Flying with a Toddler - How to Have a Stress-Free Flight

Friday, 27 March 2015

So we've made it through the airport, and we're on board the plane. Tick tock tick tock - how do you keep your little one busy and happy throughout the flight?? 

Well, the good news is, the younger they are, the better! Which is odd, because when Miss P was tiny, I worried a ton about how she'd behave on the flight. If only I'd known then what I know now! Six week old Miss P slept most of the journey - except waking to eat and be changed. Four month old Miss P flew cross country and managed to keep busy by eating, sleeping, and flipping through family pictures on my phone. Toddler Miss P is another story - basically as soon as your child realizes they are able to get up and move, whether or not you want them to while on an air plane, they become a little bit harder to entertain and keep pacified. Most of our flights are transatlantic - so we're talking a minimum of 6-7 hours, depending on the weather that day. Most times when you find children are fussy or crying on planes it's for a couple of reasons - they need something (food, drink, sleep), their ears hurt, OR - they're bored!

Here are a few things I do when flying with Miss P to {hopefully} have a peaceful flight: 

1. Play in the airport, sleep on the plane - Whenever possible, I try to keep the airport time active. If she needs to wiggle, fuss, run, play, sing, whatever - we do it in the airport (within reason). With this in mind, I hope that she'll be a little bit more relaxed and subdued when we board. If that means walking endless laps of the terminal and gate area - I do it. In a perfect world, you'll get at least a little bit of a nap from your child on the plane. The last thing  you want is an over-tired baby or toddler.

2.  Talk, Talk, Talk - I literally talk this child's ear off. We look out the window, we count planes, we talk about where those planes are going, what is the weather, who will we see when we arrive, and on and on it goes. By talking to her, I try to keep her busy and keep her mind off the fact we're stuck in an air plane. (Let's be honest - I do the same thing with my husband - he hates to fly)

3. Explain what's happening - the captain is closing the door, the flight attendants are giving instructions, oh we're taking off now! At 13 months old did she understand everything I said? Of course not, but travel is an opportunity to learn, and I use it whenever I can. Plus - it keeps her attention for a bit. Hand them the in flight magazine and go over the safety card - those couple of things will normally buy me a little bit of time.

4. New Toys/Games/Books - This is a trick from my mom! When we were kids we traveled extensively (do you see a pattern here?), and each time we did we always had NEW items to play with on board the plane (at least new to us!). You don't have to break the bank on this - my go-to place is the dollar store (it's called "Poundland" over in the UK - does that sound dirty to anyone else?) or the Target one spot - sticker books, coloring books, little board books, but most importantly - things your child hasn't seen before - which makes them New and Exciting! So far, one of Miss P's favorite things to play with on the plane was a tiny set of board books that went together in a little box - not because they were great books, but because she loved putting them in and taking them out of the box! Another favorite - Mardi Gras style beads from my Godmother - P loves to put them on and take them off , she'll put them on me and laugh, or just shake them to make sounds. 

5. Electronics - If your child does use any electronics, such as an iPad or your phone, grab some free baby/toddler apps for them to play with. Miss P hasn't been huge on these, but the older she gets the more interested she is in iPad apps. For older kids with a longer attention span (for us, this didn't happen until about 19-20 months) you could try movies and/or short programs like Peppa Pig, Sesame Street, etc. For us... it was Frozen. On repeat. Whatever works, I Let it Go. (See what I did there!?)

6. Get up and Move - If your baby or toddler gets fussy and doesn't want to sit still, get up and move! So long as the seatbelt sign isn't illuminated, go for a walk, look out the window, bounce or rock them, hold their hand and let them walk if they're already on their feet, anything to offer your child a change in scenery. 

7. Bring Snacks - Sometimes, something as simple as eating raisins one by one can keep Miss P entertained for quite a while. I always bring a selection of snacks - raisins, crackers, fruit snacks - anything small and relatively clean - read: will not destroy hands, face and clothes and cause me to dig out back up clothing.

8. In Case of Emergency - don't panic! If you've tried all these things, and your little one has had enough and starts to scream on the plane - what do you do?? Trust me, it happens, has happened, and will probably happen again. So long as our babies/toddlers can't really tell us what they want or need, it's always a trial and error process to figure out what works. Do your baby's ears hurt? Offer something to suck on. Are they hungry? Thirsty? Hot? Take off a layer of clothing, or take off their shoes, socks etc. Get up and walk around. Is baby tired? You'd be surprised sometimes the littlest things will calm Miss P down. Once, I took her pants off and all was well. Another time, a woman behind me handed us a small lollipop - which kept P entertained the entire flight from Belfast to London. Do I give my child candy all the time? Nope. Will I give her candy to stop her screaming at 30,000 feet - yup! Now I carry a few just "In Case of Emergency" -  You just never know what might work to calm your child down.

Most important of all - relax. I know, it's a difficult thing to do when you have a screaming, squirming infant on your knee. My first immediate reaction is to break out in a sweat when P screams or fusses and I can't calm her - but I've come to realize that me getting upset is not going to help the situation. 

Have you tried any of these things? What do you do to keep your child busy on a plane?

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