7 tips for flying with children
I know that look. I used to give it often. Brows furrowed with worry, eyeing up moms near the gate as I silently prayed to the travel gods that those seat-kicking, merciless little monsters wouldn’t be sitting anywhere near me on the plane.
Well, the stinky toddler shoe is on the other foot now. As a Canadian mother who chose to have her kids in Bangkok, I’m now obliged to haul my two boys –- aged three and four -- onto an airplane at least once a year, sometimes twice, as part of the 20-plus hour journey back home to see family.
Having flown back and forth from Bangkok to North America more than 10 times -- an emotionally and physically draining odyssey akin to Frodo’s quest for Mount Doom -- I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. Here are my top tips for flying with kids.
1. Junk is good, drugs are bad
I know, I know. Junk food is bad for kids. But flying is a complete game-changer.
Buy some french fries before you board. Pack some cookies and whatever other snacks they’re normally not allowed to have into the mix of regular snacks you were planning bring aboard.
Nothing keeps a junk food-deprived kid quiet those first critical moments of the flight when gadgets must be turned off quite like a bag of potato chips.
As a bonus, the chewing will make the air pressure changes easier on their ears. Just avoid chocolate and other high in sugar snacks, for obvious reasons. Now is not the time for a sugar high, but neither is it a time to be rigid about nutrition.
Whatever you do, don't drug them. It can backfire. Trust me, you don't want a four-year-old hopped up on cold meds crooning the "Little Einstein" theme song at the top of his lungs for 10 hours.
More on CNNGo: Sorry, kids, you can't come to dinner
2. Spoil them
In one bag, along with their personal stash of toys, games and meltdown prevention essentials like favorite blankets, throw in a few “surprises.”
Don’t go all out. Just some cheap little treats they’ve never seen before that will occupy them for a few precious moments. Think noise-free goodies like stickers, new crayons, coloring books, puzzles, little cars and dolls.
If you let your kids pack their own toys, make sure you check what’s going in there. My four-year-old son once slipped a toy gun into his carry-on suitcase and howled in devastation -- “But it’s not reeeeeeaaaaal!” -- as he watched an unsympathetic airport security agent chuck it into a garbage bin.
3. Gadgets are your friend
If you’ve got an iPhone or an iPad, load it up with new kid-friendly apps your children have never tried.
Just don’t let them play before take-off. Tantrum-prone kids might take offense at being told they have to stop playing Angry Birds until the plane is well up in the air.
It’s also wise to buy some proper headphones that will fit on your kids’ noggins before you fly. Most in-flight entertainment systems have great movies and shows that will keep a child's attention, but airline headsets aren’t built for little ears.
4. Make the flight attendant the bad guy
My elder son is one of those kids who would rather listen to complete strangers than me. So on one of his first overseas flights, when he wouldn’t keep his seat belt on, I had the flight attendant tell him in a stern voice to sit down with his legs out and belt buckled tight.
But it worked. Two years later, when that seatbelt light comes on, he still jumps to buckle it up.
Just be careful who you ask. One brutally honest flight attendant once complained about my son’s loose seat belt, saying if the plane suddenly aborted takeoff and he wasn’t belted in tightly he might break his neck if he slips under it. That was awkward.
More on CNNGo: Surviving Asia with your kids
5. Lay down the law
Kids aren’t stupid. Before the flight, talk with them about what will happen and teach them what they need to do. Make them repeat it back to you.
“I need to sit down, wear my seat belt when the light’s on and watch movies, eat snacks, play toys and be quiet.”
Don’t be that parent who lets their kid run wild around the plane or kicks the backs of people’s seats while opening and closing the meal tray.
I’m not saying you have to be a dictator. Most people get it. Kids are kids and some noise is expected. But it’s your job to make sure they’re occupied and not driving everyone insane.
And if you’re trying your best and someone still says something snarky, let them have it: “If you can’t handle a little noise, next time buck up and buy a first class ticket, you child-hating monster.”
6. Fly when they're asleep
If possible, schedule the flights around your kids’ sleep patterns. I try to book long-haul flights that take place at night when they’re normally asleep so I can catch a few minutes of sleep myself and maybe even watch a movie as I enjoy my crappy meal.
On my most recent flight to Canada two weeks ago, sleeping took up a good nine hours of the 12-hour flight. Awesome. The way back, not so great. I had to fill seven hours with fun. By the end of it, I wanted to crawl into the aisle and let the flight attendants run me over with the drinks cart to put me out of my misery.
But when that plane finally pulls up to the gate, nothing eases the pain quite like hearing a departing passenger utter those tear-jerking words: “Wow, your kids were really well-behaved on the flight.”
7. If all else fails, have a drink
Speaking of drinks carts, go ahead and have a beer with your dinner. Or a glass of wine.
It will ease your stress levels and may even help you get a few essential winks when the kids finally do go to sleep.
That is, unless you’re one of those people who can’t stop at one. The last thing you want is to find yourself explaining headlines like “Drunk mother passed out as kids try to open airplane door mid-flight“ to your fellow moms at pre-school after the trip.
More on CNNGo: 5 rules of traveling with kids
How do you survive long flights with your kids? Tell us your tactics in the comments section below.