As we board the plane for our trip from California to Brazil with our two toddler sons, I can see people looking, wondering if we will be sitting next to them. We take our seats, and the two women sitting near us ask if the kids will sleep. I tell myself not to worry, that we are prepared, and that even though this flight may not be easy, it will last just a few hours. I remind myself of the lessons I’ve learned over the years of flying with my kids at various ages.
1. Expect things to be wonky – don’t worry about routines
It has taken me years to learn that a missed nap or meal is not the end of the world. Kids will sleep and eat when they need to, and when they resist, there’s no need to worry. In fact, not wanting to sleep or eat can be a way of coping with a new situation. Often the excitement of traveling means that kids sleep much less than they do at home. If parents can relax and go with the flow, the kids will be more likely to relax, too. And when things do go badly, keep it in perspective: the flight won’t last forever and everyone will be okay.
2. Bring new things to play with
It’s no secret that kids love new toys. Some favourite toys for travel are disposable ones like stickers or the magic colouring books sold at airport stores – use them on the plane and then toss them when the kids are finished with them. Other good options are small items that don’t take up much space and can be played with on airline tray tables, such as tiny animals or figures that the kids can play pretend with.
3. Bring familiar things to keep them comfortable
Kids may get excited about new stuff, but they love their own stuff, too. Let them choose a favourite small book or toy to bring, or choose a few of their special things and get them out as a surprise when the child needs comfort.
4. Have your child teach his/her favorite stuffed toy how to travel
Kids like the comfort of a soft toy, but they also love to teach their toys to do things. Our son travelled several times with one of his favourite toys. They slept together on the airplane and rode together in the stroller. We encouraged him to teach the toy how to be a good traveller so that he could model appropriate behaviour for it.
5. Load up the iPad
Puzzles, interactive e-books, and art apps are great to pass the time. Photo by T. Boca.
While some parents may not like to expose their kids to too much technology, a fun variety of tablet videos and apps will help children pass the time. Be sure to find apps that don’t require wi-fi and have enough activities to keep kids busy for long stretches. Puzzles, interactive e-books, and art apps are some of our standbys. We also purchase a special movie to use as a reward for being well-behaved aboard the plane.
6. Show examples of good behaviour in a book about airplane travel
Before the trip, find a children’s book about travel and airplanes, such as Amazing Airplane. Bring it on the flight and read it again at the beginning of the flight. Show your child the pictures of the passengers’ appropriate actions and responses, like sitting in their seats and not disrupting others.
7. Don’t worry too much about food, but bring fun snacks
Sometimes the novelty of a new and different snack is all it takes to make a kid feel happy and pampered. My kids never want to eat meals on the airplane, but a fun snack is exciting and helps both pass the time and keep them full. Try making healthy snacks exciting by offering favourite fruits or vegetables arranged into faces on a napkin. Later, consider letting them indulge in less-healthy snacks like chips or candy – for us, letting our kids have treats they don’t get at home makes the flying experience more fun for them.
8. Plan a few ways to pass the time together during “emergency” situations
Have a plan for when you’re in lines. Photo by D. Coetzee.
Some of the hardest moments of travel for both kids and adults are the waiting times, such as standing in line and waiting to deplane. Prepare a few ideas for easy ways to pass the time so that you’ll be able to distract your kids before a tantrum begins.
Some of our go-to methods include reviewing all the things we have done or seen that day, asking our kids to retell the day’s events, playing “guess the animal,” or telling a favourite story – whatever it is, it should be something you can do when you need to distract your kids in a pinch.
9. For overnight flights, make them feel at home
When it’s time to sleep, kids will fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer if they feel comfortable. Bring their pajamas, favorite bed toy, and usual bedtime book so that they will feel right at home sleeping while on the plane. If you have little ones that drink milk before bed, don’t be shy about asking for help from the flight attendants; they want your kids to be calm, too, so they’ll be happy to help by providing milk and warming it up for you by putting a bottle in hot water.
10. Have realistic expectations for how this flight will be for you
Travelling with kids is rewarding but requires a re-evaluation of expectations. Flying with them is no different; your mission is to keep them calm and comfortable, often at the expense of your own comfort and space. When I have realistic expectations, I don’t feel frustrated when I can’t get my rest because one of the kids is sleeping on my lap or the other needs to be held.
The good news about flying with kids is that they quickly become accustomed to the routine of flying. After my first son was born, we took him on many international trips and found that the more he travelled, the more adaptable he became. In fact, starting him travelling young was a good idea – he became used to airplanes and understood what good airplane behaviour is. Now, he begs us to take him on airplanes.
Now that you know these great tips for flying with your kids, all you have to do is choose where to fly to! G Adventures has a host of Family Style trips on offer. Raise travellers and make a plan today.