Even if you’re raising well-behaved toddlers, there’s no question that enduring a plane flight with them will be one of the most challenging experiences of your life as a parent.
They squirm! They get hungry! They need to pee! Most important, because they don’t really focus on activities for more than a few minutes at a time — you’ve got to keep them entertained until they fall asleep or the plane lands.
With this in mind, then, here are five secrets for making that next family flight more tolerable.
Buy a seat.
Most airlines allow you to take kids up to the age of 2 as “lap children.” This means that you agree to have them on your lap for the duration of the flight. For short flights (i.e., flights of 90 minutes or less), this strategy is do-able. For longer flights, the setup is torture — both for you and your baby.
With this in mind, I highly recommend buying your toddler his or her own seat. No, the child likely won’t spend much time actually sitting in the seat. But just having that extra space gives you peace of mind — and the room to psychologically and physically spread out.
Bring snacks. Lots of snacks.
At a time when most airlines charge for just about everything, it never hurts to bring an ample supply of snacks from home. Good snacks for plane trips include fruit snacks, almonds, pretzels, and peanut butter packets. With the right containers, you also can bring grapes, berries, and other bite-sized treats from home. (Just remember — no liquids, unless it’s breast milk or formula.)
When we travel with our two girls, we actually bring two stashes of snacks — one for the carry-on that slides under the seat in front of us, and another cache in one of the bags we place in the overhead bin.
Use media devices sparingly.
If you wanted to, you truly could stick your kids in front of mobile devices or other portable electronics for the duration of a flight. While this certainly would keep the kids distracted, it also would — pardon the pun — fly in the face of recent doctor recommendations regarding toddlers and screen time.
Instead of taking the easy way out, we like to minimize the use of media devices, mixing things up with real-live books, games, and storytime, as well as arts-and-crafts projects such as coloring (with washable crayons), pipe cleaners, and/or Wikki Stix.
Take a blanket for changing diapers.
Changing diapers on airplanes these days isn’t fun. Most planes have cramped changing tables in the aft lavatories; some planes have nothing at all.
Because there’s no way to determine your diaper-changing situation in advance, it behooves you to go prepared. For us, this means bringing a “disposable” blanket; this way, if you must change your child on the galley floor, you can lay this down first to act as a barrier — and throw it out when you disembark.
Whatever you do, resist the urge to change dirty diapers on unused passenger seats. Yes, it’s convenient. But seats are for sitting in; bathrooms are for tending to poop and pee.
Accept that people will hate you.
For whatever reason, family travelers have become hated by most other airplane passengers these days. This means that as soon as you roll up to your gate — in many cases, before you even board the darn plane — a sizable contingent of your fellow passengers will be judging you and quietly (or not so quietly) praying that they don’t get stuck next to you.
You can try to fight this trend and try to change people’s minds. In our experience, however, it’s almost better to own it and move on. The plane ride is an important part of every family vacation. Don’t let anybody ruin that.
The dad of two young daughter's, Matt Villano blogs about his family's travel adventures at WanderingPod.com. His articles appear in a number of publications, including National Geographic Traveler and the New York Times.