It’s dark and quiet as hundreds around me sleep, now that the small passenger in row 35 has given in. His mother looks relieved, but cautious, slumped under a blanket beside him. Airline travel with small children is not easy, but it can be done well.
Before the flight attendant closed the overhead bins, the elderly lady in row 35 found a way to move far from the little wiggling person making demands before we even pulled away from the gate. Early indications showed it would be a long overnight flight with this half sized, yet powerful, passenger. His mom, on the other hand, seemed to be in denial; she opened a large paperback and ignored her child, who quickly tired of pushing the screen on the back of the chair and moved on to kicking the tray table. Mom had nothing to give him: no secret snacks, hidden toys, sticker books, favorite stuffy, or comforting blanket. Maybe she forgot in her pre-trip hurry, but this has the power to make a break their trip. In a divine show of mercy, when the elderly lady escaped, she left an empty seat beside the toddler, creating more “wiggle room.”
Shortly after the meal service, the toddler melted down, just as the shades were drawn and passengers were urged to sleep. We all knew only one would win: the toddler in row 35 or the other 400 of us. Airline travel with small children can be a battle. Are you up for the challenge?
This is no time to read that Amish classic. Be realistic about travel during this season of life. There will be a day for long novels on trans-Atlantic flights, but not in the toddler-mom days. A successful flight requires being informed, prepared, and engaged. Remember how you slept when the baby slept in the first days? Bring that mindset to the plane.
Some children face emotional anxiety due to the number of people, the noise, the restrictions, or other issues. Know that some factors, like entertainment choices of surrounding passengers, temperature, and time, are out of your control. Physical concerns like ear pain and awkward bathroom facilities mean Mom has to plan ahead. Ask your pediatrician for ways to offset air pressure changes. Plan to offer a lollipop, pacifier, sippy cup, or nursing, depending on the age of the child, for take-offs and landing.
The flight may offer “activities” like meals and an entertainment system to help fill time, but go with plans and resources to occupy your child; the whole plane will thank you. Take your child’s age into account, but plan seat activities to rotate. Choose those that are quiet, don’t have a lot of small pieces to drop, and work well in confinement. Challenging! Think: books, coloring, playdough, a game, a simple craft, technical game, story on tape, etc. This is not your chance to catch up on reading. Engaging your child’s body and mind on a plane requires a parent who is engaged.
See your child’s response to the flight experience as people around you are seeing it. Remember that some may have flight anxiety, need to sleep, may be facing physical issues, and may not be used to small children. Your interaction with your child can be a blessing to those around you, and you might even find others eager to help you when they see how prepared and thoughtful you are.
From the moment you pre-board or drag a car seat down the aisle, people wonder how you will impact the flight. Since you already have a hundred things on your mind, add two more small ones: greet the flight attendants and smile. While it isn’t time to stop and make introductions, it is time to speak to the stewards, thank them for their help, and teach your little one how to “help the helpers.” Your polite manners will make attendants want to help you, and you need that!
It takes more time and effort to fly with little ones, but you can do it if you adjust your expectations. You may not get that two minutes in the restroom to freshen up your make-up before landing, but that’s okay. The attention and affection you show your most precious passenger makes you beautiful. Don’t let spills, tears, fears, or questions upset you. Set a pace for your child that reveals a flexible and patient spirit. More important than getting to your destination is the journey of growing your child.
Traveling with a small child is exciting! Determine that you will see it that way and talk to your little one about your adventure together. Laugh at the unexpected, making your travel a game and journey to be embraced. Make these days a sweet memory in the heart of your little traveler. All too soon, they’ll grab their own suitcase and be out the door charting their own course.
I’ve traveled many miles with our children, but they now sleep in the row behind me, tall and quiet in their own seats. They chose their own meals, didn’t spill, and carried their own bags. They’ve grown to be independent, and I got to read a great book. It’s a new season.
The mom in row 35 sleeps now beside her small mound of a person under a blanket, her book on the floor, but her heart open. The window shades will lift soon, and the toddler will wake up, ready for the next part of his amazing adventure with mom.
What tips do you have for successful airline travel with kids?