by Laurel Smith (Road Trip Mom)
Lately it seems that when
I'm traveling with my kids, I fly as much as I drive. Our family's grandparents
are spread all over the country, and it makes sense to fly if we want to
maximize vacation time around busy school schedules. My children
all have their own frequent flyer numbers and have started to accumulate
miles. When I travel alone with my three children, people often comment
that they "Don't know how I do it," or they look upon me with pity and
say, "I'm glad it's you and not me."
The truth is that my kids
love to fly. They've been doing it for years. When they were much younger,
I prepared them in advance so they would know what to expect every step
along the way. Preparing them means that I always remind them that much
of flying involves standing in lines or sitting around waiting. It's not
much different from sitting around in the car on a long trip, but there
are differing aspects to consider regarding family travel via airplane.
Here are some tips that I
can share with you that will decrease some of the turbulence you might
experience when we travel by air with your kids:
Kids Carry their own Bags
My kids each carry their
own small backpack with their chosen goodies to keep them busy in the terminal
and on the plane. The smaller the kid, the smaller the pack, but everyone
carries their own. I encourage them to pack light and if I say it's too
heavy, they have to take some stuff out and leave it at home. As toddlers,
I had them practice at home putting the bag into a pretend x-ray scanner
and "giving" it to the security people knowing they would get it
right back. Only once did my daughter get teary-eyed as her favorite doll
had to have an extra screening. If the kids are carrying their own stuff
they get to feel grown-up, it's less for you to carry and more hands free
to direct them safely onto trains, moving walkways, etc.
Pre-Board and In-flight
I highly recommend looking
at the other areas of this website for activities that the kids can bring
to keep them occupied such as Games for Kids
Games for Toddlers. Although these
are recommendations for car travel, many of them will work in an airport
terminal or aboard the plane. A favorite activity for airports for
my three kids is a regular deck of cards. I printed the rules to
Maid and Crazy 8s and taught them all how to play, now they whip
out the cards every time we arrive at our gate early to await boarding.
Another favorite is
And don't forget their travel journals and colored pencils (in a baggie),
and some drawing paper. I don't recommend anything that has many small
pieces or you will spend the entire flight asking other people to search
under their seats for you.
some impromptu in-flight entertainment, an air sickness bag makes a great
puppet (unused of course!). All you need is a crayon. Turn the bag over
and draw a face on the bottom. Slip your hand in and the folded part acts
like a mouth. Use it to talk to your kids to tell them to quit playing
with the in-flight phone or to stop kicking the seat in front of them.
And speaking of air-sickness bags, be sure
to check out these treatments for motion sickness.
- Bring a stroller and gate check it
I highly recommend an inexpensive
umbrella type stroller for use in airports with toddlers. Toddlers tend
to get really tired with all the walking that is often required. They may
want to walk anyway, in which case you can use it to hold your carry on
bags. It's easy to fold up and bring through security. They are not expensive,
so if it gets broken, it's not a huge loss. Of course, if your kids can
can handle walking a long distance and you can get by without a stroller,
then that's one less thing to haul around.
The escalators take some
practice and I always hold hands with the little ones, or we take the elevator
if we have a stroller with us. There are almost always elevators near the
escalators which will be easier to use with toddlers in hand anyway.
Many toddlers freak out at escalators, so sometimes it's just better to
avoid them if possible. Besides, pushing elevator buttons is fun! Whatever
you do, do not bring a stroller onto an escalator.
Toddler Tether / Child
you've got an escape artist or a run-away child, do yourself a huge favor
and get a toddler harness like this one. It's also called a "Toddler Tether"
or a "Security Harness". Sometimes you can find them at department
stores that sell child safety items. I found a really cute one online that
also doubles as a small back-pack for your child and is fun to wear. It's
called the Harness Buddy.
They have several different ones -monkey, puppy, etc. I suggest letting
them wear it around the house a little to get used to it and to have fun
with the "tail", or keep it "special" and only allow it on trips and then
your child will look forward to it.
The body harness works much
better than the wrist variety tether since it lets your toddler have both
hands free. I have used one of these for years in crowded airports. At
one time or another every one of
my children went through a phase where it was a huge battle to get them
to hold my hand. This harness is a win-win for both you and your toddler.
Here's another one that is a simple Backpack
Trust me, no one looks at
you strangely or accuses you of treating your child like a dog. The only
comments I ever got were from people telling me what a great invention
it was and asking where could they get one. It's also fantastic if you
have to go to the bathroom in a crowded airport terminal. You can put the
leash on your wrist and keep your little escape artist from crawling under
the stalls while you are indisposed.
ID for Kids
great safety item for parents in crowded airports is a child's ID
bracelet with your cell phone number on it. The personal information
is written on the INSIDE of the bracelet for privacy. You can get a reusable
one such as this one, or there are also disposable
ID bracelets available.
Herding children through
security isn't as hard as it might seem. If you have more than one adult
to manage them, then it's no problem at all. You just send the children
through one at a time to the other adult who has gone through first.
If you are the only adult
traveling with more than one child it's another story, but you can do it.
Send the kids through first so they don't follow too closely behind you
and you are forced to do the whole walk-through dance over again. Keep
your wild-child on the leash and have him walk ahead of you. Depending
on how big they are, you can usually carry an infant or younger toddler
through, but then you and the child may have to be re-scanned with
the hand wand.
Older children should be
able to put their own carry-on through the x-ray. Remind them that they
are in charge of their own bag.
Also, try to make sure that
your kids are wearing shoes that are easy to remove and put on in case
you are asked to remove your shoes.
Above all, just explain to
the kids how the security check works before you get there and remind
them again while you are standing in the line. Knowing what to expect will
make it go much smoother.
Car Seat on Board
It's always safer to buy
a ticket for your child and use an FAA approved carseat on board.
However, most airlines still allow you to carry children under two years
old on your lap without buying a them a separate ticket. If you go that
route, you can always bring your car-seat just in case the flight isn't
full and there is a seat next to you available, or then gate check
it if it isn't. Save yourself some hassle and ask about the possibility
of an open seat when you are checking in for your flight before carrying
it through the airport.
Be sure you check first to
make sure your carseat is compatible with the airlines seats, otherwise
you'll have to check it anyway.
is a great new product I came across recently that is MUCH easier than
dragging a car seat through airports and on board. It's called a CARES
(“child aviation restraint system”). It is the first and only FAA approved
harness type child safety device.
It limits the amount of stuff
you have to carry on board and helps keep your child secure at the same
time. It's a perfect solution for flying with small children (who are big
enough to no longer need a rear-facing infant seat).
current recommendation is to use a CARES
restraint on board the plane and check the carseat through to your destination.
If you check your carseat with your luggage, ask that they put it into
one of the huge plastic bags that are available at the airport (usually
no charge). Without it, your carseat will be returned to you smelling like
jet fuel and covered in who knows what when they drop it on the tarmac.
Some people like to rent a carseat at their destination, but it usually
costs as much to rent as to buy a new one.
Ditch the Diaper Bag -
Use a backpack instead
If you use a back pack as
your diaper bag instead of the traditional shoulder diaper bag, you will
hit far fewer people in the head as you board the plane, and you'll have
two hands free to hold onto your kids.
personally have a nifty back pack that has a small section on the bottom
that acts as a cooler. I keep snacks in it. Be sure to put ice into a ziplock
bag or use a blue-ice pack, unless you enjoy the feeling of cold water
running down your pants when you bend over.
The one I have is very similar to this cooler/backpack
found at Amazon. I love it! I have also gotten a LOT of great feedback
about this line of Dads
Gear diaper packpacks for traveling with kids.
Devra Renner (parenting expert
and co-author of the book Mommy
Guilt), has never owned a diaper bag and has always used backpacks.
Using a backpack on an airplane (instead of a shoulder diaper bag) meant
that she didn't whack other people accidentally or have the bag slide down
her arm and hit her own child in the head. There are other advantages for
a backpack over a traditional diaper bag, one being that her husband could
carry it. She says, "This way I was not stuck being the only one
carrying the diaper bag all the time. I cannot tell you how many fathers
we knew who would not touch The Bunny Bag."
Thoughts on Early Boarding
For short trips, Don't do
it. I know that airlines almost always let people with small children
board the plane first. Forget it. All that does is add an extra 30
minutes to sitting in that cramped seat, when the air conditioner has not
been turned on yet!!
For short flights, we almost
always wait until "last call" and board the plane last. That way, we get
on and buckle up and then the plane takes off and the air conditioning
turns on. It saves a lot of headache with fidgety kids.
The exception to this advice
is if you do not have assigned seats. For example, if you are flying on
an airline with an open seating policy, such as Southwest, you will definitely
want to board first or you will not be able to sit with your children!
wouldn't it be fun to put your two-year old in a seat and hand the diaper
bag to the unsuspecting victim next to him while you head off for an empty
seat several rows back!)
Other exceptions are if you
are traveling on a very long flight, or if you are bringing car seats on
board - it's definitely a good idea to do early boarding in those
cases. Children will probably need to use the bathrooms before a long flight
and get settled, and you'll have room and time to get the car seats installed
and the kids settled into them.
It's important not to be
carrying too much on board, so that your diaper bag (aka diaper-backpack!)
will fit underneath the seat in front of you where you'll have access to
it during the flight, and not in the overhead bin (which is not
as easily accessible during flight).
My friend Devra recommends
a tag team approach with regard to early boarding when they travel as a
family and have more than one adult, "Sometimes we will 'tag team' meaning
one of us boards early with all of the carry on items, and the the other
entertains the kids until 'last call' in the waiting area. This way
we aren't knocking other passengers over the head with our bags while trying
to get the kids on the plane."
Figure out what will work
best for your family and for your fellow passengers and airline employees.
Forget trying to carry juice
with you -- it will just leak! And now days the airlines do not let you
carry more than 3 ounces of liquid through security. Just bring an empty
sippy cup and they'll fill it up with juice on the plane for you. If you
must carry a drink, make it water (after you've gone through security of
course). Definitely bring something to eat. Many young children will
not like what the airline has to offer, and most airlines do not serve
food anymore anyway except for a bag of peanuts or pretzels if you're lucky.
Kid friendly snacks that will vacuum easily are a must, and if you live
in a warm climate, don't bring anything that will melt together such as
Two Shirts are Better
Be sure to carry an extra
T-shirt for you and your child in that backpack - just in case! Airsickness
is common for kids and spit happens. When you land, you might not
have immediate access to your luggage to change clothes if you get vomit
all over you.
One mom, Azah, writes, "I
second the spare clothes! When I travel to Malaysia I always bring
2 sets of extra clothes (for vomit and unscheduled delays). Once
we were traveling from Ohio to California and I was thinking it would have
been an easy flight. Well, we ended up being stuck overnight in Denver
due to fog and I didn't even have extra."
"I also dress my kids in
clothes that have lots of patterns, so stains will not be an eye sore for
The extra shirt for the grownups
is just as important. My mother likes to tell me the story of how she was
helping my 2 year old little sister go potty in the terminal once, and
she some how managed to spray pee all over her shirt. My mom had nothing
else to wear since her clothes were checked, so she got to smell like pee
on the entire flight.
Plastic Zipper Bags
Stash a couple in your diaper
backpack to store dirty diapers that you had to change on the plane (the
flight attendants are not always able to take that type of waste, so you
have to carry it out). You can also use zipper bags to store your baby
wipes which take up less room than those hard plastic wipe containers,
and you can use them for snacks, small toys and countless other things.
Be sure to warn your video-gamers
that that during certain times in the flight a Gameboy or a radio with
headphones is not allowed to be used. Explain why -- that it might interfere
with the Captain's instruments and that he will ask passengers to turn
them off. As you are boarding the plane, the cockpit door is often open
and you can see all the instruments that the pilots are using to fly the
plane. I always make sure to point this out to my kids as we are walking
by. It's fun to look at and it helps remove all doubts when they are asked
to turn off the devices.
And of course, please give
consideration to other passengers on board. The noise from cute little
electronic games may not bother you, but it may really annoy a grumpy stranger
near you on an airplane. Turn off the volume or leave the noisier
devices at home.
If your child is prone to
ear pain in flight, there are several things you can try. Kids often have
trouble with their ears during takeoff and especially during the decent.
It helps to have them keep swallowing during this time. For an infant,
you should try feeding them during this time either a bottle or breastfeeding,
or you can try a pacifier. Older children can try sucking on a lollipop
or chewing gum. A product called Queasy
Pops is great for this and it also helps curb motion sickness at
the same time. There is also an ear product that you can try called
planes that helps to regulate the pressure during flight.
Dirty looks from Unfriendly
Whenever I have boarded
a plane with an infant, I always jokingly apologized in advance to all
the people around me for what they are about to endure. Here are some ways
other moms warm up to fellow passengers :
What I used to do when I
got to our row on the plane, and was greeted by the "Oh crapola, we've
got the baby in our aisle" expression, was announce loudly, "Oh you are
the lucky ones who get to sit with us!" --Devra
I like to say to the baby,
"Gee, I hope you're done with that projectile vomiting for now. It was
pretty nasty this morning." Then I turn to our nearest passenger, holding
the baby out, and tell the baby "Say hi to the nice lady." --Becky
Not all of these tips
are guaranteed to work for your posse of young passengers, but they have
worked well on many trips with my kids and those of my friends. So
give them a whirl for your next airplane adventure. You might find that
you, your kids, and your fellow travelers will enjoy a new cruising altitude
Happy Travels everyone!
~ ..· ´¨¨))
..·´ Road Trip Mom -:¦:-
Many thanks to my friends
Devra, Jennifer, Azah and Becky for their contributions to this article.
Smith is a former schoolteacher and mother of three who has logged thousands
of road trip miles both as a kid and a mom. Visit her website for
more than 101 travel games and activities for kids at MomsMinivan.com
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