The real trick to not being the parent with the screaming child is to keep the child comfortable. Little ears are very sensitive to ear pressure. Little personalities are very sensitive to parents’ anxieties. If you’re a nervous flier (like me), don’t let it show. “Fake it till you make it!” Keep a cool head, and your child will find it easier to relax, too. Our preschool actually enjoys flying. Here’s a few things we do to keep ours comfortable.
-Try to choose a flight time near nap or bedtime. Our little guy has time for a snack, we pop a movie into the DVD and he’s out like a light until we land. For shorter flights (2 hours or less) he doesn’t sleep, but from Minneapolis, just about everywhere in the US is about 3 hours away.
-They keep changing the rules about what you can and can’t bring on the plane with you. The first week of a new rule is the worst. After that, it gets more realistic. If the rules allow that day, bring a snack and a beverage with you. Never try to sneak it, just show it to them and put on your best doe-eyes. You can always buy some after you pass security if all else fails. Besides, a fast food treat is more guaranteed to get eaten by some kids.
-You want them to eat or drink as soon as the engine starts up and you are taxiing down the runway. Take-off and landings are really hard on little ears. Chewing and swallowing help tremendously. If you have a sippy cup, that’s ideal because it not only prevents spills, but the sucking action helps with relieving ear pressure.
-Budget minded travelers have a hard time justifying getting a child under 2 their own seat, but do this. Put your child on your lap at home for the same amount of time as your flight (2 or 3 hours), then decide. Remember to put another chair crammed up against your knees for this exercise. Check with your airline to see if they have discount seats for kids under age 12, many do.
-Keeping them in their seat is another challenge that I can’t stress enough. Treat the airplane like any other moving vehicle and teach them that they must be in their seat at all times. Little kids can get very hurt if they’re not restrained and the plane hits even mild turbulence. Some people advocate bringing your car seat on the plane. I, however, do not. (click here for the now-funny story why). I do recommend the CARES restraint. It is approved by the FAA, and fits easily in your carry-on allowing you to check that bulky car seat. With the child restrained in their own seat, they actually have quite a bit of room, and hopefully cannot reach the kick-tempting seat in front of them.
-Bring as many diversions as your child needs, but bring the minimum amount of diversions. For us, snacks, a new sticker book, and a movie are all we need. I’m sure the GameBoy or modern equivalent is in our near future. We also talk a lot about where we’re going and what we’ll do when we get there to build a bit of anticipation.
Getting there is half the fun if you let it be. Treat the flight as part of the vacation and your child will do just fine.