Travelling with Kids: Plane Survival
By Preferred Pineapple
“Ladies and gentlemen, can we have your attention, please! The captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign. If you haven’t already done so, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin. Make sure your seat back and folding trays are in their full upright position, and for the love of mercy, please make sure your children are WELL BEHAVED!
When dreaming of a tropical beach or an exotic European destination, the thought of being stuck in a tube for 5+ hours with bored, or whiny kids isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. We tend to gloss over the necessary evil of enduring the long flights in order to reach our happy place.
If you have experienced the humiliation of having one of your children scream for hours on a long haul flight, you know the anxiety is real. So, here are a few “plane survival tactics” to make the trip a little less turbulent.
The fine print
First things first - be sure to read the fine print and familiarize yourself with all the hidden air flight regulations before you book. Some airlines have strict policies on travelling with children. Most are common sense but some might surprise you e.g. the varying car seat and stroller policies or the one adult to infant rule.
Passport expiration. Something I think I’ve heard way too many times… “We forgot to check the kid’s passport expiration!” Guilty as charged. Be sure to check the passport expiration at least 4 weeks prior to booking. As a general rule, passports should have at least six months of validity when traveling internationally. Most countries will not permit a traveler to enter their country unless the passport is set to expire at least six months after the final day of travel.
Let’s face it, plane food sucks. It’s expensive and it’s not readily available. When it does come, the choices are usually not your child’s favourites. Leave yourself lots of time to purchase your meals at the airport. Avoid lots of sweets and sugar rushes before the flight (those options will come in handy later). Try to stick to their favourite savoury options.
The boarding process can be long and stressful. Try to board as late as possible to avoid unnecessary boredom and the inevitable squirmy pants. Have one parent or an older child board the plane and grab all the overhead storage room they can get. Meanwhile, the other parent can walk the gate lounge with the younger kids until the last possible minute.
Avoid flying the vomit comet
Make sure to pre-book your family’s seats to ensure that you are together. Some airlines charge a premium for this, but when travelling with younger children it is worth it. If you’re not flying first class or business class, the bulkhead seats are best for extra space. If your child is prone to motion sickness I recommend nabbing seats in the middle section of the plane near the wings. The back of the bus is usually a bumpier ride. While you don’t get the best view, sitting over the wing does offer the smoothest ride. If your children are over the age of 12 they can (on some airlines) sit in the emergency exit row. Bonus: more leg room! My 15-year-old is 6’ 1” so we always try to nab those seats. I wouldn’t suggest the seats just in front of the exit row though, as they usually don’t recline.
If you are travelling with a young infant (25Lbs or under) in Economy Class, you may request a bassinet in advance of travel by contacting your airline.
Bassinets are usually assigned on a first come, first served basis, and subject to availability at time of flight departure.
The importance of wipes
Wipes, wipes, and more wipes. Yup, even if your children are older, never leave home without them. I should have shares in a wipes company. Not just for hands anymore - I use them for literally everything. Wiping down the tray tables, the armrests, the screen, the toilet and taps, and yes of course those sticky hands. I like to pack multiple travel size wipes; flushable, antibacterial wipes and face wipes. Trust me, bring extra. Similar to pulling out a pack of gum… everyone will want a wipe. Very recently I got sassy and thought, it’s so easy to travel with older kids, next thing you know my 12-year-old was sick in the bathroom on the plane. Wipes to the rescue!!
Bag of tricks
For longer journeys, make a trip to your local toy store or even the dollar store and fill their carry-ons with individually wrapped gifts that they can only open every hour, or whenever you hear an “are we there yet?” For example; small puzzles, small lego sets, sticker books, window cling stickers, mini play-doh, or word game books. While you have their undivided attention, now might be a great time to introduce a travel journey. Include their wish lists and things they want to see or find. This will also be great for 'show and share' when they return to school. Don’t pull out all your tricks at once, keep this stash as a secret weapon. Wrapping them keeps the curiosity level high in anticipation of the next one. Remember to save a few for the flight back. My carry-on bag of choice is always a backpack. This leaves your hands free for all the juggling of passports, pushing strollers and most importantly your coffee.
Older kids can pack their carry-ons with new card games. Some great travel size ones are; Spot it, Banana Gram, Uno, Travel Blurt. I find tweens and teens like to know exactly what’s in store, so print them off a hard copy of the itinerary and maybe a kid-friendly tour book or an educational app related to their destination. Babbel is a great app to learn a new language. These will get them excited about all the adventures ahead.
Go old school. Refresh yourself on the classic road trip games we played as kids. Reintroduce them to pass the time in case of delays. The alphabet game, the eye spy game, and hangman are just a few of the old faithful time passing tricks to play with kids of any age.
Be sure to download the airline app ahead of time on your smartphones and tablets in case your flight isn’t equipped with seat screens. Also, download your kids favourite Netflix series at home while you still have WiFi for speed. Invest in good quality noise canceling headphones that fit comfortably over their ears. I always carry both wireless for my own screens plus plug-ins for the plane. Save the movies for after takeoff when the excitement of boarding has worn off.
For the older kids, have them hold off on binge-watching their favourite Netflix show or a movie they’ve been wanting to see, download and save a few for the flight to watch.
Soothe their senses
I know it sounds obvious, but make sure kids are dressed comfortably and in layers. I swear temperatures fluctuate on a plane every 10 mins. The more comfortable the clothing, the happier the child. If your kids are still young, remember to bring one extra outfit for them in case of an accident, and one for you if that accident happens to get on your clothes. Also, extra plastic zip bags are perfect to put soiled garments in.
For sleep time (fingers crossed) pack the following:
- Noise-canceling earplugs.
- Eye covers to keep it dark
- Roll on aromatherapy scents - e.g. calming lavender
- A neck pillow and a super soft travel size blanket for cuddles. Airlines don’t usually provide these anymore and it comes in handy for comfort reassurance. Extra large sized pashminas work perfectly to double as a blanket and save room in your carry on.
Remember children’s ears are particularly sensitive during takeoff and landing due to the changes in air pressure. Having gum, or hard candy or even their sippy cup to suck on helps to equalize the pressure. I find a saline spray works wonders as well. If you are still breastfeeding, try to schedule feedings at takeoff and landing.
In the unlikely event of a meltdown emergency, pull out your own oxygen mask, aka a baggie of their most coveted treats. The ones you don’t usually allow. Am I suggesting bribery, maybe? Remember these are survival tactics. Once you touch down on solid ground you can resume your normal healthy parenting styles.
I still love the thrill of flying, but I know kids + planes + long hours usually adds up to some kind of turbulence. Just remember to pack your wipes and your patience and you’ll conquer the skies with ease.
Thank you for your attention. We hope you enjoy your flight! ✈️
What are some of your tips for flying with children? We’d love to hear your suggestions 🙂
Marsha is a travel designer and founder of Preferred Pineapple. She quit her advertising career of 25+ years to turn her pursuit of travel into a full-time job. If she’s not designing and planning bespoke itineraries for her clients, she is traveling with her husband and two sons – adding to her little black book of amazing places. Marsha travels with curiosity and passion and inspires people to do the same! She’s been to 22 countries and counting!
If you need help planning your next dream vacation, email her at Marsha@preferredpineapple.com
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