Now, I may not be considered an expert on flying (in an airplane) with a child, but I’m pretty damn close. When my son was born, he and I would tag along on Mom’s business trips, which took us all over the world. Pretty sweet! Other than dealing with an infant on a plane. In total, my son had been on 18 flights before the age of one. Flight times ranged from 1-10 hours. So, I’d say I have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about when it comes to flying with a child…on an airplane. Here are my favourite tips…
#1: Pack a small carry-on bag just for your child.
This can be a small backpack that the child wears themselves (age-dependent) or a small bag that can easily be pulled out of one of your carry-ons once you board the plane. This should be filled with everything your child may need during the flight. Toys, snacks, books, wipes, water bottle, milk, diapers (if applicable) etc. Whatever is needed to distract your child for as long as possible and keep the rest of the plane from hating you…for as long as possible. Have it all in one bag and save yourself the stress of trying to locate JR’s favourite toy before he or she explodes. There’s nothing worse than having a whisper fight with your spouse while a captive audience of passengers, that has nothing better to do, are fully engrossed in your mid-flight battle of where you put the damn Goldfish snacks. People will gladly pause their movie to listen in on “how big of an idiot you are” for putting said Goldfish in the outside pocket of the suitcase.
#2: Choose flight around nap time/bed time.
Obviously this isn’t always possible. But if it is, DO IT. If you’re able to get your child to sleep during a flight, you are living the ‘flying with a child’ dream. I mean, some downtime without worry of a meltdown? Or the ability to perhaps watch a bit of a movie? OR EVEN HAVE A NAP YOURSELF? A sleeping child is the ultimate dream come true for a parent on a plane. Just remember when you’re booking your flight to ask yourself, is it really worth saving $50 on a cheaper, less direct flight? Do you really enjoy having complete strangers staring at you and judging your parenting skills at 30 000 feet in the air? If not, SPLURGE on the best flight (and seat selection) at the best time. I guarantee you’ll gladly pay whatever the price is to settle your wee one when the Plane Gods decide to perform an exorcism on your child on your way to Hawaii.
#3: Choosing Seats (specifically for a couple travelling with a child under 2 years of age)
Not having to pay for an infant’s plane ticket is great…except for the fact that they will be travelling on your lap for the entire flight, while you’r sandwiched in the middle seat. Here’s what I suggest for your standard three seats in a row plane: when choosing seats (and as per above, pay for advanced seat selection), choose the window and the aisle of the row, leaving the middle seat open. Nobody wants to sit in a middle seat and therefore it will be one of the last seats selected. This is when you hold your breath and hope that the flight isn’t full and that an empty seat will be left between you and your significant other…and child. When this does happen, it feels like a complimentary upgrade to first class. I mean, you won’t get a warm cloth to dab your brow…and you still have your child to deal with, but the expanded comfort level will make you feel like you won the lottery. When this doesn’t happen, and someone is sandwiched in between you, I guarantee that they will gladly switch and take the aisle or window seat in a heartbeat. Nobody wants to be in the middle of your travelling family circus. And if for some reason they don’t move, just keep passing your child back and forth across them until you smoke them out.
#4: Get on the plane as late as possible (our family favourite)
Everyone has heard the pre-boarding announcement inviting those travelling with small children to board first. This sounds great! First ones on the plane! Guaranteed spot for your carry-on luggage! You manoeuvre your family through the maze of impatient fellow travellers, whose sole mission is to make it as difficult as possible to access the ticket counter. You show your boarding passes and make your way on to the awaiting aircraft. Although, that five minute head start that they gave you has now turned into a minute, as you battle to carry your bags and squirming (probably screaming) child(ren) onto the plane without dropping everything. Oh, and don’t forget the stroller that has decided not to close at the plane’s entrance for gate check. You finally make it onto the plane and settle in only to have to wait for the rest of the passengers to board. Each one passing by your seats breathing a sigh of relief that they’re not sitting anywhere close to you and your cackling offspring. It’s funny how nice people are to you when you have a baby…unless you’re on a plane. So now, by your willingness to board early, you’ve unintentionally added AT LEAST 30 extra minutes of being confined to a tiny airplane seat, immobile, with an infant. An infant that could lose their mind at the drop of a miniature bag of pretzels. Not ideal.
So, what should you do? Divide and conquer. Let’s say for example, you and your “better-half” are traveling with your one year old. One of you boards the plane when they make the pre-boarding announcement and that parent takes all the carry-on luggage (including the stroller if you’re bringing one). If you can’t take everything, remember the most important bag: the one with all your child’s essentials. Make sure your partner and brood are nearby, so you can point over and say you’re travelling with a small child (or children).* Side benefit, other passengers see you’re actually traveling with a child and are not just being an A-hole trying to get on the plane first. That parent boards and is on a mission: get all the bags stored away without having to contain a squirmy, screaming child with the next set of boarded passengers breathing down his/her neck (those are typically the frequent flyers who are especially impatient). Once that’s done, you can sit down, get all of your child’s snacks, toys and other essentials, out and organized. The seat pockets in front of you are your friends. Meanwhile, your spouse is still out in the boarding area with your child, letting them crawl and run around in the incredibly spacious (relatively speaking) boarding area, changing that diaper one last time, and basically just putting in time until that last person in line has shown their boarding pass and gets on. At this point, I still wait for the final boarding announcement to be made, just in case there are some passengers they may still be waiting to get on. Once the final announcement is made, you make your way onto the plane, quickly and easily get seated and settled, just in time for take off. Planes are louder during takeoff and you have saved yourself 30-45 minutes of unneccesary flight stress. Why make the flight any longer than it has to be? Don’t be the people who get in line early only to find the club is empty once you get in. Be a VIP and get in the side door when the place is already bumping.
*Make sure whoever is staying in the boarding area with your child has his/her boarding pass (and id/passport if necessary).
#5: The bathroom is your best friend
When your child is screaming on a plane, there is really no place to hide…except the bathroom. This can be your little sanctuary when your child chooses to channel their inner death-metal singer. I mean it’s not sound proof but it’s better the open cavern that is your seat. Your fellow passengers will, at the very least, appreciate the effort. Take a book. Take a snack. Play some music on your phone. Enjoy your stay while your child gets all of their frustrations out as you stare at each other through the oversized mirror and while you’re assessing if that is, in fact, water you’re standing in. Sure, there might be a bit of a line upon exiting the “restroom” but that’s the least of your worries…unless there’s only one bathroom on the plane. Then you should probably have a time limit. But I’m sure the knocks will cue you that your time is up.