Air travel, hours confined to a small space, is hard enough for adults. For kids, wow! Not only are they confined to tight quarters, they’re in a completely foreign environment. Surrounded by strangers, big blue seats, buttons and those flip-down trays, there’s so much to take in. That’s overwhelming! Give kids a leg up (get it? legs? airplanes?) with these tips for flying with young kids.
5 tips for flying with young kids
1. Role play.
Kids love to play, so help them understand what to expect and “play” airplane. Line up chairs to make an airplane with a center aisle. Pack a suitcase with toys and snacks for the ride. Then, (1) have your child board the plane and walk down the narrow aisle. Second, have stuffed animals fill in for other passengers and talk about how crowded it is — and how to be polite on the plane. Use your inside voice, don’t kick the back of the seat, etc. Third, let your child play with the toys in her bag (maybe save a few surprises for the actual flight). Play before you fly and your child will have a framework to understand what happens on the plane.
Make play even more fun. Let your child be the flight attendant and talk her through what the flight attendants do: Checking that all passengers use their seat belts, providing drinks, and helping with luggage. Take turns. You can be the flight attendant, too, and even do the preflight check speech! Make it fun and practice good manners, especially when you’re the passenger (your child will remember you using your manners).
2. Prepare for take off
There’s no real way to prepare kids for the loud sounds and the sensation of flight take-off, but you can prepare distractions. Our daughter’s first flight (other than first coming home from China) was at age four. She does not like change or unfamiliar experiences, so we were quite apprehensive about the flight. A couple months before the flight, we watched “The Little Einsteins” just about daily. Once she was familiar with the show, we “played” blastoff with her. Fast forward to our flight. As we taxied down the runway, we all patted our legs, faster, faster and then lifted our arms and yelled “blastoff” (just one yell). She giggled through it all and was pleasant the entire flight.
3. Pack easy toys
Surviving takeoff is only half the battle. Keeping fidgety kids entertained in tight quarters may be the more challenging issue. Smart packing for little ones means remembering that they have short attention spans. A child who flits from activity to activity every three minutes at home will not suddenly be entertained by one toy on a four hour flight! Pack a variety of great toys to make the task a bit less daunting. Include crafts, coloring, manipulatives and toys with different textures to keep kids entertained.
4. Pack snacks
Since airlines have cut back on meals and snacks, air travel is less kid friendly than ever. Plan ahead and pack your kids’ favorite snacks for long flights. Make them fun — create homemade “lunchables,” with bite size cheese, fruit and crackers. Pack individually wrapped snacks and fruit. Try to make healthy choices. Refined sugar does rev kids up — which just makes it harder to keep those wiggles under control.
Likewise, encourage your child to drink. The dry air on airplanes is quite dehydrating. When we get dehydrated, we just don’t feel good. Kids who don’t feel good are harder to entertain — and they could care less if they kick the businessman in the next row! (You know… if you give a mouse a cookie…)
5. Take potty breaks
When your little mouse gets lots to drink, he’s going to need a potty break! Since there are only a few restrooms for the hundreds of passengers to share, parents should plan ahead to avoid accidents. Don’t wait until your child is squirming in his seat to get in line, but anticipate when he might need to go potty and get in line early.
What are your favorite tips for traveling with young kids? How do you turn a strange experience into an exciting adventure?Special thanks to my daughter, Ellie, and her friend for “re-enacting” her younger days. This post may contain affiliate links.