We are headed to Maine to visit my grandmother later this week and will be taking Theodora on what will be her fifth airplane trip (or, if you want to get technical, her ninth actual flight). I fall somewhere in the middle of the whole traveling-with-kids spectrum – it’s not like I totally dread it, but I do feel like we’ve limited ourselves a bit as far as our planning goes because oh god, can you imagine being trapped in a metal box hurtling through space for 12 hours with a toddler? This may or may not have something to do with the fact that I dislike flying, and often require an in-flight cocktail of valium chased with a steady stream of Kate Hudson rom-coms just to keep it together. Hey, remember that scene in Bridesmaids?
But I digress. Here are my 10 tips for smooth airline travel with your little one. These are mostly culled from our own experiences, and I greatly appreciate and welcome any additional brilliant ideas that you probably have. At this stage, I’m pretty confident that my interest in reading kiddie travel tips will endure well into my 70s.
1. Bring a ton of snacks
Snacks for eating on the plane. Snacks for while you’re waiting in line. Snacks for when you’re on the other end, waiting for luggage in an unfamiliar airport. We like dried fruit of all kinds (goji berries, raisins in tiny boxes that tiny hands can pick out slowly, one by one), homemade granola bars, cashews, carrot sticks, and those fruit squeezie pouches. I’m sure the French would have something to say about all this but I’m embracing my gauche North-American ways – we’re talking survival here.
2. Surprise them with small toys
The key is to stock up on a bunch of new little things (this is where visiting a Dollarama comes in handy) that you can pull out at appropriate intervals. It’s more about novelty than anything else, so if a random little toy gets lost under your seat, nobody will lose their shit. Here’s what I’ve bought for our trip this time: finger puppets, a mini slinky, some Playmobil people, new stickers, and a couple of the Mr Men books (Mr Tickle always creeped me out so I’m curious to see what Theo will think).
3. Always pack extra clothes
Everyone has their own story involving spilled drinks and/or bodily fluids that became the catalyst for ALWAYS bringing a change of clothes for their kids, everywhere they go. I am no exception. It’s only an hour-long flight, you say? Proceed at your own risk, mama. Also, bring a pair socks even in summer because those little feet always get chilly in airplanes.
4. Wet Wipes, washi tape, and ziploc bags solve nearly everything
I make sure that the Wet Wipes are strategically placed and easily accessible in every bag we’re carrying with us. It’s not the most economical, but I usually buy a bunch of the mini packs from the drugstore’s travel section. I also brought a roll of washi tape on a whim once and it worked great for keeping paper on the tray-table during manic bouts of colouring, as well as just being a silly thing to have around for sticking on hands, faces, on the window, etc. Sealable ziplocs will quickly corral errant toys and snacks, and are a godsend when your child needs to change into the aforementioned extra clothes (otherwise, where were you going to store those wet pants?).
5. Bring the umbrella stroller, even if your child doesn’t use it much anymore
You’ll feel a lot better knowing you can wait in the really long line at the airport Starbucks and then still zoom right over to your gate. You can hang your purse and other carry-on luggage on the stroller, then fold it up and check it for free before you board. And unless you’re one of those parents who uses a leash on their child (please tell me you are not), it’s nice to be able to keep them contained if necessary.
6. Technology is your friend
Not to stereotype across gender lines or anything, but now’s the time to let your husband buy that iPad. Load some games and a few kid’s movies on there and you’re gold. Theo is rarely allowed screen-time at our house but while we’re traveling, almost anything goes. Don’t forget to pack comfortable headphones (earbuds won’t cut it with most 2 year olds, so get an old-school-type pair).
7. Scam an extra seat
Once your child turns two, you’ll have to buy them their own seat. But an Air Canada employee gave us a tip that worked great for when Theo was little and we’d just take her on our lap. If the aircraft you’re traveling on has a row of three seats, book the two outer seats in a row. The chances of a single passenger booking that middle seat are very slim, so you will most likely end up with an empty seat between you and huzzah, now you have the whole row. There’s risk involved in this strategy but it’s always worked out for us (plus if someone does take the middle seat, they’ll be happy to switch so you can all sit together).
8. Don’t board right away
This is a great tip I learned from Hither & Thither. Try to stay off the plane as long as you can, despite the ‘pre-boarding for families’ announcement. Depending on the size of your flight, sometimes it can take half an hour or more for all the passengers to board and get settled before anything happens at all. Just stick close to the gate, let your child stretch, move, and just generally get their yah-yahs out as much as possible, then slip in near the end.
9. Help with take-off and landing
In the past I’ve always nursed upon take-off and landing to help with Theo’s ears popping so this will be the first flight sans les boobs. I plan to bring both some lollipops to suck on and fun bendy drinking straws to use should she need them.
10. Don’t worry too much about other passengers
This is usually people’s #1 fear about flying with kids, that they’ll disrupt the people around you or cry a lot and everyone will give you dirty looks. Generally, if you provide your little ones with plenty of distraction and proper attention, they’ll do okay. But meltdowns can happen, and you’re doing the best you can. I’ve seen blogs where people hand out mini gift bags of treats and earplugs to neighbouring passengers, in order to foster goodwill should their kids cry. Lovely in theory but jesus, isn’t that a little over the top? I’m not saying don’t be considerate of the people around you, just that it’s not necessary to put extra stress and pressure into the mix worrying about it all.
So, there you have it. Do you have any of your own great tips to fly the friendly skies with little kids in tow?