Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How to Occupy and Entertain Kids During Flights

How to Survive an Airplane Flight with Little Ones

Part 2: The In-Flight Experience {with Kids!}

Airplane Travel with Kids

Two weeks ago we covered Part 1 of Surviving the Flight with Kids (Negotiating the Airport), and today's post should be a bit more straightforward, because when you're on the flight, there's no worrying about parking, luggage, or security: it's just you and your kids (and the other passengers and staff, of course).

Once you're on the plane, there's a lot that's out of your control (which can be especially unnerving for the Type-A's out there). So here's my advice to you (and I have my own Type-A tendencies, so I can say this): just LET GO. You've done all you can to prepare until this point, so whatever happens is going to happen. Try to relax, breathe, and enjoy the ride!

*I'm going to rewind a little here before we start--I don't think I said this before, and maybe it seems obvious, but just in case: when you're choosing your seats during the ticket-buying process, try to pick the ones closest to the front--you'll get on and off the plane faster! It can be tricky to do this, especially with new fees in effect, so if you can't get 'em, don't stress about it; it's just a small perk!


Tricks for Getting Settled on Board the Plane

Ideas for kids on airplanes


  • Be thoughtful about boarding: I wrote about this in the Airport post, but it's worth repeating. Instead of everyone rushing into the jetway as soon as you're called, consider splitting up (if you have 2 adults). The older kids can probably sustain sitting for longer (dependent on personality or any special needs, of course), so if you've got multiple children, you may want to wait until the very last minute to board with the youngest. Let them move around as long as they can because they're about to be cooped up for a while. When I've got a baby, I always bring a baby wearing-device and plop the little one in it when we board so my hands are free.
  • Stow your carry-ons, and stash snacks and activities within reach (in the front pockets and under the seat in front of you). This allows you to avoid reaching over other passengers to open overhead compartments during the flight (hint: that's annoying, so try to avoid it or keep it to a minimum). Ask the kids which books/toys they'll want and have them keep them stowed there, too. Keep diapers and wipes out too, because you can almost guarantee you'll need to do a diaper change in-flight ;)
  • Pick a distraction for the kids to focus on during the boarding process. If you got on early, boarding the whole plane may take a while, so you'll want the kids to be entertained. There will be some excitement about the airplane itself and the functions of the seats and tray tables, but that won't last too long. We use this time as a good interval for the iPad or mobile device; just make sure they know they will have to turn it off for takeoff. Along those lines, you probably want to bring your own headphones so they can use them with their devices AND you can use them if there's an in-flight movie. Some airlines offer them free, others sell them, but if you remember, just bring your own.
  • If you're flying in the evening, consider having the kids wear their pajamas. They'll be more comfortable if they fall asleep en route, and there's less for you to do when you finally get to your destination and get them into bed (because you'll be tired, too!).


Getting Comfortable During Takeoff


Food ideas for kids on airplanes


  • Let them know what to expect. Tell the kids that their ears will probably pop and it will feel a little funny when the plane takes off.
  • Give them something to chew on; this helps relieve pressure in their ears. If they're old enough for gum, that works. Raisins or gummy bears are other good alternatives.
  • No teeth? No problem. Feed the baby during takeoff. If they take a bottle, have it ready to go. If you breastfeed, make sure you've got enough milk saved up (e.g., don't nurse them in the airport before getting on). Either way, you want the baby hungry so they'll be more focused on eating than on the pressure in their heads during takeoff. BF moms: if you use a nursing cover, have that handy. And THIS IS IMPORTANT: don't start feeding until you're sure it's takeoff! On S's first flight I was way too overeager. I started BFing her as soon as we started rolling from the jetway... only to hear the announcement 5 minutes into it, "Folks, we're currently number 16 (!!!) for takeoff...." So you see my point here.
  • Security Blanket or Lovey? This is a good place for it, but make sure you don't leave it on the plane!

Activities & Snacks

Kids activities for airplanesheathly snacks for kids during travel

  • Try give something "new" for the flight. I scour the dollar bins of Target or Michael's for one or two things I know they'll like. I don't spend a lot, I just want something "new" that will keep them occupied for 45-minutes or so. Depending on the length of your flight, you may want to have two or three of these little gifts on hand. I tend to look for a drawing/coloring activity or some sort of puzzle. Cheap sunglasses (Target has these a lot in their dollar bins) are also fun if you're going somewhere warm. Dollar Tree has a lot of cheap toys that can keep them entertained, and if you don't want to bring them home, you can always pass them along to another traveling family you meet on the other end... a cheapy "pay it forward," if you will. Another good idea is to grab a few small toys at a consignment store--don't give them out until the flight, so they're still "new" when they receive them. Keep in mind, these have to be small because you'll be lugging them around!
  • Workbooks, activity books, and kids magazines are great to bring along because they require some concentration, which also helps pass the time.
  • iPads, iPod Touches, PSP's, Leapfrogs... if you use them, whatever your preference is, have those available, too.
  • Snacks: Keep some handy. Most flights will still give drinks (and some give snacks), but bring something with some nutritional value that you know your kids will like. Many offer in-flight food for purchase, but we generally try to avoid spending money on that. I usually keep some lollipops hidden in my bag for "emergency" situations :). If we're flying over a meal time (and that usually happens), I like to bring those Go Picnic boxed meals for the kids (they carry them at Target). They fit easily into my backpack, and the kids feel like they're getting a special treat. I usually get the peanut butter version, but they make some with salami, hummus, and tuna, too!

When Your Baby Screams


Occupying kids on airplanes


  • Because, guess what? Babies cry! They do! And it's okay. Even if you follow every tip and trick there is, nothing will allow you to predict how your baby will react. We've had flights when the baby has slept the whole time {yay!} and we've had plenty of loud and restless moments, too {argh!}. And it's hard not to get panicy and feel stressed about it, especially in close quarters with a bunch of strangers. But when you start to feel like that, just pause and remind yourself to breathe. It's okay. Anyone who has ever had kids understands what it's like, they really do. And those who don't, well, that's life! As long as you're doing what you can to soothe the babe, then you've done your due diligence. Just remind yourself, "This too shall pass." Although I should mention that one time on a flight I got so annoyed by a woman's reaction to my kids that I asked, "Are you under the impression that your dirty looks will INTIMIDATE my baby into being quiet?" OK, I know, I let her get the better of me. What I should have done is sprinkled some loving-kindness her way, but I was worked up, and my reaction bothered me for the rest of the flight. I've learned now that it's much better to just let go! Smile :)

The Deplaning Process

  • Gather your things when you know you're close to landing. You may want to let the kids hang on to one distraction, but try to get everything organized so you can get right out when it's your turn.
  • People can get a little pushy at this point, so just get the kids lined up and explain that you're going to walk single-file off the plane, onto the jetway, and into the airport.
  • Locate your stroller or gate-checked items. Sometimes these are right near the exit of the plane and other times they're brought into the airport. But if you don't see your things on the jetway, don't assume they'll be in the airport; sometimes it takes a few minutes for the crew to unload them, so be sure to ask a flight attendant where you'll find your stuff. If you need to wait, one of you might want to go ahead with the kids so you're not crowding up the jetway.
  • Note when your luggage will be: sometimes they announce this on the plane, but often you need to check the screens in the airport.
  • At baggage claim, grab one of those luggage carts! They usually cost $5, but it's worth it if you've got little ones. I really wish they had these in the parking lots so you could use them to get your stuff into the airport, too! There are often porters who offer this service, too, and again, you should tip $2-$3 a bag. We'd generally tip a porter about $10 for our bags and car seats, etc.. But if you have more able-bodied travelers (we're getting a little closer to that), put them to work and save the $$!
Are you getting excited for your next trip! Yay! That's my hope! Getting there is really the hardest part of traveling, and once you're there, you can relax and have some fun. Check out these other posts to make sure you're getting the best deals and you're fully prepared for the trip!

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