If you’re like us, you are a little family island far away from relatives, connected only via Skype, texting, and Facebook. You have to get on an airplane so your child (or “the prince” as your relatives call him) can get the unadulterated spoiling he deserves.
There was a time a long, long time ago when I loved flying—when I imagined bouncing in the clouds, and when Alaska Airlines strangely put quotes from Proverbs in their in-flight meals. Those psychedelic, Biblical days ended years ago. After September 11, to survive the decline of the airline industry, I started drugging myself—Ambien, Dramamine, Nyquil: I’ll take anything that will turn me into a drooling, open-mouthed, zombie seat mate.
But then K-Pants put a wrench in my drugged-out plane rides. He needed an alert and attentive mother to cater to his every whim—tearing up Sky Mall magazines, crawling up and down the aisle, guzzling Sprite—and things just got worse. Not to mention that once I was flying as a parent my anxiety soared: any turbulence had me clutching the arm rest chanting the Lord’s prayer and fearing desperately for the Pants’s life.
But I’ve learned some things in the 6+ plane trips we’ve taken in K-Pants’s short 17 months. So if you are like us and have to get on a plane with a child or children a few times every year, here are the four things we always do.
1. Schedule flights around sleep times. Red-eye flights are perfect for harnessing kid exhaustion. You can run your toddler ragged near the gate until it’s time to board, and then the bedtime weariness should kick in, and you may even get some sleep yourself (or watch “Snakes on a Plane” or some other in flight movie). On a red-eye this year from PDX to EWR, there was a virtual slumber party at the gate with kids of all ages in pajamas running wild—clearly people are onto this.
Warning: Recovery from a red-eye with an infant/toddler can be rough like a mental asylum, so make sure you take a nap the second your child goes down the next day. But even mental-asylum rough is better than a cranky baby on a plane.
For day flights, we try to schedule around nap time, and we do everything humanly possible short of poking the Pants with hot needles to keep him awake until right before boarding. This nap-scheduling doesn’t always work, especially if the flight gets delayed or you sit on the tarmac, SO…
2. Drug yourself and others. If nap time goes out the window, schedule it yourself. I am not going to share with you my secret baby medicine, because I am not a doctor, but it does involve infant Tylenol…
I thought giving K-Pants a little Tylenol would help us all out (and it does), but ultimately I need the drugs more than he does. Sitting next to someone with a baby can be annoying, so imagine how horrible it is when the baby is yours. I take two Dramamine. It’s mostly psychosomatic, so take whatever you need to take the edge off. (I write more about the parent anxiety that goes into flying here.)
3. Travel Carry-On. After a flight with a cranky baby, or a sleeping baby, or even a well-behaved baby who you’ve been using Jedi mind-tricks on for 900 miles, you are totally, utterly spent. Every extra minute it takes to get from the terminal to home is a miserable eternity, not to mention the additional risk of lost baggage. So we travel carry-on (which is redeeming because it’s kind of an anti-materialistic lightening-of-being after the drugged-out last tip). Or, maybe this is just how backpacking hippies do it in general: drugs and packs.
K-Pants and I get the roller-bag carry-on and my husband gets a trekking pack, the diaper bag is my “purse” and my husband gets a regular backpack with our books and computer. I can do it when I’m on my own, but I imagine carry-on with two or more kids gets tough. However, at JFK recently we were in the taxi line with a family of five (parents plus 3 kids) and their 16 suitcases and 2 luggage carts, and the only intelligible thing out of the wife’s mouth was “F*&% you, Frank! F#$% YOU!” (If you want tips for flying with two young kids, I write about 14 tips for flying with your kids here.)
4. Bring a stroller—it’s an excellent cart for your bags. People traveling with children can gate check their strollers and the strollers don’t count as extra baggage or get charged a fee. Read that one more time. It’s true. This is the one advantage we get: so use it! We rarely need the stroller when we’re at our destination, and family would be happy to borrow one for us, but that bad boy carries all our luggage on the subway, commuter train, and down the interminable airport hallways. All the while, K-Pants is in the Ergo. Brilliant!
5. If your child loves the iPhone or iPad, don’t worry about screen time guilt and just load that thing up with new games and videos. You can find my favorite toddler and preschooler apps for travel here. Headphones for kids are great, but sometimes don’t work for little kids who hate having stuff on their heads. So just turn the volume down real low.
Want more family travel advice and ideas? The Travel With Kids page has links to useful travel posts by other parent bloggers.