About a month ago I blogged about taking my toddlers, aged two and three, on flights for the first time. I asked for tips and advice and had a couple great ideas that I implemented. Both departures were early morning, from Harrisburg to Tampa with a connection in Newark and the exact opposite coming home. We had to wake the kids up at 4am in order to drive the approximate hour from Longboat Key to Tampa. It was early and we were all tired.
Toddlers aren’t always good at filtering emotions when they’re tired. Neither am I.
Here are a few things I learned about taking toddlers on a plane.
1. Plan travel times with their schedule in mind. This is one tip I read over and over but our departure from Florida was just too early in the morning for the offspring to be fully functioning. Neither of them had meltdowns on the plane or in the terminals (thank God) but poor Asher was under the impression on the drive from Longboat Key to Tampa International that we were driving home. When we pulled into the parking garage and dropped the rental car off he had a conniption. It was embarrassing and difficult. The only way to organize ourselves was in this fashion: Mike carried the carseats and backpack, I took the diaper bag and 50+ lb rolling luggage while holding Lotus’ hand who held Asher’s hand. It worked well. Except when Asher decided to throw himself down in the parking garage and refuse to walk further because he just wanted to go home.
After a few minutes of this harrowing experience (it may not have been that long but it felt it), Asher suddenly agreed to settle down and walk with us happily. After that episode, I was sure he’d be a bugger on the plane but he was fine. They both were.
Bottom line: he may have been able to cope with things not going as he expected if he wasn’t so tired. Don’t just take flight times into account, keep in mind you have to be at the airport early, drop off rental cars, and drive to get there. 4am was an earlier start than we should have had.
2. Explain the experience to your kids. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it another thousand times, kids are not dumb. Just because they’re innocent and naive doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of understanding things going on around them. One of the best ways I’ve found to comfort my kids when they’re nervous or scared is to tell them what’s going on. If fear of the unknown is the greatest fear, then I want to do all I can to turn that “unknown” into “knowledge” for them. Talk to them about why they need to keep their seatbelt on, about how the pressure in the cabin may make their ears hurt but that it’s normal, let them know what the flight attendants’ jobs are. Give them the tools to handle those new and potentially scary situations.
3. Give your toddlers undivided attention. There is no room for selfishness when flying with toddlers. You need to constantly be aware of their needs and prepare for potential problems before they happen. I sat with Asher on the two flights to Florida and with Lotus on the two flights home. I made sure they both understood not just that they weren’t allowed to kick the seats but also told them why: it is disrespectful and rude to the person sitting in front of them. Sure, they forgot themselves now and then but all I had to do was gently remind them why we don’t kick seats and they stopped immediately. It’s okay that they slip up every now and then … it’s hard to sit still when you have ants in the toddler pants! Make sure you are always aware of what your toddler is doing and help them make good choices. What made the kicking issue more difficult on our Newark to Tampa flight was that the seat pocket in front of Asher was broken and hanging right on his feet. He still did very well with my guidance. I had a variety of activities in their backpacks as well as snacks to occupy their time. I can’t promise you’ll have a relaxed, easy flight (unless your wee ones are more inclined to napping than mine are) but if you give at least 95% of your focus and attention to your toddler, I think you should make it through the flight without many (if any) meltdowns and pissing off the other paying customers on your flight.
A lady sitting behind us on one flight asked if I was a schoolteacher because Lotus was so well-behaved. She mentioned that she noticed me working with her and that she could tell my hard work paid off because Lotus was such a good girl. That meant a lot to me!
4. Go with the flow. This was a harder one for me but I’m pretty sure I did it! If your toddler wants to use the moving walkway two dozen times while you’re waiting to board, then hold their hand and do it. If they have to pee three times during the flight but get stage fright each time you take them into the tiny airplane toilet, don’t get frustrated with them. Go back and sit down and be ready to take them again. Note that I did wear Pull-Ups on both my kids in case they had accidents. If the activity book you were sure would entertain them for at least 30 minutes only interests them for 4, put it away and pull another magic trick out of your bag. If your toddlers see you going with the flow and not getting flustered, chances are they will do the same. If they see you upset over every detail, they very well may copy your actions.
5. Bottom line: traveling with toddlers is possible and I highly recommend it! I’m an advocate of travel. We learn something new every time we get out there and experience the world. We learn about ourselves and about others. The same is true for kids – they learn. Mine learned about respect. They learned that they are able to sit relatively still for three hours at one time. They learned that they can express frustration with words and not with tears (after Asher’s initial meltdown, anyway). In a nutshell, travel equips us with the power to be better humans.