10 Rules for Flying With Small Children
Illustration by Matt Anderson
Have you ever gotten on a plane and realized you were seated next to a baby or a small toddler? Did you think to yourself, "Great. Just great. What did I do to deserve this?" If you have, just know that you're the worst. This is not for you.
No, this is for the parents of those small children. You brave and unfortunate souls. That person I just described is the worst because they don't realize that nobody hates being on a plane with a small child more than the parents of that small child. It's a stressful and nerve-wracking experience, mostly because you're so conscious of everyone else on the plane and you know that unless everything goes perfectly, there's a good chance your kid is going to piss off everyone around them at some point.
This is for the people with children anywhere up to the point where you can sit them in front of an iPad for four hours. If your kid is old enough to sit and watch a bunch of movies or Doc McStuffins episodes without grabbing the tablet and trying to eat it, congratulations, you're in the clear. Just do that. For everyone else, here are a set of 10 rules that you should absolutely follow if you want to survive flying with your offspring.
1. Don't Fly With Small Children
Seriously, if you can avoid it, just stay home. For your own sanity. It's never worth it. But since you're reading this, chances are that's not an option for you. I mean, why did your sister/brother/best friend have to get married across the country anyway? Jerks.
2. Bring Simple Toys
Does your kid have a favorite toy with 17 different pieces? Leave it at home. Airplanes are cramped enough without having to bend down while sitting and find the marbles that little Timmy just dropped.
3. Buy Them New Toys
I'm not usually an advocate for buying toys for your kids. Most of the time you're out $20, they played with it once, then they were back to crying until you let them chew on your $700 phone again. New toys are what grandparents were made for.
However, if there was ever a time to try and sway them with something new and shiny, this is the place. Even if they just play with it once, you may buy yourself a good half an hour. And all quiet playtime is good quiet playtime.
4. Wrap Those New Toys
Presents are fun! And even if your kid is too young to really appreciate the excitement of opening a present, chances are they're going to enjoy that wrapping paper just as much as the actual toy. It's win-win.
5. Have Lots of Snacks
You know what's a great way to stop a kid from making lots of noise? Fill their mouth with food. Any food, really. As long as they like it. This isn't the time to get all healthy on them. This is the time for Goldfish or really any other animal-shaped snack. Although save the sugar for emergencies. Don't bust that out right away. That's a rookie move. You'll have your kid bouncing all over for the whole flight.
6. Leave Your Shame At Home
It's hard being a parent today. There are dozens of other parents on Facebook telling you how to be a parent and making you feel bad for being the kind of parent you are. It's tempting to feel bad parking your kid in front of a tablet or letting them eat all the cheese sticks. Don't. Flying is like The Walking Dead. It's about doing what you have to do to survive. It may not be pretty, but at the end of the day, you're still alive. That's what matters.
7. Use That No-Seat-Belt Time
"Even though the seat belt sign is turned off, we still request that you stay seated and buckled." LOL, nope. Nice try, airlines. That illuminated symbol of oppression is off so I'm doing some laps.
It's a lot to ask of a kid to sit for hours at a time. Especially those that just learned the miracle of walking. So get up and walk with them or let them toddle around a little bit. If nothing else, it's endearing. People are more likely to be OK with a crying baby later on if earlier they stagger over to them with a big smile on their face. Cuteness is a weapon. Use it to your advantage.
8. Check As Much As You Can At the Gate
If you're flying with kids, chances are you have ALL THE BAGS. Checking bags is expensive, so you crammed your carry-on and pray that it fits in the overhead bin. You know what? Don't even let it get to that point. When you go to get your ticket scanned, have them check any bags that you don't absolutely need. You're going to need all the room you can get and all the hands you can spare. Traveling with children is a mess. This is your chance to simplify.
9. Ask and Ye Shall Receive
You know who is sympathetic towards parents? Gate agents. They're actually pretty cool. So if you go up and explain your situation, sometimes they'll find you a row with an empty seat, otherwise known as The Best Thing Ever. Any extra room your kid has to roam, even if it's just an extra square foot, is worth taking the time to ask about.
Flight attendants are also super happy to get you what you need to keep your little one flying happy. Need some milk? Don't even worry about waiting for the beverage cart, just get your attention and your kid will be going to cow town in no time.
10. Give Your Kids a Break
This may be the hardest rule to adhere to. But just step into their tiny shoes for a second and recognize that flying for them is not all that fun. In fact, it's pretty terrible. So expect some crying and screaming. It's gonna happen. If they get through the whole experience with minimal meltdowns, that's really impressive. Keep those expectations low and they might surprise you.
Follow these 10 rules and flying with your kids will be a breeze — oh man, I couldn't do that with a straight face. It's still going to be tough, but this will give you the best chance possible at a smooth experience. And maybe you'll even get that parent merit badge of the people around you telling you, "They were SO good." That's rush of parental euphoria is almost as good as just not flying with kids in the first place. Almost.
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