Mikey is no stranger to flying, having been on his first flight when he was 9 months old, from Dallas to Chicago. His first international flight came only a short while later when he was 10 months old, from Chicago to Frankfurt Germany. Since then we’ve been on quite a few flights together, most of them back and forth between Germany and England for the three years we lived in Germany, and then most recent both being international flights: Last year when we moved from Germany back to the States, and just last week when we flew from the States to visit my family in England.
I’m also quite used to flying alone with Mikey each time, of all the flights we’ve taken together my husband has only been able to accompany us on two (and one of the two he was seated in a different section of the plane).
Most of these flights have been fairly uneventful. I’ve come to learn what to expect, what to plan for and what to not allow when flying with children. Not that every flight we’ve had has been wonderful and Mikey loves planes, I remember flying from Germany to England when he discovered that he could pull down the tray table by himself and so wanted to do it over and over. Thankfully that was one of our shorter flights and once he realised there were better uses for the tray table he quickly lost interest.
What I do have, though, are a few tips and tricks that have helped us each time we’ve flown and I hope that they might help you too.
At The Airport
Arrive early. I know this is one of those things that you’re supposed to do anyway, but it’s extra important with children in tow. I try to get there in plenty of time so that we can check our baggage and get everyone through security without having to rush. We try to do as much as we can beforehand (online check in and seat assignment). Then if we have time we can grab a snack, relax and watch planes through the windows before we board our flight.
Keep hand luggage to a minimum, only have what you really need to bring into the cabin with you. The less hand luggage you have, the quicker you’ll get through security, the more organised you’ll be and you’ll feel much less stressed. I normally take a reasonably sized backpack which contains my laptop, the usual things that I have in my purse and perhaps a few snacks. I keep passports, tickets and anything else that I might need within easy reach.
When putting things through security, explain to your child what is happening. Mikey thinks it’s quite cool that his toys get to go through an x-ray machine. We make sure we all wear slip-on shoes to the airport. Mikey brings his own small backpack, it contains two favourite toys (not battery powered/not noisy), one very small colouring book, a handful of crayons, an empty drink bottle (to fill up later if we need to) and one or two brand new, unopened never seen before toys. This time around he started to get impatient before we boarded the flight, so I let him open one of his new toys to play while we waited at our gate. Some of the toys we bring are usually plane or airport themed too, I’m not sure if that makes a difference but he seems to like it. This time around he had an airport sticker book and a toy plane.
On the Plane
When booking our own international or long flights we try to book with an airline that is child friendly or that has a screen in the back of the seats where you can view a kid friendly movie. When the military booked our flights for us that often wasn’t possible, but it does go a long way to keeping children quiet and entertained when they have their own screen and set of headphones. If your children enjoy Audiobooks it might be a good idea to bring some of those too.
Because Mikey has been on quite a few flights, he already knows the sort of behaviour I expect of him while we’re on the plane. It doesn’t hurt to go over it again though while we’re waiting to board.
We don’t get out the toys as soon as we sit down, especially if the flight is a long one. There are lots of other things to look at and listen to before and during take-off, so Mikey is normally quite occupied for a while. I also make sure I have with me some kind of handheld device (smartphone, iPod, iPad, Nintendo DS etc) pre-loaded with games, for emergencies. I have yet to need to use it, but it’s comforting to know that I do have it with me to distract him if I really need to.
Before the plane lands, or just before you get off of the plane (perhaps both) you should check and double check for toys, make sure everything is all packed up. We’ve had the experience of accidentally leaving a toy on the plane before! This is also where bringing minimal hand luggage serves well, less to try and locate when leaving the plane.
Make sure you’ve got the correct visa forms filled out for an international flight! Mikey only has a U.S. Passport at the moment so I have to fill out forms for him to enter England, until I get his U.K. Passport. Filling out the forms on the plane or beforehand means less waiting in line when we arrive.
When you get off the plane and head to baggage claim, it’s likely you and kids both will be tired and cranky. It’s almost done, try to stay calm. We like to make a game out of looking for our bags on the conveyor belt. Normally I tie something to the handles so that we can recognise them, but it’s more fun to have bright luggage tags or wrap brightly coloured ribbon around a handle so that Mikey can spot them too.