Traveling with children can be a stressful time for parents, and surrounding passengers. Unlike environments that allow parents to simply "walk away" from a crowd if a child is disruptive, when traveling by plane, everyone is a captive audience with nowhere to go.
There are a few simple steps parents can take when flying with small children that can drastically improve the experience for everyone.
Before You Leave Home
- Take one favorite stuffed toy or other "security blanket" for each child.
- Explain to the child what to expect at the airport, such as crowds, standing in lines, security procedures, etc.
- Go to the TSA website and find out what you can and can't bring through security, especially as it relates to a child. Also, print a copy of your rights as a parent in case your child has to undergo a secondary screening.
- Explain to your child what to expect on the flight
- Print your boarding passes so you have one less thing to do, even if you are checking luggage
When you get to the airport
- Tell your child what to expect with TSA screening and explain that they are friendly people who are doing this to help make the trip more fun
- Make sure they have an activity to keep them busy while waiting for the flight (this could include access to their favorite toy or reading them a story)
- Have an alternate plan in case your flight is delayed or cancelled (reservation phone numbers, websites, airline mobile apps, etc.)
While On Board
- Make sure your child understands, as much as possible, that they are in a public place like a restaurant or movie theater. They need to understand that their behavior is important
- Be respectful of the other passengers as a parent. They will cut you some slack with a disruptive child, within reason. Most of them have gone through it themselves.
- Don't become defensive if another passenger makes a simple, respectful request to control your child's behavior that is intruding on their "space," like kicking their seat. The other passenger paid for their ticket, too, and is entitled to a comfortable experience as well.
- Be courteous and respectful to the flight attendants. They don't mind going out of their way to do something in support of your child, like microwaving a baby bottle, if you are not demanding. And make sure to show your appreciation when they do.
- Take-offs and landings are the worse times for small children and infants. The change in cabin pressure can be difficult on their ears. Teach them ahead of time how to relieve the pressure by swallowing, chewing gum, sucking on hard candy or drinking from a baby bottle, if possible.
One trick I learned many years ago to relieve the painful effects of cabin pressure on a child is nothing more than a placebo. That said, every passenger I have shared it with has reported great success:
- Ask a flight attendant if they could give you two small styrofoam cups and two napkins lightly moistened with water.
- Take the napkins and fold them into quarters so they fit nicely at the base of each styrofoam cup.
- Ask the child to place one cup over each ear and explain that this will help relieve some of the pressure they are feeling in their head. It seems strange, but I have yet to see it fail.
If you've got some great tips for parents traveling with kids, please share them with us here.
Chris is the President and Co-Founder of ExpertFlyer.com, a service that helps travelers get out of the "Middle Seat" by providing in-depth flight info and alerts when Awards and Upgrades are available.