Monday, January 31, 2011

Flying with Children

Since I have taken little ones on many road trips and airline flights I have been asked a few times what I do to keep them busy and happy. So I thought I would put together this blog entry to share some of the things I do for airline fights. In a few months we will be taking a road trip so look for tips and tricks for that soon! Of course all kids are different but this works for me.

First of all, let them stand and walk as much as they want at the airport since they will be limited once they get on the airplane.

Make sure they try to use the restroom or have a fresh diaper before the flight. You never know when you will be able to get up once you are on the plane. Also, don't be in a hurry to get on the plane. The faster you get on the longer you will be sitting!

Food: Buy something at the airport to eat on the airplane since these days there is little to nothing to purchase once you are in flight. We usually buy some yummy meals to eat on the plane but it takes up space so consider that when you are looking at your meal options. My kids are picky and airport food/beverages are expensive so I like to add a few snacks to my backpack before leaving my house. But you are limited to restrictions at security of what you can bring with you into the airport so lately I have just spent the extra money at the airport (after going through security) to avoid the hassle.

I start with one backpack per child. With airline travel each passenger can have one carry-on item (or at least they could at the time of writing this blog) so I have the kids carry their own entertainment. Then I fill each backpack with items that the child likes, is friendly to their seating limitations, and will not disturb other passengers. Try to stay away from many small items that can easily get lost. There is turbulence and other mishaps where toys can fall and it's not fun trying to move around in tight seating to retrieve an item that has rolled along the floor clear to the other end of the airplane!

Here are some items that I use/recommend:

Candy, gum, snacks to help with ear pressure - especially something chewy during take-off and landing. Make sure you pack enough for the entire trip. I usually have two flights each way so that is 2 take-offs and 2 landings on the way there and then again when I pack the bag for the way back. I also pack a little extra because my son will usually eat his up faster than the airplane can get off the ground. I prefer chewy items that are not really high in sugar since they are each going to be eating "candy" 4 times in one day!

Water - flying can make you thirsty! For each kid, I usually buy a bottle of water with a sports cap AFTER I have passed through security at the airport (to avoid the laws/hassle of what I can and can't bring from home). You could also bring an empty water bottle and fill it at the airport once you have passed security.  There is cabin pressure once the flight takes off which usually will cause the water to leak if it has been opened. I like to keep the water bottle handy (side pocket of backpack) so it doesn't leak on anything important and I have easy access to it once seated on the airplane. Are you traveling with baby bottles that have water/formula? It will do the same. The first time we took my daughter on a flight I was surprised to find that her bottles had lost almost 1/4 of the water I had in them after our flight was done!! Some flights offer beverages during the trip (bring straws for the flight if your child isn't comfortable drinking out of a large mouth cup). I recommend staying away from the water and coffee they serve on the flight. At the time of writing this there is still a serious bacteria problem with airline water and the coffee has not proven to be hot enough to get rid of the bacteria! Okay - maybe I watch too many news shows but I thought I would share! Oh - and just because they pour the water out of a commercial water bottle does not mean it is "bottled water" - they use those for looks and the ease of pouring then refill them from the airplanes water supply.

Pack a small toy or two that the child usually likes to play with. For example: my son really enjoys cars/trucks and action figures. Be careful not to pick the smallest toys because they are harder to keep track of during the flight. I also like the idea of an airplane toy to help create excitement. Don't forget an important toy to the child. My son has to take his monkey with him everywhere!

A book - especially one that is new to him/her.

Deck of cards - if old enough to know how to play card games.

Game player WITH HEADSET and case (case not pictured in my backpack example) to avoid disrupting other passengers. Some airlines provide headset in the seat back pocket but I prefer not to use those that MANY others have used - it's all up to you. I have used the provided headsets in a pinch.

Music player (MP3, iPod ...) WITH HEADSET and case if needed. Headset can also be plugged into the seat jack to hear the provided airline music or listen in on what the pilots are discussing. My little ones are more than happy with the provided music at this time.

Movie player (portable DVD player, iPad, iPod... - wireless connection disabled for all) WITH HEADSET and case. I usually have my husband pack this in his bag and we share it. You can pack DVD's in a soft shell CD case for easy access or with newer technology you just have the movies loaded so no DVD's are necessary. We also pack a splitter for the headsets so two can listen at the same time (although ours makes it harder to hear that way...). Some airlines provide a movie during the flight but for many airplanes the screen is located in an area where shorter children cannot see it.

Make sure all of your electronics are charged or that you have extra batteries. I hate lugging around a big electronic item only to find out that I can't use it when I want to!!

Don't forget a change of clothes!! Many things can happen while you are traveling so it's best to pack a back-up. You'd be surprised how small you can pack these if you put them in a gallon Ziploc bag! Don't forget diapers and wipes if they are needed. I carry extra wipes to clean off the tray table before and after use.

Activities Folder:

Pick a cover theme that goes with the trip - we are going to see SpongeBob
This is a must for my daughter who loves art!! I created this 3-ring binder that I update for all trips where my children will be required to sit for a while. It includes arts, crafts, learning activities appropriate for their age and based on topics they like (or topics around the vacation we are going on). There are coloring pages, blank pages to draw on, alphabet writing pages (for my pre-K daughter), colored pencils with a sharpener, stencils, stickers ... All the pages I add are 3-hole punched so they stay contained in the folder while in flight (not falling all over and making a huge mess). I only include enough markers and pencils that will fit in a pencil bag that is also clipped into the binder.

I also use this folder at the hotel but I provide a few extra items for hotel use only. That includes paint, glue, and scissors - a little messy for the airplane but a nice creative outlet during downtime at the hotel.

If your child really isn't into drawing/writing yet you might want to just include a small writing pad (MagnaDoodle) in their backpack. I'm considering doing this for my son on the airplane this year since he probably will only be interested in the binder at the hotel. He is usually happier with 1 truck, a book, and his monkey.

Clutter control: How do you keep all of this organized so you can find what you need when you need it? I keep the water bottle in a side pocket. The "candy" goes in a front pocket since I usually need it quickly and while the backpack is supposed to be under the seat in front of me. Make sure you have easy access to a toy that they can hold on while the plane is taking off. For my son, I keep "Monkey" on the top of everything in his bag so I can get him out as soon as he is seated. Pack everything else safely in the remaining space. I do not bring a pillow or blanket because I don't want to struggle with taking it out while trying not to pull everything out!

One last tip:  You should always lower your expectations!!  We are talking about little kids and I know that as an adult I can get pretty grumpy during a long day of travel!  Do your best to keep them happy but know that there will be undesirable moments.

What tips and tricks do you have?

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