Everyone has a horror story of a flight next to a screaming baby or a kid that wouldn’t stop banging the seat in front. As parents, we don’t want to get dirty looks from other passengers and hope that our kids will behave for a few hours of air travel. The way to improve the odds of a smooth airplane flight with kids is all in the preparation.
Make sure you pack any documents, expensive, or important items in your carry on. Bring a child safety seat with you for the plane if you are travelling with an infant, along with a pacifier or bottle (you will probably have to have the bottle filled by flight attendant since you can’t bring liquids on the plane.) You should also carry on medications with a doctor’s note explaining the purpose of the medications. If there is one favourite small toy your child sleeps with, put it in the bag since you don’t want to risk it getting lost with the luggage. It may also help your child nap on the plane.
If you are a single parent or grandparent travelling with a child, make sure you have their passport and supporting documentation, including a consent letter from the other spouse or legal guardians. Letters may be questioned for authenticity, so it is best to have the letter certified, stamped or sealed by a notary or other official. In case you get separated, keep a form of identification in the child’s pocket as well. Teach your child to approach airport or airline staff in uniform should they become lost.
Depending on age, let your kids be part of the carry on baggage preparation. Older kids (5+) can already tell you what books or toys they would like to include. Make sure you check their selections before you leave – we once got stopped at security because my son decided to throw his police costume handcuffs in his bag! The best items are inexpensive, light weight, even disposable ones. Throw in a surprise or two after they have packed.
When it comes to kids activities, variety is the key. Kids can get bored with an activity in mere minutes, so it is good to have several different items to keep them busy. A book, a magazine, a coloring book with crayons or pencil crayons, and an activity book are essentials. Activity books include join the dots, mazes, sudoku, word search, picture search, find the mistakes, Ad Libs, etc.
A great source for airplane activities is a dollar store. They have books & coloring books, but lots more. My kids love the little packs of colour clay. They would put their tray tables down & play for hours making figurines. They also have cards, dice, mini animal packs, craft kits and puzzles. As kids use them up, you can leave them behind and not have to carry them for the whole vacation.
Taking little walks down the isle can be fun, as long as your child does not run, scream or disturb passengers. We would go look out the window near the restrooms, or peek at the area where the flight attendants go. If you can’t get up to walk around, try doing little stretching exercises in your seat to keep blood flowing.
Some of the best games we played en route were simple pen and paper games or word games. Paper games include hangman, x and o’s, Pictionary, etc. One word game we loved was to go through the alphabet where each person would have to say the name of an animal, a person, a place, a thing, etc. going through the alphabet.
It is also good to have little snacks for the kids. If you have flight delays, or the food service is slow, snacks can be better than gold. Fruit roll ups were a favourite – they take time to chew and are great for landings to keep the ears from getting blocked up. I start preparing my kids for landing before the pressure actually builds up. Little tricks to keep ears open or pop them are: chewing, yawning, drinking-swallowing, and blowing. I would make a fist for my daughter and she would have to blow as hard as she could into it. I would slowly open the fist if I felt a lot of air coming out. By blowing air out (like blowing up a balloon) the ears would often pop, and trying to get the fist to open would distract her from any pain.
Remember that you need to travel at your childrens’ pace and your voyage will go smoother.