As we get closer to Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays in the US, thoughts turn to travel and planning how to do so.
For us, living internationally with three children, we’ve been flying long haul 16 hour flights with infants, then toddlers, then tweens, or a combination of those for almost a decade now. As I thought ahead about our holiday travel plans, I thought I’d share some tips, tricks and things to consider that have helped us on everything from those sixteen hour trans-pacific flights to the two-long short hop flights.
- Good seat selection is essential. If your airline loyalty program allows you enough status to do so, log on early to select your seats. If not, get on seatguru.com and enter your flight info so you can at least understand the seating configuration of the aircraft type you’re about to fly on so you can make an informed decision on how your family will sit on the plane rather than have the check-in agent decide for you how you ought to sit.
- We also decide and discuss before we board who is sitting where and with whom so that we aren’t trying to mediate the fight over who gets the window seat while simultaneously trying to put away the luggage in a confined space with 120 people waiting behind you.
- We always make sure at least one parent is on the aisle. This makes it more convenient when people have to have potty breaks but also makes dealing with flight attendants easier when you’re negotiating food and drink service for the kids.
- Finally, on seating, while the bassinet row is convenient with infants, we’ve found that the arm-rests in those seats usually don’t flip up. On long flights, turning up all the arm rests gives everyone that much more room. I’ve found that with three seats, I can get two kids lying down if I’m willing to let one kid use my lap as a pillow. And when the kids are asleep, it’s almost like you’re traveling alone.
- Make sure each kid has their own comfortable backpack. We have identical, but different colored L.L. Bean school bags for each of our three and the deal is that they can bring whatever they want on the plane as long as they carry it themselves. We set aside an appropriate amount of space for their snacks, water bottle and digital device (more on that later) but everything else, they can choose themselves. If they want to bring art supplies, it has to fit in the bag. Six Thea Stilton books? That giant oversized teddy bear they’ve been sleeping with since infancy? If it can smoosh down into the back pack, and they’re willing to carry it themselves, then they’re welcome to bring it. It teaches them to pack efficiently and the consequences of not doing so. Just make sure to check the bag to make sure everything in it will clear security.
- Bring your own snacks that you know your kids love. Don’t rely on the ten dollar boxes of sodium that airlines now seem to want to charge you for. Or the free wasabi peas that make my kids cry (Great idea, United! Kids really love spicy food, so of course you should make that the only free snack you offer!). A variety of small snack sized portions of their favorite snacks combined in one large gallon Ziploc bag is handy because it keeps everything together and gets smaller as the snacks are consumed, lightening the load as you go along. We parents actually assemble the packs secretly and don’t let the kids know what’s in them until we set off as a way to build anticipation and get them excited about the plane ride (also, so you don’t just wind up with a bag full of only Oreos). However, letting them pack their own would be an option that could also involve them in and teach them about good decision-making.
- Water Bottle. This is essential. We bring the kids’ water bottles through security empty, then ask the flight attendant to fill them in flight. This helps keep the kids hydrated in flight, which is good because of how dry the air is on flights, but that’s really a bonus. This is mostly for us parents, because getting up to get water for three kids who are thirsty at different times gets tedious.
- Entertainment / Digital Device – A few years ago, we bit the bullet and got each kid an iPod Touch. Though expensive, it was well worth it. Now, prior to each flight, we spend some time with each kid to pick out the media they want to watch and they can be in total control of their media which means a peaceful time for parents. The rule in our family is that on a flight, anything goes, so they are allowed to eat when they want, snack when they want and watch when they want. We pay for it at the destination, but we prefer grumpy screaming kids at my mom’s house over having to deal with that same grumpy, screaming kid in front of 200 other passengers.
- Regular Bathroom Breaks – the rule is that if one kid has to go, we take all the kids. This minimizes the number of times the adults have to get up compared to if each kid has to go separately, and minimizes the disturbance for all the people sitting near or by us.
- Leave Plenty of Time – this is often easier said than done, but if you can make sure you arrive at the airport with plenty of time and not have to rush once you’ve arrived at your destination, then everything is much more calm.
- Stay Calm Yourself – in some ways, this is the whole point. Kids can pick up on the energy of their adults. A calm parent means calmer kids while traveling. If this means packing your own snacks and digital device and allowing your kid to watch an entire season of their favorite show while mainlining Doritos, then so be it. At least you’ll be well rested once you’ve arrived and will have the resilience to deal with a bunch of tired kids.