How to survive flying with kids

Earplugs/headphone are totally OK. As long that isn't your kid.

Every vacation season, or every time a new set of fees pops up, Web sites post articles about how much it sucks to fly these days: You have to pay a gazillion dollars just for the ticket. Then another $10k to check a bag. Endure a full-body X-ray screen and cavity search by a big dude named Bubba or his co-worker Bubbette. Then they smash you into a tin can where you’re wedged between two morbidly obese people who hog the arm rests and have body odor and surrounded by screaming, out-of-control children.  To keep you quiet, they throw a mini bag of pretzels at you 45 minutes into watching “Down With Love.”

In other words, you’re paying them — a lot — to torture you.

And then the vitriol starts to roll in: Fat people should have to buy two seats every time. Small children should be locked into a soundproof room/their own special section or kenneled the entire flight. With the fat and smelly people.

I understand that nobody wants to sit and hear a kid cry or scream for any amount of time. I know I don’t. And I’ve got two kids. But that doesn’t mean kids should be banished from planes, as some suggest.  (Believe me — as a parent, the LAST thing I want to do is have to fly with my two kids, at least until they’re both potty trained. I would avoid at all costs if possible. Most parents I know are the same way. So if you see a kid on a plane? Its probably their only feasible option. )

At first, I was even resentful of the idea of a “family section” at the very back of the plane where parents and their “spawn” would be sequestered to so they don’t bother the delicate sensibilities of their fellow travelers.

And then I really thought about it.

Would I rather:

  1. Sit randomly around the coach section of a plane while enduring the constant dirty looks from other passengers as soon as they see my kids? Even if they don’t make a peep? OR
  2. Sit toward the back of the plane in a “family section” where there are other kids and their parents. Perhaps we’re even separated from the rest of the plane by a curtain, where we can relax a little bit because we’re all in it together?

I’m sorry, was that really a choice? I’d totally take the second option.  Its bad enough that people will roll their eyes when they see kids coming into a family restaurant. (But that’s an entirely different post.) Here are my ideas for the “family section”:

  1. Every seat has its own TV built into the head rest of the seat in front of it with a variety of programming available, such as Disney movies, PBS kids shows, and National Geographic programs;
  2. Leg room that is comparable to business class to accommodate car seats, diaper bags, and some room for kids to move around without knocking around the person in front of them;
  3. Milk, cookies, crackers, and fresh fruit are unlimited;
  4. Kids get one of those airplane toys at their seats;
  5. Trays fold down to a child’s sitting height so they can play or color;
  6. A space in the back with a fold-down changing table similar to what you see in restrooms, and a plastic bag dispenser for dirty diapers; and
  7. Parents are responsible for parenting and supervising their own children.

(Rather sad that I have to add that last one, isn’t it? I mean, it should be obvious.)

Until they institute a family-friendly (snort) section on planes, here are some basics I’d bring for each child. (Note: Each child would have his/her own carry-on bag that would also double as their diaper bag for the flight.) I would also have printed-out copies of TSA policies from the Web sites regarding things like breast milk/formula, and other child-specific items. Just in case.

The Boy (2 years old):

  1. Sippy cup (empty, to get through security);
  2. 2-4 packets of Crystal Light fruit punch mix. (Each cup literally gets just a few sprinkles, that stuff is strong!);
  3. Unopened cookies/cracker travel packs. (Amount depends on flight length);
  4. Small pad of paper;
  5. 5 crayons;
  6. iPad — loaded with at least 3 of his favorite movies and fully charged. (We have several puzzle apps and flash cards that he likes to play with loaded on there as well.);
  7. Headphones;
  8. Packed lunch + garbage bag (According to the TSA Web site, this is OK, but everything must be wrapped and it must go through the scanner. I’d try to pack it bento-lunch style, so everything is highly visible, wrapped, and is unlikely to be messed with.);
  9. One or two small stuffed toys to play with;
  10. Two small cars to play with;
  11. Two small dinosaur toys to play with.

The Girl (7 months old):

  1. Empty bottle (to get through security);
  2. Formula (Try to only bring as much as you’ll need for the flight itself and check the rest. Individual, easy-to-pour packages such as this would be a great idea here.)According to the TSA: “Medications, baby formula and food, and breast milk are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding 3 ounces and are not required to be in the zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint. Officers may need to open these items to conduct additional screening.” Go here for more info on the policy.
  3. Empty thermos (to fill with warm water once passing through security, at this time, also get plastic utensils to stir said formula);
  4. Bib;
  5. Couple jars of unopened baby food;
  6. Baby spoon;
  7. Extra binkies;
  8. A couple of fabric books and a few toys.

The pared-down diaper bag (in each of the above bags):

  1. Diapers;
  2. Baby wipes;
  3. Changing pad;
  4. Plastic bags for closing off dirty diapers;
  5. Extra Shirt/Onesie and pants;
  6. Sweater;
  7. Small baggie with travel-sized diaper rash cream, vaseline, and infant Tylenol.

Finally, just be prepared. If possible, book a flight that takes off around nap time. Or just before bed time.  Most people will understand if your kid cries a little bit, as long as you’re actively doing something to try to make it better.

Also, greasing the wheels never hurts: When a friend flew with her kids recently (sadly, driving wasn’t an option), they brought along about 20 earplugs and offered them to surrounding passengers and said “its our first time flying, so I”m not sure how they’ll do.” Most people were totally cool and declined the ear plugs. They also had about $50 in cash with them — for complimentary adult beverages — in case the diapers hit the fan.  They didn’t need to, but they were prepared.

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