These tips were originally meant for a friend on Facebook, and then I realized I had TOO MUCH to share. So here’s a blog post with everything I’ve learned in one trip (2 plane flights – there and back, 3+ hours each way). Some of this stuff I also took from online blogs, stuff friends sent me and told me too, so I can’t take ALL the credit here!
She earned her wings!
For background sake, my little Skylar is 15 months old, just learned how to walk on her own 3 days before our first flight, is weaned (so no nursing option here), and sleeps like a champion in her CRIB, but not so much anywhere else! She’s our only one, so we don’t have to worry about another sibling, which I know may make flying for some of you more difficult. Also, we flew as a family on a domestic flight, so daddy and mommy were both on call – I give major shout-outs for you parents who fly solo with children, I have NO IDEA how you do it!! We flew as a lap-held infant, so she didn’t have a seat, but we were very lucky and got aisle/window seats with nobody sitting in the middle so we got the whole row to ourselves. She’s an active one – which means she always likes to keep moving and doesn’t like to be buckled down or made to sit still for more than 10 seconds!
Let the tips proceed:
1. Be very strategic about your flight times. This is all in the preparation. I specifically chose flight times that were during the day, that would not interfere with her night sleep. I didn’t even care what dates we arrived/left. I only cared about flight departure and arrival times. My philosophy is that I can mess with the daytime naps and still survive, but if night sleep is whacked out, then it would be a bad story for all of us! I know many people say to do a red-eye and your child will sleep on the plane – BUT – are you 100% sure that your child WILL sleep on the plane???!! With me, absolutely NO guarantee at all. That would leave me with an awake, cranky, tired, crying toddler. Which just equals pure disaster and torture. So, again, choose flight times that will work the best with your child’s schedule, if you can!!! (remember to account for the extra time before and after the flight that you need to get to airport/get to your destination/etc, and also to account for the actual time of arrival WITH a time zone change, if needed).
2. Food can be your best friend. As I mentioned, we are weaned so nursing is not an option for us. BUT my child loves food – almost all food. And if your child doesn’t love food, then maybe your child loves ONE type of food – like cheerios. Or Puffs. or crackers. Or whatever! That food is your golden ticket! I packed an arsenal of a bag that may have fed a thousand Skylar’s. Because I figured that if my child did not sleep for the entire flight, she would just eat for 3 hours straight to keep her preoccupied. Again – be strategic. My girl likes Puffs the best (more than cheerios and crackers). So I gave her crackers at the airport and while waiting. But once on the plane and in our seat, to really keep her there.. I broke out the Puffs and gave her them ONE AT A TIME to make every second last and keep the clock ticking! You’re in survival mode here, people. It doesn’t matter if your child pigs out to their heart’s content or spoils their dinner. If it keeps them from a meltdown in a plane of 100 people, then keep on giving them Puffs! And, I probably don’t need to remind you, but pack WAY MORE than enough food for the plane. One normal sized meal would be fine, but pack A TON OF SNACKS. Because the worse that can happen is running out of snacks they like…. when snacks may be the only thing that keeps them from a meltdown.
3. Plan your meals on the plane – use the ziplock bag method! So in addition to snacks like Puffs, figure out if your kid will have a meal time during the flight. On our flight out, we would be in the air during her lunch. On our flight back, we would be in the air for dinner, but have lunch at the airport before boarding. The ziplock bag method is where you get everything for each meal and put it all in one ziplock bag. IE: Lunch was 2 Plum organic pouches, 2 Gerbers diced carrots/greenbeans, and disposable bib. That all goes in one ziplock bag. You pack dinner in another bag, and so on. I know it’s not super earth-friendly, but the reason for doing so is that when it comes time for a meal, you don’t have to dig out of your diaper bag the 5 things you need while your child is fidgety and hungry, in the tight space of your airplane seat. you whip out ONE bag, which already has everything in it, and voila! You are ready! Make sure you include spoons and any feeding accessories if needed. When you are done, or if there’s trash, you just put it all into your readily available ziplock bag…and it becomes your trashbag too. Wipes are pretty much your best friend the entire time so those are probably pretty accessible the entire flight, so I packed those separately.
3B. Use Disposables and packaged food. Yes, again not earth friendly but really… toting around dirty bibs for multiple meals while traveling through airports and planes is NOT easy. Neither is cleaning them. I’m not a germ-aphobe to begin with, but still! Also, disposables lighten your load – because once you’re done with them, you can toss them. You don’t have to carry around dirty food tupperwares when you’re done with a meal.
4. For those tiny ears that will hurt – have options. I don’t know when kids can figure out how to equalize their ear pressure themselves, but we know it’s an issue for our babies and toddlers. Again, nursing was not an option for us or else that’s easy – nurse them on the ascent and descent! For us, I brought her pacifier because she uses it to sleep and I know she loves it. The biggest joke was on me when she DID NOT WANT IT AT ALL and kept on throwing it on the floor during the ascent!!! I think I trained her too well.. she only has it during sleeptimes and to her, this was awaketime! EEEK!! I didn’t plan it, but good thing I had options. I had her milk in a straw cup. (she didn’t want it). I had her juice in a straw cup. (She didn’t want that either!). EEEEKK again!! I resorted to applesauce in the squeezable packages, which thankfully – she did want! So I let her suck (like 4?!!) of them on the ascent which I’m assuming helped her ears since she was sucking something. So… my point is, you might be surprised at what usually “works” for your kids at home, might not be the case in the air. So have OPTIONS!
(PS TSA is actually really good about food/liquids for babies. If you’re going through security with a baby/child in hand, you can basically bring anything. We had SO MUCH squeezable applesauce/food, crackers and snacks, packaged baby meals, juice in a sippy cup, milk in a sippy cup, more package juice, and for one flight even an entire ONE QUART of Silk Soy Milk that we went through security with. Also had baby liquid Tylenol, butt creams, etc. Just make sure to tell the agent before you go through the scanner that your bag is full of a ton of baby food and liquids – they may make you take it out of the bag or they may let you leave it in. They may do an additional ‘vapor’ test on it (super quick). But I was surprised at how non-hassle-free it was.
5. Load up your phone/tablet/computer with favorite DVDs/shows/movies. This is an awesome strategy if your kid really loves to watch tv (or a favorite show) and will sit still to watch the whole thing. Unfortunately my child’s attention span with the tv is 15 minutes, at most. So even though I had 3 hours worth of her favorite music dvds, shows and stuff on the tablet, she watched about 15 minutes of it on the plane itself. At least it was 15 minutes of peace. I’ll take what I can get.
5B. Load up your phone with baby apps/games. Once you exhaust the moving picture option, go to baby game/app option. I had balloon popping apps, animal flashcards, a baby piano on my phone… honestly I just downloaded anything “top baby app” that I could find. That kept my girl occupied for another 15 minutes… LOL.
6. Bring a new toy. Break it out at just the right moment. Let your child take time opening it, discovering it, figuring it out. Since it’s new, it will probably hold their attention and interest for a little more time than if it was an old favorite toy. Hopefully you chose a toy in a category that they like. Make sure you hide this toy in your bag and they do not find it prior to the necessary time on the flight!!
7. Easter eggs are your friend. If your child is old enough to know how to open up plastic easter eggs, these are awesome time suckers. Pack an entire ziplock bag full of easter eggs and make sure you pre-filled them with things like cheerios/puffs… which they can find and eat, or little toys which may hold their attention and/or you don’t care if they get lost on the plane or during travel. Again, break these bad boy easter eggs out at the right time when you’ve exhausted other options.
8. Use EVERYTHING and ANYTHING as distraction. Be creative. Your child likes a plastic cup? We got one from a stewardess and that entertained her for about 5 minutes. She likes the airplane safety brochures? That lasted another 7 minutes. She likes ripping pages from a magazine? Yup… pretty sure we butchered a plane magazine for an entire 12 minutes! Stranger stops by your seat on the way to the bathroom and starts playing peekaboo and your child likes them? Let them play for as long as they want to. Every minute of distraction is another minute closer to finishing this plane flight and getting off!!
9. Do everything to exhaustion – repeat, repeat, repeat! Keep that clock ticking! The longer you entertain your little one, the more time passes and the closer you are to landing. So if they are interested in a book, read it over again. And again. And again. And again. Until THEY say no more!! With every activity (eggs, phone, tv show, toy, etc), try to keep them at it until they refuse. Then move on to your next activity… this way you won’t exhaust all of your options in the first half of your flight with still another hour or two left!
10. Try to get them to nap. REALLY, I know … this should be a no brainer. But REALLY try. Some crying may ensue here. I know Skylar cried HARD for about 10 minutes straight on the plane… which at home, is like nothing… but in a plane with 100 people around you giving you dirty looks and putting on their headphones, feels like an ETERNITY. (Plus, you don’t know when and if the crying will stop). She fought falling asleep in the Ergo, but success won out (of course we did time her flight so it was definitely a nap time so we knew she needed it) and her nap of 40 minutes was the only time of peace we had during the flight. So if you can get them to fall asleep, as uncomfortable as you may be or as difficult as it can be, it may be worth it for the extended time of peace.
11. Keep them in the baby carrier as long as possible after they wake from the nap. I know, again not a no-brainer, but if you have an active toddler, (one who doesn’t sit still for more than 5 seconds and wants to climb up/down the airplane seat the entire time or run off), once they wake they may be calmer, so don’t rush taking them out of the carrier… keep them in there and do your activity with them in the carrier for as long as they let you. Then you don’t have to battle with the fidgety-ness or the squirmy-ness. Funny story here…. on our flight back home, Skylar woke after 40 minutes or so, and daddy and I were napping too. We both knew she woke up because she started moving, and I squinted and could see her looking around. But we both kept our eyes shut and didn’t move. She was in the carrier and we were seated, so she couldn’t go anywhere. But I was surprised – she didn’t start screaming or fighting to get out right away. Actually, she just played with her blanket and looked around and just… hung out (!!) by herself for almost 15 minutes while we both sat there “pretending to sleep” with our eyes closed. We finally opened our eyes when she became vocal. So hey, that killed another 15 minutes! Yay.
12. Try to get seats at the back of the plane. I know, also usually not a preferred option, BUT there are a few reasons. One – the back of the plane is a bit louder, which means more “white noise” for your child who may help them fall asleep, and also more white noise to drown out any crying/loud fussing your child may do during the flight. Two – back of the plane usually ends with the stewardess galley so you can easily slip into the aisle and into more room in the galley if you need to bounce around your child in the baby carrier to get them to fall asleep or just get up and let them move around. Imagine if you were in the middle or front of the plane… you have to walk down the ENTIRE plane to get to the back? And usually that means shuffling by other people standing/passing down the aisle – with child in hand? Super hard, super little space. Three – You only have to worry about the people beside/in front of you. Which means less people to piss off and give you evil stares when your child is crying, when if you were in the middle of the plane or front, you may very well piss off the ENTIRE plane. Oh, and if you are in the front – you are definitely going to piss off first class which paid even MORE for their airplane ticket. Inquire at the reservations, and at check-in, and again at the gate about your seats to try and get the best possible option for you.
13. Buy that seat, if at all possible. We flew as a ‘lap held infant’ but lucked out and got the entire row to ourselves (as the last row in the plane, both ways). I might consider buying a seat in the future – not because she actually sat in the darn thing, but because the extra space was really handy. Also if there’s 3 of you, it’s really nice to not have to deal with someone sitting right next to you in your face.
14. When boarding, consider one of you going first and the other being the very last person to board with your baby. I know that airplanes give families the option of being the first to board to give you more time to get down the plank with your kids and get them settled. At first I thought this was great, we’re totally taking advantage of this! And then on further thought, I realized THIS IS HORRIBLE because getting on the plane FIRST means you have to WAIT while the entire rest of the plane gets on before you take off! This can sometimes add a total half hour to your “sit time” on the plane!! EEEK! So, we smarted up before our flight and one of us used the “family board” option and took all our luggage and got on the plane first. While the other one hung out at the gate – allowing our newly walking toddler to still get her kicks walking and moving around and people watching… until final call and we were literally THE LAST ones to get on the plane… walked straight to our seat, buckled in and took off!
All in all, our flights were a lot of hard work, a good dose of stress, and something I would like to avoid until she’s … FIVE… and can sit still and be entertained on her own. But, even with all of that, I’m really proud of my little girl because all things considered, she did extremely well. (And I’m SUPER proud of how amazing she did on our trip itself once we arrived… she was an angel!!). The flight going back was slightly easier than the flight going there… maybe she learned a thing or two and the experience wasn’t completely new and frightening? I don’t know. I would like to think that traveling with kids gets better the more they get accustomed to it? But again, I don’t know, and there are no guarantees.
So just prepare, prepare, prepare, and PRAY!!! and expect the absolute worse (crying for 3 hours straight?!) and hope for the best (sleeping quiet child for 3 hours? bliss!). And in the end, hopefully, the memories you make while at your destination will outweigh the chaos of the airplane ride and make it all seem worth it. I know we had a really great family vacation (that post later!), but we did have to get through the plane ride.
Happy and safe travels to you mommies!!! Does anyone else have any tips to share?! Please do!!!