Children should be seen and not heard. While the Victorian adage seems quite outmoded in this present era of attachment parenting and preschool Mandarin lessons, I will say that there is one place that the sentiment is alive and well. Airplanes.
In my childless years I was guilty of this feeling. A rumbling resentment would fill me as I saw what I thought was an empty seat, only to come face to face with a tiny child grazing on crackers as their parent looked dead ahead, panic stricken about what the future would inevitably hold. I would love to say that as I have become a parent that I look upon my fellow child-travelers with more kindness these days. Alas, no. Nothing ruins a flight more than a baby/toddler/preschooler making their presence known by way of "fussing" or kicking a seat.
I don't say this because my children are perfect travelers. We too have had the child fuss uncontrollably on a 4 hour flight (to our great shame). We have left a repulsive mess of cracker crumbs on the carpet that was sure to land us a spot on the Passenger Shaming Instagram. Our children have straight up refused to sleep on long haul flights. I've had to stop the inevitable "kicking the seat in front of you" more times than I can count. Believe me, whether I am directly responsible for the disruption or just simply receiving it, I am with my fellow passengers in thinking "Maybe those Victorians were on to something with their parenting."
So what are we to do? We are good parents. Right? We've disciplined, groomed, coached, and loved our children. Yet, traveling tends to bring out the worst in us all. And children can't drink their feelings about a delayed flight, so what are we to do? Stay home.
But, as a courtesy to yourself and fellow passengers it is wise to at least make an effort to have pleasant children on board the aircraft. Probably the biggest change you will experience from your no-kid flying experiences to your with kid flying experiences is the fact that you don't get to chill out and read a book inflight. No. You must be on top of your parenting game. With the eyes of the entire flight crew and passengers upon you, you must put on the performance of a lifetime of good and graceful parenting.
Let's start with babies, shall we?
(This information is intended for flights under four hours.)
Prepping for a flight with tiny humans begins weeks in advance. Make sure your kid is well rested. Keep up with the nap and night time sleep schedule. The airport/plane is going to be loud and overwhelming- odds are good the day of travel the sleep routines will be all out of whack- start stockpiling on sleep now. For both of you, actually.
If your baby has a special blanket, be sure to not wash it the week leading up to your departure. This way it will smell like home and be a comfort on the flight and at your final destination.
Babies don't need a ton by way of entertainment. If there are a few small, favorite toys- then bring them. Most of the time babies are fine to snuggle, have a bottle, and gnaw on the safety card in the seat-back pocket.
Have plenty of milk/formula on hand. The advice of having a baby take a bottle during takeoff and landing to regulate ear pressure is solid. More often than not a bottle is comfort, so the odds are good that baby will want to eat a decent amount more than he/she typically would at home. Check with TSA to see how much milk you can bring through security. If you are able to just bring an extra canister of formula with you, do that. No fluid restrictions and you don't have to worry about keeping the milk a certain temperature.
Bring extra bottles/sippy cups, pacifiers, a change of clothes, diapers... pretty much triple whatever you've currently got going on in your diaper bag. Remember to bring a few ziplock bags for gross clothes and extra gross diapers.
If you are bringing a car seat onboard, know that it needs to be FAA approved. There is a sticker on the back of the seat that tells you. Or you can check the manufacturer's website. Otherwise, take full advantage of that "free" lap baby. You'll be paying for that extra seat soon enough.
*Noteworthy Baby Travel Hacks*
Car seats and strollers check for free at the ticket counter. You can take your stroller through security and also gate check it just before you board. It all comes down to what your preference is. Don't panic thinking you'll have to pay $25 just to bring your car seat. Airlines may be heartless, but not that heartless.
Toddlers & Preschoolers
Same as babies, work on making sure everyone is caught up on sleep and don't wash lovies or comfort items the week before. Bring extra clothes, zip locks, travel febreeze, and a designated trash bag for the flight.
Things get a tiny bit easier as odds are good the kids are nearing potty training age and have the ability to drink out of a normal cup. Wow. It's amazing how that simple sort of thing becomes a game changer, eh? Of course, this comes with it's own share of problems as now you'll have to remind your kids to go potty before the plane takes off... because we've never been in the situation in which the pilot holds the plane so that our preschooler could pee, and people clapped when he made it to the toilet. Definitely not.
And of course, no sippy cup means spill risks shoot up astronomically. But, hey, this is stuff you worry about on the plane, not off . So we'll take it.
In the name of keeping kids occupied raid the dollar store for a few silly toys (little candies and treats too) and hide them in your carry on for special "malcontent moments" in which you just need your kid to shut up. This is a run out the clock "novelty is King" situation here. Sometimes the airlines provide crayons and coloring books, but not always. Have a few on hand just to shake up the entertainment on the trip. Hide all tablets (weeks in advance) until you get on the plane. In fact, my kids know the rule is that you can't have your tablet until you are physically on the plane and buckled up. Full stop. Otherwise, the tablets live in their hiding spot until we travel. This works out fabulously in the travel arena as they are quiet, perfect little Victorian silent angels. Minus the sultry LED glow of Angry Birds, of course.
TSA restrictions makes it incredibly tiresome to bring your own food onboard. In fact The Doctor in Denim and I were talking about how different travel is now days from when we were kid. Growing up we never ate out, but rather had our PB&J packed from home if we got hungry at the airport. With all the will it /won't it clear security, we've found ourselves avoiding potential hassle and just buying food and water inside the airport terminal. If the TSA agents are in good moods you can usually bring an empty water bottle with you through security and fill up at a water fountain on the "other side". This will save you roughly $20 in water bottle costs. Crackers and bananas will be your friend. I know. I'm sorry. The crumbs... and then the drool and crumb goo that will somehow end up smeared on your clothes by the end of the journey. Just accept it and bring a clean shirt. You can eat "real" food when you get to your destination. And by that I mean some chicken strips from a po-dunk McDonalds at10pm. Also, an adventure with The Doctor in Denim.
If you can get an inflight nap out of your kid, then I am extremely jealous. It never happened for me. The best I could do was snork back a cran-apple that was mostly ice before dispensing round 27 of goldfish.
*Noteworthy Kid Travel Hack*
You will be nearing "having a row to yourself territory" as you are likely buying tickets for the entire family. Congratulations! No, really. Now you don't have to cuddle up to a stranger's arm flab or be strategic with trips to the bathroom. You will enjoy more (diagonal) leg room and a roomier seat as you can lift up the arm rest and enjoy the 5 inches of seat your toddler sure as heck isn't using.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh (That is an angelic sort of sound)
You've made it. You've. Made. It.
Kids pack their own entertainment and read Bad Kitty Books and play Angry Birds and are happy with the inflight snacks. In short: THEY DON'T NEED YOU!
No more sweating. No more crackers. You're done. Congratulations! You've made it.
Sit back, and do the cheesy crossword puzzle in the back of the inflight magazine. If you are really feeling crazy, bring a book you've been wanting to read or put down a few glasses of wine and sleep your way across the country. You've earned it. Boom!
Go, enjoy your flight.