Striking fear in the hearts of travelers worldwide is the unruly preschooler on an airplane. A well-prepared parent can lessen the chances of getting dirty looks from nearby seatmates and receive compliments, instead. A little pre-planning makes airplane travel with a preschooler more pleasant for both the parent and fellow flyers.
Plan, Plan, and Plan Again
Even the best-laid plans can go awry when flying. It’s especially important to be prepared when a preschooler is involved in the travel plans. Get the young adventurer ready for the trip by talking about the plane, reading books, and showing her videos of what happens in an airport. This helps the child with transitioning from one thing to the next when traveling. Have the child choose items to pack in her suitcase so she feels involved in the process.
What to Carry On
Forget the crayons, markers, and portable DVD player when you travel with kids. The former roll off tray tables, and the latter is one more tray going through security. Most DVDs play on a laptop, and it lessens security hassles. A fun but simple snack is important in case of a delay or for a distraction tactic later. The must-have is a stick of gum to chew during the take-off and landing. Make sure the child doesn’t swallow the gum and spits it out if he starts to fall asleep during the flight.
Pack an extra set of clothes in case of an accident, airsickness, or other mess. Slip-on shoes, such as Crocs, are ideal for security and leave room for coats in the carry-on bags. If checking the car seat at the gate rather than as luggage, use an inexpensive foldable luggage carrier to attach it, and the carry-on bags, to the carrier with bungee cords. It’s easier to wheel everything around while chasing after an excited preschooler while waiting to board the airplane.
At the Airport
Get to the airport early. It’s better to have extra time than it is to run for a plane with a child. In fact, getting there early means time to eat or play, and security delays won’t cause a missed flight. The goal is to wear out the preschooler before getting on the airplane so she falls asleep in the air. Allowing a preschooler to explore and run around the gate area before traveling on an airplane will help an active child relax once relegated to a seat. Do not use Benadryl before getting on an airplane, because it may cause excitability and is for treating allergies.
On the Plane
Don’t bring the car seat on the plane for your child to sit in while flying. They don’t fit in the aisles, barely strap into the seats, and make getting on and off the plane more stressful. Check it at the gate or as luggage. Having a direct flight without connections is also the best choice for traveling with a child, but giving ample time between connections ensures smooth transitions.
Ideally, the child has a window seat with the parent acting as a barrier to other passengers. A window is also the perfect distraction to keep preschoolers busy while taking off and landing. After getting situated, offer the new toys like stickers or Colorforms and play simple games like Go Fish to pass the time. If the child falls asleep, enjoy the quiet time and relax before landing.
Finally, there is no reason for a child to forget his manners while traveling on an airplane. Kicking the seat in front of him, banging on the tray table, and using outside voices are unacceptable behaviors. Expect the worst and hope for the best, because some things are out of your control when flying. Having a sense of humor while travelling with a preschooler makes life easier for everyone, and even the worst of airplane trips end eventually.