What happens when you’re the parent responsible for keeping a child, or children, from melting down aboard on a plane? My family just returned from Hawaii, and while surviving two six-plus hour flights with young children doesn’t make us experts, it can let us share some important tips.
Our previous flying experiences with the boys ranged from near-joy to complete disaster. The latter involved the words “diaper” and “malfunction.”
The Hawaii adventure turned out better than we could have hoped, but still not perfect. I had to make a quick trip to the bathroom once to clean up the complimentary soda Benjamin spilled on my crotch region.
As horror stories go, that hardly registers on the Parent-O-Meter. And I give much of the credit to my wife, who dutifully packed a multitude of distractions that kept the skies friendly for everyone sitting around us.
Here’s what we learned:
- Hit the Dollar Store: Scoop up a bunch of inexpensive toys before the flight and wrap them like Christmas gifts. We opened one an hour for each child, keeping them engaged and looking forward to the next hour’s treat. Target also features dollar toys that would work just as well. We especially liked those tiny sketch pads with the attached pen.
- Go Electronic: We packed not just our portable DVD player but two tablets to keep the “Barney” and “Curious George” episodes flowing. You can buy movies and TV shows for roughly $10 online, but to save money you can rent the same stuff for much less. You’ll typically have a 48-hour span to watch them from the moment you first hit “play.” Pity our parents who didn’t have these essential tools.
- Try a Costume: Our boys dressed up as the Hulk (Benjamin) and Iron Man (Elijah) during the flight to Hawaii. It cracked up everyone we met, from fellow passengers to airline workers. Any stress relief is welcome.
- Skip the Markers: Some of the toys we brought on the plane required markers, and while it did keep our boys busy we had to stare at dyed fingers, faces and barf bags for the rest of the journey. Not worth it, frankly.
- Candy with a Twist: Not all parents are on board with giving out candy to keep the peace. If you are, try packing lollipops wrapped in string. It takes forever to unravel all that string, making the simple act of getting to the candy a time-gulping maneuver. Every second matters on a flight.
- Dream a Little Dream: We picked a flight for our return trip that began at roughly midnight, guaranteeing that the boys would be asleep for most, if not all, of the journey. We ended up in one of the few sections of the airplane where the seats don’t recline, but the kids slept all the way home. Sleeping children are quiet children.
- Arrive Early … and Unwind: I hate getting to the airport late, while my wife doesn’t mind arriving seconds before the gate closes. Having kids changed all that. Now, we arrive very early and do our best to tire the kiddies out pre-flight. Some airports have kid-friendly play areas, but for our boys they simply love watching the planes maneuver into position at the gate windows.
- Home Movie Moments: My wife had a relative transfer a string of short home video clips into one long DVD presentation. So, if the kids are bored with the usual animated pals, see if they’d like to watch footage of themselves when they were younger. Our boys love it.