Having an Enjoyable Flight with Your Child

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“Please note where your “Exits” are located. All “Exits” are clearly marked and are located at the front and rear of the plane.”

By Becky Horace

I’m a parent of a sweet little boy, who is on the autism spectrum. I am also an expat* in Thailand, so you can imagine there are times when I need to fly back to my home country and the thought of flying with a toddler makes me sick to my stomach. Our impending trip to the US is in less than 100 days already has my anxiety level through the roof? As a parent who has to travel often with a little one, I wanted to share a few tips I have picked up along the way on how to survive this very stressful process.

I have read many articles and blog posts on how to travel with your toddler. These cute articles and pins on Pinterest show you all of the fun “activities” you can bring with you on the plane to entertain your child. I have seen articles which provide lists upon lists on things you should take with you on your flight. These articles are great in theory, but I really wish one person had given it to me straight, especially with my special boy.

On our first flight over to Bangkok my son was 18 months old and had never been on a plane. Now my almost three year old has a passport which is rapidly filling up. I am certainly no expert on this topic, but maybe my life experience will help you to laugh away some of your worries.

 

1. Just bring one or two of your kid’s favorite toys. Do not pack a bag with tons of toys thinking you will break out a new toy every meltdown and your problems will be solved. I loved the article that I read that said, “you can even wrap the toys for an added treat!” This might work for a five year old, but my toddler isn’t going to have that!

I am the fool who bought new toys and LOADED our book bag full of fun stuff. Mid-freak-out at 30,000 feet, the last thing your kid needs is a new toy. He doesn’t care, HE’S RAGING! This new toy has now become ammunition and is either being hurled at your face or the head of the poor person who is sitting in front of you. I understand toys are supposed to be for when your kid is happy and sitting calmly in their seat, but honestly there was never a point during our first flight when my kid was happy. He was uncomfortable, wanted out of his car seat, tired because his schedule was completely off, and he was completely out of sorts.

 

2. Do not pack milk and juice – just buy it once you are through security. It will save you huge headache getting through the TSA security check. You can bring all of your own from home before you board the plane, but be prepared to be pulled to the side while they test your milk for explosives. I had a few Gerber toddler snack pouches in the book bag when we were flying through Paris and I thought having those were going to get me thrown in jail due to the language barrier. You would have thought I was smuggling drugs. If your children are old enough, to make this process easier on all of you and to get through the line quickly without a meltdown purchase snacks once you are inside.

 

3. Invest in one of the thermos brand straw cups. We have two, one for milk and apple juice. These are awesome because if your child is able to sleep on the plane their drink will be cold when they wake up. I recommend just filling them up whenever it’s time for drink service and you’re getting your wine… I mean Coke. WARNING: If you use this cup at 30,000 feet please be cautious. Although the cabin of the plane is pressurized, it is not as high as the ground pressure. Meaning your higher pressure cup becomes an apple juice super soaker when your child flips open the lid to take a drink. I have learned you have to twist the lid open very slowly and let the cup adjust. Do not do what I did and hand the cup to your son, hit the button to flip the lid open and apple juice goes flying in his face as 100mph. That move comes with a 100% guarantee to upset him (later we had a good laugh about it).

 

4. Only bring the pull-up type diapers! The lavatory on a plane is basically big enough for one person to turn around. Changing your child on the 1×2’ changing table is a joke! It takes both parents to be on diaper duty. We have mastered this by having one parent hold the child up and the other slip off the dirty diaper and slip on the clean one. If you have a soiled diaper, good luck. We had to change my son with him standing up on the counter top and then he decided he wasn’t finished and popped in my hand, no, I am not making this up. I am guessing it was his payback for the apple juice in the face. The next day we had a laugh about this too, but at the time it was a disaster!

 

5. Pay to upgrade or book your seats early so you can get a bulkhead seat. This will save you from a lot of unwanted stress as you will not have to worry about your angry or bored child kicking the seat in front of him. This unnerves me because I feel so helpless in the situation.

When it comes time to book “the perfect seat”, there isn’t really an ideal spot. If you sit in the front of the plane, your husband doesn’t have to carry the car seat as far through the narrow aisles. The back of the plane is the best place to try to calm your screaming love. I think the middle of the plane is the best option. One reason being the bulkhead seat option and the second reason is because your neighbors can’t hear the cries over the sound of the engines.

 

6. Take the red eye. Yes, this will be harder on you and you will be tired. I recommend this time because this is the one flight we took where my son actually slept. He slept for 9 straight hours, meaning mommy and daddy were able to sleep as well and the jetlag wasn’t as bad!

 

7. If you are taking the red eye just leave your kid in his pajamas but make sure they are warm. The night of our red eye flight we did everything as usual for our son, routine is key. We had his bath, book time and bed. When it was time to leave, we placed him in his car seat without waking him. He was still in his warm pajamas and had his blanket and giraffe in hand. The warm pajamas are simply because it can be cold on the flight and if your child is freezing, I can’t imagine they will be able to sleep. I truly believe this helped my son to sleep almost the entire flight because he was comfortable and he had his blanket and giraffe.

8. While in the airport waiting for your red eye flight get your kid something to eat. I know airport food isn’t the healthiest option but its 2am and it would be better to have a kid with a full tummy then a hangry (hungry +angry= hangry) toddler who is turning into a little green HULK. Plus it will help them to sleep, if you can get them to sleep!

REMEMBER: Do not panic! Yes, traveling around the world or even to grandma’s house two hours away is hard, but it’s harder for your child. Traveling these distances are so much harder on your little one because they have no idea why they have to sit in the car seat for that long and why they can’t be in their own bed taking a nap.

My advice – remain calm, say a prayer, and remember this too shall pass. God Speed!

 *previously published in Autism Parenting Magazine May 2014

photo by Tim RT CC BY-ND 2.0

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