Every parent knows those airline brochures showing junior colouring calmly while mother looks on smiling are just a big fat lie. Sure that happens, maybe even for a whole two and a half minutes, but in reality? It’s a crapshoot (often literally). Here are a few cold hard truths about flying with kids, and what you can do to make them the teeniest bit more tolerable:
1. Babies cry (and cry and cry and cry)
Five+ hours trapped in a steel box is enough to make even the zen-est adult shed tears. Your best bet for babe? Soothe and distract. A familiar blanket or stuffy, something for them to chew on and a new rattle toy can help. When all else fails, keep calm and buy a stiff drink for the person beside you.
2. You can never bring enough activities
Thirty minutes into the flight they’ll have played with all of it. Avoid that zoned out, third consecutive Disney movie look by putting together a surprise grab bag of stuff: stickers, coloring, comic books, travel games, then offer them a fun new pick every hour.
3. You will get the stink eye
Not everyone thinks your kids are adorable (though they obviously are). Ask to be seated with other families – the back of the plane is often a good bet – so you’ll have people to commiserate with. But at the end of the day it helps to remember, kids will be kids and even people who sneer were droolers once too.
4. You’ll have to depend on the kindness of strangers
Whether it’s the woman who held your screaming toddler while you ate, the flight attendant who let you change a diaper in the galley or that teen who taught your four-year-old gin rummy for an hour, your faith in human kindness will be renewed. Hashtag blessed.
5. You’ll need snacks, and loads of them
Do not underestimate the power of food. Every time your kid says he’s bored, throw a granola bar at him. It works every time, and will buy you at least ninety seconds of peace. Tip: Dress kids (and yourself) in dark colours so food stains are less likely to show.
6. Airplane TV is very limited
Actually, you can turn this into a good thing. You’ve got a captive audience here, so take advantage and steer them towards content they might not otherwise watch. Like that documentary about black fungus gnats.
7. Sick bags are WAY too small
99.9% of the time vomit happens when the seatbelt sign is on and you’re sitting three-deep by the window. Always have at the ready a big plastic bag, change of clothes, tons of wet wipes and your best this-too-shall-pass attitude.
8. Seat kicking is in their DNA
Cure? Bribery, and a few laps down the aisle so they can shake their sillies out. If nothing else works, see #5.
9. Airplane bathrooms were designed by childless engineers
Changing poopy diapers at your seat will not win you any friends, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Work at the speed of a stealth bomber and for the love of god, don’t do it during meal times. Tip: This probably isn’t the best time to potty train so bring extra pull-ups.
10. Kids only respect one person on an airplane
Take advantage of that fact. When a kid sees a pilot, angels sing; just look at their adoring faces! Make sure to ask if little Ollie can visit the cockpit. They usually don’t let parents in, so you’ll get up to six whole minutes to sip your adult beverage.
11. You will leave a trail of destruction
Apologize to the flight crew on your way out, then give silent thanks that you don’t have to clean it up.