The first time I had to fly with our daughter, she was around 9 months old. I had anticipatory stress nightmares for weeks After reading up online, my anxiety about angering a flight full of adults even compelled me to assemble little baggies of candy with an apologetic note for row neighbors.
But when the moment came, the reality was relievingly boring. She slept for part of the flight and enjoyed nursing occasionally under a light cover that also served as a cozy little place for her to hide from the bright lights, with only minor fussing. My neighbors politely declined their Bag of Candy From a Frazzled Stranger.
Fast forward a year to more flights together. To my dismay, I quickly found that a mobile toddler who doesn’t nurse can be a far trickier person to entertain than an infant. Now that my daughter is almost four and a half and has flown over half a dozen times with us, a whole new set of entertainment and logistical considerations are needed. She thankfully loves to fly, but we still weather occasional emotional turbulence.
Here are three savvy flying-with-kids hacks our family has learned–usually the hard way:
It’s okay to bend the rules a little when flying. One of my biggest “A-ha” moments as a parent was accepting that flights are an acceptable time to bend day-to-day parenting rules. For instance, I wouldn’t typically give my child candy to quell a crying jag (because then she’ll just cry knowing it means candy will appear) but I bring her favorite suckers in my purse when flying just in case I need to head off a major tantrum or distract from a boo boo. Think of them as your “in case of emergency, break glass” scenario.
Even though my daughter hasn’t worn Pull-ups during the day for well over a year, we always wear them from door to door when flying. Doing so ensures that you’re covered even if that fasten seat belt sign comes on or, say, if you’re stuck in transit. For example, the light rail from the airport to our hotel in Portland made an hourlong emergency stop, near the end of which my daughter despondently wailed “I’m peeeeiiiing in my paaaaannnnts” to a packed train. So seriously, it’s okay just this once to revert to Pull-Ups.
Save the chocolate for the crew. Most people understand that commercial air travel is the greyhound of the sky and they shouldn’t expect or insist on office-level order. (That said, don’t be that parent who lets their kid repeatedly kick the back of the seat. Just don’t.) I’ve come to realize there’s no reason to bother with stress dreams and “I’m sorry for bringing children on public transportation where you might hear or see them” baggies. Instead, we now sometimes bring chocolate bars for the flight attendants, delivered on boarding. They always appreciate the gesture, since they’re often the ones attending to any extra needs flying with kids brings. We’ve found this always makes for a more pleasant flight and can even bring surprises like a pair of pilot’s wings (or a free drink for mom and dad!)
Plan for your specific, entire journey. We once made the mistake of assuming that we would be able to find a cab, Uber or shuttle bus (once we deboarded in family-friendly Orlando) equipped with a booster or carseat. We were very wrong. One terrifying cab ride later–I was the first person in the history of the world to beg the cab driver to please not go over 35 mph–we had to quickly purchase a booster seat for the remainder of our short stay. Not my proudest parenting moment.
Do your research about what your children will need in terms of travel restraint systems on every leg of your journey. Booster, car seats and strollers can be gate-checked for free. And a few cities do now offer Uber with car seats or car rental options with boosters. In a pinch? Amazon can deliver a booster seat to your location (if you’re a Prime member and Prime Now service is offered in that area) in an hour or two.
While umbrella strollers are usually the go-to travel choice for their lightweight portability, consider the whole picture before abandoning your more heavy-duty number. I was once traveling alone with my daughter just after she’d sprained her ankle. She could barely hobble and had to be pushed. Trying to steer her cheap umbrella stroller (with zero storage space) while pulling our luggage through a busy terminal made me long for our BOB, which would have been a better choice in that instance.
Brooke Preston is a Midwest-based copy, lifestyle and comedy writer and editor. She is also a very proud mama.