them a little sleepy-aid (ONCE a year!) is going to harm them.
9. Tire them out. But make sure you get enough sleep! Do not, I repeat, do not stay up all night packing or stressing about whether you’ve packed everything (been there, done that) and Go-To-Bed. If your child is physically tired, you are more likely to get a restful flight. I can only hope that my son is tired enough to sleep a few hours on the plane.
10. Stroller it. I’ve had a few friends ask me about the stroller situation. If I were you, I’d bring the stroller all the way to the gate. Airlines allow it and it’s SO much easier to get around in the airport. Also, since you are lugging all the other travel gear (read: crap), it’s nice to have your child buckled in with nowhere to run!
If possible, bring a stroller with a one hand closing mechanism:
11. Bulkhead if you can. If you get the bulkhead seat, you really are in for a bonus. I’ve sat in the bulkhead seat ONCE and I was visibly pregnant and begged with puppydog eyes when I checked in. So most likely, you won’t be getting the bulkhead seats. If you do, you are in super luck: they have (on international flights) bassinets, super leg room, no one in front to worry about and up close and personal screens.
Make lists. Lots of lists. Lists are a mother’s best friend. I make lists of my lists. I might be joking but actually I'm not. It's incredible how much stuff you need when traveling with a child and I certainly believe in making lists to ensure you've packed every essential.
Lastly? Enjoy! You're on vacation. And...Good luck!